The Kingdom of God

Matthew 6:31-33 “Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

What is the kingdom of God? Jesus talked about the kingdom of God more than anything else. Surprisingly, he never specifically defined it.

His mostly Jewish audience would have understood the kingdom of God from the Old Testament. Unfortunately, many Christians today do not understand the kingdom of God even though it is the central theme of Christ’s teaching. If we are to seek it first, we must understand what it is, using scripture as our guide.

The Importance of the Kingdom

Matthew 4:17 “From that time Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”

From the day he began his ministry until he ascended into heaven, Jesus preached this message everywhere: “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” Jesus highly valued the kingdom of God and compared it to a treasure in a field or a pearl of great value that a person would sacrifice everything to obtain (Matthew 13).

Christ’s view of the kingdom of God was deeply eschatological in nature. In places like Matthew 24, Luke 21, and Mark 13, Jesus went into detail about the end of the present age and the beginning of a new, messianic age in which the messiah (meaning “anointed king”) would overthrow the governments of the world and rule as the king over the entire world forever. Almost all of Christ’s parables deal directly with this vision a final judgement that is coming soon to the earth (see Matthew 25:1-13, Matthew 22:1-14, Matthew 25:14-30, Matthew 20:1-16).

The Prophets Envisioned the Kingdom

Daniel 7:13-14 “I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one Which will not be destroyed.”

Identifying himself as the messiah whom Daniel had prophesied about, Jesus took upon himself the title “Son of Man.” In a verse often quoted at Christmas, Isaiah also prophesied about the messiah receiving a kingdom and power:

Isaiah 9:6 “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders”

The prophets foresaw a coming messianic age in which the messiah would rule over the whole world and establish peace on the earth.

Isaiah 2:4 “And He will judge between the nations, and will render decisions for many peoples; and they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they learn war”

Isaiah 60:18 Violence will not be heard again in your land, nor devastation or destruction within your borders; but you will call your walls salvation, and your gates praise.

In this messianic age, there will even be peace in the animal kingdom.

Isaiah 11:6 “And the wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little boy will lead them”

Knowledge of God will fill the earth.

Jeremiah 31:34They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

Habakkuk 2:14 For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.

Rather than the sun, God himself will be the light of the world.

Isaiah 60:19 “No longer will you have the sun for light by day, nor for brightness will the moon give you light; but you will have the LORD for an everlasting light, and your God for your glory.

Everything Wrong Made Right

Revelation 21:3-4And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.'”

Revelation 22:1-5 Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever.

We see all of the Old Testament prophesies about the kingdom of God beautifully fulfilled in Revelation 21-22, which is a vision of the age to come when the messiah rules the world. Comparing Revelation 21-22 (the very end of the Bible) to Genesis 1-2 (the very beginning of the Bible), the parallels are amazing. What God originally intended the beginning is what he gets in the end!

In the beginning, God created the earth “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Prior to sin, there was no death, disease, crying, or pain. God dwelled on the earth with man, walking and talking with man in the garden (Genesis 3:8). It was only after they sinned that Adam and Eve hid from God and felt ashamed. Sin caused a separation between God and man. Because of sin, the earth was cursed (Genesis 3:18). This curse affected the whole world and brought about thorns and thistles infesting the ground, disease infecting the world, and unrest in the animal kingdom.

But there’s good news: God has not given up on the earth! He is a God of restoration who has a plan to make what is wrong right. We see in Revelation 21-22 that in the end, God will get what he wanted in the beginning. Sin will be no more, and man’s relationship with God will be fully restored. God will once again dwell on the earth with man – “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them” (Revelation 21:3b).

The tree of life will be restored (Revelation 22:2) and “there will no longer be any curse” (Revelation 22:3a). In fact, there will be “there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4b).

The kingdom of God can be summed up in this one simple sentence: Everything wrong with the world made right!

God’s Covenants with Abraham and Isaac

Genesis 12:1-3 “Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

The story of the kingdom of God begins with Abraham. God called Abraham (originally named Abram) to leave the land in which he was living and travel to the land of Canaan, which God promised to give to Abraham and his descendants forever. From Abraham would come a kingdom that would last forever.

Genesis 13:14-15 “The LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, ‘Raise your eyes now, and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever.'”

God later extended the territory to include all the land of Cannan.

Genesis 17:8 “And I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now an alien, all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding; and I will be their God.”

God’s covenant with Abraham was renewed with Isaac, the son whom God had promised to miraculously give to Abraham in his old age.

Genesis 26:2-5 “The LORD appeared to him and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; stay in the land of which I shall tell you. Sojourn in this land and I will be with you and bless you, for to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath which I swore to your father Abraham. I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give your descendants all these lands; and by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; because Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws.”

God’s Covenant With Moses

Isaac’s son Jacob (later renamed Israel) became the father of twelve sons from whom came the twelve tribes of Israel and the “Israelites”. But there were some bumps in the road. The rest of Genesis explains how the Israelites ended up in Egypt rather than Canaan, the land that had been promised to them. In the next book, Exodus, God calls Moses to free the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and lead them to the promised land.

God made a covenant with Moses. If the Israelites kept the commandments, they would possess the land forever and be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation:

Exodus 19:5-6a “Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

God’s Covenant With David

The Israelites entered the land and took possession of it. Their first king, Saul, eventually turned away from God. But their next king, David, was “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14, Acts 13:22). God made a covenant with King David in which he promised that one of David’s descendants would reign as the king over the whole world for all eternity!

2 Samuel 7:12-13 “I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.”

In Jeremiah 33, God tied this promise to the sun and the moon – as long as the sun and moon continue to rise, this promise can never be broken.

Jeremiah 33:25-26 “Thus says the LORD, ‘If My covenant for day and night stand not, and the fixed patterns of heaven and earth I have not established, then I would reject the descendants of Jacob and David My servant, not taking from his descendants rulers over the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But I will restore their fortunes and will have mercy on them.’”

Bumps in the Road

The Israelites eagerly awaited the promised king who would rule forever. But once again, there were bumps in the road. Israel became divided into a northern kingdom (Israel) and a southern kingdom (Judah). Then, the divided Israel faced serious threats from foreign nations.

First, the Assyrians invaded and conquered the northern kingdom of Israel, which accounted for ten out of the twelve tribes. Then, the Babylonians invaded Judah and took the remaining two tribes into exile in Babylon. At this point, the Temple lay in ruins and the Israelites no longer possessed any of the land.

But God was faithful. In a verse frequently quoted out of context, God promised that the Babylonian captivity would only last for 70 years, and after that, the Israelites would return to the land:

Jeremiah 29:10-11 “For thus says the LORD, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.’”

Sure enough, the Persians conquered Babylon and allowed the Israelites to return to the land of Canaan. But it was a still a rocky road. Under Alexander the Great, the Greek Empire conquered Israel and occupied the land. Under the leadership of Judas Maccabeus, Israel was briefly re-established during the Maccabean Revolt, which is commemorated every year in the celebration of Hanukah. But it didn’t last, and the land eventually fell to the Roman Empire.

The Messiah They Didn’t Expect

At the time of Christ, the land of Israel was under military occupation by the Romans. The Romans were polytheists with no respect for the one true God. Roman soldiers could force Jews into slavery by making them to carry gear for up to one mile.

It is in this historical context – a context of oppression and despair – that the Christmas story takes place. The Jews eagerly awaited the fulfillment of God’s promise to David – the soon coming king who would overthrow the Roman Empire and rule the world forever. This is why Matthew and Luke both open their gospels with long genealogies. They may seem boring to us, but they are actually incredibly exciting because they prove that Jesus is both a descendant of Abraham and a descendant of David, and therefore eligible to fulfill the prophecies.

Jesus identified himself as the Son of Man whom Daniel had prophesied about, but his approach to establishing the kingdom of God was totally opposite of what most people expected. The Jewish zealots were expecting a military leader like Judas Maccabeus who would liberate Israel by military force. Jesus, on the other hand, taught nonviolence: “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Rather than fighting the Roman soldier who could force you to carry his gear for a mile, Jesus said to carry it for two miles (Matthew 5:41) and if a soldier slaps you on the cheek, “turn the other to him also!” (Matthew 5:39).

The Jews expected the kingdom to be established by military force, but Jesus said: “do not resist an evil person” (Matthew 5:39) and “all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52).

Most shockingly of all, Jesus was crucified. To the Jews of that day, it seemed totally unimaginable that the promised king who was supposed to rule the world forever would be executed on a stake. But this had all been prophesied (e.g. Isaiah 53) and was part of God’s plan. Understandably, it was a hard truth to accept. Thus, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:23, “we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews”.

Sin had to be atoned for so that all people – including non-Jews – could enter the covenant promises that God made to Abraham, Moses, and David. Paul declares in Romans 9-11 that, like wild branches grafted onto an olive tree, we too are now counted as descendants of Abraham through our faith in Jesus Christ. This means that all of the promises God made about the kingdom now apply to us! The kingdom promises are received not through ancestry or ritual (e.g. circumcision) but through faith and love.

Galatians 5:6 ESV “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.”

The Kingdom Lifestyle

Luke 6:20-26And turning His gaze toward His disciples, He began to say, ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven. For in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets. But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full. Woe to you who are well-fed now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets in the same way.

The ethics of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7, see also Luke 6) make absolutely no sense, unless you view them in light of the kingdom of God as a soon coming reality.

For Jesus, it was okay to suffer injustice in this present age because he foresaw a soon coming kingdom in which everything about the present world would be flipped upside down. “The last shall be first, and the first last” (Matthew 20:16).

In the present world, it is the rich, the powerful, the popular, and the happy who everyone considers blessed. But in the coming kingdom, the poor, the lowly, the despised, the weeping and mourning, the humble, those hungering and thirsting for justice – these are the ones who are blessed (Matthew 5, Luke 6)!

Jesus began his public teaching with the radical words: “Blessed are the poor… blessed are those who weep… blessed are you when men hate you” (Luke 6:21-22). He foresaw a coming kingdom in which the poor, hungry, and persecuted would receive blessing, but the rich would be “sent away empty” (Luke 1:53).

The ethics of Jesus are directly tied to this vision of the kingdom of God. He will judge his followers on whether they helped the poor and needy: “to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me” (see Matthew 25:31-46).

For Jesus, the kingdom of God flips the world upside down.

Mark 9:35b “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all”

Mark 10:44 “Whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all”

Count the Cost: The Good News of a Challenging Gospel

The kingdom of God is everything wrong with the world made right. It is good news, but it is also incredibly challenging. It’s good news because there will be no more death, pain, sin, or evil when the kingdom comes. It’s challenging because seeking the kingdom means denying one’s self, taking up one’s cross, and following Christ. This is not a decision to be taken lightly. Jesus warned us to count the cost before we even begin to follow him.

Luke 14:27-33 “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.”

There are many false gospels in the world. We must always stay focused on the true gospel that Jesus preached: “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). Jesus was not introducing a new idea when he preached the gospel. Actually, he preached the same gospel that the Old Testament prophets preached when they foretold of an everlasting Kingdom that will be established on the earth with justice, peace, and righteousness forever.

In a world filled with war and terrorism, we have the hope that a king is coming who will establish peace on the earth forever (Isaiah 2:4). In a world filled with death and sorrow, we have the hope that a king is coming who will throw death into the lake of fire and destroy death and sorrow forever (Revelation 20). We share this message with others through words that tell them about the kingdom of God, and through actions that show people what the kingdom will be like by meeting real needs in the world with the love of Christ. “Let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action” (1 John 3:18b).

As ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20) and citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20) we represent the kingdom to the world by being peacemakers and demonstrating the radically sacrificial love that Jesus demonstrated – we love enemies, turn the other cheek, and forgive the unforgivable (Matthew 5-7). This kind of lifestyle is considered radical in the present day world, but it will be commonplace when the kingdom of God comes. By living it out, we represent the kingdom on the earth until it is fully established in the future and all evil is eliminated.

The kingdom message is both good news, and a serious challenge. It is good news because it promises everything wrong with the world will be made right. It is challenging because it demands repentance and obedience to Christ. In the same way that Jesus warned people to repent before the kingdom comes (Matthew 4:17), we should also preach repentance, “speaking the truth in love” (Epehsians 4:15).

The kingdom message is the gospel. The word “gospel” means “good news”. The gospel message is the message that the kingdom of God is coming, that Jesus – the king of the kingdom – is coming back to rule the world. It’s the hope that anchors our souls (Hebrews 6:19) so we can endure the challenges of this present evil age and shine as lights in a dark world (Philippians 2:15).

  • 0

Inner Peace: Where Does it Come From?

Philosopher, scientist, and Christian apologist Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) observed that “all of man’s miseries come from him not being able to sit still in a quiet room alone.”

Give a dog a bone to chew on and a warm fireplace to curl up beside, and it’ll be perfectly content. Give a cat a scratching post and a sunny windowsill, and it’ll be perfectly at peace. But give a man everything he could ever want, and he will eventually grow restless.

Unlike animals, humans desire meaning and purpose in life. We realize that we will soon die, and we long for our lives to somehow have lasting value. We have countless physical, mental, and emotional needs that need to be met. We want to leave a lasting legacy and have peace knowing that we somehow actually mattered in the grand scheme of the universe.

The World’s Way

The world constantly takes advantage of our restlessness. Every day, hundreds of advertisements tell us that if we only bought this product, if we only took this class, if we only made more money, if we only looked more attractive, etc., then we would find peace and fulfillment in life.

Too many people buy into this consumerism, spending their whole lives pursuing money and material possessions. Many people work multiple jobs in an effort to make more money, even if it means sacrificing quality time with their spouse or children. Exhausted, stressed out, and burdened down with many possessions, their health deteriorates. Finally, having achieved the “American dream,” they retire, thinking, “finally, I will have some peace in these last few years of my life.” But, never having invested in anything of lasting value, never having spent enough time with their children, and not knowing what to do with all the money they made, they only find emptiness.

This is not a new phenomenon. In the Book of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon tried it all (there is nothing new under the sun!). Searching for meaning and fulfillment in life, he pursued every pleasure, amassing great wealth for himself, building huge gardens and parks, and marrying 700 wives. To this day, the Pools of Solomon – an impressive collection of ancient swimming pools believed to have been built by the king himself – stand three miles southwest of Bethlehem. Solomon had it all – wealth, women, and political power. But nothing ultimately satisfied his desire for meaning in life. He was “chasing after the wind.” In the end, his inevitable conclusion was: “Meaningless! Meaningless! Everything is meaningless!”

The Dalai Lama put it this way: “Man sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices his money to recuperate his health. He is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present. He lives as if he is never going to die, and then he dies, having never really lived!”

The world’s way is a lie. The things of this world never ultimately satisfy. That’s why many of the world’s wealthiest individuals are also the most depressed.

It Is Well With My Soul

Horatio Spafford (1828-1888) was a devout Christian and father of five. In 1870, his only son died of pneumonia at the age of four. In 1871, he lost all of his investments in real estate when the Great Chicago Fire decimated the city.

Crushed by financial hardship, he planned to take his whole family to England to visit Christian evangelist D.L. Moody. But delayed by a business meeting, he had to send his wife and four daughters ahead of him. He received a telegram informing him that their ship had collided with another vessel in the middle of the Atlantic, killing 226 passengers including all four of his daughters.

Travelling to England alone, he asked for the ship to stop momentarily over the very spot where his daughters had drowned. At that moment, he wrote down these words

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,

When sorrows like sea billows roll,

Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,

It is well, it is well with my soul.


Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,

Let this blest assurance control:

That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,

And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

In the midst of such incredible tragedy, how could Spafford say, “It is well with my soul?” Compared to the world’s way, Spafford had a radically different, countercultural mindset. He had taken up the yoke of Christ and surrendered everything into God’s hands.

My Yoke is Easy

In contrast to the world’s way, Jesus tells us to lay down the burdens of this world and take up his yoke. He says in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.

The world laughs at this. The world asks, “How could the yoke of Jesus be easy when Christianity is filled with so many rules?” Many people walk away from Jesus for this very reason. “I don’t want to be a Christian,” they say, “because if I were a Christian, I couldn’t have sex outside of marriage, I couldn’t look at pornography, I couldn’t get drunk, I couldn’t do this, that, and the other thing.”

But none of these things ultimately satisfy! In fact, in the long run these things only add to our feelings of emptiness, meaninglessness, and worthlessness.

Being yoked to the world is like being attached to an ox that is pulling you backwards in the wrong direction. Although you can see inner peace and contentment on the horizon, you can never quite get there no matter how hard you struggle, because the ox next you is constantly pulling you back.

In contrast, being yoked to Christ is like being attached to a strong ox that keeps you moving in the right direction even when you are too weak to carry on. His yoke is easy!

The God-Shaped Hole

C.S. Lewis wrote that every man has within him a “God-shaped hole.” We try to fill it with so many other things, but only God can fill that void.

Once we believe that “God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Romans 8:28) we can finally have inner peace because we learn to rest in the sovereign God of the universe. We can have peace in the good times, and we can have peace in the bad times, because we know that in both good times and bad times God is working to bring about his purposes.

Our own desires, plans, and purposes have little lasting meaning in the grand scheme of the universe, but HIS purposes have eternal value. HIS purposes are far better than anything we could ever ask for or even imagine (Ephesians 3:20), and HE is working out HIS purposes through us! When we surrender everything to HIM, we finally have peace inside, knowing that everything is in God’s hands, and God will ultimately work everything out for good.

In the words of Augustine, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.”

True inner peace can only be found in a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

  • 1

Rethinking Church: Division vs. Unity

People, Not Buildings

In John 17, Jesus prayed that his church would be one in the same way that he and the Father are one. So why is there more competition between Christian denominations than there is in the Superbowl playoffs?

I believe the problem is a failure to understand what church is, stemming from an emphasis on buildings, institutions, and doctrines rather than people. Many people believe church buildings are special, holy places, and whenever they walk into a church building they immediately feel closer to God. Some people even think that they can only communicate with God inside of a particular building. And yet the same God who feels so present to us in church on Sunday morning is equally present with us on Monday morning. The same God who feels so present in a cathedral is equally present in a landfill. He never leaves us or forsakes us, but we so easily take our focus off of him.

For many, church is only a building. If they don’t like one, they can go to another. Church becomes a fad, even a form of entertainment. They can “shop” for various churches without ever becoming committed or building relationships with any specific group of believers. This church-shopping mentality fuels competition between congregations rather than uniting them in the common purpose of Christ.

In the Bible, the word “church” is translated from the Greek word ekklēsia (Strong’s 1577), literally “called out” as in a community of people called by God. In the Bible, church is not a building, but a group of people who make up the body of Christ (Ephesians 1:22-23, 4:15-16; 1 Corinthians 12) by doing the work of Christ in the world.

The people are the church, not the building. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, church is not a place you go to once a week, but a commitment to follow Christ that you live out each and every day. You are the church!

One Body

There are many manmade “denominations” in the world, but there is only one body of Christ. Every individual who follows Jesus as Lord is a member of the body of Christ, regardless of their denomination, location, age, race, gender, nationality, language, or culture. Jesus is building up a Kingdom of people from “every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). He is doing away with all ethnic, linguistic, and cultural barriers by uniting his followers into one body. And yet we still allow the smallest things to divide us.

I can only imagine how much it grieves the Lord Jesus Christ when petty arguments over theology cause division in his church, and when minor disagreements cause believers to cut off relationships with one another, and even hate one another.

Part of Paul’s message in 1 Corinthians 12 is that every member of the body is important. He writes, “The eye can never say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you.’ The head can’t say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you.’” Every member of the body is vitally important. And yet, the global body of Christ currently lies fractured in a million pieces over theological quibbles.

With ten fingers, I can accomplish a difficult task.

If I’m missing even one finger, I will struggle.

If I’m missing several fingers, it may be almost impossible.

Just as I need all ten fingers in order to work most effectively, so the body of Christ needs all of its members in order to carry out the work of Christ most effectively. It is vitally important for all members of the body to work together in unity. And when Paul talks about unity in the body, he isn’t just talking about unity among individual believers, but also, in a broader sense, unity between different church congregations. Even the first century believers had differences and disagreements over theology. And yet, they recognized that the core gospel message they held in common was far more important than any minor difference in theory or practice.

Iron Sharpens Iron

Certainly, correct doctrine is important, and we should openly discuss biblical and theological matters in a spirit of good fellowship, “as iron sharpens iron.” And yet, how many denominations have split over the most trivial issues? Doctrinal disagreements divide the body of Christ, often inhibiting or even destroying the work of Christ in the process. Our focus should be on the core truths we hold in common, not the less important issues we might disagree about.

I once heard a true story about a group of Christian missionaries who traveled to a third world country together on a missions trip. They came from very different denominations, and during the plane ride they got into a major theological argument. This argument was so bad that they felt certain they would not be able to work together once the plane landed.

But when the plane landed, they discovered the situation on the ground was much worse than they had anticipated. There had been a major flood and many people had lost their homes. The missionaries immediately jumped in and began working together to help build shelter for the homeless, provide food for the hungry, and get medical attention for the injured.

As soon as they got busy doing the work of Christ, their theological differences no longer seemed to matter.

We cannot allow our faith to be merely theoretical, based on only on endless study and debate of theological ideas, but with no accompanying action. It took a catastrophe of epic proportions to wake these missionaries up to the reality that in a world with billions of people in desperate need, action is what really matters.

They got busy doing the work that Jesus will one day judge us on when he returns to divide the sheep (those obedient to doing the work of Christ) from the goats (those disobedient to Christ).

Matthew 25:37-40: “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’”

We have the luxury of spending a lot of time in theological discussions. Most Christians in the world do not have this luxury. We have the luxury of spending a lot of time studying the Word of God, which is a good thing, but we too easily forget that many Christians around the world still lack access to the Bible, or do not know how to read.

Your average Christian lives in Africa or Asia. Many live in dire poverty and suffer persecution. While we have the luxury of “armchair theology,” Christians in many parts of the world must do “theology on the run.” They don’t have time to worry about minor theological issues when they are too busy ministering to those in desperate need.

Is it any surprise that most miracles happen in third world countries, and not in the West where we have become comfortable with “church as usual”? If we spent less time in endless theological debate and more time actively doing the work of Christ, what miracles would we see?

Surely there is great urgency in the times in which we live. The world is changing faster and faster, and new technology allows us to reach the ends of the earth in ways previously unimaginable. This is the moment in which the body of Christ will either make disciples of all nations, or fail because the body is not working together

Satan’s strategy to defeat the church is “divide and conquer.”

We cannot afford to let petty disagreements divide the Body. The church around the world must unite for the common purpose of continuing Christ’s work in the world. I pray we see the day when our different church congregations and denominations are actively working together, hand in hand, in a united effort to reach our communities and the world for Christ.

  • 0

Rethinking Church: Your vs. You’re

If you asked 100 random people on the street what they thought of when they heard the word “church,” what do you think they would say? Some people would have positive thoughts about church, others negative. A lot of people would probably think of buildings with steeples, crosses, and stained glass windows.

How many people would say, “When I hear the word church, I think of me”?

Though it may sound strange, this should be the correct answer for anyone who calls Jesus Lord.

When Jesus walked the earth, his hands healed the sick, and his feet carried the good news of the Kingdom of God everywhere he went. His mouth spoke God’s truth, and his heart felt compassion for the poor. He worked many miracles, casting out demons, restoring sight to the blind, and even raising the dead.

And yet, as a human being, Jesus could only be in one place at a time. While he ministered to the multitudes of people who gathered around him, countless other multitudes in other locations longed to see him but could not.

Today, Jesus Christ is much more present in the world than he was when he walked the earth. Today, Jesus Christ lives in the hearts of every believer through the Holy Spirit (Colossians 1:27). While previously he only had one pair of hands and one pair of feet, today he is working in the world through the lives of millions of believers who follow him as Lord.

Having ascended into heaven to take his place at the right hand of God, Jesus Christ is no longer physically present in the world. And yet, he is physically present in the world through us! Jesus calls his disciples to be his hands and feet in the world today, promising, “anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father.” (John 14:12).

In 1 Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul describes the Body of Christ as being composed of many members, each with different functions, yet all vitally important. In Ephesians 1:22-23, Paul writes that God made Jesus Christ “head over all things for the benefit of the church. And the church is his body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with himself.”

The Greek word translated “church” is ekklēsia (Strong’s 1577), meaning a community of people who have been called by God. Church is not a building, an institution, or an organization. Church is the body of Christ – a collection of individual believers in all parts of the world – gathering together in fellowship and community to follow Jesus Christ as Lord.

The first century church described in Acts 2 did not have elaborate church buildings – or any church buildings! They met in homes, gave up everything they had, and shared all things in common. They were totally sold out and committed to Jesus Christ and they were able to work incredible miracles.

Why is it that in the two thousand years that followed, the concept of “church” has become so mundane, religious, even boring?

Why are so many Christians gathering to worship God on Sundays but living only for themselves on Monday through Saturday?

Why are millions of dollars spent on enormous “megachurch” buildings, but on average less than 2% of church finances go toward foreign missions?

Why is much time and energy devoted to church “programs” while little time and energy is spent building relationships with people?

Why are some believers going hungry while others store up riches?

Why do we rarely see the kind of miracles that the early church experienced?

In the words of Casting Crowns:

If we are the Body,

Why aren’t His arms reaching?

Why aren’t His hands healing?

Why aren’t His words teaching?

And if we are the Body,

Why aren’t His feet going?

Why is His love not showing them there is a way?

I believe the answer to all of these questions lies in the fact that many Christians have an incorrect understanding of what church is.

Church is not a building we go to, or an activity we do once a week.

Church is who we are.

“Your vs. You’re”

How many times has someone asked you where your church is? How many times has someone asked you what church you’re a part of?

While these questions may sound identical, this seemingly insignificant difference in grammar reflects a huge difference in thinking.

For many Christians, church is something we possess – “I have a church.” And yet, if we are truly members of the body of Christ, church is not something we own but something we ourselves are a part of – something we are. If you’re a believer, it’s not your church. Rather, you are the church!

As Christians, we are called to be the church, not only on Sundays, but every day, and everywhere. The way we be the church is through radical obedience to the commands of Jesus Christ in all areas of life.

Being the body of Christ means total commitment to the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). It means continuing the exact same work that Jesus did when he walked the earth. It means radical forgiveness, loving enemies, preaching the gospel, being a peacemaker, healing the sick, casting out demons, visiting those in prison, and caring for the poor.

If we’re not doing these things, what are we doing?

Although we typically think of Sunday worship when we think about what church is, in reality, the way we live our lives Sunday through Saturday defines what the church (the body of Christ) is. The world judges Christianity not on the quality of our Sunday worship experiences, but on the integrity with which individual Christians live their lives each and every day.

Sunday worship experiences are an awesome thing and an extremely important tool for preaching the gospel and edifying the believer. But our faith can’t stop there. It must be lived out.

Matthew 25:31-46 is very clear. When Jesus returns he won’t be judging us on whether we sat in a certain building at a certain time each week.

What ultimately matters is obedience to him in daily life.

Where we go to church is not nearly as important as whether or not we are the church.

Church is not a location. Church is a lifestyle.

Church is not four walls. Church is a billion people.

  • 0

The Command to Baptize

Baptism is more than just a tradition or ritual. It is part of the Great Commission, the last command that Jesus gave before ascending into heaven.

Matthew 28:18-20: Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

What is Baptism?

Baptism is a sacrament, meaning a physical manifestation of a spiritual truth. The other sacrament commanded in scripture is communion. Understanding communion is helpful for understanding how baptism works. Without faith, communion is nothing more than bread and wine. But with faith, communion becomes a profound reflection upon the sufferings of Jesus Christ. The spiritual truth that Jesus died on the cross for our sins really hits home when it is manifested in the physical realm through the bread and the wine which represent his physical body and blood. The physical nature of communion makes the spiritual truth come alive.

Similarly, baptism without faith is nothing more than a quick bath. But with faith, baptism is a profound experience of being born again. Just as Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose again, so baptism symbolizes our own death, burial, and resurrection. The believer is submerged in water, symbolizing the death and burial of the old carnal self and its sinful nature. The believer is then raised out of the water, symbolizing new life in Christ.

Romans 6:4: For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.

2 Corinthians 5:17: This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

Baptism is a commitment. It is usually done when a person first becomes a believer and is willing to make a commitment to follow Jesus as Lord. Through baptism, the new believer is essentially saying, “I am making a commitment to follow Christ. I am confessing my faith in Jesus in the presence of witnesses. I am repenting of my sins by putting to death my old sinful nature, and being being raised up to newness of life in Christ.” Baptism should be performed in the presence of witnesses who can hold the new believer accountable to the faith.

Because baptism is a commitment, only an adult can make the decision to be baptized. So-called “infant baptism” does not count as real baptism because an infant is too young to understand the significance of baptism and make a true faith commitment. There are no examples of infant baptism in the Bible. Believers must make their own faith commitments, and no one else can make it for them. This is why baptism requires maturity and the presence of witnesses. Baptism should always involve immersion in water. Scripture says that Jesus “came up out of the water” (Matthew 3:16) when he was baptized, proving that he was fully immersed under water. So-called “sprinkling” is a dumbed-down version of baptism that is not biblical.

Where Did Baptism Come From?

John the Baptist is the first person in scripture to baptize. Under divine inspiration from God, John baptized people “for repentance” to prepare the coming of Christ. Although the significance of baptism as a symbol of Christ’s death and resurrection had not yet been revealed, baptism was still a powerful symbol of repentance – a public profession of the decision to put to death one’s sinful ways.

In John 3, John the Baptist is informed that someone else has begun baptizing, and is baptizing even more people than him! This new baptizer, who baptized more people than John, is Jesus of Nazareth.

John 4:2 clarifies that Jesus did not baptize believers personally, but sent his disciples out to baptize on his behalf. Nevertheless, baptism was clearly a major part of Christ’s ministry from its earliest days. When John the Baptist heard that Jesus was baptizing more disciples than he was, he replied, “He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.” (John 3:30).

Just before his ascension into heaven, Jesus sent his disciples out with the Great Commission, commanding them to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” (Matthew 28:19).

Baptism continued in the early church, with many baptisms recorded in the Book of Acts. At the Day of Pentecost, 3,000 people were baptized!

Acts 2:38-41: Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is to you, to your children, and to those far away—all who have been called by the Lord our God.” Then Peter continued preaching for a long time, strongly urging all his listeners, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation!” Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all.

In Acts 8, an angel sends Philip into the wilderness to witness to an Ethiopian who is trying to understand the scroll of Isaiah.

Acts 8:35-38: So beginning with this same Scripture, Philip told him the Good News about Jesus. As they rode along, they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “Look! There’s some water! Why can’t I be baptized?” He ordered the carriage to stop, and they went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.

The Apostle Paul was also baptized in Acts 9:18. Previously called Saul, he had been struck blind when he encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus. Then Ananias visited Saul, placed his hands on him, and Saul received his sight. Immediately after receiving his sight, Paul believed and was baptized. In fact, this baptism marked the moment when Saul became Paul – the death of the old man, and the resurrection of the new man in Christ. See Acts 9 for the complete record.

Baptism continues in Acts 10 (three chapters of baptisms in a row!) with the first recorded gentile baptisms:

Acts 10:45-48: The Jewish believers who came with Peter were amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles, too. For they heard them speaking in other tongues and praising God. Then Peter asked, “Can anyone object to their being baptized, now that they have received the Holy Spirit just as we did?” So he gave orders for them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Afterward Cornelius asked him to stay with them for several days.

In Acts 16:15, a woman named Lydia was baptized after she responded in faith to Paul’s message. Later in that chapter, Paul and Silas even baptize the jailer who was holding them in prison (Acts 16:33) after sharing the gospel with him in jail!

Even in a jail cell, Paul and Silas did not pass up the opportunity to carry out the Great Commission through teaching and baptizing!

Acts 18:8 records that many of the Corinthians who heard Paul speak were baptized.

Baptism is a biblical tradition that stretches from the first century to the twenty-first century in a single unbroken chain. Throughout all of Christian history, from the earliest days to the present, Christians have always baptized.

Is Baptism Necessary For Salvation?

Is following Jesus necessary for salvation? Consider the words of Jesus in Luke 6:46: “Why do you keep calling me ‘Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say?” Jesus commanded baptism, and as we have seen in the Book of Acts, the early church took his command to baptize seriously, baptizing literally thousands of individuals.

Throughout the New Testament, baptism is connected with salvation. In Mark 16:16, Jesus said, “Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned.”

1 Peter 3:21 compares baptism to the flood of Noah, claiming that just as the ark saved Noah, so baptism “now saves you”:

1 Peter 3:21: And that water is a picture of baptism, which now saves you, not by removing dirt from your body, but as a response to God from a clean conscience. It is effective because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

However, these verses must be balanced by the fact that we are saved by grace, through faith, “not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” (Ephesians 2:9). We must remember that baptism is an outward act of an inward faith, and a physical manifestation of a spiritual truth. Without faith, baptism is nothing more than a quick bath, and it won’t save anyone. With faith, one can be saved by grace even without baptism.

Consider, for example, the thief on the cross. He was almost certainly never baptized, yet Jesus said to him, “you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). The saving grace of God extends to all who believe, even if they are not baptized.

Nevertheless, the plan of salvation laid out in scripture is for a person to believe and be baptized. The Lord Jesus Christ clearly commanded this in the Great Commission. Those saved without baptism are the exception, not the rule.

Did the Coming of the Holy Spirit Make Baptism Obsolete?

Just before his ascension, Jesus gave his disciples the Great Commission, in which he commanded them to baptize (Matthew 28:19). Jesus gave this command 50 days before the Holy Spirit was poured out at Pentecost. Why would Jesus command his disciples to baptize if he knew baptism would be obsolete just 50 days later?

Clearly, Jesus intended for baptism to be practiced even after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit – and it was!

As we have seen, many individuals were baptized in the Book of Acts. Baptism was often immediately followed by an individual receiving the Holy Spirit as manifested by speaking in tongues. The two go hand in hand. Baptism and the receiving of the Holy Spirit are both essential parts of our Christian walk. But one does not replace the other.

I’ve Been a Christian for Years But I’ve Never Been Baptized… Why Be Baptized Now?

Although baptism usually takes place when a new believer first makes a faith commitment, it is never too late to be baptized. The important thing is to be baptized with the right mindset. Do not be baptized if your reason for baptism is guilt that you were never baptized or fear that you won’t be saved without it. Baptism is not meant to be a burden, but a gift!

Consider the Sabbath day. If your only reason for observing the Sabbath day is fear that you won’t be saved if you don’t, or guilt that you failed to observe it in the past, then the Sabbath day becomes a burden. But if you view the Sabbath day as a gift from God, it becomes a great blessing, which is what it was intended to be. It was the legalistic Pharisees who twisted the meaning of the Sabbath in order to oppress people. We must never do that with baptism.

Baptism is not meant to be a burden or something we are forced to do even though we don’t want to. On the contrary, baptism is a gift from God. It’s a holy opportunity to share in the mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ, to make a faith commitment in the presence of witnesses, and to be raised to newness of life in Christ.

Baptism is a profound and memorable experience that gives us strength in our Christian walk. Faced with trials and temptations, we can always look back to the moment of our baptism and draw strength from knowing that we have put to death our old, sinful self, and have been raised up with Christ into a new creation.

  • 1

Right Here and Right Now

One of my favorite stories in the the gospels is the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead, found in John 11:1-46. Lazarus was the brother of the Mary and Martha whom Jesus visited in Luke 10. Jesus loved Lazarus dearly (John 11:5) and his sisters must have been deeply distraught when Lazarus fell seriously ill (John 11:1). They immediately sent messengers to Jesus, but surprisingly, Jesus did not go immediately to Lazarus. Rather, he remained in the place where he was for two days, and told the messengers, “Lazarus’s sickness will not end in death. No, it happened for the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive glory from this.” (John 11:4).

What good news for Mary and Martha! Jesus Christ had clearly stated that the sickness would not end in death. But only a few verses later, we find a shocking plot twist. Jesus tells his disciples, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but now I will go and wake him up.” (John 11:11). The disciples thought he was talking about natural sleep, so they said, “Lord, if he is sleeping, he will soon get better.” (John 11:12). They did not realize that Jesus was talking about the sleep of death. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead” (John 11:14).

What a shock this must have been for the disciples! I think many of us, familiar with the resurrection of Lazarus, do not realize the full emotional impact of those three words: “Lazarus is dead.” Jesus had clearly said that the sickness would not end in death, and yet, just two days later, he said, “Lazarus is dead.”

Had Jesus failed?

The disciples must have been terribly distressed, so much so that Thomas said, “Let us also go, so that we may die with him” (John 11:16 KJV).

And so they set off for the house of Lazarus, and when they arrived, his body had already been laid in a tomb for four days (John 11:17). The scene there was one of total chaos. The Lord had said that the sickness would not end in death, yet Lazarus was dead. Mary and Martha must have been horribly distraught and confused. Why had Jesus waited two days instead of coming immediately to heal Lazarus? Now it was too late! Martha and Mary both blamed Jesus, saying, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21, 32). Some of those present even mocked Jesus, saying, “This man healed a blind man. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?” (John 11:37).

In the midst of all this confusion, John tells us that “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). John does not tell us why Jesus wept, but I believe he wept over their unbelief. Jesus had promised that the sickness would not end in death, yet no one believed him. The one who performed many miracles and healed many people seemingly failed to heal Lazarus before it was too late. They blamed him for foolishly waiting two days instead of coming immediately. They mocked him. They had no faith. Jesus wept.

Yet it was all part of God’s plan. It was God’s will that Jesus wait two days instead of coming to Lazarus immediately. One of the great lessons we can learn from this story is that even when the situations and circumstances of life seem utterly helpless, even in those darkest moments, God is ultimately working all things together for good for His glory (Romans 8:28).

Here is the part of the story I find most fascinating and significant:

John 11:23-26 – Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.” “Yes,” Martha said, “he will rise when everyone else rises, at the last day.” Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?”

Contrast the doubt of Martha with the faith of Abraham. Abraham, when tested by God, was willing to offer up his son Isaac, because God had promised to make a great nation through Isaac. Abraham knew that God could not break his promise (Numbers 23:19) and therefore, Abraham believed that even if Isaac died, God would be faithful to raise Isaac from the dead (Hebrews 11:19).

Martha had also received a promise – that Lazarus’ sickness would not end in death. This means that even if Lazarus died, his death would not be the end. Jesus Christ would be faithful to raise Lazarus from the dead, “so that the Son of God will receive glory” (John 11:4). Martha believed that everyone who has ever died will be raised at the end of the age (Revelation 20:13), but she had lost hope in the power of Christ in the here and now. Before her stood the Son of God who possesses all power in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18) even the power to raise Lazarus from the sleep of death immediately. Jesus had said, “I will go and wake him up” (John 11:11). But instead, Martha was waiting for the end of the age.

Martha put her faith in a future event, instead of in the person of Christ.

Christ’s response to Martha is one of my favorite sayings of Jesus: “I am the resurrection and the life.” Martha had put her faith in her theological understanding of the future resurrection, without realizing that Jesus Christ IS himself the resurrection. He IS the life-giving spirit (1 Corinthians 15:45) and the fountain of living water (John 4) that heals us today (Isaiah 53:5). Martha had faith in the Kingdom coming in the future, but no faith that the King standing before her could work a miracle in the present!

When this evil age comes to an end, there will be established a Kingdom on the earth where all who are made righteous in Christ will be raised from the dead to live with God forever (Revelation 21). But the Kingdom of God is not only our future hope, but also our present hope as well. Jesus is already King – his victory has already been won, his throne has already been established. From the right hand of God, he is ruling and shepherding his global Body and he’s ready to work mighty miracles if we would turn to him in faith. Thus, Jesus says to us, “the Kingdom of God is already among you” (Luke 17:21).

We may have a great understanding of what Jesus accomplished, historically speaking.

But do we know what he is accomplishing in our lives right here and right now?

We may have a great understanding of Jesus, theologically speaking.

But do we know who he is, personally?

Brother Yun is a Chinese Christian evangelist who founded many underground churches in China and was imprisoned and tortured for his faith. In his book The Heavenly Man, he describes his miraculous escape from Zhèngzhōu Maximum-Security Prison.

According to Yun’s own account, each door opened before him and he heard the voice of Jesus instruct him to walk out of the prison. At the risk of being shot to death by the guards keeping watch from the towers, he obeyed the voice of Christ and walked out through the front gate. Miraculously, no one saw him, as if he had become invisible. He is the only prisoner in history to have escaped from that prison.

Brother Yun makes an insightful observation on the story of Lazarus on pages 74-75 of his book Living Water: 

When Jesus informed Martha that he had come to raise Lazarus from the dead, Martha resorted to her theological knowledge by saying, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (John 11:24). This is a chief attribute of Christians who only know Jesus from a theological viewpoint. They know about the history of God’s workings with humankind, and they know that in the future God will make everything right. But they do not know Jesus in the here and now. Jesus has become a historical and a future figure, but not a present figure in their daily lives. Many churches are spiritually dead today because they keep Jesus at a “safe distance” while they control their own lives and make their own plans. Until you realize that Jesus Christ wants to be a major part of everything you do, you will not see revival. Until He is rightfully enthroned as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, your plans will continue to be frustrated and you will see little true blessing of heaven on your activities.

We too often intellectualize Jesus into a mere historical figure. It’s easy to think of him as the one who died for our sins, and will come again to rule the world, yet completely forget about the work he is accomplishing right here and right now in our 21st century lives.

I don’t want to treat Jesus as merely a historical figure or settle for merely knowing about him.

I want to know him personally, right here and right now. I want to have a relationship with him!

Most of all, I want to see his power manifested in my life. I want to hear his voice daily and follow his direction in my life. As Jesus said in John 10:27, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.

Do you know Jesus… or do you only know about him?

  • 1

He Must Become Greater


The message of the Bible is all about Jesus Christ. He’s in every book of the Bible. Only when we center our focus on Christ do we see the spiritual meaning of biblical events. The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the hinge upon which all of scripture swings. We see it foreshadowed in the bread and wine offered by the high priest Melchizedek (Genesis 14), in Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son of promise (Genesis 22), in the story of Joseph (Genesis 37-50) and Jonah (Jonah 1-4), and in Moses’ raising up of the snake in the wilderness (Numbers 21, John 3:14). When we fix our eyes on Christ, we see him on almost every page.

As powerful as the ministry of John the Baptist was, he knew he was insignificant compared to the one who was coming after him – Jesus the Messiah:

John 3:27-30 – John replied, “No one can receive anything unless God gives it from heaven. You yourselves know how plainly I told you, ‘I am not the Messiah. I am only here to prepare the way for him.’ It is the bridegroom who marries the bride, and the best man is simply glad to stand with him and hear his vows. Therefore, I am filled with joy at his success. He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.

He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less. This should be the desire of our hearts today. Yet our human tendency is always to take our focus off of Christ and onto ourselves. When we look honestly at ourselves, we realize how hopelessly inadequate we are. By ourselves, we are completely incapable of serving God as he deserves. In and of ourselves, we are incapable of holiness and we consistently fail to please God. Left in our own sinful condition, we cannot enter God’s holy presence. When our focus is on ourselves – on our own weakness, sinfulness, and insufficiency – we cannot help but feel like failures.

Fortunately, our faith is not about us… it’s all about Jesus. We are sinners, but Jesus Christ is sinless. We were separated from God by sin, but Jesus Christ bridged the gap between God and man. We could not atone for our sin, but Jesus Christ paid the price in full when he died on the cross.

When we put our focus on Christ instead of on ourselves, our whole perspective changes. By ourselves, we are slaves of sin… but in Christ, we have victory over sin. By ourselves, we are children of wrath bound for destruction… but in Christ, we have the hope of eternal life. By ourselves, we are separated from God by sin… but in Christ, we can come boldly before the presence of God, being cleansed of all sin not by our own works but by his holiness.

Jesus says “I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5). Our faith must be centered on Jesus Christ alone. Apart from him, we can do nothing.

One of my favorite stories in the gospels is when Peter walked on water in Matthew 14:22-33. The fact that Jesus walked on water is amazing, but what really amazes me the most is that Peter walked on water! He had the incredible, bold faith to say to Jesus, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water” (Matthew 14:28). And then, the awesome faith to step out of the boat and onto the water!

As long as Peter kept his eyes fixed on Jesus Christ, he could walk on top of the water. But as soon as the wind and waves broke his concentration on Christ, Peter began to sink. This story symbolizes the walk of every believer. Like Peter walking on water, we must keep our focus on Christ each and every day. As soon as we allow the troubles of this world or even our own human plans to distract us from Christ, we begin drowning in the mire of this world. Hebrews puts it this way:

Hebrews 12:1-2 – Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.

The desire of my heart is for Jesus to increase in my life, and for myself to decrease. As Paul wrote in Galatians 2:20, “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

When people look at my life, I want them to see less of me, and more of Christ. As I walk with Christ day by day and endeavor to follow him, I want his will and his power to be manifested in my life. To really be followers of Christ, we must make him Lord of our lives and keep our focus upon him.

He must become greater. We must become less.

  • 0

All Nations

A Witness Unto All Nations

And the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it; and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:14)

There are about 200 nations in the world today, and there are Christians in every nation. But in Matthew 24:14 Jesus was not talking about today’s political entities, nor was he talking about the kingdoms of his day, most of which no longer exist.

The Greek word for nations in this verse is ethnesin, derived from ethne, which is the root of the English word “ethnic.” This word means more than simply “nations” in the political sense. It refers to ethnic and cultural groups – groups of people who share a distinct ethnicity, language, and/or culture. Anthropologists call these groups “people groups.”

Anthropologists estimate there are 11,000 distinct people groups in the world today. If we define a people group as “reached with the gospel” if only 2% or more of its individuals have heard the gospel message, missionaries estimate that 6,000 different people groups are still unreached.

We don’t know exactly how closely the ethne groups that Jesus spoke of match the people groups defined by modern anthropology. But in light of Matthew 24:14, the fact that the end of the age has not yet come seems to suggest that not every ethne has been reached with the gospel message yet.

No one knows when Jesus will return, but according to Matthew 24:14, he will not return until every ethne – every people group – has been reached with the gospel message. This is not surprising when we consider the character of God, who takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:23) but “wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4). For the sake of those who have not yet heard the gospel, God is holding back the coming wrath for a little while so they will have a chance to hear the gospel and repent before it is too late.

The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. (2 Peter 3:9)

It has always been God’s plan to reach every people group in the world with the gospel message, and bring people of every ethnicity, nationality, language, and culture into his Kingdom. This is such an essential part of God’s plan of salvation that the end of the age will not come until every people group has been reached (Matthew 24:14).

After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a great roar, “Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10)

The Great Commission

Jesus commands us to reach every people group in The Great Commission:

Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations (ethne) baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19)

Why does God want us to reach “all nations” with the gospel message? Because God’s plan for salvation extends to all people of the earth. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ paid the price for all sins of all people for all time, thus tearing down the division between Jew and Gentile. In Christ, all believers form one new humanity, in which all ethnic, class, and gender divisions are eradicated.

He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world. (1 John 2:2)

There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

This is very unusual for a religious faith. Most religions are proudly rooted in a specific culture – for example, Hinduism is deeply rooted in India and Shintoism in Japan. As a result, these mono-cultural religions rarely gain any ground outside of their native culture. But Christianity is a truly global faith not tied down to any one specific culture or country. There are Christians in the big cities of China who worship quite differently than Christians in a rural African village. Nevertheless, both are Christians by faith in Jesus Christ, both are on equal footing before the Lord, and both will be our brothers and sisters for eternity in the Kingdom of God. Through obedience to the lordship of Jesus Christ, disciples in all parts of the world are carrying out Christ’s redemptive work in the world today.

It has always been God’s plan to redeem not just some cultures but ALL cultures into his Kingdom for his glory. Our Heavenly Father is the God of diversity – proof of this is clearly manifested in the vast diversity of his Creation!

Satan’s Policy of Containment

Each culture in the world faces its own unique challenges for evangelism. We are engaged in a spiritual war, but Christ has already guaranteed us the victory. Regardless of the circumstances, when Christians led by the Holy Spirit step out in faith to do the work Christ has called them to do, there is nothing that can stop them. History attests to the fact that even the worst persecution of Christianity ultimately results in the message spreading further and faster. Satan knows that he is not powerful enough to stop the gospel message from spreading. He can’t stop it from spreading, but he can at least distract us from moving it into new territory.

As long as the gospel message stays within areas already saturated with Christianity, the unreached nations will remain unreached, and the end of the age will not come. Satan knows that once every people group has been reached with the gospel, this present evil age will come to an end, and he will be annihilated at the final judgement. He is fighting this tooth and nail.

I’m certainly not suggesting that it is wrong to share the gospel message with people from our own culture, in our own local communities, in our own people groups. After all, if you don’t reach the people God has placed in your life, who will?

Jesus commands us to preach the gospel to “all nations,” and that includes our own nation. Evangelism must begin wherever we are currently planted. It must begin there, but it must not end there.

Churches should act counter-culturally and cross-culturally to intentionally reach unreached people groups with the gospel message. There are a myriad of ways to go about doing this. But the first step is to recognize that it needs to be done.

What can we do to reach those who have never heard of Christ?

  • 1


The Bible says “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13) and “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

Whosoever means whoever. It means anyone. It means everybody.

Jesus died for the sins of all people, over 7 billion people on the planet, and everyone who has ever and will ever live, past, present, and future. The Bible clearly states:

He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2)

Jesus loves all people of the world and is actively drawing all people to himself (John 12:32) in accordance with God’s desire that all people of the world repent of their sins and be saved (1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9, Ezekiel 18:32, 33:11).

In light of this, who am I to put limits on “whosoever”? Who am I to put limits on the people who Jesus can and cannot save? Why am I so tempted to think “whosoever… except that guy”?

I think we often put limits on “whosoever” when we share the gospel message with others, or rather, when we choose who we will and will not share the gospel with. I know I am guilty of this. I easily share my faith with people who actively express an interest in it. But it is more difficult to step out in faith to share the gospel with someone who may or may not be interested. But how do we know?

Too often, we  judge people based simply on their appearance, race, socioeconomic status, or cultural background. It is human nature to put people into categories. We look at someone who is like us and we think “I can share the gospel with them, they seem like they would be interested,” but then we look at someone who is different from us and we think, “Don’t bother, I know their type, and there’s no way they would be interested in Jesus.”

But the Bible says “whosoever.”

In the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) Jesus commands his disciples to preach the gospel to “all nations.” We are called to preach to all people, regardless of their background and regardless of what we think of them. We cannot judge whether someone is “worthy” to hear the gospel based on our personal opinion of them – every person in the world is worthy and needs to hear the gospel message, because every person in the world is someone who Jesus Christ loved enough to died for, someone who God desires to reconcile to Himself.

Consider Saul, who dragged Christians from their homes and approved of their execution. He was a persecutor of Christians and a man Christians feared.

He was literally the last person in the world you would want to talk to about Jesus.

And yet, of all the people in the world who God could have chosen, God used Saul (re-named “Paul”) to write a large part of the New Testament. This is radical forgiveness. There is not a single person in the world who is too evil or too deep in sin that they cannot be reached, be redeemed, be forgiven, be reconciled to God, and experience lifechange through an encounter with Jesus Christ.

But as Romans 10:14 says: “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?”

1 Samuel 16:7 says “man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.” We simply cannot, by looking at a person’s appearance, know anything about the condition of their heart. Too often, the people we assume would be interested in hearing the gospel are not at all interested, while the people we assume wouldn’t be interested are actually dying to know! We simply cannot know the heart of another person, nor can we know the plans God has for that person. We need to stop pretending we know in advance how people will respond to the gospel. The reality is that God knows, but we don’t know.

Instead of only sharing the gospel message with people who are like us, we need to step out in faith to also reach those who are different – even radically different – from us. Jesus Christ died for the sins of the world, making the same forgiveness available to all people, and therefore placing all believers on equal footing before God regardless of their personal history or background. So we cannot allow barriers of race, class, nationality, or culture to hinder the Great Commission. Paul said: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

We also must be careful not to expect the people we share our faith with to adopt our cultural norms. Rather, we must adopt their cultural norms so we can be a more effective witness. Consider these words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:20-23:

And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.

Questions I ask myself:

  • Why do I act like some people aren’t worth sharing my faith with, when the Bible says “whosoever”?
  • Why do I expect the people I share my faith with to adopt my own cultural norms, when Paul said, “to the Jew I become a Jew”?
  • Why do I assume the people God places in my life don’t want to hear about my faith, when God has already examined their hearts and placed them in my life for a reason? Do I know better than God the condition of their hearts?
  • Why am I so quick to judge people based on their appearance? Why do I think, “I know their type, they wouldn’t be interested in Jesus”? Isn’t this assumption really nothing more than an excuse to not share the gospel?
  • 0

The Command to Go


Matthew 28:18-20: And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

We often think that the Great Commission is only for missionaries, or people with the right training, or people more educated than us, or really anyone other than ourselves. But the fact is that Jesus commands every disciple to go. In Matthew 10, Jesus sent out his disciples “as sheep among wolves,” commanding them not to bring anything on the journey, not even a walking stick, because God provides for those who go.

Noah obeyed when God called him to build the ark, and God saved him and his family. Abraham left everything to go where God called him, and God made him the father of many nations. The young boy David stepped out in faith against the giant Goliath with nothing but a few stones, and God provided him with a great victory. The Apostles left everything to follow Christ, and God worked miracles through them. The Bible is filled with examples of great believers who went when God called them to go. But for each person who went, there were also many who did not go.

The rich young ruler in Mark 10 did not go when Jesus called him to sell his possessions and give to the poor. He counted the cost of being a disciple, and concluded that the cost was too high. He was a wealthy and educated man, a man of authority, who had knowledge of the scriptures and knew the commandments of God. I wonder who this young man could have become if he had obeyed what Jesus was calling him to do. Perhaps he would have become the next Paul or the next Peter. Instead, he walked away from Christ in order to cling to his possessions, which have long since decayed into dust. He could have become a great leader in the early church. Instead, we don’t even know his name.

Jesus is calling us to go, and through the Holy Spirit he works in our hearts to lead us and guide us to carry out the Great Commission in our lives. But like the rich young ruler, we are often too caught up in the things of this world to hear the call of Jesus in our lives. Or, sometimes we know that Jesus is calling us to minister to that person, or to help this person in need, or repent of a certain sin, or give up a certain possession. But instead of doing these things, we choose to just go about our own business and ignore the call of Christ.

But the truth of the matter is this: When Jesus commands us to go, going is not optional.

150,000 people die every day, and the vast majority of them go to the grave having never known Jesus Christ. Some of them have never even heard his name. Many of these people are the outcasts of society – the poor, the homeless, the orphan, the widow. These are people who Jesus cares deeply about, who he died for, and who he is calling his church to minister to. Yet many of these people die without ever knowing the love of Christ. Many are people in our own communities who could have easily been reached, but we didn’t go.

Why not?

The sad reality is that often, we don’t want to go. We don’t want to preach the gospel, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, or visit those in prison, even though Jesus said in Matthew 25 that whatever we do unto the least of these, we do unto him. Yet we act like it takes too much of our time. We would rather live life our way, make money to spend on ourselves, and pursue the American dream. All the while, we believe we are following Jesus, but we are really acting more like the rich young ruler who walked away from Christ.

What can we do to become more obedient to Christ’s command to “go”?

  • 1