Taking Jesus at His Words

Jesus said, “The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day” (Jn. 12:48).

In some parts of America, the label “Christian” is still a celebrated identifier. What someone means by claiming such a moniker is usually little more than simply saying, “I believe in Jesus.” But even this phrase begs greater specificity. What do you mean by “believe?” And who is “Jesus?” The Bible reveals substantial answers to these questions, and the Bible warns us to take the words seriously.

In fact, Jesus Himself so closely associated His person and His words that one cannot receive or reject one without doing the same to the other. To receive Jesus is to receive His words, and to reject His words is to reject Jesus. The plain and absolute nature of this proposition rubs against our modern sensibilities, but it is no less reasonable or consistent.

The words of Jesus Christ are indeed the promises and precepts of eternal life. The one who hears and obeys Jesus has no judge, but rather enjoys freedom from condemnation altogether. But the one who does not receive Christ’s words… who does not hear and obey Christ’s words… that one will be judged and condemned by those same words on the last day.

Exchanging Confidence

Confidence is a strange thing. Some people have tremendous confidence and others seem to have none at all. Furthermore, confidence itself can be well-grounded or foolishly assumed. If confidence is based upon a proper foundation, then it is right and good. But if confidence is merely based on presumption or even error, then confidence is reckless and dangerous.

Jesus Christ is both an example of godly confidence and the basis of such confidence. While the religious and political leaders of His day were confident in all the wrong places and for all the wrong reasons, Jesus’ confidence in God provides an exemplary posture worth imitating.

Even more important, Jesus is the reason why any sinner may have confidence in God at all. Because He died as the substitute for the guilty, He has gathered into one all the children of God.

May we learn to trust in Christ as our substitute, and may we learn to entrust ourselves to God as we follow Christ’s example.

Intolerant Jesus

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that [My sheep] may have life and have it abundantly” (Jn. 10:10).

In our day, intolerance is likely the last great societal sin. One may believe almost anything they like and act out the implications of those beliefs without fear of being judged… for the most part. Public sentiment is much more concerned with the subjective feelings of the person than the propriety or morality of his or her actions.

This is especially true when it comes to religious beliefs. The only doctrine off-limits to religious adherents in America is the exclusive one. So long as “I believe” does not mean “I’m saying this is universally and absolutely true,” then no one seems to think critically about whatever you might say.

Jesus, however, does not play by our modern rules. He is interested in objective and effective truth over subjective feelings and experience. Jesus offers gracious life and merciful freedom, but He warns that these are exclusively found in Him.

May God help us to resist the arrogant desire to believe whatever we want, and may He give us grace to understand and believe those things that are objectively true about Him and the gracious gift He gives.

Judge Rightly

“Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment” (John 7:24).

Judgment is not well-received in our day. If someone points to an activity or desire, calling it morally wrong, then many people will likely take offense at such a “bigoted” judgment. It sometimes appears that passing moral judgment is the only thing someone in Western culture can condemn as morally wicked.

Jesus was not against making moral judgments. In fact, He advocated and even commanded that people judge. However, Jesus’ great emphasis was on making right judgments as opposed to superficial ones. Jesus seems to agree with mom… a book should not be judged by its cover. But Jesus did command us to judge a book by its content.

The first judgment one should make pertains to Jesus Himself. He is God; He is Savior; He is the highest and truest of all appraisers. After one rightly understands who Jesus is, then all other judgments should be based on Jesus’ verdict.

May God help us to judge rightly… first, understanding Jesus as highest and truest, and then judging all things according to Christ’s own judgments.

Christ Loves Hateful Sinners

“God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us… while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son…” (Romans 5:8, 10).

“I want to know what love is…” These lyrics express a basic longing in the human heart – we all want to know love and experience the real thing. With all our desire, however, we humans often know little of true love. And yet, there is hope to know not only what love is, but love personified.

At the start, we must understand that the world in which we live is a fallen world (Gen. 3). Since sin and rebellion against God entered the human heart, every child of Adam has naturally loved evil and hated the exposure light brings (Jn. 3:19-20; Rom. 5:12; Eph. 2:3). This hatred is rooted deeper than we’d like to admit, and it extends further than we usually realize.

Jesus Christ is love personified because He entered a hateful world for the sake and benefit of those who hate Him. What love is this! Without ignoring evil and hate, Jesus addressed these head on. He says to hateful sinners, “You and I both know your hatred for light and your love for evil, but I am committed to love you even unto death and to bring full reconciliation to our relationship.”

This is what love is… Jesus Christ is love personified.

May God make us to know this kind of love; may He grant that we would know this Savior who loves like no other, and may we love Him in return.

The Better Prophet

“Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house, if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope” (Hebrews 3:5–6).

In all religions, there is at least one prophet, a person through whom the revelation of spiritual things comes. Prophets speak the words of God, and they act as a kind of mediator, a link between God and people.

In the Old Testament, Moses was the greatest prophet. He was the one who heard and spoke God’s moral law (10 Commandments), the Levitical ceremonial law, and Israel’s civil law. Moses was also the one through whom God made provision for His people, rescuing them from slavery and feeding their hungry bellies. And yet, Moses himself prophesied that there would be a prophet who would eventually come after him. This subsequent prophet would also supplant the former, since Moses said, “it is to him you shall listen” (Deut. 18:15).

Jesus Christ is the supreme Prophet of God, for He is the word of God incarnate (Jn. 1:14). Jesus speaks the words of God with the authority of God because He is God! Additionally, Jesus is Himself the provision of God’s people, and He demonstrated His ultimate provision by meeting temporal needs. Jesus fed the hungry, healed the sick, and calmed the storms to make His real glory known. He is the self-existent, eternal God who gives true and lasting life to all those who trust and love Him.

May we find ourselves in His good care, and may we listen to the life-giving words of the better Prophet – Jesus Christ.

Words are Better than Miracles

Jesus said, “If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father” (John 10:37–38).

Jesus Christ did many incredible things during His earthly ministry. He healed the lame, fed the hungry, opened blind eyes, and even brought dead people back to life. The miracles Jesus performed tell us much about the character of God, since Jesus is God and the apex of God’s revelation to us.

And yet, these miracles were not an end in themselves. The work Jesus came to do is much grander than impermanent healing or astonishing food provision. In fact, Jesus’ miracles are often called “signs” because they are meant to point towards something else.

The miraculous signs Jesus demonstrated were always intended to compel the observer to hear Jesus’ words and to believe Jesus (Jn. 20:31). The words of Christ, and not His signs, are full of eternal life (Jn. 6:63); His words are truth (Jn. 17:17); His words are preserving (Jn. 8:51); His words cannot be broken (Jn. 10:35).

Still today, Jesus’ words are more substantial than His signs. We who believe are sustained and invigorated by the former – not the latter.

May we look to Christ, hear His word, and believe.

The Great I AM

“[Jesus] said… “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you, therefore, that you would die in your sins, for if you do not believe that I AM you will die in your sins” (John 8:23–24).

While many people claim that all religions are basically the same – various ways of aiming at purpose and morality – Christianity sets itself apart in no uncertain terms. Jesus makes the claim of deity; He demands that His hearers admit He is God.

Jesus clearly and emphatically claimed to be God in many ways, but one of the most dramatic ways He does it is through His “I AM” statements in the Gospel of John (example: Jn. 8:24, 58).

God revealed His name and essential divine character to Moses at a burning bush. God said, “I AM WHO I AM” (Ex. 3:14). This profound and mysterious passage is understood as a high point of God’s self-revelation, and Jesus claims the very same language for Himself. Jesus says He is “I AM” (Jn. 8:58), and He even makes clear the fundamental necessity of believing His claim (Jn. 8:24).

Whatever one may say of Jesus, one cannot say anything good of Him unless it is admitted that Jesus is, in fact, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In the famous words of C.S. Lewis, Jesus is a liar, a lunatic, or He is Lord (i.e. God Almighty).

Identifying Jesus in Mark’s Gospel

Mark, like the other Gospel writers, is very interested in conveying much about the identity of Jesus Christ. This is clear in his opening statement, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (1:1). While Mark is keen on his reader knowing Jesus’ true identity, he is also frank about Jesus’ disciples’ inability to understand accordingly. Only after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead did His disciples understand who Jesus really was and is.

Mark presents Jesus as a unique person from the beginning. Jesus is the “Son of God” (1:1), the “Holy One of God” (1:24), the “Lord of the Sabbath” (2:28), and more. Jesus is seen proclaiming the gospel of God (1:15), rebuking and silencing demonic spirits (1:21-28), commanding the stormy sea (4:35-41), and bringing a dead girl back to life (5:35-42).

All of this is designed to answer the question Mark tell us Jesus asked Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” (8:29). Peter rightly confessed, “You are the Christ,” and this is the same confession Mark desires his reader to make. Just as the Roman centurion proclaimed, after the death of Jesus upon the cross, Mark’s purpose is to demonstrate that Jesus was and is the Son of God (15:39; cf. 1:1).

While Mark is adamant about Jesus’ identity, he is also blatantly honest about Jesus’ disciples’ lack of understanding on this vital point. Mark repeatedly exposes the disciples as confused and ignorant.

When Jesus rebuked the storm, demonstrating His divine power and authority, the disciples feared and said, “Who is this?” (4:41). Just after Jesus miraculously fed more than 5,000 people with divine bread, Jesus walked upon the water and met His disciples in their boat on the sea of Galilee. Again they are described as fearful, and they are also said to lack understanding since “their hearts were hardened” (6:52). These are just two examples, but Mark does not paint Jesus’ disciples in any positive light on the matter of Jesus’ identity.

The fact is, apart from Peter’s famous confession (8:29), the only ones in Mark’s Gospel who perceive Jesus as the Son of God are the demons (1:24, 5:7), one of the Roman soldiers who watched Jesus die (15:39), and possibly the Greek/Syrophoenician woman who begged for ‘crumbs‘ from the Master’s table (7:28).

Nothing is more important than the identity and activity of Jesus Christ. Mark wants his reader to see Jesus for who He is and to believe or trust in Jesus. It seems that the reason Mark presented the disciples in such dramatic ignorance and confusion may have been to draw his reader’s attention to the absurdity of doing as they did.

It may be that Mark is artfully and skillfully saying, “See how bumbling and slow to understand these disciples were! Isn’t it obvious who Jesus is?! Don’t be like those disciples… Look! Understand! Believe! This is the Son of God!”

May God open our eyes to see, and may we trust ourselves to Jesus – the Son of God and Savior of sinners.

The Unsettling Jesus

Christians and non-Christians alike may envision Jesus as a social reformer, a passive resistor, or a gentle teacher. In a discussion about the biblical Jesus, there may well be room for these concepts, but this collection is far less than a complete view of the Jesus of the Bible.

The Jesus of the Bible is also quite biting in some of His remarks, calling some people “snakes” and others “sons of the devil” (Matt. 12:34; Jn. 8:44). The biblical Jesus is unbending in His judgments against sin (Jn. 4:17) and false worship (Jn. 4:22). The real Jesus is also expressively angry, literally threatening physical harm to those He opposed in the temple (Jn. 2:15-16).

The Jesus of the Bible (the real Jesus) is perfectly sinless and morally upright. He is also unflinchingly authoritative, and this is unsettling to our own sinful comforts. Jesus forces us to lose everything to gain Him – a winning exchange to be sure, but a painful one for those of us who are comfortable where we are.

“God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1:27–29).

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