How Did Jesus, the Exact Representation of God, Describe Himself and Demonstrate Who He Is?

I find myself contemplating often the words Jesus used to describe his purpose. Jesus gave us description immediately before he launched into his public ministry. This is the way it went down, and this is what he said:

“And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

“’The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
    and recovering of sight to the blind,
    to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’

‘And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’”

Luke 4:16-21

The famous announcement of his purpose came after John the Baptist piqued the interest of the local people, proclaiming, “Prepare the way for the Lord”. It came after John the Baptist challenged people to repent and be baptized.

The announcement took place after Jesus spent 40 days out in the wilderness being tempted by the devil. Jesus had not yet begun his “public ministry”, when he stood up to read in his home town synagogue from the words of Isaiah, the Prophet – words spoken about Jesus over 500 years before that day.

This was the announcement of what Jesus came to do. The Spirit was on him to proclaim good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, and to proclaim the year of our Lord’s favor.

It wasn’t just a prophecy to be fulfilled. It was the very purpose for which God emptied Himself and became a man incarnate. God came to reveal Himself in the material world, to reveal His very heart and His love for mankind.

This was the message that He was trying to convey over the many centuries through the one people who inclined an ear toward Him. But, they didn’t completely get it. They wandered and strayed in their devotion to God, and they mistook His law for nothing but a code of conduct that might earn them the favor of God.

They didn’t understand the relationship He desired to form with them. They didn’t understand His love for them or the singularity of His own devotion to them and the purposes He established for them before the foundation of the heavens and the earth.

They didn’t even recognize Him when He came to them, albeit emptied of all that would not fit into human form (Phil. 2:5-7) They didn’t recognize Him stripped of all His power, holiness and glory.

He did not come with pomp and circumstance. He came humbly in the form of a man just like them. His coming was barely a whisper. is arrival went all but unnoticed. Born in a humble setting to poor, common parents, he grew up in an area of Judea that was off the beaten path and not a little “backwards”.

His first 30 years of life were so unremarkable we know next to nothing about them. The first public stir that is recorded is the day he stood up and read from the Isaiah scroll, sat down, and announced, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

People were so unready for anything extraordinary from Jesus that they marveled and asked each other, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” (Luke 4:22) Then, he seemed to provoke them (Luke 4:23-28), and they burned with anger at his audacity. (Luke 4:28)

It was an inauspicious start to his “public ministry”. He bombed in his hometown synagogue.

What he said of himself, however, is preserved for eternity. It is the key to understanding the heart and character of God revealed through Jesus, “the exact representation of His nature”. (Heb. 1:3) What Jesus said that day and what Jesus did is the best demonstration of God’s heart and character that we, as finite beings, might understand.

Continue reading “How Did Jesus, the Exact Representation of God, Describe Himself and Demonstrate Who He Is?”

How Do We Demand Signs and Miss What God is Doing in the World?

The Gospel records a three year period of time in which Jesus seemingly performed miracles, signs and wonders everywhere he went. Perhaps, the accounts in the Gospels give us an impression that doesn’t correspond to the reality because they recount the many miraculous things he did, but they don’t describe all the times in between.

It seems strange, given all the miracles, signs and wonders that Jesus did that the Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus one day to test him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven. (Matt. 16:1) Perhaps, they wanted him to do it on command, like a science experiment to prove himself.

Perhaps, they had only heard of the things Jesus did, but they hadn’t actually seen him do anything. Perhaps, they didn’t trust the accounts of the common people Jesus seemed to prefer to hang out with. They were more gullible and less discerning.

Attitudes like that haven’t changed much in 2000 years. The Sadducees and Pharisees were more learned. The Sadducees didn’t believe in supernatural occurrences, miracles or demons. The Pharisees did believe in those things, but they were skeptical. The two groups had very different worldviews, but they were aligned in their skepticism.

When these elite religious leaders asked Jesus for a private performance – “a sign from heaven” – he refused .

“An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign[i]; and a sign will not be given it, except the sign of Jonah.” 

(Matthew 16:4)

The fact that these two groups, one that believed in the supernatural and one that didn’t, were aligned in their skepticism suggests that their “problem” with Jesus was that he challenged their dogmas. They doubted the fact that he did miracles, signs and wonders because of the content of what he was saying.

Jesus seemed to revel in provoking them on those differences!

The Pharisees (who believed in the supernatural) determined that healing on the Sabbath is work and is, therefore, prohibited by the Law of Moses. They demanded that Jesus not heal on the Sabbath, but Jesus did it anyway. (Matt. 12:1-14)

Ironically, this healing that was done right in the Pharisees’ presence occurred four chapters before they came to Jesus and demanded a sign from heaven. They had seen a sign from heaven already and dismissed it out of hand because it went against their beliefs.

Jesus challenged their preconceived ideas and expectations. He challenged their authority to determine what is work in violation of the Sabbath and what isn’t. They watched Jesus heal a man with a shriveled hand, but they dismissed it because of what he taught that was contrary to what they believed.

God showed the Pharisees a sign (the healing of a man with a shriveled hand), but they were too focused on his violation of their understanding of Scripture and religious dogma to notice it for what it was.

This story illustrates the danger of our religious dogmas and preconceived ideas of what God should do and not do. Even when the evidence is staring us in the face, we can be tempted to ignore it, gloss over it, and explain it away in favor of how we interpret and understand Scripture.

Continue reading “How Do We Demand Signs and Miss What God is Doing in the World?”

Why Did God Subject the World to Futility?

Photo by Ken Gortowski

I want to focus on the following statements Paul made in his letter to the Romans:

“[T]he mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject[i] itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so…. 

Romans 8:7

“[C]reation was subjected[ii] to futility[iii], not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free ….”

Romans 8: 20-21

Life and death, the universe and all the “stuff” that is, ever was and ever will be are “in God’s hands”. That is another way of saying that God created everything. God is timeless and immaterial and has created all that is material out of nothing, including us.

But the material world, the world as we know it, is passing away (1 John 2:17), even from the moment it was created! That’s what science (the second law of thermodynamics) tells us also. The world has been has been “winding down” since the “Big Bang”.

Paul’s statement about the “futility” to which the world has been subjected suggests that futility is part of God’s ultimate plan, because it was done “in hope”.

If that doesn’t add up for you, I don’t think you are alone. I have been puzzling on it for awhile. What possibly could be the plan?

The trite response that “God’s ways are not our ways” falls short. We want to know, though perhaps it’s true that we may never completely understand. Still, I have some ideas that are informed by Scripture that I will try to lay out in this article.

Continue reading “Why Did God Subject the World to Futility?”

How We Miss Jesus in the Dust of Our Own Hopes and Expectations

Reading from Luke 24:13-21.

"That very day two [men] were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel."

This encounter took place after Jesus was publicly seized, tried and crucified. These men were discussing those events. Everyone was talking about it. Jesus had stirred up the hopes and dreams of the people, including these two men, but those hopes and dreams ended shockingly and abruptly just few couple of days ago.

Everything changed. Expectations deflated Hopes crashed. The shameful and humiliating death of Jesus, the man in whom so much hope had been placed, was overwhelming. It’s all they could talk about.

When Jesus, himself, came and joined them, walked with them, and and spoke with them, they didn’t recognize him. It wasn’t the first time Jesus wasn’t recognized by his people.

Jesus was born into a world that was ripe for his coming. The last of the Hebrew scriptures was written about 300 years prior, and the thrust of those writings, the prophets, anticipated the coming of a Messiah.

The first century Jews believed this Messiah would be a king that would rescue them from Roman rule and reestablish God’s Kingdom in their promised land, rekindling the glory of their heritage. The air was virtually electric with that hope and expectation.

Jesus didn’t deliver what they expected and hoped for. He was a controversial figure from the start. He offered them hints of the promise they hoped for, but he didn’t deliver on their expectations.

Jesus was controversial because he seemed to stand in opposition to the existing Jewish leadership. He seemed to be more critical of the contemporary religious leaders than the secular Roman imposters that governed their homeland.

The orientation of Jesus in opposition to the contemporary religious leaders was not lost on them. They saw Jesus as a threat. Jesus seemed to provoke them with violations of the laws they handed down. He appeared to say blasphemous things like, “Before Abraham was I am”, and claiming to have the authority to forgive sins.

The Jewish leaders were aware of the miracles Jesus performed and the following Jesus had with the poor, the weak, the vulnerable and the downtrodden people. They loved him and who flocked to him, but he gained no trust or respect from the leaders and learned men.

The men with the religious credentials characterized his miracles as magic, sorcery. They called him a hypocrite for hanging out with prostitutes, tax collectors and sinners. That their protestations failed to detract from his popularity was worrisome.

The Zealot movement that predated the birth of Jesus was driven by people had gotten tired of waiting for a Messianic figure to come. They determined to take the course of history into their own hands, to overthrow the Roman government by their own force and to reestablish the Kingdom of Israel in the present time.

Many zealous leaders rose promisingly in in opposition to Roman rule. They quickly generated a following. Just as quickly their followings fell away as those leaders were caught, tried and executed. Jesus seemed no different than they.

This was the atmosphere of First Century Judea. It was a tumultuous time, but a time filled with an air of expectation. Jesus was the closest thing to the promised Messiah that had come along. He had just been welcomed by throngs of adoring people as he entered Jerusalem. They public spectacle they caused stood, now, in contrast to disappointing end to their hopeful Messiah.

Continue reading “How We Miss Jesus in the Dust of Our Own Hopes and Expectations”

Who is My Neighbor? And Who is a Neighbor to Me? The Discomfort of Grace.

Grace is exercised among people who are not like you, who challenge you, who are uncomfortable to be around.

I have often touted the Unbelievable Podcast on Christian Premiere Radio in the UK, and I do it again here. I recommended the episode on Philip Yancey live Q&A on faith, doubt and the future of the US church: Saturday 19 March 2022. Much was discussed in the episode that I could write about, but one thing stands out above the rest to me this morning. Philip Yancey said,

“It’s easy to find a church, to gravitate toward a church, where people look like you, and smell like you, and vote like you.”

Most of us go to churches like that. It’s a human tendency to gravitate toward people with whom we have the most connections, to settle in with people with whom we have the most in common, to spend time with people most like us, but Yancey says,

“That’s not the way to exercise grace. Grace is exercised among people who are not like you, who challenge you, who are uncomfortable to be around, people who are immoral. That’s where to exercise grace.”

Such a radical statement challenges most of us, I think. I am guilty of settling into churches where I feel most comfortable, but what if God wants me to engage in a church, or in groups, or with people with whom I feel uncomfortable? Would I be open to that possibility?

Jesus often urged people to love their neighbors. When I think of my neighbors, I think of the people in my neighborhood who I know and spend time with. If you are like me, you probably think immediately of your neighbors you know, but what about your neighbors you don’t know?

Jesus knew that people tend to favor those who are like them when he told the parable of the Good Samaritan. (Luke 25:30-35) In the parable, an unidentified man is attacked by robbers, stripped of his clothes, beaten and left for dead. (Luke 25:30) Three people come along and see him lying there: a priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan.

The priest and the Levite were the people most like the man who asked the question that prompted the parable. He was an expert in the Law of Moses, a Jewish leader.

He actually began with a more esoteric question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus turned the question on him, asking “What is written in the Law?” (Luke 25:25-26)

When the man responded, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,'”, Jesus answered anti-climatically, “You have answered correctly…. Do this and you will live.”

That might have been the end of the conversation, but the expert in the law “wanted to justify himself”. Perhaps, he wanted affirmation that he was reading the law correctly. Perhaps, Jesus to acknowledge his deep moral thinking. Perhaps, he wanted to prove his expertise in the Law. Whatever he was thinking, he asked, “[W]ho is my neighbor?” (Luke 25:29)

I feel like the man wanted Jesus to engage him in a deep a theological discussion, but Jesus deflected the attempt with the parable. The expert in the Law wanted to make it difficult and complicated, but Jesus kept it simple.

Maybe the expert in the Law was more interested in affirmation that he was a good person who deserved to inherit eternal life. Maybe his question was motivated by his own recognition that some people are harder to love than others. Perhaps, he knew that his own stake in eternal life depended on the answer to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” Maybe he didn’t really want an answer; he just wanted to debate.

He is specifically identified as an “expert in the Law”, and the initial question, and the follow up question, read to me like he was wanting a deeper, philosophical conversation with Jesus. He didn’t really want a simple, straightforward answer. He wanted to debate, but Jesus wouldn’t go there with him.

I am also relatively certain that the answer Jesus gave him was not at all what he expected. It certainly what he was looking for. It likely cut him to the quick. Both he and and the wider audience who was listening in.

Continue reading “Who is My Neighbor? And Who is a Neighbor to Me? The Discomfort of Grace.”