Ascended & Reigns Forever

Jesus is…

God in flesh, free from temptation, healer and restorer, seeking and saving the lost, betrayed/denied/tried/crucified, and he is Risen and lives forever!

This is what we have been thinking about for the last seven weeks. Jesus has done, is doing, and will continue to do incredible things in our midst and in our world. Are we paying attention?

Now we go to the event Jesus was preparing his followers for – his departure.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus says something interesting to his disciples. He says, “But very truly I tell you, it is for your own good that I am going away.”[1]Why would he say this? Think about it. If Jesus was still here in the physical body form, as we are, then he would only be able to be in one particular place at one particular time. We would have to go to him to hear him and so we could be in his presence. We might say we want Jesus in the physical flesh now, but then we would have to be the ones who go to him.

But, because Jesus ascended into heaven, we do not have to go to him because he is already with us. It really is better for us that he ascended into heaven, otherwise he would not have sent the promised Holy Spirit (see John 16:7).

So now, let’s take time to read the passage, from Luke 24:

50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52 Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God

The ascension event is found in all four Gospel accounts and in the book of Acts. All of them differ to some degree.

Matthew’s gospel concludes with Jesus telling the disciples he has all authority in heaven and on earth and then gives them, what we call, the Great Commission, “go and make disciples of all nations…”

Mark’s (longer ending) gospel says something similar, but then adds, “After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat down at the right hand of God.”[2]

Luke’s gospel is above.

John’s gospel shows Jesus alluding to his ascension when he speaks with Mary Magdelene after he rose from the grave. Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”[3]

The book of Acts says, “After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.”[4]

I used to picture the ascension like most people, Jesus floating off in the clouds and disappearing into the sky as he was on his way to heaven – a far-off location. But, as I have paid closer attention to the scripture, I now realize this was written in a similar form as when Moses went up the mountain to receive the law from God. Moses “ascended” the mountain and went into the clouds. This means Moses walked up the mountain to where the clouds were, and he was not seen for 40 days.

This is what I now picture. Jesus goes up the mountain and the clouds come down upon him and he disappears. Why clouds? What do they mean?

Clouds throughout scripture represented the fullness, the glory of God. When Moses was in the clouds, he was in the full glory of God. Jesus, when the clouds surrounded him, entered into the realm of heaven to be where he could reign forever.

All of the written accounts of Jesus’ departure (his ascension) point to his authority over all. This event also shows us he is King now. Jesus will not be crowned King when he returns. He is King now. He has full authority over all humanity and creation. The New Testament writers believed this too.

Do you know what the most quoted Old Testament scripture is? It may surprise you to know it is actually in the book of Psalms. Can you guess it? This scripture is quoted 23 times in the New Testament. Ready to find out what it is?

It is Psalm 110:1. That may seem like a strange scripture. But, it shows the authority and Kingship of Jesus here and now. The New Testament authors wanted to show Jesus’s authority to the believers so they could have the assurance Jesus is not in a far away place, but ruling now.

Psalm 110:1 says, “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” (NIV)

HUMANITY EXAULTED

Jesus sits down at the right hand of God. Why? The right side has always been referenced to as the strong side, the highest honor, the position of authority. Jesus sits down meaning his work has been done.

Hebrews 1:3 points again to the placement of Jesus’ position in heaven. “[H]e sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”(NIV)

What all of this is showing is that because Jesus has ascended into heaven, humanity now has a position and place in heaven! Why? Remember it was not the Spirit of Jesus that went into heaven. Jesus did not shed himself of his physical body to enter heaven. His body was made perfect before ascending. It was Jesus, in human bodily form, that entered into the realm of Heaven.

This means there is a human (Jesus) ruling in Heaven. Now, this is not diminishing Jesus in any way. Remember, in Heaven, humans are higher than the angels. Jesus is still fully God. He is also fully human. As Steve Seamands writes, “Because Jesus ascended, humanity has been exalted and brought into the life of God.”[5]

See, it is not the resurrection that gives us life everlasting with God in Heaven. It is the ascension. Because Jesus is there, humanity has the place in Heaven now.

The ascension is so much more important for our life with God than we realize. The importance of this event has slipped from our minds, but this doesn’t change the reality of what Jesus did.

Jesus’ ascension is so important that, in the Roman Catholic Church, there are only six mandatory days to attend Mass. The Feast of the Ascension (Ascension Day) is one of them.[6]Is this event as important to you? I hope the importance of this event is more real now and we can come to celebrate Jesus’ ascension more prominently.

WHERE IS HEAVEN?

As I have said, I do not picture Jesus going off into the sky on his way to heaven. Too often, we tend to think of heaven as some far off place that we go to after we die. Remember Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom of God is at hand. He was proclaiming God’s Kingdom here on earth. He was not proclaiming a place far away from earth. Neither was he saying we “go to heaven.” Jesus was proclaiming heaven on earth.

Steve Seamands reminds us of how NT Wright teaches about the realm of Heaven. This is what Jesus seems to be proclaiming while on the physical earth. “As NT Wright points out, in biblical cosmology, heaven and earth are not two locations within the same special continuum; rather they are dimensions of God’s creations. And since heaven relates to earth tangentially, the one who is in heaven can be present everywhere at once on earth. ‘The Ascension, therefore, means that Jesus is available, accessible, without people having to travel to a particular spot on earth to find him.”[7]

Heaven is not some place we go after we die. Heaven is the reality of the full presence of God here and now AND in the life to come. Heaven, therefore, is already here. We just do not have the eyes to see it fully nor live into it because Jesus has not come back.

Heaven is here among us. We see glimpses of heaven each and every day. One day, the fullness and glory of heaven will take over the earth once again. Heaven and earth will become one, just as in the Garden of Eden. This earth will not be destroyed, but it will be transformed and redeemed. This is why we pray, “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” This is our prayer. That earth will be just like heaven.

JESUS IS STILL HERE

Since heaven is here on earth, as another dimension of the reality we live in, Jesus is still here. And, we are with Jesus in heaven.

The Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 2:6 that we are in Christ. We are really with him in heaven at the same time we are here on earth. Heaven can be, and is, experienced here on earth because, as Paul says, we have one foot in heaven and one foot on earth. Because we are in Christ, we also get to be with him in heaven too! The reality of Jesus is here. We are also with him.

Seamands reminds us “Jesus is always with us in actual presence. Because we are with him in heaven and he’s with us on earth, that means we can live every moment in the holy of holies presence of God.”[8]

Remember in the Old Testament, the Tabernacle , nd the Temple? There was a room, separated by a thick curtain called the “Holy of Holies.” This was the space that only the High Priest could enter. This was the most sacred space on earth, the place where God resides.

When Jesus was crucified on the cross, the curtain in the Temple was torn in two, symbolizing there was nothing separating God from the people anymore. God has broke the barriers created by Sin and has allowed humanity to enter into his presence anytime we want. We get to live in the presence of God here and now and we do not have to go through a mediator.

We can live, knowing the reality of Jesus is with us always. Look at Psalm 16:

I keep my eyes always on the Lord.
With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest secure,

You make known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
[9]

STAY HEAVENLY MINDED AND EARTHLY FOCUSED

I’m sure you may have heard the phrase, “don’t be so heavenly minded that you’re no earthly good.” Well, we really need to scratch that phrase so we do not use it again. We really do need to remain heavenly minded, because we, who are in Christ, are with Christ in heaven here and now. This is the reality we know will come to fruition at the right time.

We need to remember that we are called to usher in the Kingdom of Heaven wherever we are and wherever we go in whatever we do. Our focus should always remain on Jesus Christ because it is his image we are being molded and transformed to.

Jesus is on the throne and this has an incredible impact for how we live our life. Because Jesus is on the throne, we can approach with confidence the Throne of Grace. (Hebrews 4:16)

We exalt Jesus as the rightful King of the world (really universe) because if we do not, something or someone else will be exalted in our own lives and we will miss out on living in and experiencing heaven on earth here and now.

Jesus gives himself for the mission he called us to and he does not leave us on our own. Nor, do we go into the mission field in our own strength and power. Jesus guides and gives us all power and everything else we need. He does this through the Holy Spirit.

Whenever we love God by loving people and we love people by loving God, we are doing what we were created for. This is what we are called to do.

So, who is Jesus? Jesus is….

God in flesh, free from the power of temptations, healing and restoring, seeking and saving the lost, betrayed/denied/tried/crucified, risen and lives forever, ascended and reigns forever.

That’s who Jesus is. Now the question becomes, “What would Jesus say about you?”

Works Cited:

[1]John 16:7a NIV

[2]Mark 16:19 NIV

[3]John 20:17 NIV

[4]Acts 1:9 NIV

[5]Seamands, Stephen. “Unseen Real”

[6]Seamands, Stephen. “Give Them Christ”

[7]Seamands, Stephen. “Give Them Christ”

[8]Seamands, Stephen. “Give Them Christ”

[9]Psalm 16:8-9,11 NIV

Betrayed, Denied, Tried, Crucified

In the 1924 book by Richard Connell, The Most Dangerous Game is a story of big game hunter Sanger Rainsford and his friend Whitney ending up on an island owned by General Zaroff. The General talks about how he is bored with “traditional” hunting and has moved into hunting the most dangerous, the most cunning animal, ship-wrecked humans. This is a dark story that shows what happens when we lose our way and give in to the darkness of the world.

As disturbing as this book was, and still is, this is a good picture of the darkness humanity is capable of. We like to think that because we’re “evolved” and “more civil” now that we do not act like this. But the reality is human nature has not changed. There is still darkness looming over humanity. There is still something that pulls us away from the God who created us. There is still Sin.

Over the past several weeks, we have been diving into the life of Jesus Christ. Originally this was going to be the last message, but after some prayer, we’re adding two more so we can take the time to talk more fully about the life of Jesus Christ.

Remember we talked about why the question, “Who do you say Jesus is?” is really the most important question. From there we talked about his birth and were reminded this is not just a story we should only hear at Christmas time. Then we talked about his baptism and temptations. From there, we talked about his healing ministry. Last week, we talked about Jesus’ mission to seek and to save the lost. Today, we’re going to talk about the final 24 hours of Jesus’ earthly life.

READ LUKE 23:1-3

Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Messiah, a king.”

So Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“You have said so,” Jesus replied.

In this scene, we are already in the courtroom of Pontius Pilate. How did we get here? To understand what’s going on, we have to go back in time about 12 hours.

Pastor and author Chuck Swindoll writes, “Jesus didn’t come to win the approval of people or to swing the majority of a disenfranchised voter base to embrace his platform and sweep him in a position of power in Jerusalem. He came to speak the “solemn truth”. And let’s face it; the truth is rarely popular. In fact, it usually offends the majority.”[1]

This is an important thing for us to remember, especially when we talk about the final 24 hours of Jesus’ earthly life. All of a sudden we have shifted to what appears the majority wanted – for Jesus to keep doing his mission – to a different kind of majority, a group of people who are threatened by the truth and will stop at nothing to get what they want – Jesus gone so they can continue ruling and living the way they see fit.

Whenever people’s pride is threatened, there is really nothing that can stop them from acting the way they do. Reason doesn’t help because we begin to act on our feelings and emotions rather than logical thinking. In fact, if you really think about it, we have moved beyond the Age of Reason and are living in the Age of Feelings.

To understand more of why Jesus was so focused on his mission and purpose, we have to explore more into the depths humanity is capable of.

We can see a picture of this during the last supper (Luke 22:7-38).

BETRAYAL

Jesus and his disciples were gathering together to eat a meal together. They were enjoying the company, the food, the conversation. None of them know, except Jesus, the intentions of a single person. This person would have been upset because Jesus was not overthrowing Rome in a militaristic fashion. This person could also have been nervous because, as the writer of John points out, “[Judas] was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.”[2]

Judas was probably feeling guilt which turned into shame and he did not want anyone to find out what he was doing. This “secret” sin begins to eat at him and will cause him to betray the one he professed faith in. Judas was living a double life, and Jesus knew it. One of the most difficult things for us to hear is we do not ever really do anything in “secret.” God is always watching us. We learn through Jesus, “secret sin has a way of warping the mind and twisting one’s values grotesquely out of shape.”[3]

Jesus always knows when we are living hypocritically because Jesus knows “what [is] in each person[4].” A double life always catches up with us and will cause us to act in ways we never intended or dreamed would be possible – all in the name of self-preservation.

Now, it is easy to keep this image of Judas, the image of the one who betrayed Jesus with a kiss and leaves it at that. We, as a people, tend to like it when people get “what they deserve.” But we have to be careful not to condemn Judas completely. Remember, Judas’ feet were still washed by Jesus (John 13) and Jesus was on the cross even for people like Judas. When we hear the words Jesus cried from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,”[5]we hear Jesus’ compassion even for the worst of sinners. We hear the forgiveness of God stretching across the earth, across time, across ALL boundaries and borders that Sin has built.

Maybe you’re someone here today with a “secret sin,” one that would cause embarrassment. Make sure this does not take a hold of you and cause you to live a life far away from God, even though people see you as loving God. Hear this today, “You are NEVER too far from God. God is eternally drawing himself to you, desiring you live a free life: free from guilt and shame and pride. He is pursuing you so you can live in true freedom. Repent and come to the throne of grace where he is graciously and mercifully waiting for you.”

DENIAL

The next scene we come to is Peter. I love Peter. Peter can put both feet in his mouth – at the same time. He is always trying to show that he is “better” than the other disciples. So when Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me,”[6]Peter becomes indignant and says, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.”[7]

Can you hear the pride in Peter’s reply? Here’s the deal though, whenever we are faced with a choice, the fallen human nature is to choose our own safety and preservation. It is only by the grace of God through the power of the Holy Spirit we have the strength to stand up for Christ and be counted as among his followers. We all have to understand we ALL deny Jesus every single day. When we focus on ourselves. When we choose to not help. When we choose to stay away from people different than us. When we refuse to publically acknowledge our faith in God because we’re scared of how people react or because we’re afraid of losing our jobs. We all have denied Jesus many times in our life.

Denying Jesus has more consequences than we might realize. Every time we do not live as God desires us to live, another person is turned off by Christianity and can become angry with God. We see this all the time when followers of Jesus Christ are mean, purposefully acting one way after professing another, refuse to let new people in, become so self-centered in our life we become indifferent to the suffering around us.

Jesus does not leave us in this state. He is giving us grace upon grace so we have new opportunities to turn our life around and so the world can see Christ in us. I love the line in the prayer of St. Patrick, “Christ in heart of everyone who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in the eye that sees me, Christ in the hear that hears me.”

Peter’s denial is left in the four gospel accounts on purpose. It is to show that we cannot think we are better and will never deny Jesus.

When have you been like Peter? When have you denied Jesus? He is not mad at you. In fact, Jesus is eternally calling you to come to him so he can show you grace upon grace and restore and redeem you.

TRIALS

Peter’s denial happened during the time Jesus was being tried. In scripture we see six trials taking place. None of them are really legal (according to the Jewish law) but they still took place. Three of the trials were in front of the Jewish religious leaders and three were in front of the civil authorities of Rome (Pilate and Herod). These were all undercover and attempted to be kept private so the religious leaders could get what they wanted without the rumblings or rioting of the crowds that adored and believed in Jesus.

During the trials, there were false accusations against Jesus. But Jesus stayed focused on his mission. He stayed the course for what he was sent to do and he did not let anything stop him. It may seem as if the people are doing this on their own; but what we begin to see is these trials are actually against humanity, not Jesus. God is taking this opportunity to further reveal the hearts that are in humanity. He foreknew this was going to happen and, in Jesus Christ, allowed the people to carry out their plan which God used for the redemption of the world.

Jesus came to show humanity the real life God intended for us to live. He is the living embodiment of the “suffering servant” the prophet Isaiah wrote about several hundred years beforehand:

He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.[8]

CRUCIFIED

The crucifixion story is difficult for many people to encounter, even read about. Steve Seamands writes, “Yet despite the unbearable physical agony, people in Roman times dreaded the shame associated with crucifixion…By pinning them up like insects, crucifixion was deliberately intended to display and humiliate its victims…Crucifixion, then, was deliberately designed to be loathsome, vulgar, revolting, and obscene…The hideous shame associated with the crucifixion was the main reason why the message of the cross seemed ludicrous to its original hearers.”[9]

It is so easy for us to wear the cross as decoration or even as an accessory. But the sight of the cross, throughout history, has been gruesome and hideous because of how it was used. When you wear a cross or have the decorations of the cross, remember to see them as not something pretty to hang up. This is what the Son of God died upon. This is what God used to conquer the power of sin and death over humanity. This is the key that unlocked the chain so humanity did not have to be slaves to sin and the power of temptations anymore. The cross is the sign of victory.

Alister McGrath says, “The cross of Christ is the point of reference for Christian faith; Christian faith is based upon it and judged by it…Christian theology, Christian worship, and Christian ethics are essentially nothing other than an attempt to explore and develop the meaning and implications of the crucified Christ in every area of life.”[10]

Many people around the globe love to have the cross with the body of Jesus to remind them of the suffering God in flesh endured for the sake of humanity. This is a constant reminder of how God is with us even in our sufferings because God himself suffered.

Many people prefer the empty cross to symbolize the risen Christ and the ultimate victory of sin and death. It is a reminder that Christ did not stay on the cross but is living eternally and has become our mediator between God and people.[11]

The crucifixion is an important aspect of Jesus’ life we cannot just brush aside. The crucifixion reminds that God is willing to do EVERYTHING possible to redeem and restore humanity and all of creation. The cross reminds us that God knows and understands suffering on a very personal level.

Jesus died. Jesus was buried. Jesus was left in the tomb.

Always remember that this is not the end of the story. The worst thing in life is never the last thing. God always has the final word.

Stay tuned next week as we talk about the next incredible event of Jesus’ life that continues to change the world today..

We all have been in a place to betray Jesus. We all have denied Jesus. Jesus took on the weight of sin on humanity and carried that with him on the cross. Do not live in fear that God is mad at you. Do not live with guilt or shame. Repent (change your heart and lives), confess and live into the freedom that God has waiting for you. Come to the throne of grace and experience an incredible presence of grace and mercy that changes our lives.

 

Works Cited:

[1]Swindoll, Charles. “The Greatest Life of All: JESUS”

[2]John 12:6 NIV

[3]Swindoll, Charles. “The Greatest Life of All: JESUS”

[4]John 2:25 NIV

[5]Luke 23:34 NIV

[6]Luke 22:34 NIV

[7]Mark 14:31

[8]Isaiah 53:2-7 NIV

[9]Seamands, Stephen. “Give Them Christ”. Page 57

[10]Seamands, Stephen. “Give Them Christ”. Page 55

[11]Hebrews 9:15, 1 Timothy 2:5

Seeking & Saving the Lost

Jesus is so much more than we realize he is. Even those of us who profess his name and seek to follow him still do not get or give a full picture of who he is.

Over the last few weeks, we have talked about various aspects of who Jesus is:

Jesus is God in flesh. This is so much more than a story we need to hear just at Christmas time. God coming to earth shows how personal he is and how great his love for the world is.

He has been tempted in all ways we are. This shows us he knows what we are going through and he is the One who is constantly with us reminding us of the life and light that is available to ALL people. We do not have to live with the guilt and shame of giving into sin anymore because Christ has set us free from the slavery of sin and death. NOTE: This not does not give us the freedom to live however we want. This does give us opportunities for repentance and experiencing grace.

Jesus brings healing and hope. Through this, he also brings forgiveness of sins. His mission is to bring people into the life of God by working to make the people whole again.

Today, we’re focusing on Jesus’ mission to “seek and to save the lost.” [1]

How am I defining “lost”?

Lost as we’re going to talk about today deals with two types of people:

  • Those who do not know or have never met Jesus Christ. Those who are living a life far away from Christ.
  • Those who profess Christ with their lips but do not live as Christ desires them to live (i.e. purposefully gives into sin with no regret, guilt, shame, etc.) So, a person who acts as part of a church family but not following Christ.

Before we go much further, we have to understand a few things:

  • All people were created in the image of God. Some live into this image while others repress it so much they do not resemble any part of the image of God. Some people do not know the image within them and just need it to come forth.
  • Everyone needs grace. All people are welcomed to experience the grace of God in their lives.
  • We are put on this earth, given this life we have, for “such a time as this” [2]to share and show the love of God through Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit for ALL people. We get to live out and work with God in his desire “ALL people be saved AND come to a knowledge of the truth.”[3]

This is the mission of Christ: to proclaim the Kingdom of God that is at hand by living his life to “seek AND save the lost.” We’ll talk about what it means to be saved in a little bit.

READ SCRIPTURE LUKE 15:1-2 (back up to 14:35b)

“Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

When we read those verses, what stands out to you? Take just a moment and write down what you heard.

 

LET THOSE WITH EARS, HEAR

This was something that was piercing my heart and soul as I kept reading the scripture.

Listening is important. Listening gives people value. Listen helps us understand what is going on.

Many times, we’ll come to people with our own assumptions as to why they are the way they are and do not take the time to really get to know them. We’ll already know what people need and seek to give that to them without really finding out the cause of their situation.

When Jesus says, “Whoever has ears, let them hear,” he is talking about listing beyond the words he is saying and allow the Spirit of God to speak to you. Jesus is talking about truly hearing what is being said and allow the truths he is bringing to impact and transform your life.

Jesus wants us to be so in tune with his voice, that is still speaking, in the world that we will truly hear and follow him. That is why I do my best to cling tight to Hebrews 3:15, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

Now, Jesus is also saying, that only those willing to hear his message and allow the words to change lives are the one who will do what he desires. Only the people who truly desire to hear him will be the ones who actually do. Everyone else is going to do what they want to do and makes them feel good.

Which of these groups of people are you?

Before you say you are in the group that really hears the message of Christ and live according to what he says, think about how you and I treat those around us. Do we ever feel like we are better than other people? Do we ever feel like people deserve what they got and do our best to help teach them a lesson? Do we feel like we’ve already tried to help people and they just don’t get it so we stopped seeking to help?

Jesus wants us to hear him, to have the ears to hear the souls and hearts of the people around us and always seek to be in mission with him at our homes, our community, state/nation, and around the world.

Jesus’ heart is for those who do not try to hide behind a religious lifestyle. Jesus’ heart is for those who do not know God and those who have gone astray from following him.

How many people do you know that are not Christian? It is so easy for us to remain in our Holy Huddles and keep those different than us at arm length and not get to know them. After all, those people are the demise of society, right? No. It is the spirit in the person. Whatever we choose to worship (give precedence to) will become our master. This is where the problems arise.

So how many people do you know that are not Christian? If we say, “no one,” then we really need to expand our circle of influence and love. We also need to remember that even though people profess to be a believer in Christ and profess to be a Christian, doesn’t mean they actually are.

We can think about the lost in terms of being poor.

Someone who is financially poor seems to be the easiest type of person we can help because we can do something for them. This type of person may not know Christ because of many different reasons. They may be in it for the handouts. They are most likely seeking something more: people to show them they still have value and worth in the sight of God. Yet, the financially poor may know Christ deeply because they find themselves truly dependent on him.

Another type of poor is spiritually speaking. There could be people who have everything they want materially but are living so far from Christ it’s not even funny. How can you help this kind of person?

We continue with the scripture today:

“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus.“

What we’re going to see is

HEAVEN REJOICES OVER SINNERS WHO REPENT

Have you ever been to a worship service where there were lower classes (socially speaking) of people than you? How about a different ethnic group? There is something incredible that happens when all different types and groups of people come to hear and experience Jesus Christ.

I have learned more and have experienced God’s grace and mercy so much more powerfully when I have taken the time to worship with people different than me. I love to be part of the congregation and hear desperate calls for God in their lives. The people were part of the worship experience rather than being simply an audience and just trying to listen. Jesus is seeking to be with the people who desire to be part of his mission rather than those who sit on the sidelines.

Not only that, but he “rejoices over the salvation of every lost person”.[4]When someone repents (changes their mind and heart toward God) and turns their life over to Christ, there is so much rejoicing and partying in heaven.

Jesus sits with the people who need grace. This is why I asked, how many non-Christians do you know? Would you be willing to be seen with the “worst” people in our society? Would you be willing to be seen with people who could ruin your reputation?

This past week, I was in the Rocky Mountains for a spiritual sabbath retreat with 13 other pastors and friends. We had a great time. We spent time hiking, talking theology, praying, goofing off. It was a great time of renewal for me spiritually.

Tuesday we went on an eleven-mile hike up a mountain. As we were hiking up, there were many people who passed us. One of the reasons I love going to the mountains in Colorado is all the different types of people, nationalities, accents that are present. We have the opportunity to talk with many different types of people.

But I did have the thoughts of how many of the people we came in contact with knew Christ, how many of them lived a lifestyle that was far from Christ? Would I be willing to sit down, have dinner with them and listen?

I think many of us, and I battle this at times, do not welcome the outcasts of society into our homes because we do not want to be associated with them. We don’t want to ruin our reputation. This made me think of a quote from a guy named Joshua Harris, “Be like Jesus: Spend enough times with sinners to ruin your reputation with religious people.”

ALWAYS REMEMBER, GOD’S HEART IS FOR THE WORLD

Jesus was “ruining” his reputation with the Pharisees. This group of leaders had to be careful not interact with people beneath them. Pharisee means “set apart” meaning that they were not supposed to do anything that would tarnish their reputation with the people. They had to live in such a way as to be the “perfect” example of what it meant to follow God’s law. Never mind many of them had been corrupted in the heart because they felt they were better than others, enjoyed the money, fame, attention, etc.

So which group would we be better to associate with? The leaders who were corrupt, or the people Jesus came for? I think the answer is both. Remember, everyone needs to experience God through Jesus Christ no matter the lifestyle.

A couple weeks ago we talked about asking God to give you his heart for the people around you, for the world. How do you respond when someone comes along who is different than you? How do you respond when people are constantly trying to get stuff from you? I know my heart is not as soft as I hope it would be. I am not always compassionately patient, but God is constantly working on me daily. He gives me chance after chance because I keep getting to be around people who are different than me and have a different lifestyle than me.

God’s heart for the last, the least, and the lost is incredible. Just take time to read through the scriptures and see what is said. Even read the verses and passages that you do not want to or like to read because it goes against what you think should be done. (You’d find these types of passages all the way through and you would know what they are by how they cause uneasiness to your spirit when you read them.)

GOD DOES WHATEVER IS NECESSARY TO SEEK OUT AND FIND THE LOST:

Ezekiel 34:11

“For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and find them.”

Ezekiel 34:16

“I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak…”

Luke 19:10

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Matthew 18:12

The parable of the lost sheep.

Luke 15

The parable of the lost sheep, the lost coin, the prodigal son.

And many more..

This is what God does. Jesus sought after the people who were far away from God, especially those who had been cast out by the people of God.

God would do anything it takes to bring people into his light and grace.

A friend of mine told me a story of when he was on a vacation several years ago, he and his family (including a toddler and an infant) were going to the beach. The sand was hot and they were looking for a place to play when the toddler needed to go to the bathroom, so the mom took her. My friend was waiting for his wife and daughter to come back from the restroom. When his wife came back by herself, he asked where their toddler daughter was. She said she sent her back to him (he was within sight of the restroom).

The daughter could not be found. For forty minutes the family was searching. They sought assistance from the police, lifeguards, you name it. Finally, they did find her, sitting in the sand playing.

God uses every method possible to seek the lost, find them and bring them into his grace. How do I know? God used all of heaven’s resources to find you and me. He sent us Jesus Christ.

HOW DO YOU VIEW PEOPLE?

Do you “see” the people around you? Don’t assume that if it seems they have their life together they actually do. Do you really see them, the hurts, struggles, sin?

How far would you go to rescue someone from the clutches of sin to bring them to the throne of grace and love?

Jesus’ mission is to seek and to save the lost. Save them from a life of not having knowledge of the love of God and save them from living in a hell. His mission is to bring the true light of the world to all people.

Jesus’ mission is for people to be saved, set free, from the enslavement of sin and death. To know the great love of God. To live in the perfect relationship in the unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

His plan for accomplishing this mission?

You and me.

Would you search for a lost person here and show them Christ?

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How about here?

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How about here?

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And finally, how about here?

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We never know who God is seeking and asking us to reach out to. As you leave this place today, remember you are being sent into the mission field. Ask God for the eyes to see those who are lost. Ask God for the ears to hear the cry of those who are in search of the God who is already pursuing them.

Remember, God pursued you and me. Let’s go into the world, with him, to seek the lost and walk with them to the throne of grace.

Do you ever feel lost or far from God and his incredible grace? God has never left or forgotten you. Come to know and remember God’s grace and heart for you. Come all you who are seeking life and hope. Jesus is here. He has never left you. Place your trust in him know you have never been lost from his sight.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

 

Works Cited:

[1]Luke 19:10

[2]Esther 4:4

[3]1 Timothy 2:4 emphasis mine

[4]The New Interpreters Bible, Volume 9, Page 295

Prepare: Daily Devotional for Advent

Click here for: Prepare – Devotions for Advent

Advent is soon approaching. How are you preparing to celebrate the Christ who came into the world and changed everything?

Christmas is much more than parties, giving gifts, and making everything perfect. Christmas is about celebrating and worshiping God, who came down to earth in the form of Jesus Christ.

This daily devotional begins on December 1 and helps prepare our hearts for the true meaning of Christmas.

I pray your Advent and Christmas season is filled with anticipation, hope, peace, joy, love. May the Holy Spirit come into your life and the Spirit of this season more real to you.

Click here for: Prepare – Devotions for Advent

REDEEMED: The Prodigal Father

What is your first impression on the story of the “Prodigal Son”? Most of us have probably focused on the wayward son that came back home and the father welcoming him back with a big party. We probably also have focused on the attitude of the older son. Have you been counted among the “prodigals” and been told it’s time to come back home?

This season of lent, we are being challenged by two concepts. The main one is to practice lent as a spiritual discipline so when Easter comes it is experienced with more joy and rejoicing because Jesus the Christ has won the victory. Sin has been defeated and we are able to have our relationship with God, our Creator restored and reconciled. This is incredible news that we can miss if we do not take the time to allow everything that happened up to and including the cross to impact our hearts and lives.

The second concept we are challenged and invited to meditate on is the truth of what it means to be redeemed. Last week, we talked about God having an incredible love for us that He would pay any price to redeem us. This was done on the cross with the death of Jesus Christ. God redeemed us by paying the price for our sin and “buying” us back with His blood. What a gift this is! And we can miss how incredible this really is if we just go straight to the resurrection without the events, including the death, that lead up to the victorious resurrection.

Click here to read this week’s passage from Luke 15.  One of the first things we have to consider what prodigal means. The way most of us have heard about prodigal is as a wayward, lost person. When we look up prodigal in the dictionary, it means “extravagantly wasteful.” This makes complete sense when we think about the son who left and returned humble and remorseful. But, have you considered the father as prodigal?

In our society, it really does not make sense for the father to spend that much money or give that kind of reception for a child who squandered his part of the inheritance and was not smart with his money. It is customary to see people get left out of the family or treated in a way where the person has to learn a lesson from the school of hard knocks. This is the type of society we tend to live in.

The father in this passage is just like God. In fact, he is meant to point us to the ravishing love that God, our Father, has for us. It does not make sense; but God treats us in ways, and gives us things that we would consider wasteful. There is no reason that God should treat us this way; except for the truth that He loves us which such complete love that we cannot fully comprehend.

Don’t you find it amazing how God, the Creator of the universe sees us living lives that are so against what He designed us to live and still accepts us back when we return to Him? You and I are invited to experience grace in this way. We do not deserve all of what God desires to give us; but we still get to receive. We have the freedom to choose whether we’ll live a life without God; but He rejoices greatly when we choose to follow Him and choose His life. In Christ, we have real life and real freedom.

I invite you to meditate on, not just what wayward people we can be at times; but rather on the truth of how generous our God is. Even though it seems wasteful to us to throw an extravagant reception and to lavish true unconditional love on the lost and waywards (us), this is what God our Father does.

As we approach Easter and celebrating the resurrection, let’s take serious time to reflect on the incredible love of the Father and allow this to draw us close to the cross and the life of Jesus Christ. God has so much that He wants us to experience this side of eternity.

NOTE: This is a sermon series concept posted on www.seedbed.com called “Redemption.”

Love Changes the World

 

Every person has a story of how the world is not how everyone else sees it. Every generation tells of how the world is completely different from how “it used to be.” What do we mean by this? I think we are all trying to tell how the world is changing, in our own way. Some say it is worse; and some say the world is better. How we view the world is really dependent on where our faith truly lies.

In the time of Jesus, there is Caesar Augustus who has it in his mind he is the true ruler of the world. He has human power, makes decrees and assignments everyone listens to and obeys out of fear, and sees the world as his play area. We have people like this all around us. People who are truly great because they are living out the grace of God through their lives, and people who are only great in their own eyes simply because they have certain titles, material goods, positions, etc.

When God came down in the form of Jesus Christ, the world was and is changed completely. Nothing is the same since God personally intervened. This is the gift we celebrate at Christmas time. This is the gift we open and fully receive at Easter. It was the power of God’s love that completely changed and is changing the world.

Luke 2:1-20

In those days Caesar Augustus declared that everyone throughout the empire should be enrolled in the tax lists. This first enrollment occurred when Quirinius governed Syria. Everyone went to their own cities to be enrolled. Since Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he went up from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to David’s city, called Bethlehem, in Judea. He went to be enrolled together with Mary, who was promised to him in marriage and who was pregnant. While they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby. She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom.

Nearby shepherds were living in the fields, guarding their sheep at night. The Lord’s angel stood before them, the Lord’s glory shone around them, and they were terrified.

10 The angel said, “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. 11 Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. 12 This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great assembly of the heavenly forces was with the angel praising God. They said, 14 “Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”

15 When the angels returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go right now to Bethlehem and see what’s happened. Let’s confirm what the Lord has revealed to us.” 16 They went quickly and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they reported what they had been told about this child.18 Everyone who heard it was amazed at what the shepherds told them.19 Mary committed these things to memory and considered them carefully. 20 The shepherds returned home, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. Everything happened just as they had been told.

The first thing we should see is that love changes the world and gives us power.

The decree of Caesar to go to your hometown for a census to be taken is a good way for him to assert his power. He did this so he could know how many people are in the empire. Not so he could see how blessed he was to be able to lead that number of people; but so he could know how many people to tax and line his pockets. When Caesars of the world today get in power, it is usually for their benefit and not for the benefit of the people.

But God does something completely different. When the angels gave the proclamation that Jesus was born, the shepherds, and us today, are invited to partake in the presence of God. Caesar’s goal was to increase taxation and he could create laws for this. God is the only One who has the power to break us free from the law of sin and death. This is where the true power lies, and we get to receive this power within us, to go in the power of God to make a difference in the world because of the love He has for us. We get to go in the world and be instruments of guiding people to receive the power of God as well.

Love not only changes the world by giving us power; but now we are given a new pride and purpose for our life and work.

The work leaders do may or may not have a lasting impact in the world. It all depends on who they are doing the work for.

After the shepherds left the scene of baby Jesus, they not only returned to their work (tending the flocks); but they have greater purpose now. No longer where they simply shepherds doing menial tasks and a lowly job. Now they get to do their work for the glory of God because they had been in the presence of God, Jesus Christ. This is true for us too! After we have an encounter with God, we experience His powerful love, and we are changed forever. Everything we do is done to serve Him and give Him all the glory. No one can take away the work we do with God for showing others the Kingdom of Heaven that is right here among us. But when we do things for our own glory and purpose, we seen the work we do does not last beyond our time allotted.

“C.S. Lewis once wrote about the nature of humility in the Christian life, saying something like this: the Christian life is to play great parts without pride and small parts without shame. The shepherds’ role was not great by human standards, but it mattered little to them. Serving the Lord with pride and purpose in tending the sheep was a source of joy because they were in God’s presence.” The same is true for you and I. The work we do really matters because we are in the presence of God.

Love changes the world and allows us to ponder and think about all God has done, is doing now and will do in the future.

Not only have we been given great power in the love of God, greater pride and purpose for the work we do, we also get to ponder what it is God is leading us to do and praise Him for all he has done.

After the shepherds left, Mary “pondered” the shepherds visit. The shepherds would have also thought about what the angels told them. They had been given a grand message.

Now that same message is entrusted to us. Think about the things of God and we will see this world not as a place that cannot be redeemed and put right. We will, instead, see the world anew. God allows us to be part of this great work He is doing. The world is not too far gone. The world is ready to be changed and recreated. As we look outside, at the world around us, we should not allow the negativity to steal our joy in Christ. Instead, break through the negativity and show the world the incredible love of God through our actions, our words, and even our thoughts.

It is awesome how communities of faith can gather to worship and demonstrate the love of God in their communities which goes out and changes the world.

In the churches my wife and I are blessed to pastor, we have seen awesome things this year and are excited what the next year will bring. Some of the things we have seen happen in our community are:

  • Recovered from a tornado and rebuilt the church building
  • Baptized 6 people this year
  • Restarted Sunday School for children, teens and adults
  • Started young adult Sunday school
  • Impacted 280 children plus adults in our Trunk or Treat
  • Youth mission trip
  • Choir cantata had 175 in attendance plus choir
  • Children’s Christmas program (11 children and adults helping)
  • 31 coats for kids
  • 50+ shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child
  • Helped people this year with utilities and other benevolence
  • families receiving Christmas gifts this year
  • Night in Bethlehem community event saw 175 people plus many volunteers
  • Provided food for backpack lunches to those kids who don’t have food on the weekends
  • Provided lunch for the school personal as appreciation before school started
  • Provided school supplies
  • Countless prayers, visitations, and so much more
  • This does not even include all of the missionary, evangelism, and life saving work around the world by the global United Methodist Church
  • When we let the grace of God grow in us and we stop living for ourselves and our comfort, Imagine how much we’ll see and experience God’s grace, mercy and power through us this next year!

To some, this list may not seem like much; but there have been many lives impacted in our community because of the love of God that shines through these churches.

God’s love through us changes things, changes our world, our community, us. His power is the most powerful force in the world.

This is what we celebrate at Christmas.

 

 

Finding Joy

ADVENT WEEK 3: Joy

How have you been taking the time to prepare to truly and fully celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ this year and prepare yourself for his return? What does this look like in your day to day life?

Everything in our lives will not go as planned, and people will frustrate us and cause things to happen. Disasters are common in many places around the world. Disasters can and do cripple people physically, mentally, relationally, financially, and in so many ways. How can we live with such devastation, such grief in our world?

Let’s continue our journey through Luke this week by looking at Mary’s (Jesus’ birth mother) response to her situation after she travels about 80 miles to see her cousin Elizabeth. Remember, the angel told Mary she would have a son and give birth to the Messiah and then she went to see Elizabeth who is also pregnant and will give birth to John the Baptist.

Luke 1:39-56 (CEB)

“Mary got up and hurried to a city in the Judean highlands. She entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. With a loud voice she blurted out, “God has blessed you above all women, and he has blessed the child you carry. Why do I have this honor, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. Happy is she who believed that the Lord would fulfill the promises he made to her.”

Mary said, “With all my heart I glorify the Lord! In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior. He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant. Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored because the mighty one has done great things for me. Holy is his name. He shows mercy to everyone, from one generation to the next, who honors him as God. He has shown strength with his arm. He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations. He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed. He has come to the aid of his servant Israel, remembering his mercy, just as he promised to our ancestors, to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.” Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months, and then returned to her home.”

What stands out to you? Re-read the passage and this time try to see where you would be in this story. What character do you resonate more with? Or are you a bystander? What do you see, hear, feel (physically and emotionally)? This is one of those passages we can hear over and over, making it an ordinary passage of scripture.

Mary has just been told that she would give birth to a child, and she has not even been with a man. No one else in her community heard the angels proclamation to her, so they would have thought she committed adultry. This was a serious crime that was punishable by much more than just being sent out and told never to return. She faced the possibility of being stoned to death, and the child inside (our Savior, Jesus Christ) would have not survived.

How would you feel in this situation? We know what Mary did. Mary sang. She sang a song that gave praise and glory to God for how he has looked favorably upon her and how he will fulfill everything he has promised. I’m not sure about you, but when I hear bad news or know I’m about to walk into a bad situation, the last thing I want to do is sing. But this is what Mary did.

In everything she was facing with her family, her town, her husband, Mary still experienced joy. A joy beyond comprehension. She was more than just “happy” because happiness is an emotion that fades away based upon our circumstances. Mary experienced and proclaimed joy with what was happening to her. Joy is not an emotion, but a state we get to be in. God gives us this incredible joy so we can live in peace, even when everything else is going wrng or we do not think we can handle it. We keep the hope because we know God will keep his promises. We can live in love with those around us because God love us.

True joy is found in the person of Jesus Christ. Even when he was on the cross, I believe he still had the joy of God within him, even if he wasn’t happy about what was happening to him. If we allow God to work in our lives it is amazing what we are able to handle and what we see changed around us.

This advent season, with a week and a half left until Christmas, I invite you to take time out of your days and think about all God has done in the world, in your life. Think about what God is doing in the world and in your life. Thinking on this will help us remember all God has done and is doing so we can keep our hope and trust in him that he will continue to great and  mighty acts in our world and in your life.

Experience the joy that Christmas brings and allow it to transform your life so everyday is filled with incredible joy, joy from heaven.