Gifts

wise men

On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.  Matthew 2:11

 
‘Tis the season to be giving gifts. Like the Wise Men from long ago, we present our loved ones with gifts each Christmas. The gifts that were brought before the young Messiah, held great significance. The gold was representative of Jesus’ kingship. The incense points to Jesus’ priesthood. And the myrrh was an indication of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. All three were costly. All three were given as an act of worship.
But what about the gifts that we bring to the Messiah? What is it that you and I have that can be presented to the Prince of Peace? I can think of another trio of gifts that would be pleasing:
Acts of service
Acts of devotion
Acts of faith
I may not have gold to give, but I can serve. The two greatest commandments are to love God and love people. How we choose to do that on a daily basis are acts of service. When we put ourselves in a position of lifting others up, we are making an offering that is pleasing in God’s sight.
I may not have incense to give, but I can be devoted. We are instructed to love God with ALL of our heart, and with ALL of our soul, and with ALL of our mind, and with ALL of our strength. When we stop holding back and finally submit to our Lord all that we are, the good, the bad, and the ugly, we position ourselves to be forgiven by the great High Priest.
I may not have myrrh, but I can be faithful. When circumstances don’t make sense; when we are in a season of loss; when we have given every last effort, when we don’t know what else to do, we can still be faithful and trust in the One who gave himself for each one of us.
Friends, whether today is a day that you can be surrounded by those you love or you’re in a place where your heart is hurting (maybe it’s a combination of the two), know this: whatever you have, your joys and your sorrows, out of your wealth and your poverty, in your health and in your illness, the gifts you bring will be treasured beyond measure.
Bethany Ligon

The Second Coming

Revelation 19

Revelation 19 11 NIV
 
We’ve had some really heavy topics, and we are not quite out of the woods yet. We are coming to the point in the reading where there is just joy and happiness and peace, but we are not there yet. It takes someone showing up on the scene to make that happen. We have the coming of a rider on a white horse. The images that John uses only highlights that he is speaking about Jesus.
I love Christmas; the songs, the snow, the presents, the expectations. I even love the time leading up to it. In the wider Christian tradition, this time is called Advent, which is Latin for “to come”. We recognize in Advent the first coming of Jesus. And in Revelation 19, we are shown a picture of the second coming of Jesus. Those two images could not be more different. 
Jesus came as a peaceful prince riding on a donkey. Jesus will come as a conquering rider on a white horse.
When he came, many called him a liar and a demoniac. He will come and be known as “Faithful and True.”
He came to bring salvation. He will come to bring judgment.
He came with eyes full of tenderness and sorrow. He will come with eyes of fiery flame.
He came and bore a crown of thorns. He will come crowned with many crowns. 
He came and was wrapped in tattered cloths. He will come in a blood stained robe.
He came and was known as Jesus. He will come and be known as Word of God.
He came and refused the help of the legions of angels. He will come and be accompanied by the armies of heaven. 
He came preaching words of truth. He will come and his words will be a sword coming from his mouth. 
He came and only a small number knew who we was. 
He will come, and his name, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, will be emblazoned on his thigh.
 
This is the Messiah we serve. He is not weak; he is not a push over; he is not a doting parent or Santa Claus. 
He is the conquering king, coming to claim the world that is rightfully his, to avenge his servants who have been oppressed, and to drive out those who did not honor him. 
 
Let this image of Jesus wash over you, and praise God that the King is coming. 
Amen, Come, Lord Jesus.
Jake Ballard

Clarification of the Christ

Colossians 1:15-20

colossians 1 15 NIV

I love to look deeper into these verses in Colossians to fully understand what Paul was writing and why. Paul was poetic in his language and using wording that the Israelites used to describe the personification of wisdom. If you look through the Old Testament it is not likely that you will find the phrase “Holy Spirit”. You will however find the term “Spirit of God” which we discover is the same thing, God’s power within us. Likewise “word of God” is not seen in the Old Testament. Once there is a reference to the “word of the LORD” but the majority of the references toward the Word of God are seen describing this personification of wisdom. A different way of saying the same thing. Jesus is the living embodiment of the Word of God.

“He is the image of the invisible God” – Jesus is called the image of God in these verses and in 2 Corinthians 4:4. In Hebrews 1:3 he is described as “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being”. Two truths are revealed through the first half of this verse: God has remained unseen “no one has ever seen God” John 4:18 and second, Jesus reveals the nature and character of God for he is the image of God in which humanity was originally created in Genesis 1:26. It is the image that we as the faithful will be transformed into upon Jesus’ return.

“The firstborn over all creation” – Paul borrowed from his Jewish upbringing; firstborn was a Hebrew way of saying someone was especially honored. The nation of Israel was called firstborn (Exodus 4:22), as was David (Psalm 89:27). The word, in these instances, did not refer to their physical birth but to their place of honor before God. So here Paul is saying that Jesus has a place of honor over all creation.

“By him all things were created” seven times in these verses Paul mentions “all creation”, “all things”, and “everything” stressing that the Christ is supreme over all through the power God granted him. The tense at the end of this verse was not translated correctly in the NIV, it says “all things were” however the original language was not past-tense “were” rather present “are”.

“Before all things” like with firstborn this does not speak of time but importance. The Christ is before all things in importance for it is only through him that all things will be restored.

“All things hold together” he will usher in a new age in which sinful man will be redeemed and united with our holy God.

This passage speaks of the importance of the Christ, the place of honor over all things that he holds. Additionally it points to both Jesus’ place of honor over the church and those who will be resurrected to eternal life as well as a chronological order. Jesus was the beginning of the church as we know it. And he was the first, and only one to this point, which God raised to new life. We the faithful will follow suit once Jesus returns.

“All (his) fullness dwell” (his) was added to many translations which adds to the confusion and skepticism that people may have concerning these verses. Before moving forward think about what happens to those who come to God through Jesus. We are filled with God’s spirit, His power and character, at least to a point. But Jesus was filled with the fullness of God, all power and authority were given to him. He also displayed the nature, character, and attributes of God. Paul also had another reason for his choice of words, “fullness” was a popular term among the Gnostics who used it to refer to the combination of all supernatural influences. So Paul used their own word to elevate the Christ above all other religious ideas and systems.

“To reconcile to himself all things” Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection set the stage for not only the faithful to be made new but also all of creation. Unfortunately it does not mean that everyone will be saved from sin and ultimately death. We have free will and we make our own choices. But God does not give up on us. I believe that even those He has already seen reject Him are given daily opportunities for redemption.

It is important that we have a clear understanding of who Jesus is and the reason that we need a Christ, Messiah.

To be continued… (by someone else)

Jeff Ransom

 

(Editor’s Note – Thank you Jeff for finishing off the book of Proverbs with us this week, and giving us two free theme days to think on!  Tomorrow we will begin looking at the book of Revelation – one chapter a day through the month of November.  And in December we will finish off the New Testament with the book of Luke.  So many precious things in God’s Word!  Keep taking it in.)

Baptism – What is the Big Deal?

Matthew 3:13-17

Matt 3 17 (1)

Conversations abound over the importance of water baptism. Is it the baptism or simply a confession of faith? If baptism, then is it pouring, sprinkling or immersion? There is a semi-famous song about this. What about infant versus conscious baptism? What about those who do not have access to water? So many questions surround this topic. And these are just focusing on the methods and timing. What about what happens when we are baptized? What is the point or reason for being baptized? Why is it a public thing? It can be exhausting and at times confusing.

So let us look at the example set by Jesus. He travels from Nazareth in Galilee to the Jordan River where his cousin John is baptizing people in droves. Baptism itself was commonplace but it was a simple cleansing ritual. It was not too deep or meaningful and was certainly not a public spectacle. The people had never seen anything like what John was doing. In addition to the large masses of people coming to him he was telling them that this baptism was for the repentance of their sins. John was the precursor to Jesus, the keynote speaker if you will. He was highlighting the points that would be vital to Jesus’ ministry – repentance and the coming kingdom.

Jesus came to John to be baptized. John however recognized Jesus as the Messiah and understood that it was Jesus who should be baptizing John. He tried to argue with Jesus because he understood that among them only Jesus was righteous and sinless. Jesus was the only one who did not need this baptism.

Jesus’ response was that he must be baptized to fulfill all righteousness. In doing so he was consecrated by God and officially approved by Him. His baptism had nothing to do with Levitical Law though. John’s message of repentance and the coming kingdom pointed to a Messiah who would be righteous and bring righteousness to the sinner. Jesus was identifying with the sinful world even though he himself was without sin. His baptism also marked the arrival of the long expected Messiah and the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. And finally his baptism was symbolic of his death, burial, and resurrection and was an example for his followers to come.

Upon being baptized the spirit of God rested upon him. This is the moment when God gave Jesus all authority and power to carry out his Father’s perfect will here on earth. Jesus later told his disciples that this same spirit, a portion only however, would come upon them. It is the same spirit received by all who come to God through Jesus and the waters of baptism. This spirit strengthened and encouraged Jesus when he needed it most, as it does for each of those who faithfully follow his example.

So he comes up out of the water and the Spirit of God comes upon him and then it happens! Something incredible! Something amazing! Something that has not happened for four hundred years. Man hears the first words from God since the close of the Old Testament. His silence is broken so that He can confirm Jesus is His son, “Whom I love, with him I am well pleased.” This statement in itself is timeless. God was not simply pleased that Jesus was beginning his ministry. It is the culmination of a millennia old plan to bring all people back to Him. The fulfillment of His covenant with Abram is realized in this moment. All people will be blessed through Jesus if they choose Yahweh as their God and Jesus as the way to Him. Past, present and future balanced on this man’s obedience to God.

John was baptizing in a river and most examples of baptism in the New Testament appear to be in or around large bodies of water so immersion in water makes the most sense for how we ought to be baptized. There are biblical examples of baptism of the spirit alone, a confession of faith without involvement of water. These examples however appear to be the exception and not the rule. People without access to water or without time to get to water are exceptions.

If someone has the means and opportunity to go through the waters of baptism and does not are they saved by confession of sin and repentance alone? I do not know just as I do not know if someone who confesses, repents, and is baptized is saved. We have biblical and personal examples of people being baptized and living in a way that is completely opposed to God’s will. God alone knows our hearts. He knows where we stand.

One of the radical things about what John was doing is that those who came to him to be baptized were obeying God from their heart. It is a conscious decision to be baptized. I was “baptized” as an infant but it meant nothing to me. I had not made the choice to change my life. I had not chosen God or His son until I was a grown man. That has been the point from the beginning, back when Adam and Eve were in the Garden. They had a choice to choose God or not, trust Him or not. They chose not. Jesus presents to the whole world that very same choice.

In this moment when Jesus was baptized God’s confirmation of Jesus was both for his assurance and for a witness to others. This is the same reason for us to publicly surrender and commit to God through Jesus. We need the inner confirmation of His great blessing upon us, and the world needs the testimony of a life committed to His will through Jesus.

 

To be continued…

Jeff Ransom

The Winning Side

Psalm 110 1

FREE THEME – Psalms

This week we are looking at seven different types of psalms.  Yesterday we looked at a wisdom psalm.  Today we are looking at a royal psalm.

The Psalms were written at a time and in a culture where kings ruled.  Israel was governed by either David or his heir.  David was hand chosen by God to be God’s anointed king.  They literally poured oil over the king’s head and face to symbolize being anointed by God to rule.  This anointed one was literally the Messiah or messianic/anointed king.  When God set David apart as king God promised him that his heir would rule over God’s people forever.  This rule would begin at Jerusalem or Zion but would extend ultimately over all the earth.

Psalm 110 is a promise that the anointed king would rule, that God would give him victory over God’s enemies.

Vs. 4 makes a curious statement- this king will also be a priest, but not the typical priest.  In Israel, to serve as priest in the temple one had to be a descendant of the tribe of Levi.  But David and his family were descendants from the tribe of Judah, which was the ruling tribe.  This descendant of David would be a different kind of priest.  Just as Melchizedek was a priest in the time of Abraham, long before Levi was ever  born, this kind of priesthood was a greater kind of priest than the Levitical priest.

All of this finally makes sense when we understand how Jesus fits into the picture.  Jesus is the fulfillment of this psalm.  He is an heir of David, he will rule as King, he is also a priest but not in the temple of Jerusalem.   As a priest he offers up his own body as a sacrifice to God.  He doesn’t enter the holy of holies in the Temple of Jerusalem, he ascends to the heavens and enters into the immediate presence of God, where he continues to serve as our priest, until the day comes when he returns to the earth to rule over all the earth following the final battle when the kingdoms and kings of the earth will all bow before Christ as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  This royal psalm points us to Jesus.

Everyone wants to be on the winning side.  This reminds us that if we choose to follow Jesus and give our lives to Jesus, we will be on the winning side at the last battle.

Psalm 110

Of David. A psalm.

The Lord says to my lord:

“Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet.”

The Lord will extend your mighty scepter from Zion, saying,
“Rule in the midst of your enemies!”
Your troops will be willing
on your day of battle.
Arrayed in holy splendor,
your young men will come to you
like dew from the morning’s womb.

The Lord has sworn
and will not change his mind:
“You are a priest forever,
in the order of Melchizedek.”

The Lord is at your right hand;
he will crush kings on the day of his wrath.
He will judge the nations, heaping up the dead
and crushing the rulers of the whole earth.
He will drink from a brook along the way,
and so he will lift his head high.

Stake Your Life on This

John 11

John 11 25

In John 11, Jesus received word that his dear friend was very sick, and yet Jesus stayed where he was for two more days before heading to Bethany, where Lazarus was.  When he finally got there, Lazarus had been dead for four days.

Martha, Lazarus’ sister came out to meet with Jesus, and we have a record of their incredible conversation.

21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

I love these incredible statements of faith:  If Jesus had only been there, he could have healed Lazarus.  Even now, God would give Jesus anything Jesus asked.  “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”  “I believe you are the Messiah, the Son of God.”

No wonder Jesus loved this family.  They were devout followers of Christ with amazing faith.

You know the rest of the story.  Jesus told them to roll away the stone.  Martha said basically, “he’s going to stink, he’s been dead four days.”

40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

Then Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.”  And the dead man came out!

Many people believed in Jesus because of this miracle.  But not everyone believed. The Pharisees’ response was, “If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him…” and they plotted to kill him.

How is it possible to have such diametrically opposed reactions?  Unfortunately, we see a similar range of reactions to Jesus today, from faithful devotion to hostility.

I don’t know about you, but I want to have the same reaction Martha demonstrated.  And I’m staking my life on verses 25 and 26.  I want to encourage you – do the same.  And I’ll look forward to seeing you at the last day.

-Steve Mattison

 

 

Judging Jesus

John 7

John 7 24

In John 7, we see multiple examples of people struggling to believe in Jesus because he didn’t fit their expectations of the Messiah.

In verse 27, the people were saying, 27 But we know where this man is from; when the Messiah comes, no one will know where he is from.” I don’t know what scripture or teaching they were relying on, but they were confused, and it prevented their believing.

Despite his not meeting their expectations, verse 31 tells us, 31 Still, many in the crowd believed in him.  They said, “When the Messiah comes, will he perform more signs than this man?”

The religious leaders heard the crowd whispering about him, and sent temple guards to arrest Jesus.

40 On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.”

41 Others said, “He is the Messiah.”

Still others asked, “How can the Messiah come from Galilee? 42 Does not Scripture say that the Messiah will come from David’s descendants and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?” 43 Thus the people were divided because of Jesus. 44 Some wanted to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him.

45 Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and the Pharisees, who asked them, “Why didn’t you bring him in?”

46 “No one ever spoke the way this man does,” the guards replied.

47 “You mean he has deceived you also?” the Pharisees retorted. 48 “Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? 49 No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them.”

 

We see three general categories of people in John 7.

First, some people just believed in Jesus because of the miracles he did and because of his teaching.

Second, some wanted to believe, but they knew some scripture (like the Messiah was to come from Bethlehem), and they thought they knew some facts (like Jesus came from Galilee, and not from Bethlehem), and they couldn’t reconcile the two – so they struggled to believe.

Third, we see the religious leaders, who knew the scriptures far better than the common people, but flatly rejected Jesus — partially because he broke the letter of the law by healing people on the Sabbath, and partially because he was disrupting their hold on the religious establishment of their day.

It’s easy to look back at those people and think, “They were so stupid.  Why didn’t they just believe?”  What about us?  Are we any better?  Do we have pre-conceived expectations of God, or Jesus, or Christianity that just don’t seem to fit our knowledge or experiences, so we’re struggling?  Have we studied the Bible so much that we already “know it all” (like the Pharisees), and are relying more on our knowledge of scripture than relying on our relationship with God and His son?  Or will we take Jesus at his word, as recorded in John 7: 24… 24 Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.”

The good news is, regardless of whatever you decided before, you get to make your choice again today.  Choose wisely.

 

–Steve Mattison