The Ascension

he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father

 

In our study through the Apostles’ Creed, we have now covered the work of Jesus up to His resurrection. The miraculous incarnation set the foundations for the redemptive work of Christ. It provided the platform by which God the Son became a man and lived a sinless life. The crucifixion was the means through which redemption would come. Because Jesus did live a sinless life without blemish, He is the only human in history not deserving of death. Yet because of His great love for us, Christ died in our place, making atonement and propitiation for our sins. However, this atoning sacrifice would not have been proven effective if the resurrection did not happen. Paul is correct in saying that without the resurrection we should be most pitied of all men.[1]

Indeed, the resurrection is the cornerstone of the Christian faith. However, I believe that we often leave out one more step in the redemptive work of Christ: His ascension. Rarely have I heard sermons explicitly expounding upon the significance of the ascension of Christ. Too often we view the ascension as simply a historical fact for why Jesus is not on the earth right now, and we fail to see the significant theological implications and effects of Christ’s ascension to into glory. But the creed sets forth Christ’s ascension as an essential tenant of the faith; my aim, therefore, will be to give an account of the effects and the implications of the ascension of Christ upon the lives of His followers.

THE ACCOUNT OF THE ASCENSION

Our primary text from which we will springboard into other sections of Scripture will be Acts 1, verses one through eleven. This section of Scripture provides us with the clearest description of the actual act of Christ’s ascension; therefore, we will first look at some important aspects from this text before launching into the effects and implications of the ascension.

First, verse 3 tells us that there was a forty-day period of time between the resurrection and ascension, and during that time period, Christ spoke to them about the kingdom of God. It is important to note the patient love of Christ being reflected in this statement. We know from other Scriptures, which we will discuss later, that Christ was not fully glorified until He ascended. If we couple that fact with the severity of the humiliation received by Christ on the cross, one would imagine Him wanting to receive His full glory as quickly as possible. However, Jesus does not operate as we do; He was continuously selfless even after His resurrection. He stayed upon the earth another forty days, teaching and instructing His friends and disciples about the kingdom of God. Accounts such as Jesus’ teaching of two disciples while on the road to Emmaus give us an idea of what Christ’s post-resurrection/pre-ascension ministry must have looked like: revealing to them the great plan of salvation as fulfilled through Him.

Second, in verse 6 we see that the disciples, even after forty extra days of learning from Jesus, still did not understand fully the work that Jesus had done and was still going to do. Though Jesus taught them for forty days about the kingdom of God, they still could not stop focusing upon the kingdom of Israel. They longed to see the day that God would fully establish Israel as the chief nation upon the earth, with Christ as their king. However, this was not the intent of Jesus, at least for that time. Christ’s focus was, instead, upon the kingdom of God that would not only impact Israel but also Samaria and the ends of the earth. We know from elsewhere in Scripture that Christ will one day return as a ruling king to bring all of the earth under His submission, but such was not the plan during the days of the disciples.

Third, verse 9 describes the literal ascension of Christ into the heavens. Though some people today may find difficulty with this account of Jesus ascending into the clouds and vanishing, we cannot ignore that the gospel writers portray this event as concrete fact. Granted, there is a level of mystery to this verse. For instance, what exactly does it mean that a cloud took Him out of their sight? Since we know now that beyond our atmosphere is a massive cosmos, we assume that He did not physically ascend beyond the atmosphere but rather was taken supernaturally into the heavenly realm, which is beyond human sight. Nevertheless, since the ascension clearly involved the supernatural working of God, it is mysterious but true. We must take the ascension as clear, historical fact, just as Luke does here.

I GO TO PREPARE A PLACE FOR YOU

There is no doubt that Christ’s ascension would have naturally caused worry and sorrow among the disciples. We see some evidence of that fact in verse 10, where it appears that the disciples are awestruck because of having just witnessed the ascension of their Lord into heaven. Though of course, we read at the end of Luke that the disciples left the ascension rejoicing and worshipping Jesus. How are we to explain the reason for their joy, when obviously it was difficult for them to lose the physical presence of Jesus?

We receive part the answer in the first verses of John 14. At the end of chapter 13, Jesus spoke to His disciples about His departure from them.  Apparently, this disheartened them because Jesus begins chapter 14 by telling them not to let their hearts be troubled. He then proceeds to tell them that He will be going to His Father to prepare a place for them in His Father’s house. Throughout history, the Father’s house has been most commonly seen to be a reference to heaven, and I see no reason why it would not be so. Thus, Jesus is indicating that He would be leaving them prepare a place for them in heaven.

Now, we must be careful with this text because some might take it to mean that the reason for Jesus’ 2000-year delay is because He hasn’t finished preparing all of the rooms in heaven. That seems to be a ridiculously interpretation of this text. Instead, Jesus is using imagery of Jewish matrimony to describe His relationship with the disciples. At that time, it was common for the bridegroom to return to his father’s house following the couple’s engagement, where he would prepare an addition onto the house where he and his bride will live. Thus, Jesus is using this imagery to describe something of the result of His ascension into heaven: Jesus’ ascension into heaven prepared the way for us also to enter into heaven.

Too often, we read this text and are too focused upon what Jesus might be describing heaven to be like. In fact, I heard many people, on multiple occasions, declare that they cannot wait for their mansion in heaven. The problem is that they placed their focus upon the wrong part of the text. Jesus’ point here is that because He is going before the disciples, He will also return for the disciples. The emphasis is not about what heaven is like but rather that Jesus’ ascension to heaven is a guarantee of His bringing us into heaven. Just as Jesus is the first fruit of the resurrection, so His ascension guarantees our eternal home with Him.

But how did the ascension accomplish this? Hebrews 1 verse 3 seems to give us some indication. It claims that the act of ascension was Jesus “sitting down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” This means that the very act of Jesus ascending to heaven and sitting at the right hand of the Father was symbolizing the completion of His atoning work on our behalf. Praise God for the ascension, confirming the accomplishment of the cross and resurrection!

THE PRIESTLY INTERCESSION OF CHRIST

Having seen that Christ’s ascension serves as our guarantee of heaven with Him, we now turn to the second reason for the importance of the ascension: the priestly intercession of Christ. The task of explaining this role of Christ is far too great for this short sermon, but I will try to cover the overarching purpose for it. The priesthood of Christ is one of the great themes of the book of Hebrews so I strongly suggest rereading the entire book for a better understanding of this matter.

However, there are two great texts within Hebrews for viewing this matter. First, Hebrew 9:11-12 tells us that Christ, our high priest, entered into the very presence of God (not simply the man-made Holy of Holies, found within the temple), bringing before God the sacrifice of His very blood to make propitiation for our sins. The weight of this sacrifice was so great that He only needed to make one ascension into the holy place and only needed to offer that one sacrifice in order to secure “an eternal redemption.” This is the significance of speaking of only one act of Jesus ascending, He did not need to do so repeatedly. There was no need for Christ to repeatedly enter into the holy place. His sacrifice was sufficient.

Still the high priestly work of Christ does not end there. Though obviously there is major and primary significance in the mediatorial work of Christ through the presenting of His blood on our behalf, such does not completely encapsulate the intercession of Christ for us. The final two verses of Hebrews 2 also gives us insight into the continuous high priestly work of Christ. There, the writer of Hebrews portrays Christ as being a high priest that relates to us and is merciful upon us. Since Jesus is fully man as well as fully God, He is able to be a sympathetic high priest. This means that Jesus’ work is also to continuously aid in our sanctification by petitioning the Father on our behalf.

THE GLORIFICATION OF CHRIST

The third effect of the ascension that we will consider is the glorification of Christ. We know, especially from texts such as the Christ hymn of Philippians 2, that the end result of Christ’s humility unto death was the exaltation and the glorification of Christ; however, we rarely view the ascension as having such an integral role in the glorification of Jesus. Verses 20-22 of the first chapter of Ephesians provided a clear link to these two concepts. Paul states here that following the resurrection Christ was seated at the “right hand in heavenly places” (the ascension) and that from this seat He is far above all powers and authority. The act of Christ ascending to the right hand of the Father is the very act of placing all other things under His feet. The ascension proclaims that Christ is Lord and that all things are in subjection to Him.

However, with this discussion also comes the question of why do things appear to be outside of the control of Christ. After all, if Jesus is truly as exalted as the New Testament describes, why does everyone not yet proclaim Him Lord over everything? The answer is simply within the word “yet”. Things do not always appear to be under Christ sovereign rule for now, but there will come a day when we will finally see every knee bow before Him and every tongue confess that He is Lord to the glory of God the Father! Thus, the ascension of Christ is both the proclamation of His present glorification at the right hand of the Father and also of His future glorification as every creature in existence declares Him to be Lord.

THE SENDING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

For the final effect of the ascension, we turn our attention once more to the main text of our study: Acts 1. The ESV divides these first eleven verses of chapter one into three paragraphs. Found within each of those paragraphs is a concept that is key not only to understanding the significance of Christ’s ascension but also for understanding the nature of the Christian life as a whole: the Holy Spirit. The third person of the Trinity is the mentioned often in this text because He is of absolute importance.

The first paragraph tells us that the power through which Jesus accomplished His entire earthly ministry was through the Holy Spirit, and since that is the case, the next two paragraphs are utterly astonishing. In verses 5 and 8, Jesus confirms to His disciples His previous promise of the Holy Spirit being given to them. This means that the disciples were ordered to wait for the very same power that empowered Jesus’ earthly ministry. Luke goes so far as to imply that, through the Holy Spirit, the work of the apostles in Acts would be the continuation of the ministry of Jesus Christ! This should give us an entirely new depth of meaning when we call the church the body of Christ. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, we are meant to be the physical presence of Jesus in the world, even today.

Jesus gives emphasis to the importance of the Holy Spirit whenever He tells the disciples that it was better for them that He was departing from them because then He would send the Holy Spirit to them.[2] This is an incredible statement. Surely, there are times when each of us would love to be able to speak to Jesus face to face, to be able personally to be His disciple, yet Jesus Himself tells us that having the Holy Spirit is better.

Why is this so?

It is because the Holy Spirit dwells within us. The Holy Spirit is God Himself inhabiting our bodies just as the presence of God once occupied the temple in Jerusalem. This should be an incredible thought for any believer that God would choose to dwell within us! This Spirit within us is the “guarantee of our inheritance.”[3] He is the One by whom we are able to call God our Father. We also learn from Romans 8 that He makes prayers on our behalf to the Father, since we often do not know how to pray as we ought. In short, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential for the life of the believer. We simply cannot live the Christian walk without Him.

CONCLUSION

Finally, brothers, after we have seen the astounding effects of the ascension of Christ, upon both Jesus Himself and every believer in His name, we must give question to how they shape and mold our everyday lives. First, if we claim that Christ is the glorious treasure of our lives, do our hearts show to be with Him? Are our hearts within Him in His heavenly realm, where He has prepared the way for us to go?

Second, if He has truly ascended into heaven in order that we might forever dwell with Him, do we long for such? Do we long to be eternally with the infinitely glorious Christ in never ending worship of His supremacy and majesty?

Third, or perhaps do we look too longingly for the His return? Are we like the disciples who stood looking at the sky, seemingly in wait for His immediate return? Or will we in true obedience serve the Lord and make Him known since His return can come at any time?

Fourthly, since we are given the Holy Spirit to continue the work of Christ, how seriously are we taking that work? Are we faithfully going to the ends of the earth to carry the name of the Jesus, the ascended and glorified Christ?

Finally, if we have seen that the ascension is evidence of Christ’s completed work, do we trust in that completed work? Do we have full reliance in Jesus for our salvation, knowing that our greatest works are worth nothing at all?

We believe in the risen Christ, who ascended into heaven and is now sitting at the right hand of the Father as our ruling King and merciful High Priest.

Do you believe?

 

[1] 1 Corinthians 15:19

[2] John 16:7

[3] Ephesians 1:14

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The Resurrection

On the third day he rose again

 

Having now addressed Jesus as the eternal Son of God who became flesh and was crucified for our sins, we now come to His resurrection. For Jesus’ first disciples, this event was significant enough to shift their weekly worship from Saturday (the Sabbath Day) to Sunday (which they then called the Lord’s Day). Indeed, we continue today to gather every Sunday morning to celebrate and worship Jesus as our risen Savior and Lord.

Like the crucifixion, the resurrection of Jesus fixes itself as a central matter of the Gospels. All four give an account of His rising to life. Why is this? Why is the resurrection an essential doctrine of Christianity? If His death atoned for our sins, why must we also believe that Jesus rose to life?

To quote Augustine, “He [Jesus] showed us in the Cross what we ought to endure, He showed in the Resurrection what we have to hope.” No better word exists to describe the glories of the resurrection than hope, an eager and expectant faith in what is still to come. In this study, we will see that the resurrection is our trustworthy, living, and eternal hope.

OUR TRUSTWORTHY HOPE

First, we must see that the resurrection vindicates Jesus. Throughout His ministry, Jesus made audacious claims about Himself.

He declared Himself to be the Son of God, which the Jews clearly understood to be a claim of being equal with God (John 5:18).

He claimed that He was eternally existing with the Father (John 17:5).

He used God’s holy name for Himself. One of the most notable examples of this occurs at the end of John 8 after the Jews question how Jesus could claim to have seen Abraham. Jesus responds by saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (8:58). Such a statement was a direct reference to the God’s self-declaration to Moses in Exodus 3.

He claimed the authority to forgive sins. Once again, this was a claim of divinity since all sin is a direct offense against God and must, therefore, be ultimately forgiven by God.

He called Himself the Son of Man in direct reference to the figure in Daniel 7:13-14 who is “given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him.”

He stated that He would destroy and rebuild the temple (which was dwelling place of God’s presence among His people) in three days.

He claimed that Moses, the prophets, and the Scriptures all pointed to and centered around Him. In John 5:39-40, Jesus declared, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” Then in verse 46, He claimed: “For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me.”

Given all these claims, Lewis made the argument that Jesus could only be one of three things:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. …Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.

The resurrection is perhaps our greatest confirmation that Jesus was who He said He was. In addition to these many claims, Jesus also prophesied repeatedly about His death and resurrection. He warned His disciples beforehand what would occur in order that they would remember His words later and believe.

And that is exactly what happened.

Upon His crucifixion, Jesus’ disciples scattered, fleeing for their lives. Yet after He rose from the grave, they each suffered horrific deaths because they would not cease proclaiming Jesus to be their risen Lord. The force and authority of these Galileans to reshape the Roman Empire could have been easily stopped if a body could have been found by the Roman authorities. Yet they could not.

But, you may ask, couldn’t the disciples have just hidden or burned Jesus’ body in order to say that He had risen? For what purpose and gain would the disciples have created such an elaborate hoax? For the vast sums of wealth that they received from those who converted to Christianity? Indeed, there is little indication that the Apostles were ever shown much more than suffering, rejection, and poverty throughout the remainder of their lives.

Furthermore, what influence or power would lying about Jesus’ rising have given them? Like Jesus Himself, they also became despised and rejected by men, the refuse of the world.

And how would they have bribed the more than five hundred people who claimed to have also seen the resurrected Jesus?

Indeed, the best and most reasonable assumption would be that these disciples saw the reality of Jesus as the Christ, as the Lamb that was slain and yet lives now and forevermore. The resurrection, more than the volumes that could have been written on the miracles and signs of Jesus, was and still is the greatest proof that Jesus was everything that He claimed to be, that He was the only Son of God. This is our trustworthy hope.

OUR LIVING HOPE

Second, the resurrection is essential because it presents to us a living Savior. Jesus not only died for our sins; He also now lives to forgive our sins. He did not simply shed His blood; He lives still to apply it for our redemption.

Too often, we can subtly begin to view Jesus as an especially important historical figure. We may affirm His resurrection, but subconsciously we don’t think of Him as being still alive today. Perhaps we consider Him as more of a purely spiritual being who returned to heaven and listens to our prayers. While it is true that the Father and the Spirit are spirit and not flesh, Jesus has eternally incarnated Himself. His resurrection did not, therefore, undo the incarnation. His body came back to life in a glorified state. He was certainly different as His interactions with the disciples reveal, but He is still flesh and blood. He ate with His disciples and allowed Thomas to touch His wounds. And He is still physically alive today. He is alive and in the flesh at the Father’s right hand.

Upon this living hope hangs our justification. After all, Paul wrote that Jesus “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25). The resurrection is proof of our justification since it verifies Jesus’ substitutionary atonement for our sins upon the cross. It is our tangible evidence of the Father’s acceptance of Jesus as a sacrifice.

Indeed, so necessary is Christ’s resurrection to our redemption that Paul declared:

And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. (1 Corinthians 15:14-17)

Without the resurrection of Christ, we are still in sin. Without Jesus’ triumph over death, the atonement is incomplete. Returning to our point about Jesus’ vindication, if Jesus stayed dead, we are then lying about God and His works. We are claiming that God has offered redemption when He has not. To lie about the resurrection would be adding misrepresenting God to our ever-growing stack of unforgiven sins.

But Jesus did not stay dead. He rose on the third, living now to be “the mediator of a new covenant” with His own “sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Hebrews 12:24). Recall that Abel’s blood called out to God for vengeance upon Cain, and rightfully so. Jesus had even more right than Abel to call for vengeance, since He was slain not by His own brother but by those whom He created, and yet His blood cries out for forgiveness instead. In fact, Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, is now our living high priest who forever lives to usher us into the most holy place by His blood. Through Christ, we can now “draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

This is glorious news! With Christ as our living high priest and mediator, we have unhindered access to the Father’s throne to receive mercy and grace from His hand. Indeed, the only hinderance we face is our own pride. The hymn speaks truly when it says, “Oh, what peace we often forfeit / Oh what needless pain we bear / All because we do not carry / Everything to God in prayer.” To our own harm, we pridefully remain prayerless, choosing instead to handle our own problems. May we come to understand the hope and confidence that we have in Christ so that we would revel in the joy of being able to speak to God as our Father. Let prayer never be a religious duty upon our backs but rather a marvelous privilege granted to us by our Lord.

Furthermore, let us obey the summons of Paul in Colossians 3:1-2, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” Our minds must also enter into the holy place of God. We do this by meditating upon the Word of God, by pondering it day and night.

These two actions form the means of our communion with God, which has now been renewed by the death and resurrection of Christ. Therefore, let us speak to God in prayer, and let us listen to Him speak through His Word.

OUR ETERNAL HOPE

Third, by the resurrection sealing our redemption, it reveals the hope of our own resurrection. Paul’s treatment on the necessity of Christ’s resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 is directly bound to the importance of our resurrection. In fact, Paul’s argument is that one necessitates the other. Without the resurrection of the dead, then Christ could not have been raised. If Christ was not resurrected, then we are without redemption. Our bodily resurrection is the capstone of our redemption; without it, our redemption is incomplete. And without our resurrection, as Paul says, “then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (15:18-19).

There is a growing trend to make Christianity an exclusively earthly religion. Somewhat mistaking the Christian faith for secular humanism, they argue that we must focus solely upon this life and leave whatever may then come to God. Such a view is as profoundly unbiblical as the gnostic rejection of the physical. Do not allow valid differing theories of how the end will come to dissuade you from the reality that it will come. We will be resurrected like Jesus was resurrected.

This resurrection will differ from Lazarus’ rising, since he died again. Our resurrection will be, instead, to eternal life. We will be given new life, forever to live in a new creation. Such a re-creation is necessary since the Fall broke the cosmos. All of creation has been groaning for new life, to be remade.

And Jesus is the first fruit of that coming joy. His resurrection is a constant reminder that we too will be resurrected. Just as Jesus’ perishable body was raised into an imperishable one, so too will ours be. This is the swallowing up of death in victory, the destruction of its sting.

Interestingly, Paul concludes 1 Corinthians 15 with verse 58, which says, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” Biblical hope is never purely futuristic. It always provides fuel for present obedience. Such must the resurrection be for us. Since the resurrection of Christ has already sealed our resurrection, since the end of our story has already been written, therefore we must be unyielding in our work for Christ in this life.

What is the work of the Lord? More than anything else, it is the final command He left to His people: to make disciples. Indeed, such joy overflowed from the Apostles upon seeing their risen Lord that they could do nothing else. They could not cease speaking of the wondrous reality that had occurred before their very eyes. God Himself had taken on flesh, died in their place, and risen to life that they might live as well. How could they contain such good news within themselves! Likewise, the glorious reality of the resurrection must propel our evangelism and discipleship.

In doing so, we must guard ourselves from treating Christ as just another preference among many available. This is the temptation of our secular age, as Alan Noble warns. We can so easily begin to view Christianity as merely one of many valid ways of seeing the world. Of course, we may not consciously declare other beliefs to be legitimate, but practically that is how we live. Ever so subtly, we have begun to take the secularism bait of making belief systems a choice of the individual alone, and the result is that we live as though following Jesus is merely one path to life and fulfillment.

But the reality of Jesus’ resurrection destroys that thinking. If the Gospels are true and Jesus is who He says He is, then Jesus is truth. Not a truth. Not one of many. He is truth itself, and there is no other. This must be the nature of our work in proclaiming Christ. The only option that Jesus gives is to either follow Him or reject Him. His call through us is to take up a cross, to live a crucified life, to die daily, but also to know Him who is eternal life.

This labor will not be in vain. Jesus has already risen in victory, and one day we will be raised with Him. One day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord. Until that day, we proclaim, steadfast and immovable, that the risen Christ is the way, the truth, and the life.

Do you, therefore, believe that Jesus rose to life on the third day? Do you believe in the reality of His resurrection? Do you believe that Jesus is alive today as the mediator between you and the Father? Do you believe that Jesus’ resurrection guarantees your resurrection, and are you joyfully sharing this eternal hope with others?

We believe in Jesus Christ, the crucified Son of God, who rose to life on the third day, triumphing once and for all over sin, death, and the grave for our redemption.

Do you believe?

The Crucifixion

suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.

 

Bruce Shelley opens his account of church history with this statement: “Christianity is the only major religion to have as its central event the humiliation of its God.” Indeed, it is no small fact that all four Gospels give extensive time and detail to the suffering and crucifixion of Jesus. If the Gospels, therefore, provide the very center of the biblical narrative and if the passion of Jesus Christ is the central event of the Gospels, then those dark days must be the most significant in all the Bible (and, thus, all of history). Paul affirms this by calling the word (or message) of the cross the very power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18) and claiming to know nothing among the Corinthians except Jesus crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2).

THE SUFFERING OF CHRIST

We must remind ourselves regularly of the death of Christ for our sins, yet we must never glance over the fact that Jesus suffered either. His death via crucifixion was not a pleasant or peaceful one. It was bloody, vicious, and sickening. Jesus suffered. He anguished and agonized.

Rome maintained its vast empire by having roads to quicken travel and by using the cross to discourage rebellion. The cross perfected wholistic torture. The body suspended upon raised planks of wood by nails driven through the person’s hands and feet. The scourging preceding crucifixion would rip skin and flesh to shreds, causing the condemned to lose enough blood to induce hypovolemic shock as their heart strained to provide enough blood to the vital organs, which would begin to ache with the strain of maintaining life. This trauma would cause fluid to build up in the lungs so that breathing could only be done by pushing against the nails in the feet. Between the constant lack of oxygen, the splinters digging into open wounds, and nails grinding against nerves, the cross punished more than the body; it broke the mind, the spirit, and the soul. After being suspended naked for all to see, the dead body would be thrown into the landfill, reminding everyone that this person had become nothing more than garage to be disposed of.

This was the suffering, the passion, of Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord.

The addition of suffering under Pontius Pilate into the Apostles’ Creed is significant. Pilate was the Roman prefect who governed over the province of Judaea from 26-36 AD. This subtly reminds us of the historical reality of what we believe. Jesus is not a myth. He is not a fanciful tale in line with the work of the Brothers Grimm. Jesus lived. He existed. He walked this earth two thousand years ago. He was executed by the command of Rome, the empire that continues to influence us today. The historical reality of Jesus is clear. The Gospels are themselves historical records of Jesus’ life. This Jesus suffered, was crucified, died, and was buried.

Next, the creed tells us that Jesus descended to the dead or, as many translations read, to hell. There are three primary views as to what is described here. First, it can be viewed as adding emphasis to what was already stated, that Jesus really died. He did not swoon or sleep; His body lay in the grave lifeless. Second, we could read it as Jesus descending into the holding place of the dead, a kind of limbo. This is typically coupled with the belief that Jesus went to liberate the Old Testament saints from their place in Abraham’s Bosom and bring them into the presence of the Father. Third, it can be viewed as Jesus descending into hell, the place of torment for our sake.

1 Peter 3:19 is a text that inspires this phrase, which states that Jesus “went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison.” Also Psalm 16:10 reads, “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption”, which Peter explicitly applies to Jesus in Acts 2:31. Sheol, it should be noted, is the Hebrew equivalent of Hades, since both can mean the grave in abstract and the holding place of the dead.

Which then is the correct understanding? We can’t say. Such things will remain a mystery to us in this life. While none of the interpretations are heretical[1], I would encourage us to hold to the first. It is crucial to Christian orthodoxy that we believe that Jesus really died, and anything beyond that can too easily dive into dangerous speculation.

THE NECESSITY OF ATONEMENT

Now that we’ve addressed what the creed says about Jesus’ crucifixion and death, we must now ask the question: Why? Was the cross really necessary? Behind this question lies the necessity of atonement, which is the idea of repairing or satisfying a wrong that has been committed. While church history has produced numerous theories for how Christ’s suffering and death atoned for our sins, all Christians must agree that Jesus did atone for our sins by His crucifixion.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures” (15:3). The death of Jesus as reparation for our sins is of “first importance” to the Christian faith. This truth cannot be negotiated or removed without the entire message of Christianity collapsing into pieces. Jesus came to give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). Without faith in the atoning death of Christ, one cannot truly be a Christian.

What then does it mean to believe in the atoning death of Christ?

First, a proper understanding of sin is required. Many branches of Christianity debate the extent of sin’s corruption, yet every Christian must acknowledge that our sin has severed our communion with God beyond repair. Our active choice to disobey the Most High removes us from His presence and eternal life in Him.

Further, we must also affirm our own inability to undo the effects of sin. We reject Christ’s death as being merely an example for pointing us down the path for reuniting with God. Such a stance views Jesus as nothing more than a spiritual guru showing us the way. It forces Christianity to become Western Buddhism. But Jesus did not come to make us enlightened; He came to restore our lost communion with the Father. We were utterly incapable of crossing the chasm between us and God caused by our sin, but Jesus did that very thing for us. Therefore, every Christian must recognize that “Christ died for ours sins in accordance with the Scriptures.”

The theory of penal substitution, I believe, gives the most encompassing view of how the Scriptures present Jesus’ payment of sin[2]. For instance, Isaiah 53 is one of the clearest teachings on the crucifixion, even though Isaiah lived 700 years before Christ. Verses 4-6 could almost serve as a definition of penal substitution:

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Our sin is an act of cosmic treason against God. Therefore, each sin requires a just retribution by God. To do anything else would make God unjust. Jesus, however, gives Himself in substitution for us. This is what is meant by penal substitution. Jesus took the penalty of our sins upon Himself, satisfying the justice of God.

Or we could simply quote the words of Isaiah once more, “he was crushed for our iniquities.”

Unfortunately, some argue that this view of the atonement is nothing more than divine child abuse. Indeed “it was the will of the Lord to crush him” (v. 10), but the Father did not send Jesus as an unwilling sacrifice. As said already, Jesus came to give Himself as a ransom for us. Furthermore, Jesus claimed, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep… No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:11; 18). The plan to rescue us from our sins was a deliberate and loving act of the Triune God.

Why then did Jesus suffer the humiliating death on a cross?

To offer Himself as a substitute for us, to save us from our sins.

Second, we must also believe in the sufficiency of Christ’s atonement. Multiple times, the author of Hebrews tells us that Jesus died once for all of our sins, often contrasting the crucifixion with the Levitical sacrifices of the Old Testament. Unlike those sacrifices that needed to be made constantly, Jesus’ blood fully and completely paid the penalty of sin. If you are a follower of Christ, this means that He has already pardoned every sin that you have committed, are committing, or will ever commit. He cleansed it all in one horrific sacrifice upon the cross. This means that our best efforts to work off any guilt over our sin is, in reality, an act of scorning the cross. To attempt covering up sin on our own is effectively a declaration that Jesus’ death was not enough. It reflects a false view of the gospel.

A CALL TO COME AND DIE

How then are we to respond to the crucifixion of Christ?

In Matthew 16, after telling His disciples that He must suffer and die, Jesus then teaches them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (v. 24). Notice that this is a blanket proclamation for all of His disciples, even us today. Whoever wants to follow Jesus must deny himself, grab a cross, and follow Him.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously summarized this by saying, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” He goes on to explain that while some followers of Christ may be called to a martyr’s death, every Christian is called to die to self. Following Christ means the denial of self, the crucifixion of self. Yet from this death comes new life in Christ. As Paul told the Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (2:20). The Christian life, therefore, is very much a new birth, a death and resurrection. Our new lives are now marked by following Christ.

But how are we to follow Christ? What does being His disciple look like? More than any other factor, I would argue that a disciple of Christ is in love with His Word. Donald Whitney affirms this by stating, “No Spiritual Discipline is more important than the intake of God’s Word. Nothing can substitute for it. There simply is no healthy Christian life apart from a diet of the milk and meat of Scripture” (22). Indeed, this is because Bible is the inspired and collected writings of God Himself to us. It is the Bible that prophesied the coming of Christ and presents Him to us, crucified for our sins. The Bible gives to the teachings and commands of Jesus our Lord. In order to follow Jesus and deny ourselves, we must know what He has commanded of us. We must know the Scriptures. We must be saturated in them. To know and submit to the Word is the context for every step we take as we follow Jesus. We must daily crucify our wisdom and passions in order to abide in the wisdom and passion of Jesus our Redeemer. Many Christians will not suffer as martyrs, yet we are all called to unite ourselves to the suffering of Christ through following Christ instead of self.

Do you, therefore, believe that Jesus died for your sins? Are you following Christ? Are you denying yourself, crucifying yourself with Christ daily? Is your confidence entirely in Jesus’ finished work on the cross?

We believe in Jesus Christ, the God-man, who, suffered, was crucified, died, and buried as a substitute for us, paying the penalty of our sins. We, therefore, can never stop speaking of the wondrous cross of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Do you believe?


[1] Some may shirk to hear me claim that the view that Jesus descended hell as a place of suffering is not heretical. Word of Faith teachers have recently made this understanding so uncomfortable by explicitly claiming that Jesus needed to suffer in hell for our sins. This, of course, takes the focus away from the cross and is incredibly dangerous. However, the traditional understanding for this view by theologians like John Calvin is that descended into hell to “fight hand to hand the powers of hell and the terror of everlasting death” (Institutes, 251). This falls in line with one of the most popular theories of atonement: Christus Victor.

[2] This does not mean that the other theories of atonement are without biblical validity. Indeed, we should always strive to speak holistically about Christ’s atoning work. Just as Jesus is the propitiation for our sins, He is also our ransom from sin and the victor over sin.

God the Son

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord

 

The admiration of Jesus as teacher and philosopher is highly prominent within our increasingly pluralistic context. Even among those whose detestation for Christianity can barely be contained, many still maintain a respect for Jesus as a speaker of love and giver of mercy.

Sadly, this mentality is ever more bleeding into Christians’ understanding as well. Many today claim to follow and love Jesus, while rejecting any talk of doctrine or religion. Doctrine, they contend, divides, but Jesus unifies. Both statements are true, but not all divisions are sinful. Indeed, some unity simply cannot exist. To affirm Jesus as God means that we cannot be unified with Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses. Such divisions are necessary and even biblically commanded.

The stark reality is that Jesus was a teacher, and, since doctrine simply means teaching, Jesus taught doctrine. Teachers can only teach doctrine; it’s what makes them teachers. Jesus cannot be divorced from doctrine, and if we fail to view Jesus as He presented Himself, we will find ourselves following after an imaginary Jesus who often acts conveniently like we’d like Him to act.

As with the other doctrines, the Apostles’ Creed aims to condense the apostolic, biblical teaching of Jesus into a few easy-to-memorize phrases. Half of the creed will be spent upon the person and work of Jesus because He is the core of Christianity. As with our study of God the Father, we will address here the three statements made about Jesus within the first line of Article 2.

JESUS CHRIST

Christ is not Jesus’ last name; it is His title. It is the Greek version of the Hebrew derived title, Messiah. Both mean anointed one, so I will use them interchangeably. Throughout the Old Testament, God’s servants would be anointed with oil for particular tasks (i.e. David’s being anointed as king). The oil was a physical symbol of God’s Spirit being given to them in order to accomplish their purpose. In this way, David, as the anointed king of Israel, was a christ, a messiah.

Yet the Old Testament is also littered with prophesies that spoke of a coming king from David’s lineage. By the first century, this promised king was referred to as the Christ. The people of Israel awaited the Messiah, this Son of David, with great anticipation. In fact, Jesus (or Joshua, meaning the LORD saves) became a popular name by which the Jews expressed their hope and longing for God’s rescue from their oppressors.

Like in the first century, most Jews today still reject Jesus as being the Messiah because He did not accomplish the political revolution that they excepted. Yet the Gospels firmly assert that Jesus is the Christ. Mark’s Gospel begins by plainly declaring: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). In chapter eight, the center event of Mark comes when Jesus asks His disciples who they say He is. Peter responds by saying that He is the Christ (8:29). Jesus affirms Himself to be the Messiah in John 4 during His conversation with the Samaritan woman. Acts and the epistles declare this belief too by repeatedly referring to Jesus as either Christ Jesus or Jesus Christ.

But if Jesus’ disciples still believed that Jesus was the Messiah, why didn’t Jesus overthrow Rome and the other governments of the world? Although Jesus has promised to return again and establish His physical kingdom, His first coming was to free His people from a much greater threat than Rome. As the Christ, Jesus is the redeemer of humanity that was first promised in Genesis 3:15. He is the Serpent-Crusher who would destroy the power of sin in the world and free us from the curse of death. He came as the suffering servant, God incarnate, who died for the forgiveness of our sins (Isaiah 53) and to inaugurate the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31). To call Jesus the Christ, therefore, is to declare Him as the Savior, the defeater of sin and the mediator between God and man.

Thus, no one can believe in Jesus Christ without also believing in Jesus as Christ. Jesus cannot be received as a mere teacher whenever He explicitly claimed to give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). As the Christ, Jesus came to seek and to save the lost, to rescue us from our sins. Believing in Jesus Christ means looking to Him for salvation, for the forgiveness of our sins that we could never earn.

Yet there is also an implied belief in the Scriptures that is also necessary for believing that Jesus is the Christ. The Messiah, after all, was foretold by the prophets of old as recorded in the Scriptures; therefore, the very significance of the Jesus being the Messiah hinges upon God’s revealed Word. The Gospel of Matthew, particularly, structures itself as a direct continuation of the Old Testament narrative, and its many citations all show that is the promised Savior. Therefore, just as Jesus cannot be separated from His role as Savior, neither can we divorce Jesus from the Bible. He was affirmed by the Scriptures, and He affirmed them as well. To accept Jesus as the embodied Word means also accepting the Bible as the written Word.

GOD’S ONLY SON

Next, Jesus is called God’s only Son. Having studied God the Father last week, we already somewhat addressed Jesus as the Son. The same rationale applies here too. Since Jesus revealed Himself to be the eternal Son of the Father, Jesus’ sonship is a core component of His identity. Hebrews 1:1-3 affirms this with undeniable clarity:

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds all things by the word of his power.

As the Son, Jesus was the Word through whom the Father created the world, He is the visible and radiant display of God’s eternal glory, and He continues to uphold the cosmos with the sheer authority of His word. When Jesus is called the Son of God, these are the attributes to which the New Testament writers are pointing. Indeed, the Son is, as the Nicene Creed affirms with greater clarity, “the begotten of God the Father, the Only-begotten, that is of the essence of the Father. God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten and not made; of the very same nature of the Father, by Whom all things came into being, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible.”

Jesus has eternally been God the Son, and He will forever be God the Son, which, of course, means that we cannot know Jesus as the Son without also knowing the Father. Furthermore, Paul states that no one can confess Jesus as their Lord without the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3). Believing in Jesus, therefore, requires belief in the Trinity. It is not enough to believe solely in Jesus. Any who fail to believe in the triune nature of the Father, Son, and Spirit do not believe in Christ.

But believing in Jesus as God’s only Son has another glorious dimension for us as well. As the Nicene Creed clarified, we believe that Jesus is the begotten Son of God. He is the Son of the Father by being of the same essence as the Father. He is the Son by right, by the very nature of His being. Yet Hebrews goes on to describe the work of Jesus on the earth as “bringing many sons to glory” (2:10). By His suffering, Jesus brings His people to the Father as sons and as His brothers.

Consider the weight of this truth for a moment.

We were originally created to display God’s likeness. Although less glorious than the angels, we were given dominion over the earth and its animals. We were crowned with glory and honor by the Creator Himself, yet we threw His gifts back in His face. Like impulsive children, we broke God’s command, believing God to be a malicious and controlling dictator rather than a loving and selfless Father. When looking at the God’s fence of rules, we only saw our freedom being limited, not the busy highway on the other side.

But even when we learned evil by firsthand experience, we continued to sin, the Serpent’s lie still ringing in our ears, fueling our god complex. We, therefore, deserved death. We deserved judgment, the same that Satan and his angels received, condemnation without mercy. God, instead, chose to save us. To maintain His justice and righteousness, our sin required retribution, an eternal consequence since the sin was against the Eternal One. Rather than dooming all of humanity to damnation, God took our place. The Son, through whom the world was made, entered the world as a man. His sinless life ended on a cross, where He freely gave Himself to the grave in payment for our sins. Three days later, He rose back to life to triumph over sin and to give life to all those who believe in His name for salvation. We will spend the next five weeks walking through these elements of Jesus’ work because they are the very apex of all of history. Nothing else is more important than the truth that God died to save us. How could anything even come close?

The glory of this gospel is only magnified when we understand that God is not merely restoring us back to Eden, He is making things even better. In the garden, we were God’s stewards over the earth, His image. But now, in Christ, we are adopted as sons and daughters of God. God is not only the Father of Jesus the Son; He is also now our Father, since we have been made into co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17). This, in no way, negates the truth of Jesus being God’s only Son, since He is still the only begotten Son. We, instead, are adopted, brought into God’s family, chosen by the Father before time began.

In Christ and as God’s children, we are also being made into “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). This, of course, does not mean that we become gods, but it does mean that we are able to experience the eternal and glorious love of the Triune God, that we are given the very essence of joy and peace.

Believing in Jesus as the Son of God, therefore, means believing that He has made us into sons of God by His death and resurrection.

OUR LORD

Ben Myers writes:

Even before the ancient baptismal confession had taken shape, perhaps the earliest Christian confession consisted of just two words: Kyrios Iesous, “Jesus is Lord” (Rom 10:9; 1 Cor 12:3). That early statement remains the spiritual heartbeat of the baptismal creed. Everything else in the creed radiates like the spokes of a wheel from that hub: personal attachment to Jesus; total allegiance to him.

This confession was not a frivolous thing. It was, for the early Christians, a matter of life and death. Beginning with Caesar Augustus, who called himself the son of god, Romans began to worship the emperor as another one of their gods. Temples and statues for emperor worship were quickly established throughout the Roman Empire. Given that nearly everyone in the ancient world already worshipped many gods, adding another to their collection was no great burden. Christians, on the other hand, refused to worship anyone but Triune God. Nick Needham describes the consequence of this collision:

The authorities saw this as a serious political offence. Worshipping the emperor was a sign of loyalty to the Empire; to refuse was to be a traitor. The chief test of whether someone accused of being a Christian was a real Christian, was for the magistrates to order him to worship a statue of the emperor and say, “Caesar is Lord”—that is, Caesar is a divine figure, a god. A faithful Christian would refuse, because for him or her, “Jesus is Lord”, not Caesar. One could not worship both Caesar and Christ. (84-85)

To declare that Jesus is Lord is an affirmation of His deity. It is a declaration of His authority, His supremacy, His glory. If Jesus is Lord, no one else is (at least not ultimately), not even Caesar. If Jesus is Lord, we owe Him our allegiance and our very lives. To be a Christian means submitting to the will of Jesus. It means becoming His slave.

The lordship of Jesus has never been easily received by the world, and today is no exception. Individual autonomy has never been valued more highly (with the notable exception, of course, of beliefs that are believed to be inherently hateful towards others). We glimpse it clearly in the abortion debate, where many who call themselves “pro-choice” are beginning to give the honest acknowledgement that babies in the womb are alive. Yet they still hold to abortion as a right because the mother’s choice overrides any right to life that her unborn child might have. The mother’s lordship over her own body stands as an infallible doctrine or, rather, as one of the dogmatic hydra heads of the religion of self.

In The Great Divorce, Lewis argues through the mouth of George MacDonald that every person who rejects Christ essentially declares the words that Milton gave to Satan: better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven (71). We are, he claims, like children who choose to miss playing with our friends because we obstinately refuse to apologize. We are each locked in constant battle for lordship; we must either choose Jesus or self.

To declare ourselves as Lord is a rejection of Jesus and of joy. We maintain our claim of supremacy, but we do so at the expense of our enjoyment and satisfaction. We do not diminish the glory of God, only our ability to bask in it with Him. Giving all glory as Lord to Jesus furthers our joy because it images the Trinity. We are most like God whenever we give ourselves selflessly to Him and His people. This is how the last are made first, and the first made last. Clinging to our life only guarantees that we will lose it. In the sacrificial shedding of our life, we find true life in the Son of God who loved us and gave Himself for us. To empty yourself is to be like Christ, who emptied Himself for us and suffered the humiliation of death on the cross.

This is the way of Jesus, the narrow path of His kingdom. Humble yourself before Him and be exalted with Him, or exalt yourself before Him and be humbled by Him. There is no other way. The road forks here in two, and we each must choose. Jesus or self. Life or death. Wisdom or folly. Joy or misery.

To be a Christian is to proclaim, “Jesus is Lord”, to surrender ourselves fully into His hand. What we do, what we say, what we see, what we hear, what we taste, what we touch must all be done for the glory of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Nothing less will do. C. T. Studd, who left his life of wealth and privilege to “run a rescue shop within a yard of hell” by going to unreached places with the gospel, summarizes the entire message of this study well: “If Jesus is God and He died for me, no sacrifice I could make would be too great.”

Do you, therefore, believe in Jesus as Lord? Have you surrendered your life fully over to His lordship? Do believe in Jesus as God’s Son? Are you adopted by the Father through the substitutional death of the Son? Do you believe in Jesus as the Christ? Is your full confidence in Jesus as the defeater of sin and death?

All Christians believe in Jesus, who is the Christ, the eternal Son of God, and the rightful Lord of all.

Do you believe?

The Pilgrim’s Playlist

Come, Bless the LORD | Psalm 134

Come, bless the LORD, all you servants of the LORD,
who stand by night in the house of the LORD!
Lift up your hands to the holy place
and bless the LORD!

May the LORD bless you from Zion
he who made heaven and earth!

Psalm 134 ESV

 

The fact that this final psalm of the ascents is an invitation should cause us to pause for reflection. Come? Hasn’t the point of these songs been that we are already traveling?

Since the psalm seems to be addressed to the Levitical priests who watched over the temple by day and night, it would appear that this psalm is a form of benediction following a worship ceremony. This interpretation fits with the final trilogy of psalms as being a meditation on the pilgrim’s end of journey. Psalm 132 fixed our eyes upon the glories of worshipping God in Jerusalem, where He dwells with His people. Psalm 133 then meditated upon the beauties of that gathered group of worshippers being united as brothers. Now we receive the closing benediction and prepare to return to our homes, to Meshech and Kedar.

BLESS THE LORD // VERSES 1-2

Verses 1-2 are calling the Levitical order to continue their worship before God on behalf of His people. To show why this is important, we would do well to remember that the Old Testament had three main offices of leadership over Israel: kings, prophets, and priests. Kings exercised governing and ruling authority on God’s behalf. Prophets delivered the messages of God to His people. Priests brought the prayers of the people before God. Kings were God’s stewards, while prophets spoke for God to the people and priests spoke to God for the people.

The Levites were priests. God set their tribe apart, as holy, for the express purpose of being mediators between Himself and the people of Israel. This was a tremendously generous grace of God upon Israel. As the Creator almighty who dwells in unapproachable light, He owes no one the privilege of hearing their prayers, let alone forgiving their sins! Yet that is exactly what He did! He established a system by which the Israelites had assured access to their God. May we never forget the graciousness of God in establishing the Mosaic Law with Israel!

According to this system, the psalmist is calling the priests to continue offering the people’s worship before the LORD through the night. His is calling them to keep their hand lifted toward the holy place, a sign of devotion to the Holy One of Israel.

What then do we do with these verses?

In Christ, the Levitical priesthood has been dissolved. Although it was truly a grace of God, it was an imperfect system. One flaw was that the priests were themselves sinful men who were tasked with offering sacrifices for both themselves and other sinners. Another crucial flaw was the insufficiency of animal blood to cleanse human sin. Since animals were created to be under the dominion of humanity, they are of lesser value than human life. As such, they simply could never cover the eternal debt that our sins accumulate. The system relieved symptoms but was powerless against the actual disease.

Jesus, however, has abolished the Levitical priesthood, replacing it with a superior order. Hebrews spends a lengthy amount of time explaining how Jesus is now our great high priest, after the order of Melchizedek, and why exactly that is so important. The flaws of the Levitical system have been overthrown by Jesus’ perfect fulfillment. He is both a better priest and a better sacrifice.

As our high priest, Christ sits at the Father’s right hand, ready to intercede for us at all times. As a man, He sympathizes with our weaknesses, and as God, He is able to look upon God’s face and live since the Son is coequal with the Father. He is the only one truly qualified to be the mediator between God and man. Jesus is our great high priest.

But He is also the better sacrifice for our sins. Hebrews 9:22 says, “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” While the blood of animals was not sufficient to purchase the forgiveness of sins, Jesus’ blood is. Under the Mosaic Law, animals were continuously slaughtered only for the guilt of sin to still remain. Yet Jesus offered His blood as a sacrifice once of all. His is the perfect sacrifice, who is also our high priest.

Yet under Jesus’ New Covenant, the priesthood has not been entirely dissolved. Indeed, God’s plan for Israel as a nation is now being fulfilled by the church among all the nations of the earth: that God’s people would be a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). Peter makes this explicit: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (2:9).

So who are the priests, the servants of God standing by night in the house of the LORD?

We are.

We are the priests to God, and His house is now in us, as we discussed from Psalm 132. As living temples of God, our very lives are now temple worship. This is why Paul urges us to do everything for God’s glory and to use both our words and our deeds for the honor of His name. Worship must become the very fabric of our lives. By day and by night, with other believers and in solitude, we worship.

But how then are we to understand the commands of these verses toward us today?

First, remember that we experience a form of, or a taste of, our heavenly Jerusalem, whenever we gather together each week. So the first application I will give is to keep worshipping tonight… and tomorrow… and the next day. Don’t let worship be only when we gather together. Instead, use this gathering of other disciples of Jesus to strengthen your worship for the week ahead of you. Keep the spirit of worship with you and seek to do all things for God’s glory. In other words, keep your eyes upon and hands lifted toward the holy place. Keep God’s kingdom and throne as first importance in your life. Seek His kingdom above all things in all that you do.

Second, remember your priesthood. As disciples of Christ with the indwelling Spirit, we are Jesus’ physical presence on earth. We are God’s instruments for His work of the kingdom. We are, therefore, called to stand as messengers of heaven on earth. As lesser priests of God, we are tasked with pointing those around us to the great high priest. We are called to show Jesus to the world around us or, as Jesus said it, to make disciples of all nations.

By both worshipping God and calling upon others to worship Him, we bless God. This isn’t to say that we add anything to His holiness or greatness; instead, we bless God by giving Him the honor He rightly deserves. It is much like praying for God’s name to be made holy. God’s name is already holy; we are simply praying for that reality to be seen by throughout all creation.

MAY THE LORD BLESS YOU FROM ZION // VERSE 3

Verse 3 closes the psalm by reversing the imagery. The psalmist is no longer calling God’s people to bless the LORD; instead, he is praying for the LORD’s blessing upon His people. This is a powerfully fitting verse for the Songs of Ascents to conclude with. It is a prayer for the Creator of heaven and earth to bless individuals, to show favor toward His creatures. How flippantly we often invoke the blessings of God upon others, rarely pausing to consider the weight of that action. Too often we assume or even demand God’s blessing, when He sits in the heavens and does whatever He pleases. The blessing of God is no light matter. It is the very manna of heaven for our souls.

Yet also notice the place of the blessing: from Zion. May God bless you from the place of His gathered people, the place of His presence. Dear brothers and sisters, come to church expecting and anticipating God’s blessing and look for it among God’s people. More than that, come ready to bless, to be that very blessing for others. This gathering is a taste of the Zion to come, while also empowering and encouraging us to be miniature Zions to the world around us. As we return to Meshech and Kedar, to our exile in Babylon, we take Jerusalem with us. We carry God’s blessing as His priests, the living breathing kingdom of God, coming to earth. And we remember and long for the day when all other kingdoms fade away, when the glory of the LORD becomes our light, and when we form the glorified New Jerusalem upon the new earth as the collective people of God.

May God bless us, His people, from Zion.

May these Songs of Ascents keep our hearts tuned toward our heavenly home, even as we wander as pilgrims throughout this life.

The Pilgrim’s Playlist

The LORD Has Chosen Zion | Psalm 132

Remember, O LORD, in David’s favor,
all the hardships he endured,
how he swore to the LORD
and vowed to the Mighty One of Jacob,
“I will not enter my house
or get into my bed,
I will not give sleep to my eyes
or slumber to my eyelids,
until I find a place for the LORD,
a dwelling place for the Mighty One of Jacob.” 

Behold, we heard of it in Ephrathah;
we found it in the fields of Jaar.
“Let us go to his dwelling place;
let us worship at his footstool!” 

Arise, O LORD, and go to your resting place,
you and the ark of your might.
Let your priests be clothed with righteousness,
and let your saints shout for joy.
For the sake of your servant David,
do not turn away the face of your anointed one.

 The LORD swore to David a sure oath
from which he will not turn back:
“One of the sons of your body
I will set on your throne.
If your sons keep my covenant
and my testimonies that I shall teach them,
their sons also forever
shall sit on your throne.” 

For the LORD has chosen Zion;
he has desired it for his dwelling place:
“This is my resting place forever;
here I will dwell, for I have desired it.
I will abundantly bless her provisions;
I will satisfy her poor with bread.
Her priests I will clothe with salvation,
and her saints will shout with joy.
There I will make a horn to sprout for David;
I have prepared a lamp for my anointed.
His enemies I will clothe with shame,
but on him his crown will shine.

Psalm 132 ESV

 

Psalm 132 begins the concluding trilogy of psalms within the Songs of Ascents. Much like Psalms 120-122 seemed to provide meditations for beginning our pilgrimage to Jerusalem these psalms seem designed to urge us toward our journey’s end. Furthermore, Psalms 122 and 132 are similar in their intent to fix our eyes upon Jerusalem and God’s presence therein.

Psalm 132 can roughly be divided into two parts, verses 1-12 and 13-18. Verses 1-12 recollect God’s covenant with David with a declaration of worship and prayer to the LORD dividing the recollection into two parts. Verses 13-18 conclude the psalm by reflecting upon the promised blessings upon Zion as the dwelling place of God.

RECOUNTING THE COVENANT // VERSES 1-12

Verses 1-5 and 11-12 serve as a poetic retelling of the Davidic Covenant, which can be read in 2 Samuel 7. After establishing Jerusalem as the new capital of Israel, David realized that the ark of the LORD was still being held in a tent, whereas he dwelt in the palace of a king. Therefore, David made a vow to God to build a house for the ark. Even though God forbade David from building the temple himself, the LORD blessed his desire to serve Him by making a covenantal promise to David and all of his descendants.

Verses 11-12 then recount God’s pledge to David. Within this stanza of the psalm, we are given God’s response to David’s vow from verses 3-5. The LORD’s oath to David has come to be called the Davidic Covenant. In this covenant, God promised to build a house, a lineage, for David, giving to his descendants an everlasting kingdom.

Sandwiched between the retelling of the Davidic Covenant come verses 6-10. Within verses 6-7, we are given a description of the worshipper’s longing to find the presence of God. Verse 6 recalls the ark’s sojourning in the house of Abinadab. Ephrathah was the general region, and Jaar was the city where it resided. Therefore, the ark’s presence was rumored to be in Ephrathah, and they ultimately found it in Jaar. Verse 7 then is a cry to all of God’s people to travel to the ark to worship at the LORD’s feet.

Verses 8-10 then form a series of three petitions to the LORD. The first petition is for God and the ark of His might to enter His resting place. We might certainly imagine this verse being prayed as priests brought the ark into the temple under the reign of Solomon, although it also could refer to Josiah’s return of the ark to the temple. The second petition asks the LORD to clothe His priests with righteousness and to let His saints shout for joy. The third petition asks God not to turn His face from His anointed one for David’s sake. Each of these petitions will be answered by God in verses 13-18.

THE LORD HAS CHOSEN ZION // VERSES 13-15

Now that we have surveyed the first section of the psalm, we will explore how the main ideas from those verses are brought together within these final ones. Having meditated upon God covenant with David and being resolved to worship the LORD at His resting place, he concludes by reminding us that God has chosen Zion for His home among His people. The LORD declares in verses 14-18 five promises.

First, He declares Zion to be His eternal resting place. This promise still stands today, but Jesus has rebuilt the temple and the city. Today, through the sacrificial death of Jesus, God’s presence is now no longer manifested in the ark or within any temple made by men. Instead, the people of the LORD have become His temple. Upon Christ’s death, the curtain that sealed the Holy of Holies was torn in two. Since we have been purified in Christ alone, God no longer dwells with His people; He dwells in them. This is true from the least to the greatest, and it is the spiritual guarantee of what will one day be made a physical reality: that communion with God has been restored. The gospel, therefore, is not simply good news that we are forgiven of our sins; rather, it proclaims that the dwelling place of God is with man. God now dwells within His people. We are God’s temple. The church, God’s people, are now the spiritual Zion, which is why I believe that New Jerusalem in Revelation is symbolic for our glorified state with Christ.

But even though God now dwells within His people, worship is still no less communal. Jesus promised to be in the midst of His gathered disciples. We, therefore, believe that, while worship encompasses the entire life of a Christian, something special happens when we gather together. Mike Cosper says it like this:

It’s no small thing to realize that when a Christian shows up, God shows up. “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16).

So when the church gathers, it gathers as a collection of people in whom God dwells. God inhabits the gathered church because these scattered worshipers are all temples, who together make a greater temple. (Rhythms, 79)

God is present in the gathering of His people. While it is sufficiently stunning to consider God inhabiting His people, the LORD also says that He desired it. Yet it is a joy that we often neglect.

The neglect of the ark was a dark season for Israel. The LORD graced them with a physical representation of His presence, yet they squandered it. For about twenty years, it remained in the house of Abinadab, until David brought it into Jerusalem, back to the heart of God’s people. How easy is it for us to do the same? Should we not be in eager anticipation of meeting the LORD? Shouldn’t we urge one another to come gather with us to worship God? Too often, I fear that we encourage each other to gather on Sunday out of necessity, obligation, or even guilt. What if, instead, we longed to encounter God in the midst of His people and, from the overflow of that zeal for God’s glory, joyfully invited others to join us?

May we guard ourselves from ever similarly neglecting the supreme importance of worship. May we never place God upon the outskirts of our lives; instead, let us enthrone Him upon the very center of our heart that everything we do would flow from our life of worship.

Second, He promises to abundantly bless the provisions of Zion and to satisfy her poor with bread. Once again, we see that this promise is fulfilled for Christ’s followers today. Even if we might persecution and poverty in this life, God has granted us everything that we need in Jesus Christ. Like Paul, we know the secret of being content with much or little because we have found Christ who is all in all. Even if we hunger for physical food, Jesus is Himself the Bread of Life, and if we thirst, He is the Living Water.

Unfortunately, our sluggish desire for worship often stems from our perceived lack of need. Michael Horton gives an example of this:

When the plague spread across England between 1348 and 1350, the Church of England called for periods of intense prayer and fasting. But in the 1990s, in response to the HIV/AIDS crisis, the Church of England called for more government funding for medical research. We tend to think that shifts like this derive merely from explicit intellectual attacks on a “Judeo-Christian worldview,” but even those of us who do affirm orthodox Christianity divide inwardly between praying for our daily bread and knowing that it’s always there at the grocery store. It’s not merely that our beliefs have changed, but that our way of believing has shifted away from assuming a world “with devils filled” but where God is our “mighty fortress.” Now we must become masters of our own destiny, keeping dangers at bay by our own collective and calculative reasoning. Even if God plays a role, it is a supporting one, helping us to achieve “our best life now” (23-24).

We would do well to remember the Beatitudes of Jesus, particular as they are listed in Luke 6. The poor are blessed because the kingdom of God is theirs. The hungry will be satisfied, and the weeping will laugh. But the rich, the full, and those laughing receive woes from Christ. Such statements aren’t unfair on Jesus’ part; they’re simply truthful. If you currently possess your best life now, then it’s only downhill from here. But if you yearn for more than this world can provide, you will find in the face of Jesus Christ for all eternity.

Third, Zion’s priests will be clothed in salvation and her saints with shouts for joy. In Christ, we are now both priests and saints. We are a kingdom of priests who have each been clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ as our salvation. We are saints because God has set us apart as His holy people for His own possession.

Indeed, our salvation is our joy. We have been rescued from the just penalty of our sins by the very one whom we offended. God has delivered us from death by the death of His Son, and we are now His people. As the priests of God, we are also now called to invite others to enter into Christ’s kingdom.

Fourth, a horn will sprout for David. One primary theme of this psalm is God’s favor toward David, which begs us to take a few moments to explore. The psalm begins by asking God to remember His favor toward David. He pleads for David’s sake for the LORD to keep His face upon the anointed one. And, of course, the whole structure of the psalm is recounting God’s oath to David.

Throughout the Scriptures, David is presented to us as a model servant of the LORD. Like Abraham, Moses, and the others, David was far from perfect, yet the Bible repeatedly appeals to God’s favor upon David and his lineage. This psalm is no different. Although we cannot say for certain when it was written, we can clearly conclude that it was composed after the lifetime of David. Whether the psalmist wrote it in light of Solomon dedicating the temple, during the restoration of Jerusalem after the exile, or at another point in Israel’s history, the psalmist is calling upon the LORD to continue showing his favor toward David and his nation even in the present day.

Why did God show so much favor upon David?

As we see in these verses, David desired God’s glory above his own. The psalmist recites David’s vow to find a dwelling place for the LORD before he ate, slept, or returned to his own house. Zeal for the glory of God marked the entire life of the shepherd-king. When facing Goliath, David confidently trusts that the LORD would grant him victory over the one who defied the armies of the Most High. When Saul chased David into exile, David was given multiple opportunities to kill Saul, but he allowed the LORD to undo His anointed one. Perhaps the zeal for God’s glory is what made him a man after God’s own heart, since God Himself is zealous for the exaltation of His name.

Before we continue further, we must pause and consider: are you like David? If you have not repented of sin and believed the good news of Jesus Christ, I pray that today you would be like Abraham, who when he saw the LORD passing by, begged Him to stay. Like David, do not eat or rest until you have become a dwelling place for the Creator of all things.

Yet for all the favor of David, Jesus is this anointed one, which is the meaning of the title, Christ, after all. He is the horn of David. Peter confirms this during his sermon in Acts 2:

Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. (Acts 2:29-32)

Ultimately, David was only a type and shadow of Jesus. Christ is the better David. Like Moses, God showed favor toward David as a servant, but Jesus has the favor of being God’s only begotten Son, as the author of Hebrews says:

Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God’s house. For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) 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 3:1–6)

Like Moses and David, we are being built into the household of God, and Jesus is the builder of the house. His glory is far greater than David’s glory, and yet Christ is not ashamed to call us His brothers, to make us co-heirs with Him. If, therefore, the psalmist boldly prayed for God’s promises to be fulfilled for David’s sake, how much more are we able to petition God’s throne for Jesus’ sake.

Fifth, the enemies of David’s descendant will be shamed while His crown shines. This verse encapsulates the end of all things. One day every enemy of Jesus Christ will be put to open shame, even as His crown shines with His glory that gives life to the remade cosmos. Christ will reign supreme as king over all creation, and we shall be His people.

The purpose of these final promises and of the psalm as a whole is to meditate upon the goodness of God as He dwells with His people in Jerusalem. Now, under the kingship of Jesus, God is shaping us into that heavenly city, or as Paul said, “In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22). God has chosen to dwell among His people. He has desired it, and we respond with shouts of joy. For the sake of Jesus, the Son of David, let us worship God both individually and corporately as Zion, His resting place forever.

Jesus Rejected in Nazareth | Luke 4:14-30

And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.

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.” And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘“Physician, heal yourself.” What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.’” And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away.

Luke 4:14-30 ESV

 

The Gospel of Luke was written by Paul’s companion, friend, and physician, who sought to compile “an orderly account” of Jesus Christ. Thus far in the book, Luke has been informing us of Jesus’ birth, the ministry of John the Baptist, and Jesus’ baptism and temptation in the wilderness. Within our present text, Luke begins to describe the earthly ministry of Jesus. Particularly he begins by describing how Jesus’ hometown, Nazareth, received His claim of being the long-awaited Messiah.

JESUS BEGINS HIS MINISTRY // VERSES 14-15

Following the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, He returns to Galilee in the power of the Spirit. This power was evident to all who encountered Him since we are told also that a report of Him spread throughout the surrounding country. The ministry of Christ would be relatively brief, only about three years, and yet this man from Nazareth would irrevocably change the world. Significantly, that impact was felt from the very beginning of His ministry. Many leaders claimed to be the Messiah throughout the years, but Jesus alone had the power of God to reinforce His claim.

The focus of Jesus’ ministry is also important to note. We tend to think first of His many miracles and healings, yet Jesus will explicitly state those to be of secondary importance at the end of this chapter (4:43). As an itinerant minister, Jesus would travel from town to town, teaching the Scriptures within their synagogues. Teaching God’s Word was the primary focus of Christ earthly ministry, and as we will continue to see, people were just as amazed by His teaching as they were by His miracles. This is crucial for us to understand. The miracles and healings of Jesus were always intended to affirm His words and message; they were never an end unto themselves. They reinforced the gospel He preached and pointed toward our true healing from the disease of sin.

It is also worth noting, especially given the events that transpire in the following verses, that the working of the Spirit always causes a reaction. The initial reaction to Jesus’ teachings were positive: “being glorified by all.” But this will not always be the case (see verses 22-30 below). When the Spirit empowers the proclamation of the gospel, a reaction, even if a subtle one, is guaranteed. We will either respond in repentance, glorifying Christ, or we will scorn God’s message, rejecting His Son. But a reply must be made. No one can remain neutral to the Spirit’s movement.

SCRIPTURE FULFILLED // VERSES 16-21

I’ll be honest: this is one of my favorite passages in all the Gospels. Picture the scene with me. Jesus, being about thirty now (3:23), returns home from being publicly baptized by John the Baptist (the most divisive religious figure at the time) and from spending forty days fasting in the wilderness alone. Perhaps rumors had already spread about God’s voice breaking through the opened heavens after John immersed Jesus in the Jordan. Maybe the Nazarenes had also heard stories whispered of Jesus’ unusual birth, of shepherds and foreign kings worshiping an infant. But this was Jesus, the son of Joseph the carpenter. And Nazareth was nothing but a blip on the map. With a population of probably around 400 people, who would ever believe that the Messiah could come from Nazareth anyway?

So as Jesus sat in the Nazarene synagogue to teach, He saw faces that both grew up alongside Him and watched Him grow from a boy into a man. They were familiar in the utmost sense of the word. Jesus knew them, and they thought that they knew Him. As He was handed the scroll of Isaiah, maybe they were excited to hear what message this newly revealed prophet would bring to them. What new revelation would He teach them about God?

But Jesus simply reads Isaiah 62:1-2 (while also quoting Isaiah 58:6). Rolling up the scroll, He assumed the authoritative teaching position by sitting down. With glued eyes, they awaited His message, and He speaks: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

It is difficult for us to grasp just how audacious Jesus must have seemed to His fellow Nazarenes.

Joseph’s son, Jesus, is here in the synagogue, saying that He is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s words!

How ludicrous!

Sure, Jesus may have possessed an uncanny understanding of the Scriptures, but to think that they prophesied about Him would be ridiculous! Right?

And yet this is what Jesus presents to His hometown, to the people who have known Him all of His life. In no uncertain terms, He claims to be the Messiah, the Anointed One of God, the Son of David, the Prophet like Moses, the Seed of Abraham, the Serpent-Crusher whom God promised Adam and Eve to send into the world. He asserts to be the One at the center of God’s very Word.

Remember, this is the same Jesus who was most likely still doing regular contract jobs just a few months ago. Now, however, He is claiming to be the fulfillment of the ancient and sacred prophesies.

PHYSICIAN, HEAL YOURSELF // VERSES 22-30

What would you think of Jesus if you were one of the Nazarenes?

It is far too easy to stand in judgment upon biblical and historical figures from the high ground of hindsight. The hard reality is that most of us would have reacted exactly the same way as Jesus’ neighbors did in these verses.

Verse 22 is quite interesting because it reveals the internal conflict within the people’s minds. On one hand, they couldn’t keep from marveling at the Jesus’ words, but on the other hand, they simply couldn’t excuse the fact that Jesus was just as ordinary as any of them. After speaking one sentence, the words of Jesus have already created turmoil within His hearers’ hearts.

Jesus responds to their turmoil by addressing the biggest question in their minds: would He perform some miracles in Nazareth like He did in Capernaum? By citing the proverbial statement “physician, heal yourself”, Jesus is exposing what the people are actually hoping for. Already they are scheming about how Jesus’ status might be leveraged to benefit their town.

But Jesus refuses. To lend weight to His refusal, He reminds them of miracles from the ministries of Elijah and Elisha where Gentiles were blessed instead of God’s people, the Israelites. This, of course, only makes them murderously angry with Jesus. But even though they attempted to stone Him, Jesus escapes from their hands, which in verse 30 seems like a miraculous event.

But why did Jesus refuse to perform a miracle in His hometown?

Wouldn’t it have been easier to humor them for a bit in order to prove that He was the Messiah?

Jesus knows the hearts of all men. They did not have a holy fascination and amazement with Jesus as we often find throughout the Gospels. They were not, by faith, eagerly longing to learn by a sign or wonder whether Jesus was truly the Messiah; instead, they were demanding proof from Jesus. The difference may appear subtle, but in reality, it is vast. Countless times, Jesus comforted the brittle faith of those who hoped beyond hope that He was the Savior, but He refused to play the game of those who presumed to have the right to judge His messianic ministry. After all, the scribes and Pharisees likewise asked for a sign, but Jesus rejected their request as well (Matthew 12:38-39).

Perhaps authority is the key. Those of weak faith (like the man who cried, “I believe. Help my unbelief!”) cast their weakness upon the mighty feet of Christ. They received mercy because in their failings, they looked to the One who cannot fail. They acknowledged Jesus’ authority as the Messiah. The Nazarenes here (like the Pharisees elsewhere) presumed to have authority over Jesus. They were prepared to judge the authenticity of His ministry themselves. Jesus refused to indulge such prideful arrogance.

This mentality is still present today as many still view themselves to be the proper judge of Jesus’ credibility and authenticity. They refuse to acknowledge the lordship of Christ, claiming to need more proof in order to believe His assertions. Once again, I’m not talking about humble questioning, broken doubting, or genuine truth-seeking but instead a thinly-veiled refusal to see Jesus as lord until He meets one’s standard. Sadly, many heresies were born in attempt to assuage such lofty hearts. Often these heresies revolve around someone questioning or blatantly rejecting a portion of Scripture, to which the heretic responds by reinterpreting or wholesale dismissing the offending passage. The root heresy is the presumption of being Scripture’s arbiter. Like Jesus, we must always be ready to comfort and answer the doubting, broken, and confused, but, also like Jesus, we must never fall for the lie that Jesus or His Word must be subject to the scrutiny of unbelieving men.

Of course, the irony is that in their anger to stone Jesus to death He appears to miraculously escape by passing through the crowd. Thus, a sign was given to them after all. It was a sign of judgment upon their heads. A sign that they were neglecting the great salvation of God because they simply could not believe that Jesus was actually the Messiah.

All of this should make us marvel anew at Isaiah’s words about Christ: “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (53:2). Such was Jesus’ humanity. Those among whom Jesus was raised could scarcely believe that someone as ordinary as Jesus could actually be the promised Messiah. Obviously, they sensed deeply that something was profoundly different; otherwise, they would not have been spellbound by Jesus’ teaching. Yet His plainness was so evident that it became a stumbling stone for His neighbors.

Living in the Bible Belt can kind of feel like Nazareth sometimes. Jesus is so cultural that it’s almost like living in His hometown. Everyone’s heard His name. Almost everyone thinks that they know Him. But also like the Nazarenes, most think He is a good guy with some wise and godly words to say, but He’s not their Lord. He’s not their Messiah. He’s not their Savior. As back then, so too today Jesus refuses to yield. He refuses to play the game of cultural Christianity. He refuses to be judged by arrogant eyes. He refuses to cure those who obstinately declare themselves to be well.

And He passes onto the next town.

May we face Jesus fully and truthfully, not according to our own terms, but as He presents Himself in the Scriptures. May we elevate Him as the Messiah who has and will fulfill every prophesy foretold. May we hear His words and respond by clinging to His cross for salvation. May we never be like Nazareth.