Be a Friend of Sinners

When Jesus invited Levi to follow him, everything changed. This tax collector was transformed by the savior’s call. In order to express his gratitude and love for Jesus, Levi threw a party in Jesus’ honor. He’s so thankful for Jesus that he gathers all of his tax collector friends and other sinners to come recline with Jesus and his disciples. This quite the party! Here is Jesus the son of God eating and talking with the social outcasts—the sinners. The shock of this scene is difficult for us to fully understand in our culture. Reclining at someone’s table was a mark of friendship, intimacy, and love. It was the place of community, long conversations, and fellowship. It mattered who you ate with in Jesus day, similarly to how it matters which table you sat at in the high school Cafeteria. By eating with people you were identifying with them. No one wanted to eat with these tax collectors and sinners because it meant socially demeaning yourself to spend time with them. Yet, these are the sorts of people Jesus hung out with. He was a friend of sinners.

Jesus’ Evangelistic Strategy

It is here that we see Jesus’ mission strategy. It’s a complicated, super difficult strategy that takes years to master. It’s a strategy that all the church growth experts out there have yet to figure out yet as they develop new ministry program after new program. You ready to hear what Jesus’ missionary strategy was? He ate with people. That’s it. He ate dinner with people. His work of evangelism and discipleship always took place around the dinner table. As Jesus tells us in Luke 7:34, “The Son of Man has come eating and drinking.” Meals are community creating events. Meals unite us with other people. Even today, food and drink connects people together. Why else to people gather at bars and restaurants? People go for community and fellowship. There is a reason everyone feels awkward eating alone in a restaurant. God has designed our meals to be times of connection and friendship with one another.

Now Christian’s are known for lots of things, but perhaps what we are best known for is our covered dish dinner. But, while most of our meals at church are with other Christians, look at the company Jesus kept at his meals! He eats with sinners and tax collectors! Now it is good for the body of Christ to come together and fellowship and eat together, but we have to ask the question, how have we strayed from Jesus’ own missions strategy? We’ve so secluded ourselves in the Christian bubble, that we only surround ourselves with Christians. In fact, we’ve intentionally designed our lives so that we have as little interaction with non Christians as possible. We do Bible studies where everyone there is a Christian. We swing the golf clubs with other Christians. We have Christian doctors, Christian handymen, Christian dentists, Christian coaches… you get the point. All of our friends are Christians and the only people we eat with our Christians. We only eat with people who are like us—Christian.

The American Church Has Killed Off Evangelism

No wonder the American church fails in the task of evangelism—we aren’t friends with anyone who isn’t a Christian! Indeed, we design so much of our programs in the church to reinforce the Christian bubble. The church becomes the Smörgåsbord of programs and activities that lead to the cul-de-sac of the Christian bubble. We have Christian golf tournaments, Christian Senior Adult activities, Christian choirs, Christian basketball leagues, Christian baking clubs. Again, you get the point, and I’m aware that I’m striking at nerve at Forest Hills, because this is exactly they way we program, and I think it’s well intentioned, but severely misguided. We’ve strayed so far from Jesus’ simple missional strategy of eating with sinners. We’ve swapped it out with hundreds of activity that all keep us busy but ineffective in reaching the world for Christ. So we can have a busy week at the church with activities, outings, and all the while never speaking once to someone who is not a Christian. I believe the American Church has unintentionally structured itself to kill off evangelism. After all you can not evangelize to non-Christians if you don’t know any non-Christians. Instead of mobilizing Christians to mission, the church has only entrapped them in the Christian bubble.

Eat With Sinners

So what would it look like for you and I to adopt Jesus’ mission strategy? What would it look like if our church began to declutter our programming to free you up to live like this? I hesitate to make such specific application lest I stumble across a sacred cow. So rather than critiquing church programming, I’d rather challenge you as an individual to live like Jesus. Do you want to be a more effective evangelist? Do you want to make an impact in the kingdom of God? What if I told you that you don’t need any formal training or certification and that its as easy as eating a cheese burger? Here is the challenge: eat one meal a week with somebody who isn’t a Christian.

We all have to eat anyway don’t we? On your lunch break at work, invite a co-worker who doesn’t know the Lord out eat with you. One evening invite your unbelieving neighbors over for dinner. Go grab a cup of coffee with a friend in your aerobics class who doesn’t know Jesus. It really is that simple. Be friends with non Christian people. You have to eat, so why not eat with other people who don’t know Jesus?

I’ve failed at this a lot personally over the course of my life, and I still have a long ways to go, but I’ve done my best to keep my lunches booked during the work week. It often means that we have to budget extra in our family budget for restaurant eating, but so much of my ministry is done over conversations with other men over a meal. It is there in those deep conversations with mouths full that encouragement is lavished, admonishment is given, and evangelism happens. So the challenge this morning is simple—who is one person you can invite to a meal this week who doesn’t know Jesus? In your community groups tonight, share the name of that person with your group for prayer, accountability, and encouragement. Work it into the rhythm of your life that you eat with other people, particularly with those who do not know Jesus.

Reevaluate Your Priorities

This may mean you need to re-evaluate your weekly calendar. Most of us are sinfully too busy. We pack our calendars so full with activity that we don’t have time to be intentional in building relationships with non believers. You may have to say no to some other commitments so that you can encounter new people on a regular basis. Use your hobby as a bridge to relationship. Love golfing? Join a group of guys and go golfing with them on Saturday. Love knitting? Join a sowing group in town and meet new friends and share your testimony with them. Love working out? Meet some people at the gym and invite someone out to coffee after your morning workout. Love basketball? Invite your co-worker over to your house to watch the game on Friday night. You get the picture. Evangelism isn’t always just going door to door. Though there is nothing wrong with doing that, but often the most effective evangelistic opportunities we have come through the trust of personal relationship. Be hospitable, friendly, and welcoming to all people. Build friendships with those who don’t know Jesus and through those friendships live out and share the Gospel. Missions isn’t an event and it isn’t nearly as hard as we make it out to be. It’s simply every day Christians doing every day things with Gospel intentionality.

As you are intentional with the Gospel and build those friendships with non Christians, the Spirit will work in the natural ebb and flow of the conversation to open hearts and provide you plenty of opportunities to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Be like Jesus. Be a friend of sinners.

Praying the Psalms: Psalm 22

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” For most Christians that haunting question stirs our hearts with sorrow. That desperate question was uttered by none other than Jesus himself on the cross. Jesus references the first line of Psalm 22 as he hangs on the cross. The Gospel writers, particularly Mathew, uses Psalm 22 throughout the crucifixion narrative to emphasize the innocence of Jesus. Psalm 22 is a psalm of lament and like all psalms of lament, the conclusion ends in praise. As we read in this Psalm about the horrific suffering of an innocent man, it so clearly points us to Jesus, the innocent son of God. Jesus’ crucifixion would not be the end of his story, but ends in great victory through his resurrection. Psalm 22 may begin in great sorrow, but concludes in great praise and victory, following the patter of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Praying the Psalms

Commentary

v. 1-5 - The psalm begins with a desperate and anxious question. Why does God seem so far away? Why does he seem so distant? Does God not hear the cries of the innocent? Can he not hear their groans in the dark of the night? The psalmist cries out day by day, night by night, but the Lord doesn’t answer. There is no rest.

We have all felt this way at some point in our Christian life. Where is God when it hurts? Just when we think we need him the most, he seems peculiarly absent in our lives. We may be in agony and anguish, but God doesn’t respond.

The psalmist has put his trust in the Lord continually. He knows that he is the holy one of God. His suffering casts no doubt on the goodness of God’s character. The psalmist knows that in the past, God answered the cries of the faithful of Israel. They trusted God, and were not point to shame.

Yet, the Psalmist is confused. He has grown up hearing about God’s faithfulness towards his people, but in his situation God seems to be absent? What seems to be the problem? So the psalmists is resolutely confident in God, but at the same time confused. Why is God absent for him, when God has intervened in the lives of so many others?

v. 6-18 - The psalmist then describes his condition. He is decimated and despised. He is rejected and scorned. He is mocked and taunted. To his enemies he is but a worm. His enemies scoff at his faith and taunt the Lord, “He trust sin the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!” (v 8) This psalmist is a man who is hated, but for no good reason. He is completely innocent and without faulty, yet he is despised and rejected by men.

Though he is jaded and barbed with the verbal spears of malicious foes, the psalmist trusts the Lord. He reflects on his trust in the Lord from the beginning. He has trusted continually in the Lord, even in his infancy, while he was at his mother’s breast. He has been wholly devoted to the Lord and innocent of these dehumanizing accusations.

Yet, the psalmist continues to be poured out like water. His bones are out of joint. His heart is melting under the duress of the persecution. His strength has dried up as he comes to lay in the dust of death.

The blood thirsty canine scavengers encircle him. They devour the weak as their prey. The count his bones to divide among them as they cast lots to divide his clothing. They pierce his hands and feet. These wicked men seek to take anything of value from this man and leave him in dehumanizing shame. They will not cease until they have turned this righteous and godly man into a worm.

As we read what this innocent man of Psalm 22 is going through, the images bring to our mind the crucifixion of our Lord. From the mocking at the cross—“If you are the son of God come down for there”, or “He saved others, but he cannot save himself!”—to the casting lots of his clothing, and to the piercing of his hands and feet, in all of it we see in Jesus.

Anyone who would have walked by Golgotha’s hill on that good Friday would have come to the conclusion that God has abandon this man. There is no way that God delights in him, because God has not rescued him. This is the way many of us think today. If God lets us incur a terrible fate, than either the problem must be in us or with God. Yet, throughout the Bible we see that God allows suffering to come upon the righteous in order to deliver them for the glory of his name. God uses the malicious intent of wicked men and turns it on its head. God is so sovereign that he is able to use depraved acts of violence to bring about an ultimate good.

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v. 19-21 - The sufferer cries out to God for help. Those his circumstances seem to swallow him up, his trust in the Lord is unfading. He calls out to the Lord, “Do not be far off! O you my help, come quickly to my aid!” This final desperate cry is one of deliverance and salvation.

When we are in similar situations, we too should pray and ask God for help. May our suffering never cause us to lose our confidence in God’s ability to rescue. Though he may seem far, he is near. Though he may seem incompetent, he is more than able. A crises of life should not become a crises of faith. Despite what this psalmist is going through, his trust in the Lord is resolute. So too should it be for all of God’s people.

v. 22-31 - As lament psalms do, this psalm concludes in praise. “For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him” (24). Those who trust in the Lord, place their trust rightly. God is reliable; he hears and responds to the desperate cries of his people. Though it might be delayed, rescue is coming. The result of that rescue leads to praise, satisfaction and joy. This rescue not only leads to the satisfaction and joy of the sufferer, but it leads to world wide praise to God!

All the peoples of the earth will worship before God. The Kingship belongs to the Lord, and he will reign forever. The result of this rescue is the worship of God’s name from generation to generation. Those yet to be born will one day hear of the righteousness that God has done.

As we think about Jesus’ cry on the cross, it is understood much deeper in light of the entire psalm. Yes, Jesus was in great suffering and agony as the innocent man who was pierced on that cross. At that moment of great suffering, God seemed distant and it appeared that God had abandon his son on the cross as Jesus bore the penalty of sin. Yet, God would not abandon his son, even in death. Though Jesus died, on the third day he would rise again to victory. Jesus’ death and resurrection is the center point of history. The entire earth must hear the good news of what Christ has done by dying in our place on the cross. The crucified son of God has been given the kingship that endures for ever. This good news has been told from generation to generation, to a people yet unborn.

The Gospel of Jesus has continued to be passed down from generation to generation. For two thousand years Christian moms and dads tell their children about the righteousness of God found in Jesus Christ. As Christians we must continue to proclaim to the next generation that the suffering son of God is the resurrected king and the savior of the world.

Prayer Guide

  • Have you ever felt abandon by God? Share your heartache honestly to the Lord.
  • Pray that God would give you the faith to trust him even when things go badly in your life.
  • Ask the Lord for deliverance from your enemies, particularly when you are suffering for righteousness sake.
  • Praise the Lord that God did not abandon Jesus, but raised him again on the third day.
  • Ask the Lord for opportunities to share the good news of Jesus with others.

Praying the Psalms: Psalm 21

Psalm 21 is another royal psalm, closely connected to the preceding psalm, psalm 20. Psalm 21 serves as a prayer of thanksgiving to God for his blessings on the King. The themes of kingship and kingdom run throughout the Bible. As we look at the joy the people of Israel found in their righteous and godly king, we too find our joy in the eternal king Jesus Christ. As we look at this Psalm today we will find that the Lord blessed his anointed King and exalts him to glory. Praying the Psalms

Commentary

v 1-7 - The Psalm begins as a prayer to God in thanksgiving for their King and the way God has honored the king. The king is a godly and righteous king who rejoices in the Lord, delighting in the salvation of God. As a result, God is faithful to bless the king. He gives the king his hearts desire and sets a crown  of fine gold upon his head. God blesses the king with a long life and the king is made glorious through the salvific work of God. God gives to him splendor an majesty. The King is the most blessed, because “the king trusts in the Lord” (7).

God loves to bless his anointed king. Though this psalm was originally addressed to a godly king in Israel, this psalm points so clearly to the true king and the true son of David. Jesus is the Christ. Christ means the anointed one. Jesus is the faithful and obedient servant king who finds his strength in God. He rejoices in the presence of his Father and delights to obey him.

Since Jesus is the righteous king, God crowns him with honor and praise. Jesus is the forever king of God’s people, because he is the only perfectly righteous king. The Father gives to his son life, and resurrected life at that. The length of his days stretch thought the unfathomable time of eternity.

The psalmist tells us that “His glory is great through your salvation; splendor and majesty you bestow on him” (5). Truer words have never been spoken about Jesus. Jesus the king is made glorious through the salvation of God. Through the salvation God purchased through the death of the righteous king, the king then receives the glory for it. The ascribing of splendor and majesty is ascribed to Jesus so clearly in the Christ Hymn of Philippians 2:5-11. Jesus who became the obedient servant, even unto death is know highly exalted by God. God gives to him the name that is above every name.

v 8-12 - The psalm continues in its celebration of the king by praising the Lord for his protection of the king. Enemies may very well rise up to challenge the King. They may be filled with violent hate, but the Lord will deliver the King from his enemies. “The Lord will swallow them up in his wrath, and fire will consume them”. The King’s enemies do not stand a chance. They will be wiped away by the very power of God.  Though the enemies may plan evil against the king, they will not succeed.

Certainly the powers of darkness cannot stand agains the anointed king Jesus. Despite all their cunning and hatred towards Jesus, their plans were foiled. Though they sought to kill Jesus, God used his death to bring about salvation and resurrected glory. Those who stand as enemies of God’s anointed king should be fearful, whether demonic or human. Jesus the true King will come again and establish his kingdom on the earth. Those who align themselves with the powers of darkness will face swift destruction and the eternal wrath of God.

v 13 - The Psalm concludes with a crescendo of praise. May the Lord be exalted in his strength, because the Lord provides strength to his anointed and blessed the righteous King. As we think about the kingship of Jesus, it is mean to bring us before our knees in worship. God is glorifies through his King and as we serve King Jesus with our lives, it is done  in worship and in love to God.

Prayer Guide

  • Thank God for King Jesus and for the way God has exalted him.
  • Thank God for the salvation given to you through Jesus.
  • Praise God for the confidence we have knowing that Jesus’ enemies will one day be defeated once and for all.
  • Praise the Lord for his strength and he glorifies himself through his King.

Your Presidential Candidate Isn't the Messiah

Did you know it was election season? I jest, after all, how could you not? Every time you flip on the news you hear some talking head babbling about some presidential candidate. You scroll through Facebook and find one "friend" after another spewing their adoration for their favorite candidate. The buzz of election year creates hope within the heart of every American; the glamorous pageant of democracy sparkles with messianic colors. 21-2016ers1

Every presidential election cycle dominates the cultural conversation, particularly our current cycle. After all, so much of our nations future depends on the man or woman who sits in the oval office. The president of the United States wields incredible authority and influence. In many ways, politics has become the new American religion. David Gelertner recently wrote in an article entitled What Explains the Vicious Left? that "For most conservatives, politics is just politics. For most liberals, politics is their faith, in default of any other; it is the basis of their moral life." He describes how for many on the left, committed to secularism, politics has replaced the basis of their faith. Therefore, they defend their political position with religious zeal. I think he is on to something, but I would suggest that politics has become a religion not only for liberals, but for conservatives as well—including evangelicals.

As you listen to political commentators on both sides and as you watch the cut-throat political commentary on social media, people tend to think of their candidate with Messianic implications. Whether its Cruz or Trump, Bernie or Hillary, the fiery zeal of their supporters promote these politicians with Messianic expectations. Each side hopes that their candidate will usher in a new era of our country, accomplishing their idealistic vision for the country. As secularism increases, politics has filled the spiritual vacuum. If we are not careful, Christians can get swept away with the political enthusiasm and find ourselves inadvertently looking to the wrong Messiah.

No matter where you land on the political spectrum, every presidential candidate will disappoint, whether you are a Regan conservative or a democratic socialist. Both the conservative and liberal ideologue will find themselves disappointed, even if there candidate wins. There is only one messiah and his name is Jesus. Only the preminant creator, the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation can reconcile all things, making peace by the blood of the cross (See Col 1:15-19). Our hope rests on the arrival of the coming of the kingdom of God, not in the prosperity of the kingdom of America. Let us not confuse the two.

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So should Christians just avoid politics, stick our heads in the sand, and ignore the incredible issues that plague our nation? No, not at all. As sojourners in Babylon we should "seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile" (Jer 29:7). We should work in the realm of politics, debate in civility concerning the future of our great nation, and cast our votes for presidential candidates. Yet, as we do, we must make very clear to the lost and dying work that our messiah is not a presidential candidate, but a Jewish man from Nazareth—the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Real Mystery of Christianity: The Incarnation

41KdLW3GkCL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Merry Christmas! I wish you and your family a wonderful day as you celebrate the birth of our savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Here is a great quote taken from J. I. Packer's Knowing God to warm your heart this Christmas.

But in fact the real difficulty, the supreme mystery with which the gospel confronts us, does not lie here at all. It lies not in the Good Friday message of atonement, nor in the Easter message of resurrection, but in the Christmas message of Incarnation. The really staggering Christian claim is that Jesus of Nazareth was God made man—that the second person of the Godhead became the "second man" (1 Cor 15:47), determining human destiny, the second representative head of the race, and that he took humanity without loss of deity, so that Jesus of Nazareth was as truly and  fully divine as he was human.

Here are two mysteries for the price of one—the plurality of persons within the unity of God, and the union of Godhead and manhood in the person of Jesus. It is here, in the thing that happened at the first Christmas, that the profoundest and most unfathomable depths of Christian revelation lie. "The Word became flesh" (Jn 1:14); God became man; the divine Son became a Jew; the Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, unable to do more than lie and stare and wriggle and make noises, needing to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child. And there was no illusion or deception in this: the babyhood of the Son of God was a reality. The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as is this truth of the Incarnation. (53)

Not Your Typical Manger Scene

When December arrives trees go up, decorations are strung, and gifts are purchased to celebrate the Christmas season. We go to party after party, eating cookie after cookie, to celebrate with our co-workers and friends. The busyness of Christmas hums along and it often isn’t until this week, the week of Christmas that things begin to slow down a bit. As kids get out of school, the Christmas parties complete, and the shopping list checked-off, now we can truly reflect on what makes Christmas so absolutely astonishing—the incarnation of God. christmas-jesus-pictures-hhmj99kf

The Mystery of the Incarnation

When we look to the Gospel we are astonished by its beauty and mystery. Yet, perhaps the most mysterious things is what actually happens on that first Christmas. God became a man. The Great I Am permanently wedded himself to humanity in the person of Jesus Christ. The son entered into his creation and was born in the most humblest yet extraordinary of circumstances.

Consider how demeaning it was for the eternal God to become a man. God has existed as trinity, Father, Son, and Spirit for all of eternity. But yet, in order to save us, God became one of us. Immanuel is his name. God decided to step into his creation. He stooped down from the glory heaven and entered into the earth as a man. At Jesus’ incarnation, the transcendent God becomes the immanent God. He becomes one of us.

Yet, the transcendent, majestic God of the universe stepped from the splendor of heaven and put on flesh and dwelt among us. Perhaps the greatest mystery in the whole Bible is the incarnation of Christ! Who could of imagined that God would do such a thing? To put on humanity would seem to be beneath him, but yet the God of love came to serve us by becoming one of us.

It Was Not a Silent Night

We tend to romanticize that first Christmas. Our manager scenes in our homes are quaint and clean. The reality of that night was different than the picture in our heads. Jesus came in a filthy stable, littered with the stench of animal excrement, and the rumbling noise of a barn. The arrival of Jesus wasn’t spectacular, but of lowliest proportions. That’s exactly what made it so extraordinary, God arrived into his creation not on a throne made of gold but a manager made of wood. The Christ-child came in the most unsanitary of conditions. “He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.”[1. Isaiah 53:2, ESV]

On Andrew Peterson’s incredible Christmas Album Behold the Lamb of God there is a beautiful track called Labor of Love the opening verse goes like this:

It was not a silent night

There was blood on the ground

You could hear a woman cry

In the alleyways that night

On the streets of David’s town

And the stable was not clean

And the cobblestones were cold

And little Mary full of grace

With the tears upon her face

Had no mother’s hand to hold

But yet, this was the way Jesus came to save. He came not as an entitled king, but the humblest of servants. Jesus did not come for the elite, he came for the nobodies, the rejects, and the failures. God, filled with empathy for his creation, identifies with us and becomes one of us. Immanuel is his name.

Remember, that Christ humbled himself in this way and took a form of a servant, for you and for me. By far the greatest gift we’ve ever received was the gift of God that first Christmas morning. It was the gift of himself. Do you know him? Have you experienced his love? Have you accepted him or have you rejected him? He suffered for you. He was lowly for you. He serves you. Glory in such truths as we worship the Christ child this Christmas.

You are Too Rich to be a Scrooge

Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. At least, that’s how the song goes. As I’m getting older, it seems like Christmas keeps coming around faster and faster. The Scrooge in within me sometimes utters, “Bah Humbug, Christmas again?” Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, has become a classic story at Christmas time. It has been adapted many times to film. Towards the beginning of the story, Scrooge has a conversation with his nephew. His nephew comes into his office and says Merry Christmas! Scrooge responds, “Merry Christmas! What right have you to be merry? What reason have you to be merry? You’re poor enough.” His nephew joyfully responds, “Come, then, what right have you to be dismal? What reason have you to be morose? You’re rich enough.” Too-Rich-to-be-a-Scrooge-Post-Image

As Christians, we are too rich not to be merry this time of year. Though we might not have earthly wealth, we have been blessed with every spiritual gift in the heavenly places. We have been lavished with the riches of God’s grace. Because, for those in Christ, we understand the true significance and the true wonder of Christmas: the light of the world has come and that, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness had not overcome it” (John 1:5).

Jesus not only enters into the darkness, but he overcomes the darkness! He slays our enemy. He rescues us from destruction. He absolves the darkness. How does Jesus overcome the darkness? Here are four ways Jesus overcomes the darkness.

1. He overcomes through his life as he is unstained by the darkness.

Every potential hero that emerges in the Old Testament falls victim to the darkness. No matter how much good they do, there are always horrible failures. From Abraham to Moses to David, no one is righteous, no not one. Yet, Jesus, the son of God, enters as the light of the world and he is unstained by the darkness. He does not succumb to temptation, but rather he overcomes it. Though tempted in ever way as we are, he is without sin. Where we all fail to meet the demands of God’s righteous law, Jesus fulfilled it. He fulfilled it not only through outward obedience, but through the internal motivations of his heart. He is holy, undefiled by sin. Where the first Adam fell to temptation in the garden of Eden, the new and better Adam in the Garden of Gethsemane crushed the serpent and overcome temptation. Jesus, the good son and the true Israel, obeyed where others failed. Throughout his life Jesus was unstained by the darkness.

2. He overcomes through his death as he is swallowed up by the darkness.

The perfect son of God was sent into this world as the light of the world, to die in the place of sinners. At the cross Jesus was swallowed up by the darkness, though he remains light. It was there on the cross that the full penalty for sin was poured out on Christ. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21, ESV). So Jesus paid the penalty for our rebellion. He paid the price for our ransom. By his stripes we are healed. Matthew tells us in his Gospel that at the time of Jesus’ death darkness covered the whole land, indicating God’s judgment on his son as he bore the punishment for sin. Jesus overcame as he willingly laid down his life and was engulfed in the darkness of the cross—which is the great display of human sin and God’s judgment of it.

3. Jesus overcomes through his resurrection as he defeats the darkness.

The glory of the light of the world is that he did not stay dead. Though he was swallowed by the darkness, he was not defeated by it. Rather, on the third day he rose again in victory in resurrected new life. The suffering servant overcame and our great enemy was defeated. The lamb of God who was slain rose as the victorious lion of Judah. Yes, he died, but he rose again! The grand plan of God fixes the broken world through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.

4. Jesus overcomes through his return as he achieves victory over the darkness.

Just as the light of the world entered into the world the first time as a baby born in Bethlehem, so too will the resurrected Jesus return at the end of days. He has put the fatal blow on sin and death, but will one-day return to establish his kingdom on the earth, defeating the powers of darkness once and for all. The consummation of his kingdom is coming. This is so important because the significance of the first advent can only be understood in light of the second. Jesus’ first coming is so important, because it points us to his final coming. The King will return for his throne. The husband will come back for his bride. The light will remove the darkness.

You’re Rich Enough to be Merry

Isn’t this what Christmas is all about? Even now as we sit in the sorrows of our suffering, isn’t our hope in Christ? Even now as we may groan in pain, our hope is in the light of the world who will return in victory over the darkness! Yes, darkness may surround us now, but the victory is already one. The light of the world has come and defeated sin and death, and he will come again. The significance of the first advent can only be understood in light of the second. This Christmas, you may be wondering is God fixing this broken world? The answer is yes—look at Bethlehem. Look at the God of light who became one of us to rescue us. The baby boy Jesus is the crucified son of God. The crucified son of God is the resurrected King. The resurrected King is the rider on the white horse who brings about the victory of the God!

So I’m not sure if you are in the Christmas spirit or not. Perhaps today you feel a bit like Scrooge inquiring, “What have you to be merry about, your poor enough, your suffering enough, you’re in pain enough, your hurting enough?” If you are a Christian this morning, I would simply reply back to you the same way Scrooge’s nephew replied to him, “Come, then, what right have you to be dismal? What reason have you to be morose? You’re rich enough.” For, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness had not overcome it.”

Praying the Psalms: Psalm 2

The Psalms are not just songs, but prayers. By studying the Psalms we can learn how to better pray and engage in communion with God. Each Thursday I’ll be posting a commentary and prayer guide for the Psalms to help us learn and practice prayer.

“And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second Psalm, “ ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you.’” (Acts 13:32–33, ESV)

We are hard wired for a King. God has designed us is to long for a good and just ruler to bring victory. Although it is hard to recognize in a democratic society, there is still great evidence that human beings naturally long for a King. Consider our love for celebrities, our passionate cheering for our sports teams, or the messianic anticipation we put on political leaders to bring justice and change. Each reveal that within the deep recesses of the human heart we long to rejoice in the fame of the victory of a King who brings true justice and change.

Psalm 2 is what is classified as a royal Psalm. It is a psalm about the royal line of Israel and the celebration of God’s blessing on the line of David. This psalm might have been used at the coronation of a King of Judah. However, as we look at Psalm 2 through the revelation of Jesus Christ, we see how Jesus is the fulfillment of all the promises God has made both to Abraham and to David. Jesus is the begotten of God who rules and reigns over the earth.

Commentary

v. 1–3. The world naturally revolts against the Lord’s anointed. God’s kingdom is continually being questioned and attacked by the nations. The starting question here is one that is always on the minds of God’s people. “Why do the nation rage and the peoples plot in vain?” Why does the world resist the reign and rule of God’s chosen king? As we look at the world all around us the world seems to be conspiring against God. Their sinful prideful hearts refuse to be ruled by another. The wicked want the autonomy that comes with independence. They refuse to submit to the true King. As a result, they conspire together against the anointed one of the Lord. Like wild horses they refuse to submit to the will of the rider.

The Christian must never forget that this world is in rebellion against God. Everyone does what is right in his own eyes, and there is great need for a righteous King. The struggle throughout the whole bible has been between the offspring of God and the offspring of the serpent. Since sins entrance into the world there has only been two sides to take – the kingdom of darkness or the kingdom of light. There is no third way. As the nations continue to rage against one another they also rage against God. In violence, deceit, oppression, and murder they force their own way while rejecting the rule of the anointed of God.

v. 4–5. The second stanza is a foil of the previous one. While the nations are raging below, God above is laughing. Their efforts of rebellion are laughable to him. It is a war they cannot win. For God is God over the universe. He holds the nations like a drop in the bucket. Even the mightiest of empires and the vilest violence of earthly kings are but a bucket of water to kick over. The people’s plotting is no threat to God. Rather, He sits above and speaks to them in anger. God’s just wrath comes out for his mouth, “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.”

God’s solution to the raging of the peoples of the earth is to set a King above them. However this isn’t just any King. God is going to place this king as ruler over ever kingdom of the earth. God is going to squash the rebellion of humanity.

This is important for us to remember as we see the wicked revolting in the world this very day. Justice will be had. God’s wrath will be poured out. Justice will come by his mighty right hand through the anointed of the Lord. No matter how dark it might get in our age, the Lord will come to execute justice – justice administered by this king.

v. 7–9. In this stanza the anointed king of God opens his mouth. He speaks of the divine decree of God, a decree which is fixed by His will. “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.” The Davidic King is established by God himself. He is the son of God, and begotten by Him. 2 Sam 7:14 tells us that God is going take the son of David as His own son. The promise God makes to the Davidic dynasty is fixed by the decree of God.

As we look through the lens of the New Testament, we see clearly how this son of David is the son of God. Jesus is the only begotten of the Father. Jesus is the fulfillment of all the promises God made to the line of David and Jesus is the true son. As a result, he receives all the privileges outlined in this royal Psalm. He will receive the nations as his inheritance. He will own the ends of the earth as his possession. He is the one filled with the power of God to shatter his enemies like a steel rod against a clay pot. This son of God will rule over everything. All the earth will be under his reign and rule. Those who rebel and reject his reign, he will destroy.

v. 10–12. The last stanza turns back our attention to the nations raging and their kings. The psalmist gives them some counsel in light of God’s rule through His son. They are told to be wise and be warned. The conspiring nations are up against a force they do not realize. For as they conspire against the Lord’s anointed, they conspire against the Lord himself. The nations are called to serve and fear the Lord. The nations of the earth are called to recognize the anointed of the Lord as Lord over all. They are urged to kiss the son as a sign of their submission to him and their loyalty. If they do no recognize the rule of the King then his anger and wrath will destroy them. Yet, for those who recognize his divine authority and love him, they will be blessed as they take refuge in the true King. Our eternity is decided by our relationship to the King. If it is one of rebellion it will be our eternal ruin. If it is one of love and fear, then it will be for our eternal blessing.

Gospel Application. As we think about Psalm 2, it is easy to see Jesus as the fulfillment. In fact the early church saw Jesus as the fulfillment of this Psalm and it is even quoted directly in the opening of Hebrews (Heb 1:5) and referred to later on in the book describing him as the appointed Kingly high priest of God in the order of Melchizedek (Heb 5:5). It is also referenced by Paul in Antioch seeing Jesus as the direct fulfillment of Psalm 2 (Acts 13:33). For Paul, just as Psalm 2 was probably sung at the coronation of a new King, Jesus coronation was at his resurrection. He has ascended to his throne and reigns and rules even now.

Jesus is the king over all. He is coming again with all divine authority to bring about his kingdom in total. As we wait for the full arrival of the kingdom of God, we do so knowing that the raging and plotting of the wicked is futile. Yes, the kingdom of darkness might have moments of brief victory, but their destruction is fixed. The wicked may win a skirmish here or there, but the war is lost. Every human being must decide, “Will I live in the blessedness and forgiveness of the King or will I resist, rebel, and be crushed by Him?” Those who take refuge in Jesus will be blessed, because he is the shelter from the wrath of God as he takes it on himself on the cross. By the blood of Jesus he provides not only victory but peace for those who trust Him and live under his benevolent rule.

Prayer Guide

  • Pray longing for the Kingdom of God to come. Pray in anticipation longing for Jesus’ return. Pray that God’s “kingdom would come and his will be done”.
  • Thank God in your prayers that as a just God he will not allow the wicked to go unpunished.
  • Praise God for sending the King that our broken world needs.Thank God for Jesus the King that both brings the Father Glory and you refuge.
  • Ask God to help you serve Jesus with both fear and joy.
  • Confess areas of your life that you struggle to submit to Jesus. What areas is he not Lord over? Take some time in your prayers to “Kiss the son”, showing both love and devotion to him.

Christmas is Better Than a Hallmark Card

We live in a hallmark card culture in which we overly sentimentalize the account of Jesus’ birth and soften some of the harsh realities of his entrance into this world. The shrieking cry of the mother Mary in the anguish of her labor, or the filthy smell of manure of that stable gets lost in our rose tented glasses. The birth of Jesus doesn’t really fit into the traditional Christmas-card vision we’ve created. The story of Jesus birth is scandalous which features a young teenage girl who becomes the gossip of the town when she gets pregnant out of wedlock. Its a tale of a couple forced by the imperial hand and a reminder of oppressive rule as they are forced to return to Bethlehem for the census. Its a lonely event as the lone couple gives birth in a stable many miles from their home in Nazareth.

The Christmas story is not a sentimentalized myth, but an actual historic account. It is grimy, noisy, smelly, and messy. And it is in this situation that God sends his son. It is in the brokenness of reality that God sends His son into the world to put on flesh and dwell among us. It is at Christmas the second member of the trinity cast off the glories of heaven and stripped himself of his divine privilege to enter into the most humblest of circumstances. It at this moment that the King arrives, not in a palace of gold, but in a barn of hay. It is this real world that God sends his rescuer and announcing his arrival, not to aristocratic celebrities, but to outcasted poverty-stricken shepherds. It is in this estate that we find the arrival of a son of God and it reminds us that Jesus is a savior who made himself nothing so that we could receive everything. The incarnation of the son is of the greatest humiliation and yet a poignant reminder that God seeks to bring hope to the hopeless, healing to the diseased, and mending to the broken hearted. It is in the incarnation of God that God becomes a man entering the darkness of the world to be its only light.

May our modern, cleaned-up, picture-perfect fantasy of the Christmas story be replaced by a modern, real, authentic account of a God who by grace enters the heartache of a broken world. In our sorrows may we rejoice that God has sent the man of sorrows, stricken with grief to be the savior we need. For Jesus was a baby born to die. The babe Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes would one day be wrapped in blood-stained burial cloths. As the mother Mary wept with joy over the arrival of her new son so too she would weep over his crucified body. Christmas must always be celebrated in light of Easter, for it is through the death of the son that life is given. Through the defeat of Jesus, our victory was purchased. Just as Mary wept over her sons birth and death so too she wept with joy in seeing her son’s resurrection.

The great glory of Christmas is this: The true king has arrived. The suffering servant is the resurrected King! Just as Jesus died, he was also raised! This broken world will one day be mended under the reign and rule of a divine and human king. The first advent must always usher us into longing expectation for the second. For just as the son of God entered into this world the first time, so too will he enter it a second. Though this time he will not come in a manger, but come riding on a white horse. It is then at Christ’s return that the tears and sorrows of this life will be wiped away as Jesus our Lord extends his righteous rule to the ends of the earth. Come Lord Jesus!

3 Ways to Kill Your Fear of Others

If you are like me you tend to care way to much for what other people think. It is easy to become paralyzed but the opinions of others.  Why do we tend to be like this? Is it because we need more self-esteem or encouragement? Nope. It is because we are sinners.  The more I get to know others and the more I get to know myself, there seems to be a universal struggle with what the bible calls fear of man.  When we care more about what other people think about us than God, then we have some serious priority issues.  Jesus takes on this issue of fear of man squarely in Matthew 10:26-33.  However, in order to understand what Jesus is saying we must understand what is happening earlier in the chapter.

A Great Commission Trial Run

Here in Matthew 10 Jesus sends out the twelve apostles as a sort of dry run of the Great Commission. He is sending them out to the lost sheep of Israel. He gives them specific commands and instructions on how to go about their missions work. Jesus knows that these twelve men are going to be commissioned to make disciples of all nations.  The wise teacher Jesus thought that its best to let them ride the bike with training wheels with Jesus still there before the training wheels come off.

However, one of the things Jesus instructions them on is the reality of persecution that will come to them.  We don't hear many sermons or messages about Jesus promises of persecution, but Jesus didn't hesitate to warn his disciples of what would be coming if they faithfully followed him.  Jesus warns them of being flogged, hated, and ever murdered.  Jesus tells them that  disciple is not above his teacher.  If they called Jesus the prince of demons (Beelzebub), what do you think they will do to his disciples?

Have No Fear of Them

It is within this context that Jesus utters these words, "Have no fear of them". For most of us persecution like Jesus is describing sounds terrifying.  Yet, Jesus tells us in 10:28 a truth we must understand if we want to put to death our fear of man issues.  Jesus says, "Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell."  Jesus has a way of putting things into perspective.  Why would we fear other people? Whats the worst they can do to us? Kill us and take our life? So what? Fear God for he in his omnipotent power as the righteous judge has the authority to destroy both body and soul in hell.

So why then do we tend to be devastated when someone critcizes us or paralyzed to do something we now others might not celebrate? Why do we fear to take a step of obedience that Christ is calling us to do because someone might disprove? To fear men more than we fear God is really irrational. So here are three quick ways you can seek to put to death your fear of man issues.

1. Live for God and God Alone

First, we must live for God and God alone. If we are living for fame, friends, popularity, or success it is easy to be consumed with satisfying the demands of our idols.  God must be our God. We must first and foremost concerned with faithfulness to him rather than approval of other people. We must realize that God is the king and ruler over all. He is the Lord of our life and therefore we must submit to him, for he wields the sword of divine power. We must never forget that our God is a fierce God. He is not safe. For he will judge the living and the dead. We must fear God. Respecting and honor him. We come before him in fear and trembling recognize that he is the Lord over all.

2. Expect Unpopularity

If we are going to live for God alone, it will be unpopular.  Other people will not understand it. Sometimes even other Christians might jump in a jeer and mock us. Persecution will come.  Thankfully, in the western part of the world the sort of persecution Jesus is describing in Matthew 10 we rarely see.  However, in other parts of the world the danger is very real of flogging and even death.

If we are going to put to death our sinful fear of men, we cannot be naive to the fact that following Jesus can be costly or even dangerous in this life.  We might lose our reputation or even worse. Persecution is to be expected and the mocking slander of men will come to attack us. Just as they attacked our Lord Jesus so to will we be attacked.

3. Remember Your Identity in Christ

Yet, we must always remember our identity in Christ. What is the antidote to our groveling fear of the opinions of others? Is is the Gospel. In Christ we have been declared righteous, holy, and pure.  We have been justified by faith. Therefore because in Christ I have the approval of God, what other approval do I really need? If God has accepted me, why would I need the acceptance of others?

If we realize who we are in Christ, our incessant need for the praise of others will vanquish. We must remind ourselves those Gospel truths that the God who can throw our body and soul into hell has saved us, redeemed us, and adopted us as his children.  When we grasp our identity in Christ it is liberating. The man or woman who firmly finds their identity in Christ and Christ alone is fearless.  Our identity in Christ gives us divine courage to go, speak, and serve with Spirit infused boldness. Though we may be mocked, beaten, or executed by men, because of Jesus in the life to come I will stand before God accepted because of Jesus.

When we understand in this the opinions of others really are not all that terrifying. In fact, their completely insignificant compared to the divine significance of the divine approval we've been given by God's grace.