What Do You See?

thA man is pushing a stroller down the street. A sloppily dressed individual is bent over beside the road. A man is running through the neighborhood in street clothes. A woman  sits in her car on the shoulder of the road busily fumbling with something. What is it that you see?

Do you see a kidnapper who just swiped someone’s child? Do you see an annoying vagrant? Do you see a criminal on the run? Do you see a woman plotting to hurt someone else? Or do you see a father taking a stroll with his child; a person picking up a lost item; a man who is hurrying to help someone in need down the street; or a woman who is trying to encourage someone on the phone using the blue-tooth technology in her car?

In the movie “The Recruit” with Al Pacino and Collin Ferrell, Pacino’s character tells the CIA recruits that nothing is what it seems. What may look like one thing may be in fact something completely different. I am guessing that the emphasis was teach the recruits to be aware of and suspicious of everything. What appears innocent and harmless may be a potentially dangerous situation and what may appear dangerous may be innocent and harmless.

The Israelite people in New Testament times had the view that the Messiah would be a leader like King David 900 years before. Not just a king to rule, but a leader to overcome Israel’s enemies and bring greater prosperity than Israel had ever known.

Then Jesus comes on the scene around A.D. 29 and begins teaching and the people are amazed at his teaching. He hasn’t gone to the Jewish Seminary in Jerusalem and learned from the teachers of the Law, and he is about 30 years old is all; he teaches like he knows what he is talking about and he possesses wisdom for someone so young and untaught, not like the regular teachers. In Mark 6 when he returned to his hometown, Nazareth and taught in the synagogue the people were amazed but then were offended because he was a hometown boy who came from an insignificant and poor family and now he acts like a teacher. Either they were jealous of what he had become or upset that he thought himself a teacher though they knew his background (Mark 6:1-6).

To Nazareth, Jesus  wasn’t who they thought him to be. The rest of Israel believed that maybe he was the promised One, the Messiah to come.

When Jesus came into Jerusalem on the Sunday before the Passover and his arrest IconJesusMessiahAndKingand crucifixion, the people began to honor him as the coming Messiah. The popular Jewish Messianic expectations in place and what better time for the Messiah-King to assume the throne and reign in Jerusalem but at the biggest feast of the year.

But Jesus didn’t come to set up an “earthly kingdom.” In fact, as Pilate questioned Jesus, Jesus’ response to Pilate was, “my kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).

Even Jesus’ apostles (and it appears most of the rest of his disciples) expected an earthly kingdom. The concept that he would die was out of the scope of their concept of the God’s Messiah-King. Death would ruin it all. If he died, he might not actually be the Messiah.

What do you see? Are you aware of the truth and reality or do your preconceived ideas provide the basis of your understanding?

Many people want Jesus to only be a great teacher or a spiritual guru. Some want him to fulfill their self-help needs, or provide assistance like EMT in an emergency. Some want Jesus out of their lives and forgotten in this world. Some want Jesus to be everything to them.

What do you see? Who is Jesus to you? If he is not the Messiah of God, who saves and rules lives by his atoning death, well, read the Gospels and the book of Acts, and the letters of Peter, John, James, and Paul, read the book of Revelation and see that what some people see in Jesus is much less than he really is and their understanding and beliefs about Jesus are their own devices and not from God, or from Jesus, or his disciples, and not from the Bible.

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Asking the Hard Questions

A week ago, a teen girl came in a minute late to our Bible study and asked if I would answer her questions. She wanted me to answer them quickly so she could go. She didn’t want to stay and endure a Bible discussion. I looked at her questions which were very personal and full of struggle. Questions written as a letter to God in her diary. She asked why she was the size she is; why some people are successful at suicide but she hasn’t been; if God would let her die; and more like those.

I suggested that the Bible study hour was not the best to deal with these personal questions, and she asked if I would talk to her afterwards. I told her that I would.

I found her upstairs and we sat down and I looked at her questions again and told her that I might not be able to answer some of her questions. She was hurting deeply and wondering about whether she really believed in God and his goodness and justice.

I told her that maybe the best way to answer her concerns was to set the base for understanding God and what happened with creation. God created us with the capacity to make moral choices, choosing to receive God’s love or rejecting his love which also gives the capability to return God’s love or withhold it. God didn’t create beings that would love him without choice because forced love is not genuine love.

Understanding this truth settled some of the questions she had.

The 90 minutes I spent with this young lady was one fo the most important moments in my life. Not because I answered hard questions, but because I was given an opportunity to share God’s love and glory with someone who is searching for his love. Right now, I am certain that a seed has been planted and pray that she will come to faith in God and ultimately in God’s Son, Jesus Christ.

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Read This Article from Relevant Magazine online

It is interesting that all at once there are several discussions about Christian -vs- Saints.  Here is a good one. Why-They-Called-Us-ChristiansClick on the link and it will take you to the Relevant article entitled, “Where the ‘Christian’ Name Really Came From.”

http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/church/where-christian-name-really-came

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My Association With the Thief on the Cross

At some time in everyone’s life we must come to grips with who we are. In those moments, when we begin to ask the questions, most of us search for meaning in who we are. If we are honest and even courageous, we will admit that there are things wrong with us. Each of those “things wrong with us” ultimately come from the reality (a reality we may not know or understand yet) that we are sinners.

Sinners! What does that mean. That means that we have gone against some standard or level of truth that we have not achieved and what we have done to compensate for our failure is sin. Of course that word, “sin” means “to miss the mark.”

I’ve played darts some, I’ve shot a basketball at a basket, a lot (I am a Hoosier), I have tried kicking a few field goals and in every case (especially kicking field goals) I missed the mark. But, that is not as strong a concept as what the Biblical term sin implies.

Missing the mark implies consequence for failing. Just because I didn’t score the points when I missed in darts and basketball and football, doesn’t mean there is a consequence. There may be some sort of consequence. I might lose the game for my team if I miss. That’s too bad. I might, if I am a professional athlete (which I’m not nor have I ever been close to being one) I might lose my position on the team. But the consequence of sin, of missing the mark, is comprehensive, it is death, spiritual, eternal death.

“The wages of sin is death….” Romans 6:23, KJV, RSV, NASB, NIV (cf, 1 John 5:17)

As I realized that I had failed God’s standard; “Everyone has sinned and is far away from God’s saving presence” (the Good News Bible), because of my sin, I realized I needed Jesus.

Jesus overcame and conquered so much in God’s name for you and I. Most importantly for us right here and right now, he conquered sin and death (Romans 4:25 & 8:2) and freed us to become a part of the Father’s kingdom of love and life.

The thief on the cross, when he looked to Jesus and asked for mercy in his kingdom, took the humble attitude of realizing that he had sinned but Jesus had not, that he deserved death but Jesus didn’t, that he needed Jesus’ mercy and Jesus could give it (Luke 23:40-43).

When I am dying in my sins (see passages above), I am dying away from God, without hope, but not without help. Jesus is there waiting on my call to him to save me. When I come to him in my dying spiritual condition and confess my belief in him, wanting to turn and come to God, when I die through immersion (Romans 6:1-10; Acts 2:38; 1 Peter 3:21), Jesus is saying to me, “Now, you are joining me in my glory, with the Father, forever.”

It is then that I become associated with the thief on the cross. Because I am now coming into Christ and am forgiven, forever, for glory, for good.

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How the Thieves Shared in the Death of Christ

1What should we say then? Should we continue in sin so that grace may multiply?  2 Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Or are you unaware that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we were buried with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in a new way of life. 5 For if we have been joined with Him in the likeness of His death, we will certainly also be in the likeness of His resurrection. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that sin’s dominion over the body may be abolished, so that we may no longer be enslaved to sin, 7 since a person who has died is freed[e] from sin’s claims.[f] 8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him, 9 because we know that Christ, having been raised from the dead, will not die again. Death no longer rules over Him. 10 For in light of the fact that He died, He died to sin once for all; but in light of the fact that He lives, He lives to God. @Romans6.1-10 (HCSB)

After Jesus’ death, in order to access salvation one must by faith be immersed (cf., passage above, Acts 2:38; 1 Peter 3:21, etc). We must share in Jesus’ death and resurrection. Immersion (aka baptism) is the moment we share in Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Bible is very clear about this.

But think about this, there were two criminals, specifically thieves that were crucified with Jesus, one on each side of him. One of those thief’s had a change of heart and with a heart of sorrow and repentance and believed in Jesus. He asked Jesus to remember him in his glory and Jesus promised him he would be there with him.  The other thief died scorning Jesus, ridiculing him like the Jewish leaders taunting and belittling him on the cross. He died without repentance and was not given a promise of hope by Jesus.

Both of the thieves died, when Jesus died. I don’t mean they died at the very same instant, but they died on those crosses together. The one in the middle, the Savior for those who have faith in him, one died without faith, and the other died believing. The thieves literally shared in the death of Christ, but only one was given the promise of eternal life, @Luke23.39-43.

In other words, the thief that expressed his belief will awaken to eternal life.

When a person believes and repents, they are baptized. It is in that moment that we experience what the thief that Jesus promised Paradise too, salvation. We experience death and resurrection in the activity of baptism. Dead in sin, we are buried under the water and we rise out of the water alive in Christ. It is there that God applies salvation to our lives.

It is in death that Jesus forgave the repentant thief and it is in death that God forgives the repentant sinner.

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Which Thief (on the cross) Are You?

There’s a cross for you. I mean, the three crosses raised that day in A.D. 29 were our crosses. Our sin, our affront to God with our sin shows we are guilty and deserved death.

Three people died that day; Jesus in the middle, and two criminals on the left and right side of Jesus. When Jesus said “it is finished,” the fate of the two thieves was set. One would suffer in hell, the other, would join Jesus in “paradise.”

Sin destroys! Think about it. Sin doesn’t do good at all. The ultimate purpose of sin is to destroy the sinner. Lying destroys trust. Hate and murder destroys lives. Adultery destroys relationships and families. Sin destroys.

The reason for sin’s destruction is to hurt God. The devil, in the Garden of Eden, in the form of a serpent wanted to convince Adam and Eve to sin. He worked his deceit through Eve and Adam fell in with her in the sin.

The devil wants to hurt God, and what hurts the most, a severely broken relationship. Sin is the break-point and separation and punishment is the consequence, because, we have not obeyed the Father.

The thieves had separate attitudes about Jesus. One taunted Jesus to save himself. The crowds watching the spectacle were taunting Jesus in the same way. The other thief, realized that Jesus was without sin and that he did not deserve punishment. He even scolded the other thief. We deserve this punishment, but this man has done no wrong.

“For all have sinned” Romans3.23; and “the wages of sin is death” @Romans6.23. We are sinners, we deserved the death that Jesus died. But Jesus death was for sin. He was on the cross receiving the penalty for our sin, therefore he became sin for us.

Because the one thief was repentant, when he asked Jesus to remember him when he comes into his kingdom, Jesus told him that he would be in paradise with him that very day. He was forgiven. He was given freedom from the spiritual penalty of his sin.

Have you repented of your sin against God? Have you asked forgiveness for your sinfulness? Have you confessed Jesus as the risen Son of God because you believe in him? Have you been immersed for your salvation?

Which thief are you?

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Gut Wrenching Prayer (Jesus Praying in the Garden)

When Jesus was praying in the Garden, “My Father, if it is possible let this cup pass from me,” (@Mt. 26:39, NASB) he was asking the Father for another way. Jesus knew the extent of the horror he was going to experience. He knew how he would die and what it would cost him to go through that experience.

I’ve heard it said that Jesus wasn’t afraid of the physical pain. I can’t believe that to be true. But I do believe the physical pain was minor compared to the pain of feeling forsaken and separated from God when he would become sin for us.

Jesus comes to the Father, alone, with his friends a short distance away and he pleads with God, with his sweat becoming like drops of blood. He knows what is about to happen. He knows the terror his soul and his flesh will feel. He does not want to be separated in his loving, unified fellowship with God the Father. That separation will tear at his heart and soul. It will be the worst thing that can happen.

Jesus will know what it is like for people to be far away from God. What kind of hell their souls are in and will be in if they continue in sin with the consequence of punishment in hell.

Is there another way? Can we accomplish this in a different way some way where we will not be separated by sin?

Jesus never once wanted to abandon humanity to sin. He wasn’t betraying our faith and trust. He knew what was coming and what it meant and asked for something different.

But, because his relationship with the Father was one of love and unity and obedience, Jesus willingly submitted himself to the will and vision of God the Father. His words, “Yet not as I will, but as you will,” (Mt. 26:39, NASB) tell of his love for the Father and his love for humanity which bears the image of God.

This was a huge sacrifice for Jesus. He would be beaten and ripped to pieces and then crucified until he died, but his sacrifice was his fellowship with God is so pure and holy, he cannot associate with sin.  And if Jesus was experiencing pain from separation anxiety, consider what God the Father would experience.

Because Jesus willingly died for our sin, through our faith in him, our sins are forgiven. When Jesus died with our sins placed on him, the eternal power of sin was put to death. When Jesus rose from the dead, he came to life without sin because sin was defeated. Sin, the power of sin, and sin’s leader the devil were all done in.

To deal with sin, it gut wrenching. It is for us now, it was for Jesus then. But that is what he came to do, deal with sin by putting sin to death. And the Father’s will was accomplished when Jesus died on the cross for me and for you.

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