Some (More) Unsolicited Advice This Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving.

A day dedicated to two quintessentially American things: football and overeating.

Oh, and being thankful. More on that in a moment.

Thanksgiving is also the time wherein the nuts from every limb of the family tree can come together for calm, rational, even enlightened conversation on non-controversial topics like politics, religion, and the NFL.

Or not.

It’s also a day in which, inevitably, a crazy uncle or pushy inlaw will insist on offering you unsolicited advice on everything from your dating habits, your child-rearing practices, or your personal hygiene.

And if they’re going to do it, so will I. Here’s my unsolicited advice for your Thanksgiving Day:

“Be present in all things and thankful for all things.”

Yes, I’m not even offering original unsolicited advice.

It’s Maya Angelou’s advice, I’m just quoting it.

And in good, unsolicited advice fashion, it’s actually two pieces of advice disguised as one:

Be present.

Be thankful.

It’s simple, but it matters.

Be Thankful

At the risk of being obvious, let’s reverse the order and start here because being thankful shouldn’t be shocking advice on a day literally named for it.

But, for some reason, it’s hard for us to be thankful, even on Thanksgiving.

In part, that’s because we’re an entitled society. We expect a certain level of comfort, ease, and security and if those criteria aren’t met, well, let’s just say we’re not handing out gratitude like candy.

But our struggle with thankfulness goes beyond an entitlement issue. I think it has its genesis in a myopic understanding of life. What do I mean?

I mean that it’s hard to be thankful when we can’t see beyond ourselves. We imagine that life’s sole purpose is for me to get mine. It’s impossible to be thankful when you’re starting assumption is that you are the center of the universe.

Thankfulness requires de-centering our selves.

Thankfulness requires us to recognize someone or something other than ourselves as the source of our happiness.

It doesn’t play well today, but the only way we’ll be thankful is if we quit imagining life is about us and re-recognize the one who created life: God.

Thanksgiving started as a recognition of God’s provision, not of extravagance, but of the basic necessities of life. He was the one at the center. He was the source. And thankfulness was possible.

We’re not entitled to anything. We’re not at the center of anything. Everything we have and everything we are is God’s gift.

We have two options:

1) Grouse about, looking for a return receipt.

Or,

2) Acknowledge him and his provision for us.

Only one of those options will help reestablish thankfulness in us this Thanksgiving.

Be Present

Thankfulness is centered on God; being present is centered on others.

We have a tendency, in this modern, individualistic world, to wrap everything around ourselves. We dedicate our every waking moment to curating a fundamentally egocentric experience of the world. Social media, gaming apps, and streaming video: we control the quality, quantity, and nature of our interaction with reality, filtered through our smartphone screens.

That’s why, when Thanksgiving Day rolls around, so many of us struggle. Because we can’t control what happens when Bernie Bro Cousin Joe and MAGA Grandpa Jones get going. In real life, there’s no “Mute” button for Aunt Joyce’s lifestyle advice column like there is on social media.

But, contrary to our preference, that’s ok.

We need the reminder to be present because we’re usually not. Too often anymore, getting together with the family means sitting in the same room as we occupy different digital worlds.

So, use this Thanksgiving to flip the script.

Put the phone down.

Play football in the backyard.

Hang around the kitchen for quality control purposes. And for the conversation. Of course.

Sit in the den after dinner simply contemplating the sheer goodness of elastic waistbands.

Enjoy the company of other real, air-breathing, flesh-and-blood, people. Revel in the oddity of your family. Find joy in the mundane and the minutia.

Don’t try to escape, don’t retreat into your digital world: be present.

And, for heaven’s sake, spill the gravy on Cousin Joe before “that idiot Tru…” finishes passing his lips.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving Quote

 

Getting Jesus Right: The Key To Everything

I want to tell you a story of a man who was crucified.

He was crucified some time in the first century A.D. He was probably in his late twenty’s when he died. He was most likely a convicted political agitator: he was somebody Rome saw as a threat and so they crucified him for it.

Crucifixion

For those of us who live in the 21st century, I guess that’s just an interesting historical fact. But I want you to understand what crucifixion was and what it meant back then. By the first century A.D. Rome had perfected crucifixion as a means of political punishment. It was a means of public humiliation meant to deter anyone who might dare to contradict the Roman system.

To perform a crucifixion, Roman soldiers would take nails and they would drive them, not through the palm of the hand as is frequently depicted, but through the wrist. There’s a very good reason for this: the weight of a man’s body cannot be held by just the flesh and tendons in a man’s hand. The weight requires a bone structure to support it on the nail. The executioners would pound spikes through the condemned’s wrist and into a horizontal beam. They would lift that beam, with the criminal nailed to it, and set it on top of a vertical post set in the ground. Then they would nail the victim’s feet, through the ankles, to that post. And then they would wait.

For hours.

Although in excruciating pain because of the nails through their wrists and through their feet, a crucifixion victim usually didn’t die quickly. That’s because it wasn’t blood loss or shock from the nails that usually killed them but the excruciatingly slow process of gradual suffocation. With their arms stretched out by the nails, the condemned couldn’t take full breaths without pulling up on the nails or pushing up with their feet. Each breath required amplifying the pain they were in. Over the course of a day, the physical, mental, and emotional effort required to make the movement would take its toll and eventually they wouldn’t be able to muster a breath at all.

It was a horrible, vicious, cruel manner of death.

Yehohanan

But back to my story. What’s interesting about the guy I started telling you about is they actually found his bones in an ossuary in his family tomb. His name was Yehohanan. When they opened his ossuary, they found his heel bone still had a Roman spike through it.

It’s the only such bone found out of the thousands of crucifixions we know that Rome performed. But I’d be willing to guess that you still hadn’t heard the story or Yehohanan’s name before this.

Yeshua

There was another guy crucified in the first century as well. They’ve never found his bones, but I bet you know his name: Jesus.

Have you ever asked why that is? Why, of the thousands crucified, is Jesus’ name still known and revered throughout the world while so many others have been forgotten? There’s something about Jesus.

For one thing, Jesus is central to Christianity. As Christianity has endured, Jesus’ name has endured. But beyond the merely religious consideration, there’s the fact of who Jesus is: the Son of God, the Resurrected King, the Mighty Savior. We remember Jesus because he is not dead: he is alive.

Getting Jesus Right

But simply remembering Jesus isn’t enough.

We need to get Jesus right.

And in order to get Jesus right, it’s essential that we turn to the Word of God. And, thankfully, in 2 John, we’re given five marks to help us see whether or not we’re getting Jesus right.

If I am getting Jesus right then…

1. I am fully committed to truth of who Christ is (2 John 4)

The first way I can know I’ve got Jesus right is if I’m fully committed to the truth of who he actually is. For example, in John’s day, people were saying that Jesus couldn’t be human because he was God. So they said he only appeared to be human. But that contradicts the truth of the Word. The Bible is clear that Jesus was actually human, actual flesh and blood. If the Bible says Jesus is human, I’ve got to believe that regardless of how I feel about it.

But the flip side of that coin is when people say that Jesus is human, he’s just not God. They take this approach because it’s hard to deal with Jesus as God in our modern era. But Scripture is just as clear that Jesus is God as it is that he is human. Jesus himself claims the divine name in John’s Gospel. Others testify to his divinity throughout the pages of the New Testament. The record is clear.

And it goes beyond questions of his nature. I need to land inside the biblical lines on his atonement, his kingdom, his purpose for his followers, etc. Getting Jesus right isn’t a choose-your-own-adventure story. Either I am fully committed to understanding the truth of who he is or I’m settling for a false Jesus I’ve manufactured according to my own whims, traditions, or feelings.

Ask: Is my faith resting on my feelings or on the truth of who Jesus is, as revealed in the Bible?

2. I have a deep, practical love for fellow believers (2 John 5)

Getting Jesus right also results in a very real and a very deep practical love for my fellow believers. John considers this essential. John understands, and wants me to understand, that if I truly understand Jesus’ nature and the nature of his work, I will be free to quit living my life as a means advancing myself. I don’t have to do good things for my neighbor; I get to do good things for my neighbor. When I see a brother or sister in need I can meet that need and I don’t have to advertise it. Because of who Jesus is, I no longer have to pretend like I can impress God.

Instead, I am able to focus on others. Life in the truth of Christ means I am no longer living life for me. I am free to live to serve others, just like Christ demonstrated in his own life. I cannot have the truth of who Christ is without the love that it brings for those around me.

Ask: is my faith producing self-centeredness or is it producing selfless service for others?

3. I find joy in obedience (2 John 6)

Another key to helping me determine whether I have Jesus right or not is to determine why I obey God. John says that obeying God is the natural outworking of the truth of who Christ is and loving those around me. So, do I obey him because I desperately want to be seen as being righteous? Or do I obey because I love Jesus? If I get Jesus wrong, it will be very difficult for me to obey him for the pure joy of it. No one but the biblical Jesus is sufficient to inspire me to go the extra mile, turn the other cheek, and seek holiness.

Because that’s what obedience should spring from: a deep love for Jesus. When I understand that Jesus is all I need and all that God needs from me, I no longer have to obey out of fear. Instead, getting Jesus right means that I can obey God from the sheer joy of knowing his love in Christ. I can’t add to my salvation, I can’t improve on Jesus’ record. Obedience becomes not my best attempt to forge a ticket to heaven but the all-expenses-paid trip I get to go on. I no longer have to wear obedience as clothes to impress those around me but as my most comfortable pair of pajamas to luxuriate in. If I find joy in obedience not for what it does for me but for the joy it brings God, I can know that I am getting Jesus right.

Ask: Do I obey God because I need to look righteous or do I obey God because I love Jesus?

4. I live in Christ’s teaching (2 John 9)

One thing that getting Jesus right doesn’t mean is being about to pass an essay exam on the hypostatic union of Jesus. Following Jesus can’t be reduced to a theology seminar. That being said, however, there are certain things that God reveals in Christ that I need to learn, I need to know, and I need to believe. Call it the basics, call it catechism, call it whatever, I’ll call it what John calls it: the teaching of Christ. Jesus taught us things. He was called “Teacher.” There is an intellectual element to faith.

However, it is important that I not insist on going beyond the teaching of Christ. It is possible to get bored with the gospel and to go beyond it, to look for more teaching, more revelation, a new prophet to speak to me. But Scripture’s clear: Jesus is God’s ultimate revelation (Hebrews 1:1-2). It is possible to go beyond the teaching of Christ by demanding a continual supply of new truth and not being content with what God has revealed.

This happens in individuals, in churches, in entire religions: they are not content with Christ’s teaching but must add to it to fulfill their own desire. But I need to be content. I need to recognize that while the gospel is as simple as “I’m a sinner, Christ died in my place, now I can have peace with God,” it is also remarkably deep. There are so many implications of the gospel that I could spend 200 lifetimes considering them and never exhaust the variety. I should be content with the gospel because it is enough for me to chew on forever.

Literally forever.

Ask: Am I demanding more revelation from God or am I content with Christ?

5. I have true fellowship with God (2 John 9)

The final mark of getting Jesus right is probably the hardest one to evaluate. I want to be right. I want to assume that I am on the right path. But I can deceive myself. If I get Jesus right, I have true fellowship or communion with God. But I can fake that relationship with God. I can fool myself and I can fool others.

But I can’t fool God.

I can have an incredible prayer life, read my Bible every day, go to church three times a week – I can look really good for others and in my own eyes.

But if I don’t get Jesus right, it won’t matter in the end.

There is only one way to fellowship with God: confess the real Jesus as Lord and believe in my heart God raised him from the dead. If my “fellowship” with him is based on any other confession, hope, or idea, I will lose everything when it matters the most.

Ask: Am I in fellowship with God and heading towards him or will I lose everything in the end?

Conclusion

In the end, the ultimate question, then, is, “am I getting Jesus right?” That’s the question for me and it’s the question for you.

Here’s my challenge to you: don’t take my word for it.

Go read the Gospel of John. Read 2 John. Read the New Testament. Read the Word of God.

And seek Christ. Seek to get him right, not based on what I say, not based on what anybody else says, but based on who he has revealed himself to be in the Bible.

Seek Christ because everything hinges on getting Jesus right.

Relationships Can Change The World: The Letter To Philemon

What does the Gospel of Jesus Christ have to say about your relationships with other people?

That’s an important question, but don’t answer it just yet.

Answer this one first:

Is the Gospel of Jesus Christ primarily about going to heaven when you die, or is it about having every aspect of your life, both now and forever, transformed?

If you’re a Christian, how you answer that question will significantly influence how you live. More specifically, your answer will require you to evaluate decisions, finances, ethics, etc. by completely different criteria.

Why It Matters

If the Gospel is simply about getting to heaven when you die, then this life is of secondary importance. So long as you check the boxes marked “heaven” on your final destination ticket you’re free to live however you want or at least, however, your culture pressures you into living.

If, however, the Gospel is about much more than that, indeed is about transforming everything about you, then its implications for the here and now are massive. Instead of filtering every decision through a “me” or a “culture” filter, you have to filter it through a “Jesus” filter. This means that you give Jesus shot-calling power in your finances, ethics, etc.

It especially affects your relationships.

So, back to the original question: What does the Gospel of Jesus Christ have to say about your relationships with other people?

Put succinctly: everything.

An Example From Scripture

We see this comprehensive impact of the Gospel on relationships very clearly in the New Testament book of Philemon.

Whereas most of the letters in the New Testament are written from a leader to a congregation, Philemon is different: it is primarily written by a Christian leader to another Christian leader. Not only that, but it’s from a friend to a friend. Paul is the author and Philemon is the leader of a house church. It’s a very personal letter.

Paul most likely wrote the letter from Rome while sitting in prison. And Philemon was likely a well-to-do leader of a house church in one of the towns that Paul had visited on his missionary journeys.

He was also a slave owner.

That’s a shock to our 21st-century sensibilities, so we need to understand what slavery was like in first-century Rome before we can understand this letter’s impact on how we understand relationships under the Gospel. In first-century Rome, there were so many slaves that they outnumbered the Roman citizens. It was not uncommon for a wealthy Roman citizen to own upwards of ten thousand slaves.

And then gospel gets introduced into this mix. And, frankly, the message spread very quickly amongst the slave community. The hope and grace and joy in the message of the Gospel gave new meaning and purpose to the lives of those who found themselves in bondage.

But the Gospel also began to reach those who owned slaves. And this was a new thing. Slavery was so common in that day it was just kind of the air they breathed, the water people were swimming in. People took it as a fact and never really examined it.

But one commentator on the book of Philemon said no other writing was more instrumental in the downfall of slavery than it was. Why? Because Paul says that just because something is culturally assumed it is not necessarily going to stand in light of the gospel.

Why does all this talk of slavery matter? Because Paul is writing to Philemon about an escaped slave, Onesimus. That may not mean a whole lot to us modern readers, but in Rome, where slaves outnumbered the citizens, there was a constant fear of a slave revolt. Consequently, the punishment for any slave who disobeyed their master or who ran away from their master was very serious. The master could, at their discretion, beat a runaway slave. They could imprison them. They could even kill them. As a matter of fact, one of the means of death that was available to the Roman citizen who owned a runaway was crucifixion.

So, when Paul writes to Philemon about Onesimus, he knows the seriousness of the matter.

He writes knowing Philemon’s rights as a slave owner.

But, he also writes knowing that the Gospel has the power to transcend the law and transform relationships.

He knows that because he has experienced it.

Paul is a fascinating character study. When we first meet Paul, he is persecuting the new Christian faith. He was really focused on his Jewish heritage, he saw this new church that was starting, and he said, “absolutely not.” He began to persecute the church: he was there when Stephen, the first Christian martyr, was stoned. Paul threw believers into prison. He even got permission from the religious leaders to take the show on the road and begin threatening the church in Damascus.

But something changes. He has an encounter with the risen Christ.

Now you talk about an unlikely convert: that’s Paul! But he is changed: he goes from being a persecutor to being a preacher to being a prisoner for Christ.

When Paul writes Philemon, he starts by referring to himself as “a prisoner for Christ.” As I understand it, he’s giving testimony to the extreme power of the gospel to transform your life and your relationships. He was antagonistic to Christ and now all of a sudden he’s willing to suffer for Christ.

His relationship with Christ changed and that made a huge difference in his relationships with others. Paul was a pretty intense dude. Paul did not have any problems telling you what he thought.

Except in Philemon, he seems to hold back. Paul had the authority, as an apostle and the one who brought the Gospel to Philemon, to tell Philemon what to do but he softens it.

I would argue it’s the gospel that softens Paul’s words. Paul experienced the love of Christ in his own life and it drove him to demonstrate that love to others. He tells Philemon, “I’d rather appeal to you.” Why?

Love doesn’t demand and command: it encourages and transforms.

The gospel that transformed Paul was not something that Paul came to unwillingly: once Jesus showed up and Paul experienced the love of Christ he began to apply that to his life. There’s a transformation that takes place in Paul’s ministry.

The way Paul relates to people has been transformed by the power of the Gospel.

Paul’s not the only one who’s been changed by the gospel. Philemon has been changed as well. One thing we know about Philemon is that he is a rich guy. Anyone who had a house big enough for a church to meet in and who owns slaves is in the one percent: he’s the upper crust in society. People of his station were not supposed to be concerned about opening their homes up to what was likely a congregation of lower class people.

And yet the gospel has transformed him.

Jesus says it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. Good thing God works miracles. Because Philemon, the rich guy, is a Christian. He’s somebody who’s been transformed. He’s in the Kingdom of Heaven. Why? Because the Gospel transformed his relationship with his wealth. The Gospel took what had probably been the primary concern for him and makes it secondary to the cause of promoting the Gospel.

Philemon’s relationship with Paul is affected by the Gospel. Because of the Gospel, Paul knows that Philemon is someone he can trust. Philemon will listen to the Holy Spirit, he’s a trustworthy kind of guy now because the Gospels transformed him.

But there’s also a relationship that still needs to be transformed by the Gospel. There’s a blind spot in Philemon’s life. His relationship with his slave, Onesimus. Paul wants Philemon to see the implications of the Gospel in this area: Onesimus can no longer be a slave if he’s a brother in Christ.

This is where, if I was Paul Harvey, I’d pause and you’d just have to wait for the rest of the story.

I’m not Paul Harvey, but you still have to wait.

First, there’s a third character we need to look at: Onesimus. A slave who most likely stole from his master the resources by which he was able to escape. He ran away to Rome to hide from his master in the crowds there. And then he meets Paul. And Paul introduces him to Jesus.

Onesimus, who was willing to risk death to flee slavery, meets Jesus. And what does he do? He begins serving Paul. He begins to willingly do the thing he was willing to die to avoid. The Gospel transformed Onesimus’ relationship with service. This is a guy who said, “I don’t want my life to be defined by serving someone.” Now, after the Gospel, he is submitting to Christ and he’s serving Paul. It’s interesting that there’s a little play on words going on here: Onesimus means “useful.” Paul tells Philemon that Onesimus was formerly useless as a slave, but now he’s useful.

Paul is not saying he’s useful because now he’s just a good obedient little slave. No, he’s saying he’s useful because he’s been transformed by the gospel. Onesimus has changed from wanting what he wants to get out of life to wanting what Jesus wants. His relationship with his very life has been transformed by Jesus coming in.

Note that Paul is not turning Onesimus over to the authorities and having them haul him back. Most likely, Paul is putting this letter in Onesimus’ hand and he is freely and willingly going back to Philemon. The master that he probably stole from. The master that he could not wait to get away from. And he’s going back.

That’s transformation. That’s what the Gospel does in our relationships.

How?

How does the Gospel transform us like that?

The Gospel gives us a call, not to self-advancement, not a call to self-improvement, not a call for me to be the best me possible, but for me to be like Jesus. The Gospel transforms us not by giving us a list of things to do but by first and foremost having us see Jesus.

Jesus is all that matters. Jesus is the only one whose vision for your life matters. What you want to be, what you want to do, what you want to become in yourself are entirely and utterly insignificant in the grand scheme of God’s plan for the universe. God’s goal for creation is not that it would revolve around you but that Jesus Christ would be all in all.

But how does that happen?

Jesus becomes a slave.

Is that not the most counter-cultural counter-intuitive way of doing things you’ve ever heard?

If we want to get ahead, we imagine that we’ve got to promote ourselves. Jesus example says, “No.”

Jesus is God. He didn’t have to give up the privileges that he had as God eternal and come to earth as a human being. He didn’t have to do that but he did.

Because the fundamental truth of the Gospel is this: a life lived for yourself is a life that is not worth living. A life lived for others is a life that will endure forever.

Jesus comes and he dies on a cross not because it was good for Jesus, but because Jesus wasn’t worried about Jesus: he was worried about his Father, he was worried about us. That’s why Jesus came and Jesus died and that sacrifice opens up the hope for us to be transformed and for us to be redeemed. If we will submit to Christ, the Bible says we will be saved. If we confess Him as Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead we will be saved.

And being saved doesn’t just mean getting to go to heaven when you die. Being saved means that one day you’re going to look like Jesus. Getting saved means God starts remaking you, beginning the process of transforming you from a wretched rebel to a son or daughter who looks like Jesus.

Part of that process will necessarily involve transforming your relationships.

The gospel transformed Paul from a persecutor to somebody who was willing to be a prisoner. It changed his relationships with those called Christians and with the Christ they took their name from.

The gospel transformed Philemon from “that rich guy” to somebody known for being generous, loyal, and a disciple-maker. It changed his relationship with his stuff and how he used it.

The gospel transformed Onesimus from a runaway slave to a faithful fellow worker. It changed his relationships with those around him from what he could get to what he could give.

That’s radical. It is change that everyone can see. It is a testimony to the power of the gospel.

So, how is the gospel changing your relationships?

Because here’s my fear: that we, as Christians, are so tempted to make our relationships about us that we miss the life-transforming power of the gospel in them. When we approach relationships saying, “what am I going to get out of this, what’s in it for me?” then we miss the heart of Jesus in the gospel.

Not only that, but the world misses a chance to see real, practical evidence for the truth and power of the gospel.

The gospel is not inert. It isn’t just a good story. It’s not about morality.

It’s about transformation.

You don’t know the ripples that will spread out in the lives of those who see the gospel transforming relationships.

And now for the…rest of the story.

We don’t get it from the New Testament, but there’s something very interesting that happened in the story of Philemon and Onesimus after Paul’s letter. A guy named Ignatius of Antioch writes years later about the Bishop of Ephesus. His name? Onesimus.

Now, it’s possible that there was another Onesimus, but the fact he is also referred to as the Slave Bishop seems to indicate that it’s the same guy. And, as we trace the story through various authors, we get the idea that Philemon took Paul’s hint and set Onesimus free. Then, Onesimus went back to Paul and serves with him. He serves the wider church faithfully and eventually becomes the bishop of Ephesus.

Some scholars also think Onesimus is the one who assembled Paul’s writings. That’s important. There wasn’t a printing press, so preserving the letters would have to be an intentional act. It seems Onesimus may have been the guy doing it. So, why do we have a New Testament that includes Paul’s letters? Ultimately, it’s the inspiration of the Holy Spirit but he could have been working specifically through transformed relationships.

That’s pretty cool.

So, based on the example of Paul, Philemon, and Onesimus, begin to think intentionally about how you can demonstrate the gospel through them. Start today by changing the way you think about relationships.

Don’t ask: “What do I deserve?” Ask: “How can I serve?”

Don’t ask: “What’s the least I can do?” Ask: “What will show the most love?”

Don’t ask: “What do I want to do?” Ask: “What would Jesus do?”

When you change your approach to relationships, they are transformed. When relationships are transformed, its evidence for the truth of the gospel. Then, when evidence for the gospel is seen, the gospel spreads. And when the gospel spreads, the world is changed.

How are your relationships looking in light of the gospel? Because they have the power to change the world.

What Is The Gospel?

“Gospel” is simply a word that means “good news” but many people use it as shorthand for the central message of Christianity. Usually then, “gospel” refers to the good news about Christ and his Kingdom.

So what’s the good news about Christ and his Kingdom?

To understand that good news, we have to understand its place in the larger history of the world. Everything we need to know about that context and the good news itself is revealed in the Bible.

God Is The Creator

The opening statement of the Bible tells us that: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Just a few paragraphs later, we read that God declares everything he created to be very good or perfect. He created mankind to be like him (very good, creative, intelligent, etc) and essentially gave them stewardship over what he had made.

God Is The King

Stewards serve under a king. Mankind is the steward; God is the King. As King, he is the lawgiver. Because he is good, the law was good. And it was simple: don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Mankind Rebelled Against Their King

Mankind disobeyed God’s command. They rejected God’s authority over them.

As a result, sin entered the world. Sin is anything that we do that rejects God’s authority as King. More than that, sin causes all sorts of problems for us and those around us. Death entered the world, hunger, bitterness, anger, jealousy, murder, and every other sin spread out as mankind continued to reject God.

God’s Promise

But God promised he was going to fix it. He began speaking to various people, prophets who would share his message with those around them. It wasn’t always clear to the people what God was up to, but he was preparing the world for his sin solution. As he spoke throughout the centuries, he revealed to the people of Israel that he would send a Chosen One (Messiah in Hebrew or Christ in Greek) who would conquer sin and death and make the world “very good” again.

God Keeps His Promise

Then, he quit speaking to anyone for about 400 years. It seemed like God had forgotten his promise. It seemed like he had given up on mankind.

But after that silence, he appeared to a young, engaged couple, Mary and Joseph, and told them that, before they were married, Mary would have a child who would be the Son of God.

Sure enough, Mary did have a son, and they named him Jesus.

Jesus

He was human, but he was also the Promised Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God. He showed and told people the truth about God and about the Kingdom of God. Jesus preached the good news about that Kingdom’s arrival through him and told people to believe in him and his message and to love God, love others, and tell others about the Kingdom. He gathered a group of followers who believed in his message.

Mankind Rebels Again

But most of mankind didn’t like Jesus’ reminding them that God was King. So they killed him. They actually had inside help: one of Jesus’ followers betrayed him. Jesus’ message of God’s authority and man’s responsibility simply wasn’t popular with rebels.

They thought killing him would be the end of it.

Not The End

But Jesus didn’t stay dead.

Instead, he rose from the grave and appeared to his followers, who were all convinced that he was really alive again. He was human and thus could die, but he revealed that he was also God and therefore had the power over life and death.

Jesus Inaugurates His Kingdom

Jesus told his followers that by his dying and rising, sin and death had been conquered for all who would believe in the good news of his message and the truth of his resurrection. He reminded them that even though he was going to leave the earth, his Kingdom would continue through the lives of those who submitted to him as King together. He called this gathering of those who believed his message “the church.” After telling them to make sure the gospel, the good news of the Kingdom, was told throughout the whole world, Jesus ascended into heaven. But, before he left, he told them that help was on its way.

The Holy Spirit

Jesus’ followers had a big task: represent the Kingdom of God to everyone on earth. Jesus knew that they weren’t able to do this on their own. So he sent the Spirit of God to live in and through his followers. “Spirit” doesn’t mean an impersonal force: this is God himself. He works in many different ways. By making people aware of their rebellion against God, he helps them submit again. He empowers people to follow Jesus. He shows the reality of the Kingdom in different ways. And he gives comfort to those who believe in the Kingdom as they wait for Jesus to return.

Jesus Will Complete His Kingdom

Jesus returned to heaven with the Kingdom of God established in the lives of those who believe in him by the power of the Holy Spirit. But he also promised to come back one day, after the gospel had been spread to every tribe, tongue, and nation, to finally eradicate sin and death and rebellion and fully establish his Kingdom in a new heaven and new earth.

The Gospel.

I am curious: do you believe it?