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This Same Jesus

December 16th, 2016

This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven. (Acts 1:11b)

Jesus is the indispensable person of Christianity. Christianity is not so much an ethic, philosophy, or morality as it is an encounter with Jesus Christ Himself.

It is especially important at Christmas time for us to consider this truth and to align our lives and our hearts to love Christ. Christmas as the world celebrates it seems determined to demean Christ to merely a babe, and to place more emphases on shepherds and wise men, even reindeer and snowmen, than on Christ.

What does the Bible say about Christ?

He is the indispensable element of creation: John said plainly, “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made” (John 1:3). Paul wrote, “For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him” (Col. 1:16).

He is the One toward whom all the streams of history run: Jesus said, “Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forever more. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death” (Rev. 1:18). Paul wrote, “That in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth – In Him” (Eph. 1:10 NKJV).

He was the essential element of Apostolic preaching: The apostles in their evangelizing and preaching never ventured away from Christ. He was essential for the Christian message. As Peter preached at Pentecost:

God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. (Acts 2:32-33)

Paul also as he gave testimony before Festus and Agrippa placed Christ front and center in his message saying, “That the Christ would suffer, and that He would be the first to rise from the dead” (Acts 26:23). In every sermon and in every element of the Christian faith, the apostles presented Christ as the solution for the problems of the world and the indispensable Person for the salvation and new life of the individual.

He is the living center of the Christian faith and of the Christian life: Paul wrote, “For to me to live is Christ” (Phil. 1:21), and:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal. 2:20)

It is through Christ that we are saved, and it is in Christ that we live victoriously. He is it that has all authority in heaven and on earth (Mat. 28:19-20), so He is the One to whom and through whom we pray, and He is the One in whose power we preach and witness and resist temptation in our lives. It is His Spirit who indwells us (Rom. 8:9) and in Him we may live victoriously.

All the affection of our hearts should be directed toward Him. All the strength to live the Christian life should be derived from Him. All the good ambition of our soul should be intended to please Him. And all the hope and anticipation for eternity should be invested in Him. We trust in Christ because we know Him.

When we speak of trust, we speak of something more of the heart than faith or belief. We must know God to trust Him. We can believe based on a rational argument. We may have faith by an act of the will. But trust is of the heart and implies experience, knowledge, and encounter. So trust is especially meaningful for us when we come to Christmas. Unless God starts the encounter and reveals a personal aspect of Himself we cannot truly trust Him. We may have intellectual belief and choose of our wills to obey and have faith, but trust, that is based on God’s revelation of Himself, was not possible for most of us until Bethlehem.

There were some in the Old Testament, like Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, and Daniel, who learned to trust God, but the process was long and gained through many different experiences and personal revelations. But in the simple gospel accounts, even children can come face to face with Jesus. As we read:

For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. (2 Cor. 4:5-6)

At Christmas time, do not leave Jesus in the manger, but embrace Him as the living Lord of scripture and the One in whom and through whom your life consists.

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Light Shining in Darkness

December 7th, 2016

The the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. (John 1:5)

The tense of the verbs in this sentence grabs our attention. The light shines, present tense, and the darkness has failed to apprehend it, past tense.

God’s Constant Witness to Mankind: The light shining is a constant on-going reality – it has shined in the past, it will shine in the future, and it is shining right now. It is the Greek Present Active Indicative, which means it is constant. God gives a witness through nature – “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1) – and through our human nature and moral conscience – “What may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them” (Rom. 1:19). Furthermore, He has given the message of salvation and of Jesus Christ to many who have chosen not to believe.

Humanity’s Rejection of God’s Witness: The tense of darkness’ response to God’s witness is put in the past tense, the Greek Aorist. This tense was often used as a snap-shot, or a single point description of a process. The word “comprehend” in English means for us “to understand,” and the negative seems to suggest that mankind simply did not “get it” or grasp the meaning of God’s witness. Yet the original Greek describes something darker and more sinister in the human soul than that. Katalambano is the word in Greek and it was used in Philippians 3:12 and 13 for “apprehend,” and in 1 Corinthians 9:24 for “obtain.” Albert Barnes wrote:

The darkness did not receive or admit the rays of light; the shades were so thick that the light could not penetrate them; or, to drop the figure, men were so ignorant, so guilty, so debased, that they did not appreciate the value of his instructions; they despised and rejected him. And so it is still. The great mass of men, sunk in sin, will not receive his teachings, and be enlightened and saved by him. Sin always blinds the mind to the beauty and excellency of the character of the Lord Jesus.

Humanity’s rejection was based not on a fair examination of the witness, but on the prejudicial blackness of the human heart and of sin. Darkness never can grasp or admit light. The past tense of the verb describing this spiritual hardness or blindness as a fact, emphasizing the reality of our need.

The Illumination of the Life of Christ: What is said in verse 5 in John 1 is a general observation of our human fallenness. He illustrated his point in the following verses with the birth of Christ. the witness of nature and conscience, even the witness of the Law of God, was not enough to pull back the darkness of the human heart. So God sent the Christ to become flesh and to “tabernacle among us,” the literal meaning of John 1:14.

He won people to Himself through His life and witness. They saw His manner, heard His preaching, witnessed His power over disease, and were won to Him. No man lived like Him, loved like Him, died like Him, or rose again like Him. Yet even then, in His lifetime, there was an internal witness by God’s Spirit, even though He had not come upon the world in His full strength. In His lifetime Christ said that no one could come to Him unless the Father drew that person (John 6:44). And from His words to Peter, that it was the Father who had revealed to him that Jesus was the Christ of God (Matt. 16:17), we know that the Father’s work of drawing people was done by an internal witness of His Spirit, and not merely through providential circumstances alone.

The Internal Illumination of the Spirit: Christ spoke in His lifetime of a future time when the Spirit of God would come upon the world with power (John 16:8-11), bringing conviction and conversion to the truth. Humanity cannot come to Christ without this work of drawing, convicting, and illumination of the soul. And we have a part to play in this encounter, for we must be the voice and feet of Jesus today. We must speak the truth of the gospel to the world so that they can hear the message of grace. Paul spoke of this process the clearest when in 2 Corinthians he wrote:

But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing, among whom the god of this age has blinded the minds of those who do not believe so they would not see the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not proclaim ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said “Let light shine out of darkness,” is the one who shined in our hearts to give us the light of the glorious knowledge of God in the face of Christ. (2 Cor. 4:3-6 NET)

The finest of men, the greatest of our non-Christian philosophers were dimly groping in their darkness for something that they could not fully grasp. Though we may be impressed by the words of Socrates or Aristotle, of Confucius, and find in them something to admire, they are weak and inadequate when compared to John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Our response should be to receive God’s witness in Christ, to believe in Him, to trust that He can save, and to grow in this knowledge, faith, and obedience. The witness of Christ calls us to life, a new spiritual life, and this the world cannot give.

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