Point of Reference

Aim

My dad loved sailing—never a big expenditure, but definitely a great stress-reliever for him.

On at least one occasion he handed me the tiller and told me to steer toward a certain landmark on the shore.

That worked well as long as I kept my eye on the reference point. Otherwise, drift was inevitable.

Objective

In life, everyone has an ultimate aim. What’s ours? Why have we chosen it? Does it correspond with our purpose for existence? Is our life’s goal what God would choose for us?

The apostle Paul was one of the most focused people who ever lived. What was his reference point?

In his own words, it was “knowing Christ Jesus my Lord . . . that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him . . . that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead . . . . reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:8-14).

A friend and I were studying this passage together, and I asked him to sum up in just one word what Paul says here. He looked at it again, then answered, “Christ.”

Goal

In the verses that follow Paul commends his goal to others, but then adds, “For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.

“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ . . . (vv. 18-20).

For over 30 years, from Paul’s conversion to his execution, Christ was his everything!

Is He ours?

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Scripture quotations taken from the NASB: http://www.lockman.org/

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The Real Jesus

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Toward a more accurate assessment

In his small volume Your God is Too Small J. B. Phillips dispels misconceptions about God and His Son.

Referring to such portrayals as in the children’s rhyme, “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, / Look upon a little child,” Phillips observes, “We can hardly be surprised if children feel fairly soon that they have outgrown the ‘tender Shepherd’ and find their heroes elsewhere.”

Phillips asserts that though Jesus certainly has His tender side, “when one characteristic is caricatured at the expense of all the others we get a grotesque distortion which can only appeal to the morbidly sentimental” (pp. 26, 28).

What then can provide a healthy counter-weight to the tenderness Jesus showed toward children, the bereaved, the penitent, and the afflicted?

Bold in word and deed

Jesus could be extremely direct when the occasion called for it. His most vigorous denunciations were directed against the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 23).

He could “tell it like it is” when addressing those who rejected Him: “You are of your father, the devil . . . . you are not of God” (John 8:44, 47).

Not only did He at times speak bluntly, but He was quite capable of strong measures: “And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; and to those who were selling the doves He said, ‘Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business’” (John 2:15-16).

In His miracles He powerfully demonstrated His absolute authority over nature, disease, demons, and death.

How to assess Him—and how not to

No one can rightly read the New Testament and believe in a weak, pale, ineffectual Jesus.

He was—and is—a Power not to be contended with, but to be joyfully subservient to.

The second psalm strikes a healthy balance in predicting the coming Messiah: “Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way, for His wrath may soon be kindled. How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!” (Psalm 2:12).

 

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB: http://www.lockman.org/

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The Light of the World

A great prophecy fulfilled

Isaiah had predicted it seven centuries in advance: “But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish; in earlier times He treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt, but later on He shall make it glorious, by the way of the sea, on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them” (Isaiah 9:1-2).

Shortly before Isaiah penned this, God had indeed “treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt” by allowing them to be taken into Assyrian captivity because of their stubborn refusal to honor their covenant with God.

But Isaiah announces a great day was coming for this same region: “He shall make it glorious . . . . the light will shine on them.”

If you compare an Old Testament map showing the tribal territories with a map of Israel in the first century A.D., it’s obvious that the land of Zebulun and Naphtali corresponds to Galilee, as Isaiah explains.

According to Matthew’s Gospel (4:13-16), Jesus’ ministry in Galilee is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy.

The darkness Dispeller

In His preaching and healing Jesus was the “great light” of whom Isaiah spoke, the Light which dispelled the gloom of this land which had once so deservedly felt God’s contempt.

But of course, Jesus’ light is too great to be confined to Galilee. “I am the Light of the world,” He said, “he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life” (John 8:12).

“In Him was life,” John writes, “and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” (John 1:4-5; see vv. 6-9; 2 Corinthians 4:6).

Where there was gloom, glory! Where there was darkness, Light!

Both then and now.

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Scripture quotations taken from the NASB: http://www.lockman.org/

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“Taken Up in Glory”

This is the last in a series of posts, beginning on December 12, where we have examined the six great truths about Jesus Christ from First Timothy 3:16, “By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness: / He who was revealed in the flesh, / Was vindicated in the Spirit, / Seen by angels, / Proclaimed among the nations, / Believed on in the world, / Taken up in glory.”

His ascension

“…He was received up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God” (Mark 16:19); “…He parted from them [His disciples] and was carried up into heaven” (Luke 24:51); “…He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9; see Psalm 68:18; Acts 1:1-2, 22; Hebrews 4:14; 9:24; 1 Peter 3:22).

Two great promises

Two angels appeared to the disciples as they watched Him ascend. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:10-11).

The second promise is directly related to the first: “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).

He who ascended will someday return. Then those He has redeemed will themselves ascend. “When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory” (Colossians 3:4).

“But we believe . . . .”

“We walked not with the chosen few, / Who saw Thee from the earth ascend; / Who raised to heav’n their wond’ring view, /  Then low to earth all prostrate bend; / But we believe that human eyes / Beheld that journey to the skies” (Anne Richter, “We Saw Thee Not”).

“The story of Jesus begins in heaven and ends in heaven. He lived as a servant; He was branded as a criminal; He was crucified on a cross; He rose with the nailprints still upon Him; but the end is glory” (Wm. Barclay, The Letters to Timothy, Titus and Philemon, 105).

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Scripture quotations taken from the NASB: http://www.lockman.org/

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“Believed on in the World”

Yesterday’s post focused on the fourth in the series of six great truths about Jesus Christ: “Proclaimed among the nations” (1 Timothy 3:16).

Today’s truth is the logical result of yesterday’s. When the gospel (good news) of Jesus is proclaimed, God intends for those who hear to believe and obey the gospel (Acts 11:13-14; Romans 1:16; 10:10-17; 16:25; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10). Only then can anyone be saved (Mark 16:15-16).

Broadening proclamation

The gospel first went to the Jews: “And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number . . .” (Acts 5:14).

Then to the Samaritans: “But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike” (Acts 8:12).

And finally, to the Gentiles: “. . . you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10).

Expanding response

“. . . before seventy years had passed . . . men from every nation accepted this crucified Jesus as Saviour and Lord. Here in this simple phrase [“Believed on in the world”] there is the whole wonder of the expansion of the Church, an expansion which on any human grounds was incredible” (Wm. Barclay, The Letters to Timothy, Titus and Philemon, Westminster Press, 105).

Who but God could use such improbable means to achieve such incredible ends?

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Scripture quotations taken from the NASB: http://www.lockman.org/

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“Proclaimed Among the Nations”

No other message like it!

This message is called the gospel, which means “good news.”

Not only is it good news, it is the best news—that the One who took the punishment we deserve because of our sin now offers us forgiveness instead of condemnation, reconciliation to God where there had been alienation, and hope for those without hope.

In this series of posts we’re examining six great truths about Jesus in First Timothy 3:16, “By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness: / He who was revealed in the flesh, / Was vindicated in the Spirit, / Seen by angels, / Proclaimed among the nations, / Believed on in the world, / Taken up to glory.”

Truth #4: “Proclaimed among the nations.”

The apostles were the first to proclaim the message of grace through Christ. Jesus commissioned Paul to take the good news to the Gentiles: “to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me” (Acts 26:18).

The word “Gentiles” means “nations”—how the Jews referred to all those other than themselves.

After centuries of preparing Israel for the arrival of the Messiah through their lineage, God then took it to the next level—all the rest of the world (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46-47; Acts 1:8).

“It must never be forgotten,” said Donald Guthrie, “that a Hebrew Christ had become a Christ for the nations” (The Pastoral Epistles, Eerdmans, p. 90).

“He was being proclaimed without respect to national distinction, without respect to social condition, without respect to culture, with respect simply to the fact that all were sinners and in need of salvation” (James Hastings, The Great Texts of the Bible, Vol. 18, Eerdmans, p. 113).

Good news indeed!

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Scripture quotations taken from the NASB: http://www.lockman.org/

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“Seen by Angels”

In this series of posts we’re examining the six great truths about Jesus that Paul proclaims in First Timothy 3:16, “By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness: / He who was revealed in the flesh, / Was vindicated in the Spirit, / Seen by angels, / Proclaimed among the nations, / Believed on in the world, / Taken up to glory.”

Today the focus is on Jesus’ being “seen by angels.” Please see the post “Angels: Who Are They?” (December 1, 2017) and the original post in this series (December 12, 2017).

Above/Below/Above

The angels saw Jesus in two dramatically different settings. First, they had worshiped and served Him before He left heaven to become human. Then they served Him during His earthly pilgrimage. And they see Him now, enthroned in glory!

For the angels who had seen Him only in His resplendent heavenly glory, how strange it must have seemed to see their Lord in a lowly human body!

Peter describes the salvation Jesus came to bring us as “things into which angels long to look” (1 Peter 1:12).

Angels announced His birth to the shepherds (Luke 2:8-15).

After His victory over Satan’s temptations in the wilderness, “. . . angels came and began to minister to Him” (Matthew 4:11).

At His tomb “an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it.” Then to the women who had come to anoint Jesus’ body, the angel announced His resurrection (Matthew 28:2-7).

What peals of praise!

Throughout Jesus’ earthly experience no doubt the angels were constantly keeping watch over Him with ever-attentive concern and care, prepared at any moment to go on any mission the Father might send them to serve the Son.

Imagine their thunderous praise after Jesus returned to heaven, having completed His redemptive work!

“Then I looked,” John wrote, “and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders, and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing’” (Revelation 5:11-12).

Amen and Amen!

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Scripture quotations taken from the NASB: http://www.lockman.org/

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