Why I’m glad Jesus is gone

ascension

The Good News of Jesus is that He is crucified for sinners, dead, buried, and resurrected after three days.  But it is not complete without the fact that He has ascended to heaven.  The Ascension is an often overlooked piece of the Gospel account.  Not only has it given birth to many, slightly-comical, old paintings of Christ’s feet disappearing into the clouds; it also is source for incredible encouragement and faith.

And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.  Acts 1:9
We may not think of it as being a good thing that Jesus is gone from us. He left the disciple in order that His Spirit might be poured out.  He is also now in the presence of the Father, praying for us – which for me, is one of the most comforting thoughts.

But there is a reason that seems especially encouraging lately, given that it seems we are living in such discouraging times.

Jesus is raised up into heaven, far above all other powers and rulers, with all things under his feet.  That means demagogues, and ugly politics are under his feet.  So if the news cycle has got you down, remember!  Jesus is above it all.  And he is in charge and ruling over all things.  No matter how chaotic and unpleasant the world around us may be – He is over all.

That is Good News.

 

"see ya"

“see ya”

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A Most Amazing Word

but

 

If someone were to ask “what is the most amazing word in the Bible?” there could be lots of answers and many of them would be good. Most of us would probably suggest something like loveGospel, Kingdom, or even the word God. But often the most amazing words are those that are the most humble.

One of the most humble words is “but”.  That’s right, “but”.  Used mostly as a conjunction it finds its way into many sentences but we probably don’t take much notice.  “But” is not a word that preachers will spend time explaining the root of or studying in depth. But it is not the meaning of “but” that is so amazing but its function. As a conjunction it represents contrast with what goes before it; a 180 degree turnaround. Things are going one way, but… they now go this way. That turn around is at the heart of the Gospel.

Watch how it is used:

You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’  But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment…

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart…. (Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28)

We may assume that it is relatively easy to obey God’s law, be a good person, or live a righteous life.  Then Jesus comes along and with one little word – “but” – shows us that it is far worse than we can ever imagine. It is not merely what we do which keeps us from God, but the source of our actions that has gone wrong. Our hearts are wrong.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us…  (Ephesians 2:4)

It really is bad.  Then God accomplishes a complete turn from where we are and have been heading. We’re dead in trespasses, “but God…”  There is that “but” again.  We are completely prone to what Jesus wants us about “but” God, out of his mercy and love, reaches out to us. The entire Gospel is described in that turning point.

But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.  (1st Corinthians 6:11)

Another amazing “but”. In every type of sin, Christians are no better than anyone. “But” there is washing and cleansing from that past life. Not just changed “but” transformed into a new kind of life. The entire Gospel of a transformed life is expressed in that tiny conjunction.

 

There are many amazing words in the Bible. Often the smallest and most humble carry far more significance than first appears.

Free in Limits

limits

 

‘Tis within limits that the master shows.”  Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 – 1832)

 

Goethe wrote that line to illustrate how strict forms of writing poetry, like the sonnet, helped show who were the real gifted poets. Basically being to Germans what Shakespeare is to the English speaking world, he should know. Being confined within the parameters forced them to refine, distill, and perfect their poetic intentions. It was in the limitations that they find their strength. American poet and artist Julia Cameron expresses the same, updated for the twentieth century: “in limits there is freedom. Creativity thrives within structure.”

This may grate against us at first. How can being confined be a freeing thing? Aren’t all limits restrictive? The fact that the idea grates is evidence at just how counter-cultural it is in a world where any restraint upon us is felt to be an injustice. But only within restraint can we be truly free.

But having rules on the field which restrict play free everyone enjoy the game.

A society which has no laws, customs, or social virtues may permit one to do whatever they want to anyone else. But would such freedom really feel like freedom if you were living in it?

Staying faithful in marriage limits intimacy to one partner. But it also frees us to enjoy the extended, long-term, committed love that only such an exclusive relationship can bring.

With God, it is the same. As as a well-known worship song says it’s only in Your will that I am free.  And that idea does not come from nowhere. It comes from God, who desires us to be more free than we would even choose to be on our own.

The Psalmist in Psalm 119, that massive meditation on God’s word, says: I will run in the way of your commandments, when you enlarge my heart… (v 32). The image is one of running free yet while being held within God’s desires for us expressed in His word. A heart set truly free is one within limits.

 

 

Blood, guts… real life

Leviticus

 

 

Theology is a “Victorian” enterprise, neo-classically bright and neat and clean, nothing out of place.  Whereas the Bible talks about hair, blood, sweat, entrails, menstruation and genital emissions.

Peter J. Leithart, Against Christianity

Preparing to preach through the book of Leviticus, Leithart’s comments above ring true in high definition. It is, after all, in Leviticus that we find so much ink spent on issues of blood, food, menstruation, childbirth, semen, animal entrails, burning meat, and on and on. It is not for the squeamish.

Leithart is not insulting theology ( = our thoughts about God) per se.  He is a theologian himself. But beliefs about God detached from the dirt beneath our feet, the way we procreate, our physical selves is not what Biblical Christianity is about.

Think of ‘spirituality’. Does that conjure up otherworldly ideas – of mystical praying, detached contemplation, or heavenly intangibles?  ‘Spirituality’ as such is foreign to the Bible – and to Christian life. The God of the Old Testament, who is incarnated in Jesus, is concerned and involved with the physical grittiness of this world.

For me, I am thankful to be so reminded.  I don’t live in esoteric clouds but with my feet on the ground in this world of bowels and blood. And I’m happy to have God involved with us here.

Obey Rulers or God?

Daniel in the Lions Den - Briton Riviere - 1872

Daniel in the Lions Den – Briton Riviere – 1872

Then they answered and said before the king, “Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or the injunction you have signed, but makes his petition three times a day.”

Daniel 6:13

Earthly princes deprive themselves of all authority when they rise up against God, yea, they are unworthy to be counted among the company of men. We ought rather to spit in their faces than to obey them when they… spoil God of his right.

John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Daniel

The Answer is Always Jesus – Christ in every part of Scripture

Pick a page, any page, Jesus will be there.

Pick a page, any page, Jesus will be there.

It’s a cliche that if you doze off in the midst of a Bible study, and the leader asks you a question (that you didn’t quite hear), just blurt out “Jesus” and you’ll be ok.

My daughters opt for a similar tactic when we read the Bible and pray before bed.

But there is something to the idea that Jesus is always the answer to the question.  <insert Karl Barth joke here>  If what Christ says is true, that all the Scriptures bear witness to him, and that all the Scriptures (Moses and the Prophets) can be interpreted in light of him, then we should expect to see Jesus pop out of the pages.

This is especially helpful when we look at the Old Testament and harder passages to understand.  John Calvin was a master at finding the Christ focus in every story, law, and prophecy of the Old Testament.

Therefore, when you hear the gospel presenting you Jesus Christ in whom all the promises and gifts of God have been accomplished, remember this:

He [Christ] is Isaac, the beloved Son of the Father who was offered as a sacrifice, but nevertheless did not succumb to the power of death. He is Jacob the watchful shepherd, who has such great care for the sheep which he guards. He is the good and compassionate brother Joseph, who in his glory was not ashamed to acknowledge his brothers, however lowly and abject their condition. He is the great sacrificer and bishop Melchizedek who has offered an eternal sacrifice once for all. He is the sovereign lawgiver Moses, writing his law on the tables of  our hearts by his Spirit. He is the faithful captain and guide Joshua, to lead us to the Promised Land. He is the victorious and noble king David, bringing by his hand all rebellious power to subjection. He is the magnificent and triumphant king Solomon governing his kingdom in peace and prosperity. He is the strong and powerful Samson who by his death has overwhelmed all his enemies.

John Calvin, Commentaries