The Command, Calling, and Consequences of Following the Christ

June 17, 2019 at 10:06 am | Posted in John | 2 Comments
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Jesus is often referred to as “Jesus Christ,” but Christ is not Jesus’s last name. If Jesus of Nazareth even had such a thing as a “last name” during His earthly ministry it would have probably been something like “Jesus Ben Joseph” or “Jesus Bar Joseph,” “ben” or “bar” meaning “son of.” Most of the people Jesus encountered would have thought Him to be merely the son of Joseph, rather than the Son of God. “Christ” is more of a title than a name. Jesus was the Christos, which was the Greek term for the Hebrew “Messiah.” He was “anointed” with the grace of God. The title “Christ” tells us that He is divine, but that He was also the prophesied human Savior, from the seed of Eve and Adam, descendant of Abraham and Jacob (renamed Israel), prefigured by Moses, of the line of David, who would qualify for David’s earthly throne while at the same time being David’s Heavenly Lord.

And he brought him to Jesus. And when Jesus beheld him, he said, Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, A stone.

John 1:42

This is how Peter got the name by which he would become known.

The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and findeth Philip, and saith unto him, Follow me.

John 1:43

Why was such a pedestrian, seemingly-lackluster recruiting pitch so effective? A request or even a command to “follow me” has never been in short supply in the world among those who would seek to use others for profit, fame, power, even companionship, benevolence, or team-building. The typical response to an unadorned “follow me” would be: “Why?” “For what?” “Where?” “What’s in it for me?” or even “No.” The secret to Jesus’s success with this method though, I believe, is not in the “follow.’ The key is in the “Me.” A God-revealed understanding of Who Jesus is makes the “follow” almost superfluous and unnecessary as a command. When the eternal Son of God, the Savior of mankind, the Creator of the universe, the deliverer of your nation, reveals Himself to you, and you truly grasp the import of Who He is and what this revelation means, how could you NOT follow Him? How could they not become literal “disciples” – people who walked around behind a “Master” or Rabbi, an itinerant teacher, listening and learning, and trying to imitate Him? He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life: a path, a person, and a purpose.

Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see.

John 1:44-46

Nazareth was a disreputable place, ordained as the birthplace and hometown of Jesus, perhaps in order to prepare Him in His childhood for a life of mockery, rejection, and humility.

Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!

John 1:47

It’s possible that Jesus was making an ironic statement when He referred to Nathanael as being without guile and therefore a true Israelite, since the Jewish people have historically been stereotyped as being especially shrewd in their business dealings, but He was also referencing those who would believe the truth about Jesus as being the true descendants/heirs of Jacob, and therefore Abraham. The true Israelites are manifested by faith in the Messiah rather than by their birth and ethnicity.

Beware the Full Focus

July 9, 2014 at 10:20 am | Posted in The Fives | 1 Comment
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Jerusalem was in a location chosen by God, yet surrounded by nations of people that did not believe what His people believed.

Thus saith the Lord God; This is Jerusalem: I have set it in the midst of the nations and countries that are round about her.

Ezekiel 5:5

This was a dangerous and precarious position, but it was also a great opportunity.

In a world of merchant trading and traveling, Jerusalem could profit from her role as a major trade route, and could benefit commercially. More importantly, however, Jerusalem could share the truth of the One True God with her visitors and surrounding neighbors.

The danger was also twofold. Being landlocked amidst hostile pagans, Jerusalem would have to remain vigilant on all sides. Again, though, more importantly, rather than influencing her neighbors with the truth, there was always the danger of lapsing into the idolatry and sinful culture that beset her on every front. Sadly, this is precisely what happened – to an even greater degree.

And she hath changed my judgments into wickedness more than the nations, and my statutes more than the countries that are round about her: for they have refused my judgments and my statutes, they have not walked in them.

Ezekiel 5:6

Christians today face the same predicament. We are ensconced in a world hostile to our Lord and skeptical of His ways. We are set forth with a mission to evangelize the unbelievers, but we are also a curiosity piece when we consistently practice what we believe. Will we succumb to the influence and wilt under the withering focus of those who think us old-fashioned, foolish, or judgmental? If we do, we are subject to embarrassing rebuke and public humiliation.

Therefore thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I, even I, am against thee, and will execute judgments in the midst of thee in the sight of the nations.

Ezekiel 5:8

Or will we shine brightly with the light of the Savior even as the darkness encroaches ever more tightly upon us? Will we speak boldly and live with integrity so that we become a refuge for the heathens when they see the futility of fighting against the real God? If so, we will know the blessing of the presence of the Lord in our lives.

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

Matthew 28:19-20

When God Makes Fun of Your Name

December 10, 2013 at 5:16 pm | Posted in Micah | 3 Comments
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The Old Testament prophet Micah’s name meant “Who is like God?” He was a contemporary of Isaiah, but he prophesied to the rural people in Judah, whereas Isaiah prophesied mainly to the courts in both Jerusalem and Samaria. Micah was from Moresheth, about 25 miles from Jerusalem. He warned of God’s judgment coming upon Israel (the northern kingdom) and Judah (the southern kingdom).

For, behold, the LORD cometh forth out of his place, and will come down, and tread upon the high places of the earth. And the mountains shall be molten under him, and the valleys shall be cleft, as wax before the fire, [and] as the waters that are poured down a steep place.

Micah 1:3-4

The people of Judah saw what the Assyrians had done to Israel, and it should have caused them to repent. The northern kingdom became openly idolatrous and competed with Judah’s “true” worship. The Assyrians and other gentile peoples brought in by the Assyrians intermingled with the Israelites and became the despised, half-breed Samaritans. Spiritual adultery – in the form of “watered-down” worship – is contagious, and the sickness of Israel began to infect Judah.

For the transgression of Jacob is all this, and for the sins of the house of Israel. What is the transgression of Jacob? is it not Samaria? and what are the high places of Judah? are they not Jerusalem?

Micah 1:5

You can call it worship, but if it’s idolatry, it’s idolatry. You can call it spiritual, but if it’s flesh, it’s flesh. Micah prophesied about the cities in Judah and God mocked their names. God has a way of taking what is nearest and dearest to you, and, if you disregard Him, taking it away, or turning it into a curse.

Declare ye it not at Gath, weep ye not at all: in the house of Aphrah roll thyself in the dust.

Micah 1:10

“Gath” meant “declare it” and “Aphrah” meant “house of dust.”

Pass ye away, thou inhabitant of Saphir, having thy shame naked: the inhabitant of Zaanan came not forth in the mourning of Bethezel; he shall receive of you his standing.

Micah 1:11

“Saphir” meant “beautiful,” “Zaanan” meant “come out,” and “Bethezel” meant “taking away.”

For the inhabitant of Maroth waited carefully for good: but evil came down from the LORD unto the gate of Jerusalem.

Micah 1:12

“Maroth” meant bitterness.

O thou inhabitant of Lachish, bind the chariot to the swift beast: she is the beginning of the sin to the daughter of Zion: for the transgressions of Israel were found in thee. Therefore shalt thou give presents to Moreshethgath: the houses of Achzib shall be a lie to the kings of Israel. Yet will I bring an heir unto thee, O inhabitant of Mareshah: he shall come unto Adullam the glory of Israel. Make thee bald, and poll thee for thy delicate children; enlarge thy baldness as the eagle; for they are gone into captivity from thee.

Micah 1:13-16

“Lachish” meant “team of fast horses,” “Achzib” meant “deception,” and “Mareshah” meant “conqueror.”

These were God’s covenant people, but being in a covenant does not excuse sin. The first sin addressed in Micah Chapter 2 is covetousness.

Woe to them that devise iniquity, and work evil upon their beds! when the morning is light, they practise it, because it is in the power of their hand. And they covet fields, and take them by violence; and houses, and take them away: so they oppress a man and his house, even a man and his heritage. Therefore thus saith the LORD; Behold, against this family do I devise an evil, from which ye shall not remove your necks; neither shall ye go haughtily: for this time is evil.

Micah 2:1-3

The second sin addressed is false prophecy.

Prophesy ye not, say they to them that prophesy: they shall not prophesy to them, that they shall not take shame. O thou that art named the house of Jacob, is the spirit of the LORD straitened? are these his doings? do not my words do good to him that walketh uprightly?

Micah 2:6-7

Arise ye, and depart; for this is not your rest: because it is polluted, it shall destroy you, even with a sore destruction. If a man walking in the spirit and falsehood do lie, saying, I will prophesy unto thee of wine and of strong drink; he shall even be the prophet of this people.

Micah 2:10-11

Prophets who are truly from God are seldom popular. One of the marks of a false prophet is that, in telling people they are good, he is loved by the people. Note how the sins of covetousness and false prophecy often go hand in hand.

God’s People in the World

September 17, 2013 at 2:14 pm | Posted in Exodus | 4 Comments
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The name of the Book of Exodus refers to the idea of “going out:” exiting. In Hebrew, though, it was called “Names” or the “Book of Names” because of the way it starts.

Now these are the names of the children of Israel, which came into Egypt; every man and his household came with Jacob.

Exodus 1:1

The children of Israel were “God’s people” – also known as Hebrews, Jews, or sometimes Semites, descended from Shem, one of Noah’s sons. They were the descendants of Abram/Abraham.

Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:

Genesis 12:1-2 (emphasis added)

However, at the beginning of Exodus they could have hardly been considered a “great nation.”

And all the souls that came out of the loins of Jacob were seventy souls: for Joseph was in Egypt already.

Exodus 1:5

Jacob was Abraham’s grandson, and Jacob’s son, Joseph, had been providentially moved into authority in Egypt. It was there that the children of Israel began to prosper and multiply, because God was keeping His promise.

Exodus begins with the word “now” (used as a synonym for “and”) to let us know that this is a continuation of what happened in Genesis. The children of Israel were blessed by God, but they were in the “world,” which is symbolized by Egypt. God’s people will always be oppressed by the world in the world – unless they act like they are of the world (which we are forbidden from doing). Christians should live like ships sailing on the sea. The best place for a ship is not in dry-dock. It is “on” (on top of) the sea (the world). We do well on top of the sea, but if the sea gets into us, we begin to ride low in the water, take on more and more water, and eventually sink into ineffectiveness and tragedy. Christians should not live like monks, completely separate from the world, but neither should we immerse ourselves in the sin promoted by this world’s system. The Jewish people were hard-working and a blessing to Egypt’s economy, but they could not be absorbed into Egypt, which was a culture of false gods and death.

Fitted by God

October 28, 2011 at 10:28 am | Posted in Romans | 5 Comments
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Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises;

Romans 9:4

The Holy Spirit here is answering the argument of those who say that it would mean that God is unfaithful to His promise of salvation to the Jewish people if He has given grace freely to all people. In other words, if Gentiles can be saved the same way Jewish people can be saved, what’s so special about being an Israelite?

The Holy Spirit’s response to this challenge is:

1. The Jewish people were adopted as “His people.”

2. He gave them the Old Testament covenants.

3. He gave them the privilege of having His glory dwell among them in the Old Testament.

4. He gave them the Law.

5. He saved them from among the nations, and delivered them from bondage in Egypt.

6. He made them special promises.

7. He caused Christ to come through their “family line.”

8. He gave them all the signs that pointed to Jesus being the Christ: the Messiah.

Even though they rejected Him, and crucified Him, God will remain faithful to His promises to Israel.

As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated. What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.

Romans 9:13-14

In the history of the Church and in Christian theology this has been a controversial passage of Scripture. People don’t like to think that God could “hate” anyone. Some theologians feel that this refers to “national election.” In other words, God “chose” the nation of Israel (Jacob’s descendants) over the nation of Edom (Esau’s descendants). Others feel that God “hated” Esau only in relation to Jacob. In other words, they say that God didn’t really “hate” Esau – He just really loved Jacob a lot, and therefore His great love for Jacob made His feelings for Esau seem like hatred in comparison. I have to say that I find very little warrant in Scripture for this second interpretation. It seems to come from the dogmatic assertion (and Christian cliche’) that God hates sin but loves sinners. This assertion, we might say, has “some truth” in it, but on its face it is contradicted by Scripture (Psalm 11:5; Psalm 7:11). Part of the confusion comes from a misunderstanding of hatred. Most people who are aware that God is love (I John 4:8) and know that God is immutable can not reconcile in their minds how God can be loving and hateful at the same time. What they fail to perceive is that love and hatred are not mutually contradictory, nor are they even opposites. The opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is indifference. God is certainly not indifferent! It might surprise many modern evangelicals to learn that the Greek word translated as “hated” in Romans 9:13 means – quite directly – “hated.”

Now, let’s think about Esau for a second. He’s the one who made the decision to sell his birthright – his heritage as a primary heir of God’s covenant promise to the children of Abraham and Isaac. And even though Esau made this “decision” he was at the same time under the decree of God Who had predetermined that Jacob, and not Esau, would be the heir of the promise. The Holy Spirit brings up the example of Pharaoh to support the way God works out His sovereignty and providence in the affairs of men. Pharaoh hardened his own heart – in a sense – but the serious student of Scripture can not deny that God also hardened Pharaoh’s heart.

For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.

Romans 9:17-18 (emphasis added)

Pharaoh made the decision to reject God and His mercy, but God was plainly ruling over this “decision.”

The Holy Spirit anticipates sinful man’s reaction to this revelation of God:

Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?

Romans 9:19

How can God find fault in us for the way we are, when He made us that way?

Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?

Romans 9:20-21

Does the clay argue or talk back to the potter? “You should have made me a dinner plate instead of a cup! I didn’t want to be a cup!” The potter had every right to make the clay into a cup instead of a plate. He could have made the clay into a toilet bowl if he wanted!

For we commend not ourselves again unto you, but give you occasion to glory on our behalf, that ye may have somewhat to answer them which glory in appearance, and not in heart.

II Corinthians 5:12

God does not show favor based on His surprise at finding us “worthy” in our outward deeds or appearance. God is omniscient. He can’t be surprised. And He can’t “learn” anything. He makes some vessels unto honor, and some to dishonor. No vessel decides for itself with what it’s going to be filled. As living, breathing vessels, with souls and consciences and consciousness, God made us so that we can think and make decisions. Some vessels are “fitted” to destruction the same way that some spoiled and angry and rambunctious children are said to be “fit to be tied.” Whose fault is it that they need to be tied?

The Gentile vessels, compared to the Jewish vessels, did not have all the advantages outlined above. But God, in order to show His goodness and His longsuffering to the vessels who insisted on being filled with wrath, decided that those who are His vessels will be filled with mercy, instead of wrath.

I will not pretend that these truths are easy to explain. They get us into the sticky doctrines of election and predestination, which, by the way, are Bible terms. For a Christian teacher to say “I don’t believe in predestination” is to seriously call into question his view of Scripture and, therefore, his qualification for teaching. Some people believe God made us like wind-up toys, and that we are mindless puppets. That is not the teaching of Scripture. Others believe that God could not have chosen according to the good pleasure of His Own will to save some people from the penalty for their sin, and not others, because that would violate our “free will.” As finite creatures, we are not going to be able to grasp all the eternal decrees or wisdom of God. God is eternal and infinite, and His ways far above our ways. Here are some things we know for sure:

1. God is righteous, not unrighteous.
2. God is just, not unjust.
3. God is good, not evil.
4. God keeps His promises.
5. God tells the Truth in His Word.

The God-Mastered Man

May 4, 2009 at 3:59 pm | Posted in Biblical Violence, Genesis | 16 Comments
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God has a special relationship with the people and nation of Israel. There is no denying the importance of this relationship in the pages of Scripture and in God’s plans for the people of the world. However, not everyone agrees on the meaning of the name “Israel.” Some believe it means “struggler” or “wrestler with God.” Others believe it means “one with whom God strives” or “one ruled by God.”

We know from Genesis 32 that it is the name God gave to Jacob after he wrestled with the Lord. First, the Lord asked Jacob what his name was. Not because God didn’t know – God is omniscient! But because He was making a point. The name “Jacob” meant “heel grabber” or “supplanter,” with the connotation of one who struggles through trickery. Jacob had spent most of his life “wrestling:” wrestling with his brother, his father, his employer, even his wives.

Now Jacob was being taught a lesson about the reward of struggling to know God and to receive His blessings, and at the same time, the futility of struggling against God’s will. This is why the best translation of the name “Israel” might be “the God-mastered man.” A man who desperately wants more of God’s blessings, and has been broken by God, can truly be used by God to change the world.

And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me. And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob. And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.

Genesis 32:26-28


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