Monday, January 12, 2015

Identity - Part 3

“I AM”

When we read through the Old Testament, we see the word “LORD” in all capital letters hundreds of times. When we see this, we need to understand that we're not merely talking about “the Lord” here. “LORD” is actually the respectful way to write God's sovereign name – without actually using it carelessly or casually. The actual word that we read “LORD” is “Yahweh”...sometimes said as “Jehovah.” This is the eternal, awe-inspiring name of almighty God – It is “I AM THAT I AM”! It's the name that God revealed to Moses from the burning bush, it's the name that Jewish people still refuse to write for respect – it's the name of the Great I AM!

Of course we already know that the name of Jesus has this name hidden inside of it – Jesus means “Yahweh Saves”. But did Jesus ever claim the name of Yahweh for Himself? Let's look and find out.
In Mark 14, we see the account of Jesus' trial before the Jewish leaders. Unable to find a single wrongdoing, they brought several false witnesses before the council. These men made some off-the-wall accusations against Him. The problem was, not one of these witnesses agreed with another. By law, the priests needed two witnesses to testify to the same accusation before they could condemn Jesus as guilty. Desperate for any grounds of conviction, the high priest then attempted to goad Jesus into condemning Himself.

In verse 60, the High Priest demanded, “Do You answer nothing? What is it these men testify against you?” In response to that question, Jesus said nothing. This must have outraged the High Priest even more! Who does this Man think He is to ignore the question? Finally, the priest asked a much more direct question - seen in verse 61 - “Are You the Christ (the Messiah) the Son of the Blessed?

To be sure, this was a loaded question – but there was no answer that would've made Jesus guilty. There were two parts to this question: One, are You the Messiah? Two, are You the Son of God? Saying yes to either of these questions wouldn't be wrong for any man to say

Everyone believed that the Messiah was going to be a man. Claiming to be the Messiah may have made a man crazy, but it wouldn't have been a crime. As far as being the Son of God; and any Jew could claim to be a son of God. In fact, the Pharisees themselves made this claim in John 8:41. If the high priest knew these claims weren't crimes in themselves, why ask the question? I believe he was fishing for something more substantial, something serious to accuse Jesus of...and he got that in Jesus' response. 

In verse 62, we read Jesus' answer to the priest's question: “I Am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” When Jesus said those two words - “I Am” - He wasn't merely giving a “yes” answer to the High Priest's question. He was claiming God's eternal, sacred name for Himself! He was calling Himself THE I AM! We know this is true based on the response of the council. Verse 63 tells us, “Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, 'What further need do we have of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy! What do you think?' And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death.” Claiming to be the Messiah was not blasphemy. Yet these highly religious men heard blasphemy in Jesus' response...why? Because they knew what Jesus was actually saying! He wasn't saying "I am the Messiah." or "I am the Son of God." Jesus was clearly saying "I AM"!

This was not the only time Jesus made this claim about Himself. To see more, we need to move into the book of John. In John 8:24, we read these words from His own mouth, “Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.” Notice that the word “He” is italicized. This means it was added by the translators, but it wasn't actually what Jesus said. What He said was “You have to believe that I AM, or you will die in your sins! What a statement to make about Himself!

But He wasn't done there...He claims this name for Himself two more times in the same dialogue! Verse 28 says, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I AM, and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things.” Verse 58 profoundly says, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” We can clearly see that Jesus wasn't confused about Who He was, and He didn't shy away from saying so.

Perhaps the most powerful of Jesus' “I AM” claims came in the Garden of Gethsemane. As the Jewish soldiers arrived to arrest Him, they announced that they were looking for Jesus of Nazareth. In response, Jesus declared those two simple, earth-shaking words - “I AM” When He pronounced that powerful name, it dropped these men flat on their backs. Can you see this picture? Jesus, after stating Who He was, had to wait for the guards to get back up so that they could arrest Him! Even in His arrest, His power could not be hidden!

The Savior

Recently, the world spent a month (as they do every year) celebrating the birth of Jesus. During this time we talk about “the night of our dear Savior's birth” and the fact that “Jesus Christ our Savior was born to us this day”. Through the month of December, you'll hear Luke 2:11 quoted often. In this verse, we read the words of an angel to a group of shepherds, “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior...” But what Americans hear in that verse is drastically different from what those shepherds heard!

Being Jews, these shepherds knew the scriptures. When they heard the word “Savior” they must have remembered the words of God in Isaiah 43:11, “I, even I, am Yahweh, and besides me there is no Savior.” Knowing this, these shepherds must have been overwhelmed by the angel's next statement, “Who is Christ the Lord.” Those words - “the Lord” - had to have resonated with these simple, God-fearing men. After all, Jews referred to God as “the Lord", since His name was too sacred to use. This angel just announced to these men that “the Lord” was just born to be their Savior!

In agreement with what the angel said, Paul also declares that our Savior is no one less than God Himself! In Titus 2:11-12 we read, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ...” Our God and our Savior are one and the same – Jesus Christ! This is also why Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:47, “The first man (Adam) was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man (Jesus) is the Lord from heaven.” This Lord from Heaven, the one who came to be our Savior, is the same one that the angel called "Christ the Lord."

After the angel announced the birth of the Savior to the shepherds, we read that a multitude of heavenly hosts joined that angel in the sky and praised God, saying “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.” Just how many angels were in the sky that night? Hebrews 1 :6 tells us: “But when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says: 'Let all the angels of God worship Him.'” That night every angel in Heaven appeared in the sky over Bethlehem to praise God. It's amazing to me that only the shepherds saw this! And how did this multitude of angels praise God? By worshiping the Son!

The Incarnate Word

John chapter one tells us more about what happened that night in Bethlehem. Let's take a close look, starting in verses 1 and 2 
In the beginning was the Word... – So God's Word was already there in the beginning. The Word had no beginning, there was never a time when the Word wasn't!
...and the Word was with God.. - The literal meaning is that the Word was face-to-face with God. Now we see that the Word wasn't merely a thing, but it had a face (It's own face) and was together with God.
...and the Word was God. - Uh oh, this is where Christians are separated from every other world religion. The Word - Who was a person that was face-to-face with God – was also God Himself!
He was in the beginning with God. - Another look at the person-hood of the Word. The Word was a “He”. 

Now let's move on and read verse 10, “He was in the world...” - Now we see that this Word/Person who was God, was personally in the world.
...and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. – If the world was made through the Word, then why didn't it know Him when He was in it? Why didn't they know their Creator?

The answer is found in verse 14, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us...” - Now we see why they didn't know Him, because He became flesh. This Word/Person Who was God became a flesh and blood man! What an amazing concept, God became a man!

Lastly, let's look at verse 17 so find the identity of the Word, “For the law came through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” The Word made flesh is Jesus Christ! This is the incredible meaning of what happened in Bethlehem - God humbled Himself to be born as a baby!

The Form of God, The Appearance of a Man

In our last look at Jesus' incarnation, let's go to Philippians 2:6-7. This passage of Scripture should be added to our list of Christmas time traditions – this is, after all, the true meaning of what we celebrate. 

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God... - Jesus knew that calling Himself God wasn't taking anything away from the Father. He and the Father were one, so to exalt the Son is to exalt God – we don't rob our Heavenly Father when we put the Son on equal footing. Why? Because there is only one God, and He is Jesus! 

...but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. - Do you see this? Jesus was God first and then became a man. This runs contrary to the cult of Mormonism, which says that He was a man first and then became a god. Jesus was the Word that was God and took on the form of a flesh-and-blood servant.

We'll look at the rest of this passage later on, because there is so much more to Jesus' divinity in the next few verses. Let's end this section with one last quotation by Paul, from 1 Timothy 3:16. “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory.” Jesus, the Man Who was born in Bethlehem, was the direct manifestation of the eternal God. He was the flesh-and-blood expression of God's own nature!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

"I Wish I Had A Testimony!"

Revelation 12:11 “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony...”

Let me be clear about this...I believe that every person must be born again. No matter what walk of life you come from, no matter what religion you follow, no matter how hard you try to be a good person; you must be born again. Even if you were born into a Christian house and to godly parents – you were still born into a sin nature that will drag you to Hell. The only answer to the life we're all born into is to confess Jesus as Lord and be born into His new life. So whatever I'm about to say in the next paragraphs, don't think that I'm diminishing the importance of a genuine encounter with Jesus.
I was one of those kids who was raised in a believing home. I learned at an early age, along with my brothers and sisters, to love God and follow His leading. And while there have been many (many, many, many....) times that I fell into sin and did the wrong things, I always knew Who to turn to in repentance.
There is no doubt in my mind that Jesus is Lord. He is my Savior Who gave His life to set me free. He died to pay my debt of sin and then He rose again, breaking the power that sin had over me. According to Romans 10:9-10, this confession of faith is what ushers people into this new life in Christ. So, regardless of what you're about to read, you'll never be able to convince me that I'm not born again because my experience is different than yours. As you read this, I hope you'll see that, while the process of salvation must be the same, the experiences of salvation will be as different as one person is from another.
Why do I say this? Because there's always been something bothering me, like a cloud over my head. You see, there have been many times I've declared Jesus as Lord of my've just read one of them. Many times I've considered how amazing it is that Jesus gave His life for me and then rose from the dead by the power of God. But if you were to ask me, I couldn't tell you when I did this for the first time.
Like so many kids who were raised in church, I listened to many different speakers telling their amazing testimonies of salvation. I was fascinated by the incredible stories of dramatic and miraculous rescues from lives of sin. Inevitably, one of them would say something like, “I wonder about people who can't tell me when they gave their life to Jesus.” Later on, after hearing something like that, I would wonder why I didn't have a “spiritual birthday” like those speakers. Sometimes I would say a prayer and confess Him as Lord...just to be safe. But I wouldn't really consider that a testimony, right?
Are there any other “church kids” who can relate to this? How many people are there who have a genuine relationship with Jesus – a relationship that formed while they were still very young – and couldn't tell you exactly when this relationship started? If we overcome our enemy by the “word of our testimony” - shouldn't we have a testimony to tell?
This really bothered me up until a few weeks ago. But then God ever so sweetly revealed something to me. And it all started with a verse that we all know – Psalm 118:24 “This is the day that the LORD has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” This verse has been well known to American Christians. It's been used often for inspiration during rough days– as if it meant “today is the day that the LORD has made”. But a closer look at this verse shows us that it means so much more that what we've been using it for. Let's look at this verse in context and find out what it's really saying:
Psalm 118: 22-24 “
The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the LORD's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes, this is the day the LORD has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.
There you see it. The day we rejoice in is the day that the stone was rejected. According to Acts 4:10-11, that day was the day that the Jewish leaders rejected Jesus and had Him crucified. We don't rejoice in just any day – we don't even rejoice in the day we first confessed Him as Lord! We rejoice in the day He gave His life to save ours!
You and I don't have different “spiritual birthdays”. We rejoice in the same day, the day Jesus saved us! According to 2 Corinthians 6:2, we are living in the “day of salvation” that began when Jesus paid the penalty for our sin. When we confessed Jesus as our Lord and believed that He rose from the dead, we entered (or were born) into our common salvation. And we all have this one testimony, “Jesus saved me from my life of sin and my future in Hell!”
This salvation experience can happen in a dramatic, night-to-day event – like Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus. Or it could take place at an incredibly young age and unfold throughout a lifetime – like it did in Paul's disciple, Timothy. Timothy had a testimony like many “church kids” have today. His faith was instilled in him by previous generations. His grandmother and his mother together raised him to serve God, and He never left it while growing up. Scripturally speaking, Timothy still must have been born again. But there was no mention of his conversion anywhere in scripture. It's possible that Timothy may not have even remembered life before his salvation, or the moment when he received Jesus as Lord!
In spite of the differences between Paul and Timothy's salvation experiences, they had the same testimony...Jesus saved them both on the day He died for their sins! This is the same testimony you and I have too. This is the testimony that overcomes every enemy. This is the testimony of our salvation. It's the testimony of the day that we were saved...the day that Jesus rescued us from the cross! Let's stop comparing the story of our entrance into this salvation with other peoples'! If you have confessed Jesus as Lord and have entered into this new life with me – then let's celebrate the day we were all born again!