Not the Usual Picture of Jesus

When I think of Jesus, the words that first come into my head are words like this: Savior, Lord, love, forgiveness, grace, mercy, help in time of need. And I find great comfort and peace in thinking about Jesus this way.

So when I read John’s description of Jesus in Revelation chapter 19, it’s a little shocking to think of words like this: king, judge, warrior, ruler, powerful, truth, justice, punishment. Frankly, I feel frightened and discomforted when I think of Jesus in these terms.

And it makes me want to ask, “Will the real Jesus please stand up?

Am I right to be comforted by thoughts of Jesus? Or should I be frightened by him… frightened of him?

The answer, as we’ve seen so many times in the Bible, is that Jesus is “both/and.” And perhaps I’m going against the grain here, but I’m going to argue that “both/and” is not only who Jesus is, it’s also exactly who we would want him to be.

When I’m seriously wronged, treated unjustly, or injured by the selfish, greedy, arrogant, envious acts of others, I want to know that there’s justice in the universe. I long to know that there is someone “officiating” this game called life, someone who is interested in fairness and rightness.

If you don’t like the sound of this — of a Jesus like this — it may just mean that you haven’t yet been truly, deeply, seriously wronged in life.

Then again, when I’m the wrongdoer (which I all too frequently am), and I feel guilty and ashamed of the hurts I’ve caused God and others in my life, I want nothing more than mercy and forgiveness. I want to know I’m loved unconditionally, and will be shown grace by a Savior who doesn’t demand that I earn his love with my goodness.

The following picture of our Lord’s anger at the sin and rebellion he sees in his world is without question a frightening — even terrifying — picture of him. But, as John says here, this is the Savior who is Faithful and True.

And this means that Jesus is also faithful to his promises to forgive your sins and love you. And he remained true to you all the way to the cross, where he bled and died for you. He remained faithful and true to you all the way to the empty tomb, where he rose again, and now lives at the right hand of the Heavenly Father, constantly interceding for you in love.

Let this picture of Jesus — this image of his faithful and true grace — be the picture and the image that lingers in our hearts, even as we acknowledge the truth of (and the need for) the picture John gives us here of a Jesus who fights back against sin and injustice.

“I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. ‘He will rule them with an iron scepter.’ He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:

KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” (Revelation 19:11-16, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Monday, December 28, is Nehemiah 9:1-37, Revelation 19:11-21 and Psalm 148:7-14.

Lord, I know that I deserve your justice, your anger and your punishment. I am sinful, and I have far too often rebelled against you. Thank you for remaining faithful in your love and forgiveness toward me. Please be gracious to me and give me what I do not deserve. Give me instead what you have earned for me through your perfect life and innocent death.

Header image based on "Jesus Christ Wallpaper" by spurgeon1888, CC By 2.0

The End of Accusation

The Greek word for devil is “diabolos.” And this word refers to someone who is a slanderer or a false accuser.

Satan is our adversary, and one of the ways he loves to fight against us is through lies and accusations. Have you ever wondered why your heart still makes you feel guilty and filled with shame, even when you know in your mind that Jesus has forgiven you for your sin?

This is the way it is when Satan is at work. Even many years — sometimes decades — after we have committed a particular sin, and after being told again and again that Jesus has forgiven us, the devil will still call our past sins to our attention. Guilt floods in. Shame overtakes us.

But the message of Christmas, and the beauty of the book of Revelation, is that the accuser is defeated. We can stop listening to him.

Because Christ, our King, is born. His salvation, his power, his kingdom and his authority are ascendant. And our accuser has been hurled down.

We triumph over Satan today, and over his accusations, when our eyes move from the manger to the cross. There our Savior bled and died to win our forgiveness. We triumph over the power of the devil when we go back to God’s words and promises, and hear once again of the righteousness Jesus won for us through his perfect life and his innocent death.

Christmas (and Good Friday, and Easter) makes us conquerers. It is the end of accusation, because the accuser himself has been banished.

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:

“Now have come the salvation and the power
    and the kingdom of our God,
    and the authority of his Messiah.
For the accuser of our brothers and sisters,
    who accuses them before our God day and night,
    has been hurled down.
They triumphed over him
    by the blood of the Lamb
    and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
    as to shrink from death” (Revelation 12:10-11, NIV).

Lord, Jesus, thank you for becoming a man like us and triumphing over the devil, our accuser. Help me by your gospel promises to remain confident in that forgiveness every day, and to refuse to listen to Satan’s lying accusations. I no longer have to subject myself to his constant accusations because you have overthrown him. I am forgiven, truly forgiven!

Our Bible reading for Sunday, December 20, is Ezra 6:1 – 7:10, Revelation 12:1 – 13:1 and Psalm 145:8-13.

Header image based on "El belen azulgrana" by jacinta lluch valero, CC By-SA 2.0

The Strongest Link

“A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.”

The well-known saying goes all the way back to the early days of our country’s history. In the year 1786, a gentleman by the name of Thomas Reid wrote, “In every chain of reasoning, the evidence of the last conclusion can be no greater than that of the weakest link of the chain, whatever may be the strength of the rest” (Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man).

So, the proverbial saying clearly has a long and illustrious history. And it’s hard to deny that it’s clearly true in the case of a literal chain. Nevertheless, in at least one case, the chain is really as strong as its strongest link.

The apostle John points out that our relationship with God the Father is linked to our relationship with Jesus. Jesus is the strong link in our relationship with him. A strong relationship to Jesus will always mean a strong relationship to our heavenly Father. And our possession of our eternal reward in heaven is linked to our restored relationship to the Father.

This is why John tells us to be very careful to guard and protect our faith in Jesus. If we lose Christ, we lose the Father. If we lose the Father, we lose our reward.

How do we maintain a strong relationship with Christ? How do keep our faith in him strong? John says, continue in the teaching of Christ. The more frequently we are reminded of the gospel, the stronger our faith will become. Grace, mercy, forgiveness, the cross, the empty tomb are our tie to Jesus. And his to us.

So the chain looks like this.

Me – the gospel – JESUS – God the Father – our heavenly reward.

What a chain that is! Step back for just a moment, and rejoice that with Jesus as the strong link in the middle, you stand at one end, and heaven stands at the other.

Pretty cool!

“Watch out that you do not lose what we have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son” (‭‭2 John‬ ‭1:8-9‬, NIV‬‬).

Jesus, thank you for being the strong link in the chain that will one day bring me into eternal life in heaven. Because of you, I know that my sins are forgiven, and the barrier of anger between the Father and me has been broken down. Thank you for your grace and mercy. Thank you for all the blessings you give me every day.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, December 6, is Haggai 1:1 – 2:23, 2 John 1-13 and Proverbs 29:19-27.

Header image based on "chained" by Trevor Leyenhorst, CC By 2.0

A King’s Ransom

The blood of Jesus — the blood of the perfect Lamb of God offered for our sins — has cleansed us of all our wrongs and transgressions. Our consciences are clear. In the sight of God, we have been pardoned and granted the status of child of God.

Inside and out, we have been purified and readied to receive heaven. This readiness is not the result of anything we’ve done. It is entirely the work of Jesus, who stood between God and mankind and mediated this agreement at the cost of his own life.

The price was far too high for us to pay. It was a king’s ransom. And only the King of kings could have ever paid it.

“How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant” (Hebrews (9:14-15, NIV).

Lord Jesus, I thank you and praise you for mediating a new covenant and freeing me from my sins. You “mediated” by shedding your own blood, and sacrificing your own life. Help me to always remember the sacrifice you made — a kings ransom! — so that I could be called a child of God and have an eternal inheritance in heaven.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, November 8, is Ezekiel 16:1-63, Hebrews 9:1-15 and Proverbs 27:5-14.

Header image based on "J JAMES TISSOT - eloi eloi" by Waiting for the Word, CC By 2.0

Holding It All Together

Who’s in charge around here?

Isn’t that what we want to know when things aren’t going the way we would hope? When the situation is deteriorating, when our life seems to be disintegrating, we want to know to whom we can go for help.

This is exactly where Paul starts as he writes to the Colossians: Jesus is in charge. He is at the front of the line, before everyone and everything else. He is the gravitational force that holds the universe together. He is the sole head of the church family.

Jesus Christ is true God. All the divine character and all the divine attributes dwell inside of him. The totality of God, with everything God is, is found in Jesus.

God’s purpose for him was clear. Jesus, the divine Son of God, was sent to bridge the chasm that sin had created between God and mankind. He was on a mission that would cost him his life, but at the same time it would restore peace between God and humanity.

As the One who is before everything else in creation, and the firstborn in the resurrection from the dead, he is the true source of our hope.

So, you now know who is in charge. And you also know just how powerful he really is. Finally, you know his loving purpose for you — to bring you back to God, fully reconciled and at peace with him.

If your life is going well right now. Jesus is the one to thank.

But if your life is deteriorating and disintegrating right now, Jesus is the one in charge. And he has huge shoulders. He will carry the load for you. He is your peace. And he is your hope.

Remember, he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. The created universe. The church of the redeemed. You, and your life.

“He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Colossians 1:17-20, NIV).

Lord Jesus, you are first. You hold all things together. Send me your Holy Spirit, and give me the will to make you first in my heart. Grant me faith, and hold me together. You are my Savior and my one true hope.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, October 4, is Jeremiah 7:30 – 9:16, Colossians 1:1-23 and Psalm 116:12-19.

Header image based on "Hubble Catches a Spiral in the Air Pump" by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, CC By 2.0

One Thing

The apostle Paul knew what his “one thing” was. Do you?

You might recall the movie “City Slickers” and the little dialogue between Curly and Mitch, as Curly holds one finger in the air.

Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is? It’s this.

(He’s clearly referring to the single finger he’s holding up.)

Mitch: Your finger?

Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean a thing.

Mitch: But what is the “one thing”?

Curly: [smiles, and says…] That’s what you have to find out.

Authors Gary Keller and Jay Papasan talk about “The One Thing” in their book of the same name. I “borrowed” the above illustration from the first pages of this excellent and very thought-provoking book. The sub-title of the book is “The surprisingly simple truth behind extraordinary results.” Their contention is that “extraordinary results are directly determined by how narrow you can make your focus” (p. 10).

So “go small”, Keller and Papasan say. And quite logically, chapter one concludes with this statement, “When you go as small as possible, you’ll be staring at one thing. And that’s the point.”

Well, the apostle Paul had it. He knew his “one thing” with great clarity and certainty. He actually takes it one step further than Curly did — he shares his one thing. And it’s clear that his one thing is intended to be everyone’s one thing.

What’s the one thing that we need to discover? What’s the one thing we need to stick to? What’s the one thing that, once you have it, you don’t really need one other thing?

Jesus.

If you have Jesus, you have all you’ll ever truly need. The reality is, Jesus is the One Thing behind all extraordinary results.

“Go small,” like Paul did, and you’ll find yourself staring at Jesus.

“For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, August 5, is 1 Chronicles 19:1 – 22:1, 1 Corinthians 1:18 – 2:5 and Psalm 91:1-8.

Lord God, Heavenly Father, direct my heart to you. Help me to always keep my focus on your Son, Jesus Christ. He is my “one thing” and the source of all the blessings in my life. Thank you for sending your one and only Son to redeem me. May I know him as my one and only path to forgiveness, grace, mercy, peace and life.

Header image based on "One thing" by Quinn Dumbrowski, CC By-SA 2.0

Who Gets the Glory?

It’s called the “big reveal.” Maybe it’s one of those TV programs like Extreme Weight Loss, where a person has lost a major amount of weight and gotten themselves back into shape. Maybe it’s a show on HGTV like Fixer Upper, where a wreck of a house is turned into a gorgeous home.

It’s an emotional moment. A major transformation has occurred. And it’s very satisfying to see the end result of a lot of hard work.

Sometimes we too look back at work we’ve accomplished, and it brings us great satisfaction. We feel something important and valuable has been accomplished. And that feels good. We’re extremely enthusiastic about what’s been accomplished.

This is exactly where Paul is emotionally as he nears the end of three missionary journeys and more than a dozen years of work. He’s excited about all that’s been accomplished.

But it’s pretty cool to see how humbly Paul approaches those accomplishments. They’re not really his accomplishments at all, Paul writes. They’re Jesus’ accomplishments. He was merely the conduit for those blessings that the Gentiles are enjoying. The glory all belongs to Christ.

It was Paul’s service. But it was God’s achievement. God’s success. Paul is no less proud of all this — not because of what he had done, but because of what Jesus had done.

As we look back on the things we’ve accomplished in the past year — or the past decade — as we review our service to God, to our families, to our places of work, to our neighborhoods and communities — how do we see it? Do we see it as something we accomplished, something we can boast about, something that will bring glory and renown to us?

Or do we recognize that we were merely the conduit, the person that God was working through, so that he could accomplish what he wanted to accomplish through us? Do we realize that the important thing is to lift God’s name high, and bring glory to Jesus rather than to ourselves?

“Soli deo gloria,” the early Roman Christians used to say, using Latin, the language of their homeland. To God alone be the glory!

“Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done” (Romans 15:17-18, NIV).

Lord, thank you for working through me to accomplish your purposes. All that has been accomplished through me is your achievement, not mine. It’s your success, and your glory. And that is my joy! May all I think, do and say bring glory to you alone!

Our Bible reading for Sunday, August 2, is 1 Chronicles 12:23 – 14:17, Romans 15:14-33 and Psalm 90:1-10.

Header image based on "Soli Deo Gloria" by Alper Cugen, CC By 2.0