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Archive for October, 2008

The Center of the Work of God

October 31st, 2008

October 31, 2008

 

  

 

 

 

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be found in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.

 

Matthew 16:13-20, NIV

 

Question: Is Christ the center of my Christian experience?

 

Peter had a divine encounter with the Father and from that point on his life had a new focus, a new center: Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God. Christ confirmed that this was to be the very experience of all in his church and without this divinely revealed knowledge his church, the very mission he came to accomplish, would not and could not be built. These wonderful words of Jesus have so often been points of contention between Catholics and other Christian denominations that we have largely lost their grandeur and their message of encouragement.  

 

The work of Christ is built upon the divine understanding of who he is, and it cannot be otherwise. In John 6:44 we read, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him,” and here we see Peter giving evidence that he had been drawn by the Father to Jesus the Son. The problems we invent in this verse have to do with the idea of a foundation, and we are probably taking Paul’s writing, “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:11), and trying to fit Jesus’ words into Paul’s imagery. This is fundamentally poor hermeneutics. The proper way to understand the Scripture is to let each passage speak for itself, allowing it to use its own imagery and metaphors, and not try to mix them from one part of Scripture to another, from one writer to another.  

 

Three key individuals were involved in the passage: Jesus, Peter, and Matthew, who wrote the gospel, and the key questions are: what did Jesus mean in the context of Matthew 16, what did Peter understand Christ to mean, and what did Matthew mean to convey to us about the scene. Jesus had already spoken about building our lives upon his words and Matthew recorded this in 7:24. But here Christ reverses the imagery, not that we are to build upon him but that he will build upon something. Ah, and what is that something? Is it Peter? Is it Peter’s faith? Is it Peter’s confession? Is it himself?  

 

Peter later clarified in 1 Peter 2:4-12 that Christ is the living Stone, and in that sense the church has no other foundation, but he also described believers as living stones that were being built into a spiritual house. Peter was clarifying the words of Christ, giving them the proper explanation and it clearly fits into the rest of Christ’s teachings and the emphasis of the New Testament and the early history of the church: the life of Christ surging through the members of his church through the witness of the Spirit is an integral factor in the church. This is the point that Jesus was making. 

 

Christ could have at that moment at Caesarea Philippi started his worldwide movement. He could have worked healing miracles and fed the masses, cast out demons, raised the dead, taught morality, and he would have had a very popular religion that would have lasted for some time. But such a religion would not have brought eternal salvation, changed the nature of people, nor reconciled us to God. Instead the very heart of Christ’s work was the cross and the impact on our lives was nothing less than transformation of our hearts by the work of the Spirit in our lives.

 

Christ told the disciples that after his ascension they were to wait in Jerusalem until they received the Holy Spirit. His work could not go forward until the Spirit came to empower his followers and bring conviction to people’s hearts of their need for Christ. There is something intriguing in his words to Peter, that it was Peter’s confession as to who Christ was, this understanding that he received from the Father, that was the center of the experience, that the building of his church would hinge upon this realization, this revelation from the Father. We would say that this is the revelation that each person must have in order to be saved, in order to trust in Christ for salvation. Christ was not referring to some higher level of Christian maturity, but the simplest and the plainest understanding of who he was.

 

A ten year old child can have this understanding. This is not of mankind but of God and Christ will build his church upon this foundation of the understanding of who he is, what his work was about, and how he can touch and change us today. Theologians with our tomes filled with deep thoughts are, frankly, dispensible to the work of Christ. Musicians that waft us up into the stratosphere of worship with their gifts and their artistic flare are also, frankly, non-essentials. Organizers and leaders who shape us up and point us in the right direction are also, add-ons that, though useful, are not necessary to build the church of Christ. What is essential, however, is that we lift up Christ and tell his story to people, that the Spirit brings conviction to people’s hearts and then conversion to their lives, and that we keep this message and this Jesus the center of what we do and the center of who we are.

 

The encouragement is this: whenever someone understands who Jesus is, whenever they have the witness of the Spirit in their life to see his love and grasp that he is God in human form reconciling the world to himself, they are in the very center of the work of God. In the love of God in Christ Jesus all human obscurity vanishes, our problems wane, our potential grows, our prospects bloom and blossom, and our hope soars. If you are understanding who Christ is from the witness of the Word of God and the witness of His Holy Spirit then God is at work within you.

 

Lord, thank you for calling us to believe you, to follow you, and to know you. We are unworthy for such blessings and privileges but we thank you and praise you for being so gracious toward us. Witness to our hearts in clear tones about who Christ is, built us up in our faith, enrich our knowledge of your word, and lift us from any feelings or thoughts of obscurity. Increase our faith in you, our love for you, and our hope in you. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Evening Devotionals

Christ Cares

October 30th, 2008

October 30, 2008

Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.”

Matthew 15:32, NIV

 

The most common question asked of God in the Bible is, “How long, O Lord?”  How long will trouble continue? How long will problems plague the planet? How long will sickness endure? How long will evil persecute goodness? How long will doubts, temptations, worries, depressions, and loneliness stalk the pathways of human life?

Three answers are given by God in the Bible that give us comfort in facing our challenges.

First, God explains to us how deeply this planet is fallen. When God created life on this planet he pronounced it good, and he placed humanity in a beautiful spot to watch over and manage creation. Sin, however, crept into the human heart and due to humanity’s inability to function spiritually as God intended, sin also crept into creation as a whole. Now creation that was meant to display the glory of God is unable to do so: “For the creation was subjected to frustration” (Romans 8:20).

Second, God explains to us that one day, because of the redemption Christ had purchased through his shed blood on the cross, we shall be redeemed. The same Romans 8 passage that speaks of the frustration of creation continues: “…in the hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Romans 8:20-21). God promises us a new heaven and a new earth one day, where tears and sorrow are no more, where trouble and evil are vanquished, where we enjoy a close fellowship with God and with one another, where the wounds of sin that have scarred our very consciousness will be healed and removed (Rev. 21:1-4; 22:1-5).

These two answers explain why we have problems and give us the hope and confidence that these problems will not always exist, that the day will come in the plan of God when they will be removed.

But there is a third answer given by God that has a direct impact on our lives today, the compassion of God for us today. As we wait for the redemption of our bodies and of this world, as we wait for the perfect healing of our hearts and souls, as we wait for that moment when we are to be ushered into the presence of God and never again to leave him, what hope do we have that anything in our lives can be changed today? Is the best we can do merely to hope that one day we will find perfect peace, or can there be a taste of that final victory today?

This is the third answer, that God cares for us today, that he can help and can make a difference today. As with the final plan of God for our total redemption, Christ plays the key role. In this setting with the disciples he looked at the masses with compassion. He had been healing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and others as well, he had touched them with his power and made them whole, taking away not only their physical ailment but also bringing also the potential for emotional and spiritual wholeness to them. His teachings were central to that experience of inner healing. “I have compassion for these people,” Christ said, I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.”  

We are given these simple stories about Jesus so we can have the record of his compassion; as he looked at that fatigued group of followers, so he looks at us with compassion.  He sees the burdens we carry, the fatigue that goes deep within us, fatigue from ministry or from dealing with difficulty and sickness, emotional fatigue that stems from enduring difficult situations, and his heart says that he does not want us to not have what we need to sustain life, or we may faint on the way. We need our daily bread for life, but we also need encouragement, friendship, rest, and the renewal of our souls.

The simple knowledge of the concern of God for us, so perfectly demonstrated in the life of Christ, is uplifting. God cares for the burdens you carry and he never leaves his children alone in the difficult moments of life. Sometimes he acts independently to remove the burden; sometimes he sends believers to us to encourage and befriend us; sometimes he takes that burden which is so difficult to carry and translates it into a new potential and direction in life; and when the burden remains unlifted, when the circumstance remains unchanged from the physical perspective, he stays by our side through his Spirit assuring us that nothing in all the universe can separate us from his love.

Look up to God through Christ and see his compassion for you. He does not want you to “collapse on the way” but to know his strength and joy. This is the character of the Christ, as Isaiah wrote,

See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power,
       and his arm rules for him.
       See, his reward is with him,
       and his recompense accompanies him.

He tends his flock like a shepherd:
       He gathers the lambs in his arms
       and carries them close to his heart;
       he gently leads those that have young…

Why do you say, O Jacob,
       and complain, O Israel,
       “My way is hidden from the LORD;
       my cause is disregarded by my God”?

Do you not know?
       Have you not heard?
       The LORD is the everlasting God,
       the Creator of the ends of the earth.
       He will not grow tired or weary,
       and his understanding no one can fathom.

 He gives strength to the weary
       and increases the power of the weak.

Isaiah 40:10-11,28-29, NIV

 

Lord, we thank you for your graciousness to us. We need to understand the source of our problems and the assurance of our final victory. But in this life we also need the encouragement of Christ Jesus, to know that he cares and that he can help. Meet our basic physical needs for life, heal our diseases, both of the body and of the soul, bring us your life and let it flourish within us. And in the dark times of life let us know you are there, that you have compassion on us and are with us. Amen.

Evening Devotionals