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Do you know that you know Jesus?

Jesus light of the world

Light of the World / William Holden Hunt (1853)

Do good people go to heaven? No. There aren’t any! Only redeemed people go to heaven, and we’re redeemed only through knowing Jesus.

It takes more than going to church. It takes more than acknowledging Jesus as a historical figure. The living Christ is a real person. He is active in the world—and in the life of every individual.

He does not appear to our physical senses. We can neither see him, touch him, nor hear the sound of his voice. How can we know that we know him?

The Bible has a simple answer: “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments” (1 John 2:3, NASB). And Jesus said, “if you love me you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

Simple, but it requires careful examination so we don’t misinterpret what it says. Continue reading

What kind of corpse is this?

Entombment of Christ

The Entombment of Christ / Caravaggio, 1602-03

You haven’t died yet, but you sort of know what to expect. Other people have died. Animals have died. They leave behind a corpse. It draws flies. It rots.

Soon it looks and smells so offensive that it must be put out of sight. We have buried or burned corpses since prehistoric times.

Two millennia ago, a corpse was taken from a Roman cross. The dead man’s friends prepared his body for burial. They had no time to finish the job properly, but they expected he was like any other dead man. They would come back later to finish.

That man, Jesus, never in his life fulfilled anyone’s expectations. When his friends came back to give him a proper burial, he was no longer in the tomb. He appeared to them, spoke with them, even ate with them. What other corpse has ever behaved like that? Continue reading

Who sinned? blaming God for our troubles

Judge's gavelJesus died between two criminals. Did you realize that he died between two believers? The first one asked, “Aren’t you the Christ?” The expected answer to that question is, “Yes.”

But he was disappointed that Jesus wasn’t acting like he expected the Christ to act. In his hostility, he joined the unbelievers and scoffers and railed against him.

When something goes wrong, who do you blame? Or as the disciples asked about a man born blind, who sinned? They gave Jesus a choice of the man or his parents. The criminal on the cross blamed God himself. Continue reading

The kingdom of God: some assembly required?

Unassembled furnitureHave you ever made something from a kit? A cabinet, perhaps, or an exercise bike. The kingdom of God is something like that.

You bring your kit home from the store and open the box. Inside you find lots of parts, both large and small.

You also find some instructions. They can be hard to understand. Your task is to assemble all the parts to make something that looks like the picture on the box. And it has to work, too.

I have gotten my project assembled in three different ways. Sometimes I just do it myself. Sometimes I work with someone else. And sometimes, I just pay someone else to do it for me. In the end it doesn’t matter, just so the box of parts turns into something I can use.

What does this have to do with the kingdom of God? Take a look at Hebrews 2:8-11: Continue reading

Holiness, glory, and sin

River Jordan with the ark of the covenant, holiness of God

Joshua passing the River Jordan with the Ark of the Covenant / Benjamin West

What do you do for Lent?

It’s just not a time to exercise will power and give something up for a month and a half.

Lent is a time of reflection. It’s a time to prepare ourselves spiritually to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection at Easter.

It’s a time to consider holiness.

Why did Jesus have to die and rise again from the dead? Because God is holy, and we are not. God created Adam in his image and breathed his own life into him. Adam chose to obey Satan instead and forfeited that life.

God’s inherent holiness cannot make any deal with sin. He must oppose it and ultimately destroy it. He chose to prepare to do so through the nation of Israel.

At key points in Scripture, God displays his glory and his judgment on sin in close juxtaposition. These points are especially important at the beginning of something new. Continue reading

Heavenly vegetables: Old Testament Scriptures no one reads

old testament heavenly vegetables peppers, carrot, cucumberScripture is like food for the spirit. There are different kinds of foods. Some may be more pleasant than others.

The Paul (1 Corinthians 3:2) and writer of Hebrews (Hebrews 5:12) told their readers that they weren’t mature enough for meat, so they had to feed them milk.

Daniel didn’t want to make himself unclean with the world’s meat, so he ate only vegetables for a time in his youth (Daniel 1:12). Does that seem like a strange choice? Continue reading

Peter and the keys of the kingdom of heaven

Peter with the keys of the kingdom of heaven

Mosaic of St. Peter in Basilica Saint Peter Vatican Rome Italy

Have you ever wondered about what Jesus meant when he gave Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven? It can be confusing.

Somehow, the phrase has been turned into “keys to the kingdom,” which incorrectly suggests that Peter somehow had authority to decide whom to allow into the kingdom. God, not Peter is the ultimate judge.

Use of the wrong preposition isn’t the only way Christians have interpreted the passage in Matthew 16:19 in ways Jesus probably didn’t intend. Continue reading

Why did God become a man?

Nativity / Correggio

Adoration (a.k.a. La Notte) / Correggio, ca. 1528-1530

According to an old praise chorus, “Love was when God became a man.” That’s why we celebrate Christmas. Most people who have heard the story, even in the church, have a hard time wrapping their minds around it.

In the popular imagination, God is some distant and perpetually angry deity. He demands everyone do things his way or he will punish them by sending them to everlasting torment. Somehow we have to jump through all the right hoops if we want to get on his good side.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Continue reading

Watching and waiting for Jesus

Visitation of Mary and Elizabeth carving

Visitation of Mary and Elizabeth / at Cloister’s Museum, New York. Artist unidentified

Thank you for coming to read this message. It means that you want to keep Christ in Christmas. And you know Christmas has meaning only because of a truth your church may affirm in the communion service:

Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ is coming again.

This season of advent, we mostly prepare for the coming of the Christ child, but it also provides a time to prepare for his return, his second advent.

God’s judgment and his grace are joined at the hip. He freely makes his grace available to anyone at all, but only those who repent of their sins can ever receive it. Continue reading

Education, God, and fools

College seminar

College seminar

A university professor recently wrote to the editor of my local newspaper to denounce the state legislature’s failure to fund state universities adequately.

It’s a Republican legislature, and in the professor’s eyes they’re afraid of education, and especially that getting an education will expose students to ideas that would make them question religion.

Society, religious or otherwise, would do well to be afraid of that sentiment. It’s quite a leap from naming a political party to the assumption of its religious motivation and a bigger leap from ideas that question religion to the implication that they will disprove religion and convert all the students to good Democrats. Continue reading