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Matthew 12:6, Various

Smile! Jesus Is The Greatest!

Those of my generation remember Cassius Clay (Mohammed Ali) being frequently quoted as saying, “I am the greatest.” It makes me think of a joke about him. He boarded a plane on his way to the Philippines, where he would partake in the “thriller in Manila,” where he fought Smokin’ Joe Frazer for the third and last time. The stewardess came through the first class section and told all passengers to fasten their seat belts, to which Ali responded, “Superman don’t need no seat belt!” To which the stewardess answered, “Superman don’t need no airplane!” Ali fastened his seat belt.

The scriptures are absolutely clear about who is the greatest. In Matthew 12:41-42, Jesus referred to himself as being “a superior thing” to Jonah and Solomon.  Morey says, “One reason why the Jews became so enraged with Jesus is that He claimed to be greater than the most important people and places in Judaism. Jesus was greater than the Patriarchs, such as Abraham and Jacob (John 8:53; 4:12). He was greater than the prophets, such as Jonah (Matt. 12:41). He was greater than the Kings, such as Solomon (Matt. 12:42). He was greater than Moses (Matt. 5:22, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44). He was even greater than the Sabbath (Mark 2:23–28).” The author of the book of Hebrews tells us that Jesus was even greater than all the angels. But the greatest claim Jesus made might be the one recorded in Matthew 12:6. After being accused of violating the law of the Sabbath and desecrating the temple, Jesus said, “I tell you, something greater than the temple is here.” The Jews clearly saw the logical implications of such claims—the only One who was “greater” than all these things was God Himself. Therefore, Jesus was claiming to be God. That is why they picked up stones to kill Him for blasphemy (John 8:52–59).

I love to be greeted by smiling people! People who don’t smile have a negative effect on everyone around them.  Decker says, “Your smile even affects you. It lifts your spirits. It generates more energy. You feel the smile throughout your whole body…You will find that good gestures and a smile will free you to share your thoughts fully. You will find a ready audience because when you smile, the world smiles with you. Your gestures show openness that people find inviting…A warm smile and kinetic gestures go a long way to demonstrating the bold assurance God has given you through his Word. Please smile and say, “Jesus is the Greatest.” It makes little sense to tell people that Jesus is the greatest man who ever lived, that he offers the greatest gift ever given, and that this is the best news they have ever heard and to do it without a smile.

Mark 2:3-7, Various

Only God Can Forgive Sin

We are saved by grace through faith. Faith in what?  I’ve had discussions with people who believe they are Christians and yet reject some of the basic concepts associated with the Christian faith itself. They may not believe the Bible to be totally reliable. They may not believe in the miracles reported to have been performed by Jesus. But most often, they may believe that Jesus was not God but rather a good man and a great moral teacher. But salvation itself, according to the Bible, is dependent not on faith in what one chooses to have faith in but on faith in the precepts of Scripture. If salvation, as promised in the Bible, is to be mine, I must attain it by the means prescribed. R. A. Torrey says, “In order to be saved, we must believe that Jesus can and will forgive our sin.”  But this carries with it a presupposition which also must be believed. Torrey goes on, “This faith involves faith in the Divinity of Jesus, for God alone can forgive sin.”

Mark 2:3–7 makes it clear that the forgiveness of our sins and the deity of Christ are intimately connected. You cannot have one without the other.  It says that four friends brought a paralytic to Jesus for healing, “but when they could not get near him (Jesus) because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’ Now, some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, ‘Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’” This question expects a negative answer: no one! Please notice that Jesus did not correct their thinking. They were right! Only God can forgive sins. But then Jesus went on to demonstrate His divinity by healing the paralytic.

In Colossians 3:13, Paul exhorts all believers to forgive each other “just as Christ forgave you.” When Christ forgives us, God forgives us because they are “one.” Jesus is God, yet He’s not the Father nor the Holy Spirit, but He’s one of the three persons in the Godhead.  Please notice that as Pfeiffer puts it, “the Pharisees rightly observed (for once) that no man can forgive sins but God only (Mk 2:7). The fact that the Lord Jesus Christ forgives is evidence that he is God.” Please also notice that it’s not that Jesus can forgive. He does forgive!  Ephesians 1:7-8 tells us that His forgiveness is lavished upon us…according to the unlimited riches of His grace. As Paul said, “But where sin increased, grace increased all the more” (Romans 5:20). There is more than enough grace to cover your sins and give you love, joy, peace, and an overflowing, victorious life.

Matthew 8:16-17

Eternally Healthy!

Although God is one in essence, he is three in His persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each of the three persons has always existed and is often referred to as the “eternal Father, the eternal Son, and the eternal Holy Spirit.” When Jesus was about to be executed, He prayed in John 17:5, a great priestly prayer. In it, he said, “Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” He came from the eternal state of permanent glory and returned to that state at his ascension. He is now there, sitting at the right hand of God the Father, waiting for the time of His return. Coming from this glorious state and taking on the likeness of man, He truly humbled Himself for our salvation.  Philippians 2:7-8 tells us that He … “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

You would think that if the Divine, eternal Son was to become man, He’d come with all the glory of God. But he left that behind for our sakes. In the flesh, he did not protect Himself from our infirmities, temptations, limitations, emotions, and the like. No, indeed, He completely fulfilled what Isaiah 53:4 said about the Messiah. “Surely, he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.”  But it’s not only that Jesus experienced the imperfections of humanity. He took them off of us, put them on Himself, carried them to the Cross, and died with them to be resurrected again in His perfect body. Isaiah goes on to say, “By his stripes, we are healed.” Matthew tells us that Jesus’ healing of the sick was to fulfill the passage from Isaiah. We read, “That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: He took our illnesses and bore our diseases” (Matthew 8:16-17).  It says Jesus “took our illnesses.” We, too, will be resurrected in a perfected state because Jesus took them from us.

Eternally healthy! Can you imagine? It’s an exhilarating prospect! The older I get, the more that means to me. I can’t even roll over in bed without pain anymore. I look forward to the day I can run and jump again as I did when I was young. Mills says it “…is exhilarating in the extreme by its promise to the person who knows Christ as Savior, a promise of release from the restraints of an aging, material universe and entry into a new, eternal creation, and a close relationship with God and His Son. Then, too, there is the glorious prospect of a new, immortal resurrected body, a body eternally healthy, un-aging, and without any of the physical restraints imposed by our present bodies, a body just like Jesus’ resurrection body. And added to that, God will heap glory onto that body for all the things we have done for His Kingdom during our mortal lives in this present mortal body!  Ah, my fellow believer, we face an unimaginably glorious future; may we all hasten (promote) the day of God!!”

Matthew 7:7-12

Our Father!

The first word of the prayer that Jesus taught us is “Our Father who art in Heaven…” James Montgomery Boice wrote, “If we are to understand the full importance of these words, we must realize clearly that no Old Testament Jew ever addressed God directly as ‘my Father’ and that, as a result, the invocation of the Lord’s Prayer would have been something new and startlingly original to Christ’s contemporaries.” Further along in his commentary, Boice adds, “Actually, in the time of Jesus, the distance between men and God seemed to be widening, and the names of God were increasingly withheld from public speech and prayers.” Jesus broke the momentum of a religious system that focused on man’s effort and returned us to a focus on a personal relationship with God, a relationship in which we can approach God as our father. The word for father might be translated for us as “Daddy” also.

Whenever Jesus prayed, he assumed the family relationship with God as His father. He assumed a relationship with God that was foreign and alien to all of his contemporaries, as well as those who are recorded as having a connection with God in the Old Testament. He brought something new to you and me! The contemporary religious leaders, the priests, and the scribes thought that His approach to God was highly irreverent and even blasphemous. But just as he came to God as His heavenly Father, He taught us also to come to God as our heavenly Father.  This is clearly seen in his post-resurrection appearance to Mary. He boldly instructs her, “Go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’ ” (John 20:17). Today, it is as God’s children that believers in the Lord Jesus Christ come to him.

Jesus instructs us to go directly to God as our heavenly father. In earlier teachings, Jesus also made it clear what we would find when we approached Him thusly.  We will always receive a warm heart, a listening ear, and a compassionate response. In Matthew 7:7-12, Jesus tells us, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, it will be opened.  Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” I distinctly remember a time when my father responded that way. I was about six years old and fishing at Miller Park Lagoon in north Omaha. I was using a simple line and a hook because I didn’t have a rod or a reel like the big kids at the lagoon. My Dad drove by in his work truck, and he asked how we were doing. I explained I wasn’t doing very well because I didn’t have the right equipment. He took the rest of the day off of work and took me to the hardware store on 30th and Ames, and he got me all I needed to catch fish at that Lagoon.  When that need was made known to him, he acted immediately.

Romans 3:29-30, Various

The Father Of All!

God is the Father of all.  Paul made that fairly clear for us in Ephesians 3:14-15. He wrote, “For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named…” Every human being is a child of God. God created everything and everyone.  As the Universal Father of all, we all belong to Him. We are all created in His image. Through God’s creative miracle, each human being is instilled with the image of God and can relate to God in this spirit when nothing else in all creation can do so. God is referred to as the Father of Angels, but it’s never said that they are created in God’s image. Only men and women are created in God’s image. Since every man and every woman have been created by God and in God’s image, every man and every woman deserve respect and honor.  God does not make distinctions based on gender, economic standing, or race. Paul asks in Romans 3:29, “After all, is God the God of the Jews only? Isn’t he also the God of the Gentiles? Of course, he is.” When John wrote that God so “loved the world,” he meant every human being in it!

But we must not forget that although we are all children of God by creation, we are not all children of God by redemption. Jesus taught that we all must be born again into the family of God to become redeemed children.  John taught us that although we’re all created in God’s image and are referred to as God’s children in a universal sense, there is much more involved in becoming complete children of God. In John 1:12, we read, “But to all who did receive him (Jesus), who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” Looking again at the passage in Romans from above, we add the 30th verse and see that together (Romans 3:29-30), it says, “After all, is God the God of the Jews only? Isn’t he also the God of the Gentiles? Of course, he is. There is only one God, and he makes people right with himself only by faith, whether they are Jews or Gentiles.”

It is the relationship that we establish through faith in Jesus that brings true life. It’s not being born of the flesh that gives true life. We know that the destiny of this life is only the grave. Death is the result of sin. The only remedy for death is to adequately deal with the root cause: sin. Jesus did that for us. Real life, true life, abundant life, and eternal life begin when we put ourselves in subjection to our heavenly Father by faith in His provision for our sins. I love the way the author of the book of Hebrews puts it in Hebrews 12:9. He says, “Furthermore, we had the fathers of our flesh to chasten us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?”

Matthew 6:9, Various

Our Father…

I remember when my sister bought a t-shirt that said, “When God created man . . . She was only fooling.” Robert Morey rightly observed, “The modern radical feminist movement …attempts to liberate women from being ‘oppressed’ by white, European, heterosexual males.” He continues, “Many radical feminists feel they must liberate themselves from male dominance in any form. God the Father and the entire Trinity must be either recast in feminine images or rejected altogether. This is why the typical radical feminist today dismisses the Bible as so much ‘patriarchal claptrap.’” Mary Daly suggests that the only way to liberate women truly would be the killing off of God the Father.  Eliminating the idea and language that God as “father” would somehow, liberate women. She never says how. Some Feminist Theologians are arguing, “God is neither male nor female but encompasses all things. To speak of God as male only is to limit God and commit idolatry. Gender-free language is unoffensive but does not correct the traditional concepts of the church. The majority of references to God should be feminine to counteract past traditions.”[1]

God spoke from heaven, declaring his fatherhood of Jesus. At Jesus’ Baptism, as recorded in Matthew 3:17, God spoke from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Jesus often acknowledged God the Father.  When He taught us to pray in Matthew 6:9,  it began with “Our Father, who art in heaven.” In Matthew 11:27, Jesus said, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father…” Actually, according to Arnold Fruchtenbaum (a Messianic Jew), there are six different aspects of God “The Father.” He says they are “the Father of the Messiah, the Father of Creation, and the Father of angels, the Father of all men, the Father of Israel, and the Father of believers.” Jesus taught us to pray to “Our Father who art in Heaven.”

Surely, some fathers have irreparably marred the meaning of the term in the lives of their children, but to eliminate the thought of the “Fatherhood of God” would destroy much for men and women alike.  The scriptures always use the idea of fatherhood as it relates to God as a perfect father. In him is no flaw like in earthly fathers. James 1:17-18 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” To kill the Father would kill the one who takes care of us in our times of need (see Job 29:16).  It would eliminate the one who feeds us and clothes us and looks after our every need (see Isaiah 22:21).  It would kill the voice of wisdom because most of the Proverbs are written like a father speaking to his child. They show how to live wisely, with dignity, respect, and self-control. In human terms, there should be nothing more loving, comforting, caring, and protecting than the idea of God as our Heavenly Father.

[1] Sailer, William, J. Creighton Christman, David C. Greulich, Harold P. Scanlin, Stephen J. Lennox, and Phillip Guistwite. 2012. Religious and Theological Abstracts. Myerstown, PA: Religious and Theological Abstracts.

1 Corinthians 15:51-52

I Love A Mystery!

I did a search through my entire theological library on “The Problem of the Trinity.” It had 23 different articles that referred to the Trinity as a problem.  I think that is a major problem (no pun intended!). Gabriel Marcel made a very helpful distinction between a problem and a mystery.  He suggests that problems demand a solution, whereas mysteries call for meditation. This clarifies the issues surrounding any discussion regarding the Trinity. Marcel goes on to suggest that problems often demand extensive study (like knowing words to solve a crossword puzzle), but mysteries demand a different kind of reflection. Geisler says it requires “intensive” study as opposed to “extensive” study.  Intensive study focuses on the facts; extensive study seeks new facts.

Geisler’s summary is interesting. He says, “In view of this distinction, the Trinity should be treated as a mystery, not a problem. Once the basic elements are understood, we should not attempt to unscrew the inscrutable. We should not analyze it but admire it; we should not dissect it but devote ourselves to it. It is an object of worship, not scholarship. As has been well said, if one tries to understand it completely (as a problem), he may lose his mind, and if he does not believe it sincerely, he may lose his soul! Once we understand God’s attributes and ineffable nature, we need more reverence, not more research.”

The Bible uses the term “mystery” several times.  But it doesn’t mean what we usually think of when we hear the term. J. V. McGee said, “What is a mystery in Scripture? It is not a whodunit or a mystery story, and it is not something you wonder about, like, was it the butler who committed the crime? It is not something Agatha Christie wrote or a Sherlock Holmes story by any means. A mystery in Scripture means that God is revealing something that, up to that time, He had not revealed.” McGee goes on to say that one of the key ingredients of a biblical mystery is that “It cannot be discovered by human agencies, for it is always a revelation from God.” One of the more profound mysteries in Scripture is the mystery of the resurrection. Paul says, in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52, “Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.” Mysteries are to be believed, not understood! I love a mystery!

Deuteronomy 6:4, Various

From The Many: ONE!

We might say that from the “three” persons of the Godhead comes the one God. In some strange, difficult way, three persons become one God. Throughout Church History, people have argued about the very essence and nature of God. The scriptures speak to us of one God but existing in three persons. The word “trinity” is not in the bible, yet the concept is unmistakable. Understanding it has always been our problem. It doesn’t teach that there are three Gods. John Philoponus taught this view. He asserted that there were three Gods, but they were only loosely connected like Peter, James, and John were Jesus’ disciples. They were only loosely connected to each other through the common faith in Jesus. This error denied the unity of the Trinity and has been rejected by orthodox believers. On the other hand, Sebelius taught the opposite. There is only one person of the Godhead, but that single person manifests himself in three ways: father, son, and spirit. Sabellianism or Modalism has also been rejected by orthodoxy.

The Shemah is a passage in Deuteronomy recited ritually and regularly by Jews worldwide. Many of us, while touring Israel, purchased a mezuzah. It’s a small box that’s attached to the frame of the door entering into a residence. Inside this small box is the Shemah (along with other passages).  It is usually engraved with the first letter of the word “hear” in Hebrew, Shemah. The Shemah, Deuteronomy 6:4, says, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God; the Lord is one.” The Hebrew word for one is “echad.”  It also means united, consistent, whole, or a unity of parts. This statement stresses not only the uniqueness of God but also the unity of God. James uses the Greek equivalent when he writes in James 2:19, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!”

 The essential oneness of God does not deny the existence of three persons within the Godhead. It emphasizes unity. They worked completely together and said the exact same things at all times. Jesus said this to his distractors at least four times.  Jesus said all his deeds were the same deeds as the Father. For example, in John 5:19, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.” He acknowledged that He taught only what the Father taught. In John 12:49, Jesus says, “For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak” (see also John 8:28, 14:10).  Please do not miss Jesus’ prayer for us. In John 17:21, he prayed for you and me. He said, “I pray that they may all be one. Father! May they be in us, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they be one so that the world will believe that you sent me.” It’s only in this unity that people will see God.

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