WHO IS JESUS? #2

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The Supreme and Valid Judge

Jesus had claimed to be the light of the world. The Pharisees, bitter opponents of Jesus and not willing to accept His claim, challenged Him, “Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid.”

Jesus replied, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid…you judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one. But if I do judge, my decisions are right…” (segments of John 8:13-16).

Responding to the angry assumption by religious leaders of His day that Jesus’ claims were unsubstantiated, Jesus makes an unusual defense. He says His claims about Himself (at this point, He has just claimed to be ‘the light of the world”) are in fact valid because He is not speaking as a casual eyewitness. He is not even speaking as an expert witness. Witnesses testify from a limited perspective. At worst, their testimonies may be mistaken, deluded or even fallacious. At best, they are incomplete because they only represent the narrow perspective of mortal human beings.

Jesus is claiming to speak as One who is the Supreme Judge—not passing judgment illegitimately, irrationally or imperfectly (as His assailants were), but with bona fide authority and complete knowledge. The purpose of a judge is to ensure that justice is served, that wrongs are made right, and that virtue, truth, and equity prevail.

Not only, claims Jesus, is His testimony valid, but He Himself personifies validity. He is the epitome of truth and justice and He will fully and ultimately accomplish everything He intends.

The prophet Isaiah foreshadowed Jesus’ ultimate reign of justice, calling Him “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end…establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever” (segments of Isaiah 9:6,7) and “He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth…Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist” (segments of Isaiah 11:3-5).

What is our best response to Jesus’ claim to be the Supreme Judge whose testimony is valid? Well the interesting thing about validity is that it carries with it its own test of authenticity: in order to be valid a thing must do what it is designed to do. It must be completely and successfully effectual. Jesus likes nothing better than for individuals like you and me to hold Him up to this high standard of validity—not with a skeptical attitude but in honest faith: He wants us to take Him fully at His Word, to give Him complete freedom to live in and through the very core of us; to allow His transforming power little by little to make us new creatures. He wants to apply His justice to our situation so that we will flourish for eternity rather than struggle under the bondage in which we find ourselves so often captive.

Notice how Jesus’ claims about Himself are intended to affect us? As ‘the Light’ Jesus is the source of life, gives insight into the unseen world, and provides deep joy in our inner being. As ‘the Supreme and Valid Judge’ Jesus offers us truth and ultimate justice—He does not stand by unmoved by our captivity to sin and all the wrongs happening in this dark world. Jesus wants to bring good into people’s lives—His way. As we think about His claims, may we embrace Jesus for who He is and nothing less.

 

(Photo Credit: Statue: Contemplation of Justice; Matt H. Wade – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5831586)

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WHO IS JESUS? #1

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The Light of the World

“Jesus,” claimed Mikhail Gorbachev, “was the first socialist;” “Christ,” claimed Vincent van Gogh, was “a greater artist than all other artists;” “The Lord,” penned Adolf Hitler, “(advanced a) terrific…fight for the world;” and “Jesus,” claimed Albert Einstein, “is too colossal for the pen of phrase-mongers.” The list goes on. Those who have heard of Jesus have formed opinions about Him that run the gamut. Are they right? How do we know?

The Gospels give us the clearest picture of who Jesus is. In particular, the last forty-seven verses of John chapter eight give us a window into who this unique man claimed Himself to be. These claims tell us how He Himself viewed His identity and purpose. As a primary source, this chapter gives us a firsthand understanding of the true persona of Jesus without the distortions—well-meaning though they may be—of individuals who claim to know something about Him. So, who is Jesus?

I am the light of the world,” begins Jesus (John 8:12). “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.

The central theme of the Bible describes a conflict between goodness (describing God) and evil (describing all that rebels against God) occurring in the spiritual realm, which has infected and influenced humanity and the material world. The concept of ‘light’ used in the Bible characterizes the former, and ‘darkness’ symbolizes the latter.

Jesus not only associates Himself with the light side of this conflict, He claims to be the light. The phrase “I am the light” is a thinly veiled self-description of Deity. Further, Jesus makes a bold claim—even a promise—that those who follow Him will access complete immunity from the darkness of rebellion against God. Instead, followers of Jesus will have the Creator of life as their personal protector and moral guide in this life, and enjoy eternal life to come.

To “never walk in darkness” may remind us of God’s historical judgment upon the enslaving nation of Egypt c.1500 B.C. when, through His representative Moses, God imposed a three-day plague of darkness, while the Israelites continued to experience the usual diurnal rhythms in the communities in which they lived. Later, as the Israelites journeyed on their exodus from Egypt, God is described as going ahead of the procession “in a pillar of fire by night to give them light” (Exodus 13:21).

Like all peoples then and now, though, the Israelites were unable to maintain God’s high standards for the light of moral goodness. In spite of God’s provision of a leader, a Law, and a supernatural phenomenon to guide them, the people failed repeatedly and miserably to experience real personal transformation. The core human problem of the ubiquitous sinful human nature remained a barrier to the goal of moral excellence God designed all people to have.

Jesus’ reintroduction of the light and darkness issue emphasizes and foreshadows His long-planned solution to the problem: through Jesus’ redeeming self-sacrifice on the cross, his forgiveness and subsequent indwelling of any who would become His followers, the new children of God will never again walk in darkness. Jesus claims His rightful role as the Source of light and invites His listeners to respond as ransomed new creations with ever-increasing characteristics of light. This invitation exists for all people today. We may even say this is the core task of each human being: first, to hear Jesus’ claim to be the source of all that is true and good, and secondly, that we turn from the inborn tendency toward moral rebellion and darkness, choosing rather to entrust our transformation to Jesus, the light of the world.

 

(Photo Credit: By United States Air Force photo by Senior Airman Joshua Strang – This Image was released by the United States Air Force with the ID 050118-F-3488S-003 (next).This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. See Commons:Licensing for more information. http://www.af.mil/weekinphotos/wipgallery.asp?week=97&idx=9 (Full Image), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1234235

 

Christmas Wish List

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Remember Christmases when you were a child? Remember the weeks or days leading up to the grand moment and all the anticipation that swelled in your childish heart—anticipation of presents galore? A lot of it had to do with the pictures planted into our minds by the T.V. commercials of the day.

My anticipation always grew to staggering proportions every December. One year my wish list contained the most realistic newborn-sized doll on the market. I wanted that toy badly. I wrote to ‘Santa’—a jolly man with a perfectly white beard who appeared on a seasonal show and answered letters written to the address he’d provided. One of the dozens of letters Santa selected was mine. He read my childish scrawl, assured his watchers that Santa always gives good children what they want, and sure enough my doll appeared in the mail some days later.

I loved that doll for months—until the next round of commercials drew my attention to the newest toys on the market. And so the cycle continued. I always knew I wanted something, but each year’s pick provided fleeting satisfaction. Perhaps you have your own stories of wish lists from Christmases past. Perhaps your longings were for other things: for daddy to come home and live with the family again, or for the bullies at school to leave you alone. Many wish list items remained just unfulfilled dreams.

The Old Testament book of Isaiah speaks of a dream God has had for each of us—God’s wish list published to whet our appetite for the gift to end all gifts. “Ask the LORD your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights,” Isaiah quotes God as saying. He was offering the current king of Judah to ask for a sign that would prove God’s interest in people’s lives. The weak-kneed fearful regent refused the offer, believing that nothing could save him from his current problem, the besieging armies that stood on the doorstep of his poorly protected city Jerusalem.

“Listen up, you lily-livered leader!” replied the incensed prophet. “It’s not enough you try the patience of your subjects with your spineless superintendence of the country. Will you also try the patience of God? God has a sign for you, whether you are aware of your need for one or not!” (Isaiah 7:13, paraphrased).

Isaiah moved back into quoting God, “The virgin will be with child, and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14, NIV). With these words, God gives a clue to the greatest item ever to grace Christmas wish lists, fill stockings or adorn trees. It was a promise and a riddle wrapped in a ribbon that would take eight centuries to unravel. God was speaking not only to the inept ruler Ahaz. He was speaking to you and to me too.

He was explaining that of all the hopes, wishes and solutions to problems that promise to satisfy our yearnings, only one would truly fill the gap. Only Immanuel—God with us could be the wish list item to end all wish lists. Immanuel would describe the one unique baby who would enter this world’s landscape, who would be God Himself living among us. Neither time nor death would keep Him from accomplishing His purpose—to be forever with us.

The first Christmas morning would begin centuries of generations reflecting on God’s great gift of Jesus—of God intimately with us for eternity. All wish lists pale in comparison to the gift of relationship Christ offers those who want Him to be Lord of their lives. The life that flows through Him becomes an eternal life, which He offers to those—to you and to me—who embrace His presence.

Immanuel. Immanuel. Wonderful Counselor! Lord of Life, Lord of all! He is the Prince of Peace, Mighty God, Holy One. Immanuel. Immanuel!

 

(Photo Credit: By Genealogyphotos on Flickr – Flickr, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8803906)

Why Celebrate Christmas?

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           Is Christmas really Christian, or are we merely Christianizing a holiday on which other traditions had first dibs? Wasn’t December 25th originally a pagan festival? Perhaps Xmas is the appropriate term for the holiday and our forbearers have been rash to put ‘Christ’ into Christmas…What if Jesus wasn’t even born on the eve of December twenty-fifth?—Isn’t it ridiculous to celebrate an event, the date of which we are uncertain?

We’ve entered the bustling final month of the year. Holiday cheer is rising in intensity; lights be-daub residential rooflines and commercial checkouts. Evergreens make their way into our living rooms, while merchants gleefully enjoy a month of unmatched consumer appetite.

For those who wonder whether we can merely make Christmas a celebration of lights and family and friendship, letting Christ be celebrated elsewhere in our hearts—as He ought to be all days of the year—perhaps there is more to consider. What do we know of Christ’s entry onto the human stage one undated night in history?

Jesus’ historical birth happened one starry night—perhaps between 6 and 4 B.C.—during a Roman Empire census-taking in Palestine. Traveller accommodations were scarce. His young parents did the best they could, securing shelter in a non-descript stable, perhaps a cavern in the rock behind an inn-transformed habitation.

Some unusual events preceded and attended His birth: a virginal conception, an angelic announcement alerting shepherds in nearby fields with the news and an unusual sign (a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger). A unique star would direct a group of eastern mystics to the residence of the infant to pay tribute appropriate for a child-king; the Magi would inadvertently provoke the wrath of a murderous Herod-the-Great upon all infant Jewish boys causing an infanticide reminiscent of that in Egypt some centuries earlier.

Then this unique child, Jesus, would mature to become a man who was faultless, worked stunning miracles among the empire-oppressed people, claiming to be the Son of God, light of the world, long-awaited Messiah and Savior of all people. He would be executed at the prime of His life by the Roman Empire at the insistence of the Jewish ruling class, and reappear in resurrected form some days later. After appearing to hundreds of witnesses, He disappeared, promising to return to rule a remade heaven and earth in magnificent glory.

Not only does His advent into human history begin some two thousand years ago and move to embrace humanity’s corporate future. Prophecies recorded in the ancient writings of Old Testament authors encompass the entirety of our corporate past. He fulfills the particular roles of “offspring (of Eve who) will crush (the) head (of Satan)”—Genesis 3:15, written around 1450 B.C., referencing the early era of Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden; He is also “A great light (who) has dawned…To us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end”—Isaiah 9:2, 6-7, written in the 8th century, B.C.; and One “out of (Bethlehem who) will come for (God), one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times”—Micah 5:2, also from the 8th century B.C.

The point to grasp is that the birth of Jesus Christ is a momentous occasion in human history. It marks the plan of God from eternity past through eternity future. His purpose is to beget Himself in human genes and divine intention in order to rescue for Himself people who are finally free—free to turn from sin’s destructive deathward spiral, and free to choose eternal life by Christ’s redeeming work.

Why not celebrate the miracle of Jesus’ birth? Why not choose one day of the year to remember an act of God that forever changes both the history and future of the inhabitants of this planet? Why not use lights and family and friendship to be the theme of this celebration? God brings light and love to this dark, hopeless world!

Father God, Incarnate Son, Spirit indwelling Your people; Accept our meager gift of celebrating Christmas, of focusing our thoughts on Your advent. We don’t know the actual night You entered this world as a fragile baby. You have chosen not to have had it recorded. We want to participate in this season, recalling the advent of Your arrival in order to honour You. We want to fill our minds with remembrances of that holy, silent night. We want to anchor our lives in the peace and joy of the freedom You give us from ultimate death because of Your own birth, death and resurrection. Lord, accept our worship of You. Bring others into Your great family whose hearts are softened by Your Spirit; as the simple shepherds worshiped You that starry, nameless night, may You draw many to worship Your majesty even this Christmas.

(Painting Credit; By http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/obf_images/7f/b6/5da112e3f84e5dc0025025fdca03.jpgGallery: http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/image/V0034617.html, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36615546)

Blue and Yellow Paint

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“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”

(Hebrews 11:1)

            For a day or two this week, the view of the North Shore mountains rising from the lower mainland and Fraser Valley has been magnificent. Their heights are flocked with the first snow of the year revealing breath-taking beauty. Vancouver’s ubiquitous autumn clouds have unexpectedly fled. The clear sky reveals what local skiers, boarders, and simple view-lovers appreciate: snow-covered mountains. I am reminded of another brilliant sun-bathed day in those same mountains. No snow blanketed the mighty champions that day.

Emerging from the shady trail, a dazzling reflection blinded us. Sun-bleached exposed granite replaced the dim browns and greens of our forest path. We saw small splotches of blue and sometimes yellow paint, like thoughtless graffiti, randomly littering the rocky face as we scanned to find a route to traverse it. Then it came to us. These splashes of pigment were our waypoints. Unlike forest floors, rock leaves no footstep-trodden evidence of safe passage, provides no sturdy tree trunks on which to post trail markers. Blue and yellow paint was our escort.

The peak of Crown Mountain lay somewhere above us, out of sight. Below rose the tops of Douglas and Cedar trees whose roots held onto earth somewhere in their unseen depths. Before us stretched this granite desert. This would be no place to fall.

Hand and foot we made our way across the rocky expanse. Paint splotch after colourful paint splotch guided us when the way seemed impossible. We entrusted ourselves to the route chosen for us by someone else. And so, little by little, we completed that daunting section of the trail. More forest trail, followed by more precipitous courses over and around blue and yellow be-dabbed granite led us further and further up. The path was always safe and true, but sometimes, the other option—the one that could lead to disaster—was only a misstep away.

We reached the top that day. (Some even scrambled to the precipitous jutting spur to lay claim to the very top). Breath-taking views stretched across mountaintops rimming the sky in every dizzying direction. Even there, maybe especially there, our safety was assured only as we stayed ourselves on the marked path. A thoughtless move and one might be silently swallowed by that magnificence.

Father God; These awe-inspiring mountains teach us of you. We walk each day in places we hope will bring us satisfaction or beauty, excitement or rest. Sometimes the going is pleasant and we journey somewhat mindlessly. Shady paths and leaf-softened forest floors easily mark our way. But other times we find ourselves on exposed rocky cliffs needing to grasp at granite where no handholds exist, where it seems the surface is too hot or too cold to touch. We fear we don’t know the way.

Then we see your splotches of blue and yellow paint—promises of Your love and faithfulness—directing us through difficulties. As we follow You, O Great and Loving Guide, we fear no evil for You are with us. Rock of Ages, draw our eyes to you. Steady us. Keep us from the dizziness of looking at the world around us for hope. Bring us safely home, gloriously spent, and aware only of your awe-inspiring faithful presence.

(Photo Credit: By Maoman (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)