Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Story, Week 25 - Jesus, the Son of God.

Jesus was the epitome of an enigma wrapped in a mystery. Who really was this man? Questions abound about the true identity of this teacher from Nazareth. No doubt he was an extraordinary teacher, a charismatic leader, and an indisputable miracle-worker. But was he another prophet like Elijah? Was he another King like David? Was he another deliverer like Moses? Was he another father of a nation like Abraham?

Jesus seemed to be like all these other Old Testament heroes, but there was no one category you could fit him in. He was all of the above wrapped into one plus a little something more. That little something more actually is a big something - Jesus is making a claim to be more than human. He makes claims that only God himself can make. This becomes especially clear in a discussion he has with the Jewish leaders when he makes the bold statement, "Before Abraham was born, I am."

With this, Jesus is claiming not only to have existed before he was born (enigma wrapped in a mystery) but this "I am" claim harkens back to the burning bush episode when God reveals himself to Moses as "I Am." There is no doubt that Jesus is making a claim to be God!

Up to this point Jesus had been reticent about revealing his true identity (often times after a miracle Jesus instructs the beneficiary not to tell anyone about what just happened), but as the time for his death approaches Jesus becomes more open about precisely who he is. And this is what really gets him in hot water.

You see, the problem with Jesus' identity is not trying to figure out who he is, it's deciding what to do with him when you do find out who he is!

The enigma and mystery has been revealed- Jesus is unique among all men. Jesus is more than prophet, more than king, more than servant - Jesus is the one and only Son of God. He is God himself. Jesus is God in the flesh! Immanuel - God with us!

Once we find out who he really is we need to decide what to do with him. The leaders of the day decide that Jesus needs to be silenced. They know who he is (Maybe they know more than even the apostles. They seem really confused at times) but they are unwilling to rearrange their own lives to accommodate him. That's the response of many people. Others come to know Jesus' identity and give themselves wholeheartedly to him, even willing to take up their own crosses in faithful service to Him.

Chapter 25 begins with the question, "Who do men say that I am?" A question all of us must answer. But more important is our reaction when we discover who he really is. Think about it for just a moment - Jesus Christ is God in the flesh! What does that mean to you? Are you living your life in the recognition that Jesus is God in the flesh or have you put him aside unwilling to rearrange your own life?

Jesus is not the enigma wrapped in a mystery. His identity is clear. It's all of us who halfheartedly follow this man/God who are the enigma. Why are we not as devoted? Why are we not as willing to follow him at all cost? Why are we so obsessed with things of this world? That's the real mystery!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Story - Week 24 - No Ordinary Man

Even though the Woman's Soccer team lost a heart-breaker to Japan in last week's World Cup final, soccer enthusiasts see the success of the team as a boom for soccer. No doubt more than a few young girls around the country were inspired by the team's performance and will either rededicate themselves to soccer or give soccer a try for the first time. And that gives soccer coaches and players chills thinking that more and more people will come to love the sport that has captured their hearts. For some it's not about winning or losing, it's about getting the word out about a great sport.

That's how it is when you love something - you want more and more people to catch the fever!

This week in The Story we have the retelling of one of Jesus' most well-known parables, The Sower and the Seed. Jesus says the Kingdom of Heaven expands as people spread the seed in as many places as possible. Those whose hearts have been captured by Jesus naturally want others to catch the fever.

It's been exciting here at Park Avenue to see that happening. Justin Banks traveling to Japan to help that ravaged country discover the hope of Jesus Christ. Seeds being sown. Our Youth Mission trip to Philadelphia serving people and teaching them about the freedom we have in Christ. Seeds being sown. Oliver and Beverly Bush in Kenya following up on World Bible School contacts and seeing how the harvest has been bountiful in that nation. Seeds being sown.

We just want more and more people to know what we have come to know. So whether you're in Japan, Philadelphia, Kenya, or your own neighborhood, spread the word. Sometimes we win and sometimes we lose, but the most important thing is that word is getting out and that more and more people hear the great news - - that Jesus is no ordinary man. He is the Savior!

That's how it is when you love something - you want more and more people to catch the fever!

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Story, Week 23 - Jesus Ministry Begins

This week Jesus is off and running. After thirty years of "waiting it out" Jesus gets to the work he came here to do. Several things strike me about this chapter.

Preparation by temptation

Jesus goes through a time of intense preparation with a 40 day fast. Jesus realizes that spiritual focus is of utmost value as he begins his ministry. It's 40 days alone with the Father, apart from physical needs, and time to deal with any doubts or fears he has had about this mission. This preparation includes a time of intense temptation from the devil. In fact, the Spirit has led him to the wilderness for this exact reason - to face temptation. Satan's goal is to derail this mission, but the temptations actually have the opposite effect. Jesus gets more focused than ever. I never thought about temptation like that before - it can either get us off track or help us dig in even deeper. For Jesus, temptation serves the latter purpose. He leaves the wilderness more focused than ever!

He takes time for the little guy

Although Jesus has opportunities to speak to large crowds (he goes to the synagogues and teaches at a full house), it is not unlike him to pause and talk to the little guy (and isn’t everyone little in comparison to Jesus). He converses with Nicodemus and chats with the Samaritan woman. This will be standard for Jesus as we read through the gospels. A lot of famous people don’t take time for the infamous, but Jesus does! He's interested in people, not crowds. He is here for the individual which reminds me he came for me and has a specific word for me as well. He doesn't walk through this life without awareness of individual needs. Jesus shows me that he is observant!

He gathers his posse

Jesus realizes that he's going to need some help in this mission. He knows that he's here for just a little while, so he'll need some men to carry the baton after he's gone. So he starts hand-picking a group of men that come to be known as the apostles. While reflecting on this I thought back to the movie Ocean's Eleven. In the 2001 movie George Clooney (Danny Ocean) plans an elaborate casino heist and recruits eleven associates to help him. Each one is different and a little eccentric, but each one has a specific role to fill. Each one has special talents, training, and abilities that will make this heist of the century possible. This principle will carry over into the New Testament church as Paul uses the human body as an illustration of the church - each member though different has its own function to serve. Jesus gets organized.

Jesus is off and running. He's focused, he's observant, and he's organized.

Game on!

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

The Story Chapter 22 - The Birth of a King

So, we are now into the New Testament, but I'm seeing all sorts of references back to the Old! Imagine just jumping into the Gospels without some background to build on. It would be like jumping into a trilogy and skipping episodes one and two and starting with three. It would be like watching Rocky V without watching the previous four installments (did anyone really watch Rocky V anyway?). You could probably get some sense of the story, but you would miss out on so much!

No doubt we live under the new covenant but knowledge of the old proves itself so important. Right off the bat in this opening chapter of the New Testament we see repeated quotes, references, and allusions to the Old.

Case in point:

John's introduction to the story of Jesus has several allusions back to Genesis 1. "In the beginning," "light," "word of God". There's no doubt that John sees the coming of Jesus as somewhat of a new genesis, a new beginning.
Joseph is a descendent of David. Is this really a surprise? We start reading about this young couple and then it's revealed - "Oh, by the way, Joseph is a descendant of David." We couldn’t imagine it being any different. The gospels see Jesus as a new king and as good as David was he's not even worthy to shine this king's shoes!
Quotes from prophets. Already in this brief introduction to the coming and ministry of Jesus we have quotes from prophets who lived HUNDREDS of years ago. Micah and Jeremiah are cited as talking about this child's birth! The gospels see Jesus as the climax of prophecy. It was really all about Him even before he was here!

And this is just the beginning. Throughout the New we will see numerous glimpses of the Old. The past 21 weeks have helped set the stage for this new and exciting work of God and knowledge of those "old" stories will enhance our understanding of the "new." We may be starting a new testament but it sure helps to have read the old.