John 1:14-18 – This Is the One

The Word became flesh and blood,
    and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
    the one-of-a-kind glory,
    like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
    true from start to finish.

John pointed him out and called, “This is the One! The One I told you was coming after me but in fact was ahead of me. He has always been ahead of me, has always had the first word.”

We all live off his generous abundance,
    gift after gift after gift.
We got the basics from Moses,
    and then this exuberant giving and receiving,
This endless knowing and understanding—
    all this came through Jesus, the Messiah.
No one has ever seen God,
    not so much as a glimpse.
This one-of-a-kind God-Expression,
    who exists at the very heart of the Father,
    has made him plain as day. (The Message)

This is an astounding passage of Holy Scripture! These are verses to savor and not quickly read through. The Apostle John’s opening comments to his Gospel are theologically rich, lovingly beautiful, and missionally sensitive. 

The high and holy God has chosen to come and show himself to us in the person of Jesus. We know God through Christ. We learn about what God is like through Jesus. God has condescended to us, bent down and communicated to us through means we can understand and discern, through the Lord Jesus. 

In the biggest cities of the world, like Mexico City, Mexico and Manilla, Philippines, there are huge garbage dumps that cover several square miles. On top of these heaps of waste there live thousands of families who have made this their home. 

Each day they send their kids out to forage for scraps so they can have something to eat and survive. Few others tread where these families are. Yet, there are believers who make the journey and try to bring the love of God to such a place.

As incredible and sad a situation this is, the journey from heaven to earth that Jesus made has no comparison.  Christ came to the sin-soaked dump of this world, to us who were living on a heap of garbage and entered into our lives to save us from our wretched condition.

“The Self-revealing of the Word is in every dimension – above, in creation; below, in the Incarnation; in the depth, in Hades; in the breadth, throughout the world. All things have been filled with the knowledge of God.”

St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation

Jesus did not just appear to be human. He actually became one of us. Christ, the rightful King of the universe, chose to live with all the same things we face from day to day.  He “tabernacled” with us, using the imagery of God’s presence with the ancient Israelites through their desert journey.

John and the other Gospel writers were evangelists; they wrote so that people might believe in Jesus and clearly see what God is doing for them amidst the grinding spiritual and physical poverty of this fallen world.

The Apostle John saw and experienced first-hand Jesus interacting with families in the dump. John knew what was happening; God was coming to save the people. 

The way to reach people, who are so concerned for scurrying about their business and trying to survive apart from God, is through the incarnation. Christ’s descent to this earth – his earthly ministry, his crucifixion, death, resurrection and subsequent ascension back to heaven – demonstrated how we, as his followers, are to live our lives.

Believers in Jesus testify to what God has done in Christ. They do so through being little incarnations, entering fully into people’s lives with the grace and compassion given them by their Lord. Christians are to be like the moon, not we ourselves producing light, but in the middle of darkness, reflecting the light of the sun (Son) so that the earth may know that Jesus cares and can deliver them.

The sort of God that Christians worship and serve is an over-the-top gracious and generous God who has gone to the most incredible lengths possible to restore lost humanity. 

Since God has bridged the great chasm between heaven and earth, the very least we can do is walk across the street, or across the room, and develop a new relationship with someone who needs the sort of deliverance Jesus can expertly provide. 

This is the One, Jesus, who shows us the glory of God.

God’s loving initiative can become our own motivation. Sit and soak with this wonderful passage of the New Testament today. Let it seep deep into your soul. Allow it to shape how you live your life.

Almighty God, whose blessed Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things: Mercifully give us faith to perceive that, according to his promise, he abides with his Church on earth, even to the end of the ages; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Acts 1:1-11 – Ascension of the Lord

In my first book I told you, Theophilus, about everything Jesus began to do and teach until the day he was taken up to heaven after giving his chosen apostles further instructions through the Holy Spirit. During the forty days after he suffered and died, he appeared to the apostles from time to time, and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive. And he talked to them about the Kingdom of God.

Once when he was eating with them, he commanded them, “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before. John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

So, when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?”

He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!” (New Living Translation)

“At his Ascension, our Lord entered Heaven, and he keeps the door open for humanity to enter.”

Oswald Chambers

Jesus was taken up to heaven in what Christians celebrate as the “Ascension of the Lord.” This is a hugely important event for followers of Jesus.

The Ascension means that Christ is now presently sitting at God’s right hand, offering continual prayers on our behalf to the Father. We have an advocate, a champion, who has gone before us and secured deliverance from sin, death, and hell.

On top of it all, Christ’s ascension means that Jesus is the universal ruler; he commands a kingdom that will never end. Yes, the Ascension of the Lord is a big deal.

So, why does a day set aside on the Christian Calendar celebrating the Lord’s mighty and redemptive ascension over all creation garner such scant attention from many churches?

Maybe the church has A.D.D. (Ascension Deficit Disorder).

Our clue to the inability to focus on such a grand redemptive event is the disciples’ response when Jesus ascended.

The picture St. Luke paints for us in the account of our Lord’s ascension, is a group of guys looking up into the sky slack-jawed and shoulders hunched.

It took a couple of angels to come along and ask them what in the world they were doing just standing there. Now is not the time to stand and gawk at the clouds, the angels insisted. Jesus will come back when he comes back. You aren’t going to know when. So, now is the time to get busy with what Jesus just told you to do two minutes ago: Tell everyone about me.

Christ’s ascension to heaven is a deeply theological event. It’s freighted with major implications for our prayer lives. And it means Christ is the King to whom we must obey.

Jesus is coming again. In the meantime, there’s to be no cloud-gawking. Instead, there is to be a well-developed and well-cultivated connection with Jesus which proclaims the good news that Christ died, rose from death, and ascended to heaven for mine and your forgiveness of sins and a new clean slate on life.

Trying to peer into the future about how the end of history will shake-out is, frankly, not the job we are called to do. Believers in Jesus aren’t supposed to stand and gawk at the clouds waiting for the Lord’s return, as if we are in some earthly holding tank until heaven. 

Rather, we are to bear witness about the person and work of Jesus. The Ascension of the Lord means we are God’s people blessed with deliverance from the realm of sin, and the hope of Christ’s coming again. The Church everywhere recognizes together the rule and reign of the Lord Jesus.

The world, as we know it, shall eventually come to an end. Until that time, Christians since the time of the ascension have been proclaiming Christ crucified, died, risen, ascended, and coming again.

This is a day of joy and celebration for us. Jesus is our ascended and glorified king! The fate of the earth is with the benevolent and mighty Ruler of all. Jesus is Lord, and no other human leader is. Thank you, Jesus.

The great Reformed Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, question and answer 49, states:

Q: How does Christ’s ascension to heaven benefit us?

A: First, he is our advocate

            in heaven

            in the presence of his Father.

Second, we have our own flesh in heaven

            as a sure pledge that Christ our head

            will also take us, his members,

            up to himself.

Third, he sends his Spirit to us on earth

            as a corresponding pledge.

            By the Spirit’s power

                        we seek not earthly things

                        but the things above, where Christ is,

                                    sitting at God’s right hand.

Amen.

Acts 1:1-11 – When Will We Engage in Our Ministry?

In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

When will we engage in our ministry? The short answer: Now.

The angels in this story sound a lot like my mom when I was a kid: “Why are you just standing there looking into an empty sky?  You need to quit your gawking and get to work!”

But sometimes we can be confused about what it is we are supposed to be about or when we are supposed to do it. Jesus was quite clear about what the mission of his followers is to be: witnesses.  And the angels essentially tell the disciples to quite their gawking and get to work on being witnesses.

Being a Witness Now

The mission is not simply to do some sort of evangelical job of witnessing, but to be a witness. What we do flows from who we are and what we have seen. If we have seen and experienced the risen Lord, we are witnesses. We then tell of what we have seen and heard, not necessarily because it’s our job, but because we just cannot help it.

A mom nurtures her kids because she is a mom; it isn’t just a job – it’s who she is. To be a witness involves the kind of people we are. The word “witness” is literally the term “martyr.”  A martyr, as the term has been used throughout church history, is:

  • One who chooses to suffer death rather than deny the person and work of Jesus Christ.
  • One who bears testimony to the truth of what they have seen or have experienced with God.
  • One who sacrifices all things to further God’s kingdom.
  • One who is willing to endure anything from anyone to maintain their Christian witness. 

A martyr is someone we are, not a task that gets checked off a to do list.

There is a clear mandate and mission given by Jesus, the Head of the Church: We are witnesses. We are participants in service to Christ the King, and not fans of Jesus only cheering in the bleachers. It’s a very different experience being a fan in the stands than a player on the field.

In baseball, some fans think they know what all the right calls are, then graciously let the umpire know when he is wrong. Being a spectator is significant. Yet, for us here on this earth, it is not yet our time for that. Those who have gone before us, lived in faith, and were martyrs, are testifying to us….

Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect….

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses [martyrs], let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, (Hebrews 11:36-40, 12:1, NIV)

The Christian fans in the heavenly stands are witnessing that they have participated in God’s mission. And they are not unruly – spilling their beer on people and getting kicked out of the stadium. Instead, they are encouraging us who are here, right now, on this earth, seeking to fulfill Christ’s mandate.

Those who have gone before us are passing the baton of leadership and the message of good news to us – and they expect us to run with it – not to try and sit in the stands as spectators because it is not yet our time.  They are cheering us on, letting us know it’s all worth it.

Now is the time to be witnesses of what God in Christ has done and is doing. God created a perfect world. Man and woman fell into disobedience and sin. Now, God is in the business of restoring and renewing all creation. So, we are to witness to what God has done, and is doing, because our identity is thoroughly in Jesus Christ. It is our heritage and our privilege.

“Let God be the Judge. Your job today is to be a witness.”

Warren Wiersbe

In the 1990s a Christian prisoner in Cuba was asked to sign a statement containing charges against fellow Christians that would lead to their arrest. He said, “The chain keeps me from signing this.” The communist officer protested, “But you are not in chains!” “I am,” said the Christian. “I am bound by the chain of witnesses who throughout the centuries gave their lives for Jesus Christ. I am a link in this chain. I will not break it.”

Christ’s words are directed to us: “You will be my witnesses,” you and me. If we look at this as merely a task, we will likely give up and whine, saying, “This is too hard. It takes too much time. There’s too much suffering. This isn’t for me!” 

If we understand our identity as being a witness, then we will love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. We willingly abandon our own personal agendas and adopt the will of God for our lives. And the will of God is that we embrace our identity as witnesses to the redemptive events of Jesus – Christ’s incarnation, holy life, compassionate ministry, suffering and death, rising from the grave, and ascending to heaven.

What do you have to witness to? Here is a teenage girl’s witness when he stood glaring at her, his weapon before her face, asking, “Do you believe in God?” She paused because it was a life or death question. “Yes, I believe in God.” “Why?” asked her executioner. But he never gave her the chance to respond. The 17-year-old girl lay dead at his feet. 

This scene could have happened in the Roman coliseum, in the Middle Ages, or in any number of countries around the world today. People are still being imprisoned, tortured, and killed every day because they refuse to deny the name of Jesus. This particular story, though, did not happen in ancient times or in another country. It happened at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado on April 20, 1999.

Being a Witness Everywhere to Everyone Now

The original witnesses of Jesus Christ embraced the mandate of being witnesses. Not far into the New Testament book of Acts, 3,000 people in Jerusalem were converted to Christianity through one sermon from Peter’s witness. Philip broke all kinds of taboos by going to Samaria and being a witness to the half-breed Samaritans. Peter broke all convention by going into a Gentile’s house and seeing the Spirit come on them. Saul, who became Paul, was dramatically converted and went on three separate missionary journeys so that he could take the good news of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth.

We are to be witnesses wherever we go with whomever we encounter. We will be witnesses in Jerusalem (our families); in Judea (our community); in Samaria (other races and people different from ourselves); and, to the ends of the earth (overseas).

Being a Witness Through the Spirit’s Empowerment Now

Only after giving the mission to his followers did Jesus ascend to heaven. The ascended Lord is to be our confidence and our hope. We are not alone. We possess Christ’s authority and the Spirit’s help. The power to be a witness is not generated from within us but comes from God’s Spirit.

Jesus will return. Until then, we are to be his witnesses. It’s not the time to sit in the bleachers. We have been given power to accomplish the mission before the end of this world comes, and before Jesus comes again to judge the living and the dead.

Being a witness is not a one-time, one-size-fits-all work. Our own witness is just that: ours. We all have our own stories of faith and experiences of the risen and ascended Christ. There’s really nothing flashy or sexy about being a witness. Rather, it mostly entails a consistent and patient witness of love. It’s a lifestyle and a way of life in which our love for God pours out of our heart and soul and is expressed with all our mind and strength.

Every Christian can witness to what God is doing in their life – to tell our story of what God has done and is doing with us.

Holy God, you are making all things new through your gracious reconciling and restorative work. Grant us, your people, the vision to see you at work in our world healing our brokenness and making us new. Grant us the wisdom to hear your voice through the noise that surrounds us. And grant us the courage to bring to fruition the world you are creating, through Jesus Christ our Lord, in the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Psalm 47 – Clap and Shout!

Sing, Clap, and Sound the Trumpets by Melani Pyke

Come, everyone! Clap your hands!
    Shout to God with joyful praise!
For the Lord Most High is awesome.
    He is the great King of all the earth.
He subdues the nations before us,
    putting our enemies beneath our feet.
He chose the Promised Land as our inheritance,
    the proud possession of Jacob’s descendants, whom he loves.

God has ascended with a mighty shout.
    The Lord has ascended with trumpets blaring.
Sing praises to God, sing praises;
    sing praises to our King, sing praises!
For God is the King over all the earth.
    Praise him with a psalm.
God reigns above the nations,
    sitting on his holy throne.
The rulers of the world have gathered together
    with the people of the God of Abraham.
For all the kings of the earth belong to God.
    He is highly honored everywhere.
(New Living Translation)

God is King. In the Christian tradition specifically, Jesus is King. Christ is the One who gives shape, form, and substance to the reign of God over the earth. This is what the Lord’s ascension to heaven communicates – that Jesus sits at the right hand of God the Father, exercising a benevolent rule as the rightful Sovereign over all creation.

This redemptive reality of the Lord’s good reign is a cause for praise. And this is what today’s psalm is all about. We, as the subjects of God’s kingdom, are called to praise the Lord.

The psalm tells us exactly how to praise the Lord because of powerful and compassionate authority: clap your hands and shout! For worshipers who believe acknowledgment of God is most appropriate with silence and contemplation, even a cursory reading of the psalms will inform them differently. Although it seems to me most worship experiences need more familiarity with silence, I also passionately believe they could use a whole lot more enthusiasm with clapping and shouting.

Depending upon where you fit in the spectrum of Christianity’s tradition of worship, high church or low church, very liturgical, or not, it behooves all churches to incorporate the full range of human expression to God – including both silence and shout, hands clasped reverently in prayer as well as exuberantly clapping in praise.

“Let all the rivers clap their hands; let the mountains rejoice out loud altogether.”

Psalm 98:8, CEB

It is biblical to applaud God! And it’s healthy, too – both spiritually and physically. Whenever we fail to pause in our feelings of happiness and enjoy the moment, it is more than a missed opportunity. Unacknowledged and unexpressed joy trains us to depress our feelings, eventually leading to depression itself. Yet, whenever we stop to outwardly demonstrate gratitude through the exuberance of shouting and clapping, it benefits everyone – God, others, and self.

Physically clapping and shouting helps keep the heart and lungs healthy, even playing a curative role with pulmonary problems. It gives relief to joint pain, gout, headaches, insomnia, and digestion. Shouting and clapping even sharpens the intellect and increases the brain’s ability. And, of course, applause is a social phenomenon which binds folks together in community.

For the psalmist, applause to the Lord is the appropriate response to God’s power and victory in the world. Since divine presence is everywhere – and that presence is merciful, just, and kind – we ought to pause long enough to acknowledge and celebrate a loving God watching over us with tender care and concern.

No matter the circumstance, God is with us. That reality alone is enough cause for exuberance and celebration. Even though evil still resides in this old fallen world, God is King, and still sits on the throne. The pastor and hymnwriter, Maltbie Davenport Babcock (1858-1901), had it right:

This is my Father’s world:
O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the Ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world:
Why should my heart be sad?
The Lord is King: let the heavens ring!
God reigns; let earth be glad! 

It is not the attempt to gin-up human and personal confidence which enables us to face the foulness and degradation of this world. Rather, it’s the spiritual awareness of God’s presence and power which resides around us and within us. This is the basis of our confidence. It is the ground of our peace. It’s the reason for the believer’s joy, even amidst awful circumstances.

Our connection with one another as worshipers is the common acknowledgment of God’s rule and reign over all creation. And our link as followers of Jesus is the collective conviction that Christ is King, we are his subjects, and all things belong to God, including us.

Whenever we connect with this basic theology, spontaneous and joyous praise is the result. So, if we lack the joy of the Lord in our lives, the place to go is to use today’s psalm. Read it several times over, out loud. Shout the psalm! Clap while shouting the psalm! Sing the psalm aloud! Praise the risen and ascended Lord!

May it be so to the glory of God.

This Is My Father’s World, sung by Amy Grant.