Biblical Stories

Who Jesus Is

Photo credit: People have sought spiritual truth for centuries. Make that millennia. Philosophers, theologians, and religious people of all persuasions. For the most part, spiritual truth has passed from one person to another, both in oral and written forms.

The truth of the Bible is unique. It was first passed down from God to humans, then from person to person. Of course, many philosophers and theologians who do not accept the Bible's veracity dispute this.

Beyond rhetoric and posturing, the Bible tells the story of God Himself appearing to humanity. This was confirmed by sources other than those who accept this revelation within the Bible, as well as the Bible's internal evidence. And yet, there's even more to the story than many people realize.

The second question

Last week, we looked at the first question Jesus asked His followers, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” People today have lots of different opinions about Jesus, just as they did then. What's important for us is to understand where people stand, what their understanding of Jesus is.

We need this understanding before we launch into any attempt share the gospel with them. People need a frame of reference to understand things, especially spiritual truth.

But when the opportunity arises for us to share our faith in Jesus, we need to be clear about who He is. As we pick up the story in Matthew's gospel (Matt 16:13-20), we look at Peter's answer to Jesus' second question.

The right answer

Peter’s answer to Jesus’ question gives a compact, complete understanding of the Lord. Jesus commends Peter on his answer, but tells him the source of his understanding was not Jesus’ physical presence, but a direct revelation from God, the Father.

Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 16:16-17)

Peter’s response is more of a declaration than a simple answer. He declares what he and other disciples had come to know. Jesus says it’s not Jesus’ physical presence among them, but revelation from God the Father.

Does this seem contradictory or paradoxical? Perhaps, but it is the same for any believer sharing the Gospel—spiritual truth is made known by God’s Spirit, not mere words, nor physical proof.

The Messiah

Two important truths are declared in Peter’s answer. They are not two separate truths, but two parts of a whole truth. First Peter says, “You are the Christ.” The title Christ is an interchangeable term with Messiah. Then he says, “ . . . the Son of the Living God.”

Jesus is both Messiah and God’s Son. Most people are familiar with the title Christ, meaning Anointed One. Christ is taken from the Greek word, Christos. Messiah is taken from the Hebrew word, Mashiyach, or more commonly, Mashiah. Although the term or title Christ is more familiar, the title Messiah helps keep the context of Peter’s declaration more precise.

This Anointed One was the Hope of Israel, long-awaited by those looking to God for deliverance. The Messiah would come as the direct representative of God—a Prophet-King, a Deliverer and Savior—made known to the Jewish people.

The Son

The second part of Peter’s confession, “Son of the Living God,” speaks of who Jesus is in nature—the personal presence of God upon the earth. Jesus and the Father are of one nature.

Although Christian believers are spoken of as children of God, even sons, we are not by nature God. When someone is born again, they receive a new nature and become a new creation, but they don’t become God in nature.

People are human in nature. When a person becomes a genuine believer, a new nature is brought to life internally. They are born again.

The expression, “...Living God,” is a more familiar Jewish sense of God. Israel was to be a “light to the Gentiles,” because they worshiped the One, True, and Living God.

Israel was to be distinct from all other nations (people groups) as God’s Chosen People. This was God’s purpose in establishing the people of Israel as a nation.

The Rock

Jesus’ response to Peter’s declaration of faith includes something not easily understood—the Lord’s play on words with Peter’s name. His name is taken from the Greek word meaning rock or stone. Jesus says, “you are Peter (a stone), and on this rock I will build My church.”

First, Jesus speaks of those included in the church Jesus would build and their need to believe this truth Peter declared—that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.

Secondly, Jesus is the Rock the church is built upon and no one else. The important thing is having a personal relationship with Jesus, which is only possible by God’s grace, through faith.

The apostle Paul speaks of the church being built upon “the foundation of the apostles and prophets.” Note verse 20 (italics mine)—

Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22 NKJV)

Jesus also says His church will have a prevailing power, which indicates there will be a spiritual battle between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness. It is a great assurance to know the church will prevail against the devil and his kingdom of darkness.

The right answer, the wrong time

What the story says in verse 20 is surprising.

Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ. Matt 16:20

Imagine you are with the disciples at that moment. Jesus commends Peter on his answer, and makes other strong statements related to it. The disciples would be encouraged and excited, especially Peter. After all, Peter came up with the right answer!

But, following all of this discussion, Jesus tells the disciples to keep this revelation to themselves. He doesn’t just tell them, but commands them. It seems opposite of what we might expect. I imagine it surprised them too.

It was the right answer, but it wasn't the right time. Not yet. In a matter of months, Jesus would be arrested, sentenced, and crucified. But there's more to the story, much more, and that will have to wait for now.

Has God revealed the truth of who Jesus is to your heart?

Are you ready and willing to share who Jesus is with others?

This post is another excerpt from my book on the Essential Gospel.

To learn more about Jesus and the gospel, get a copy of my book– The Mystery of the Gospel

ROI Expectations

Photo credit: A popular term bandied about now is ROI—Return on Investment. It can apply to various types of investments such as time, energy, personnel, finances, and so on. It originated in financial circles where investors wanted to know what to expect as a profit for their investment.

It seems more than reasonable that investors would expect a profitable return on their investments. After all, that’s their business. Even hourly wage earners expect something in return—a paycheck—for their skills and time at their job.

Jesus taught about a lot of things, including ROI. Think not? Just look at a some of His parables and other teachings.

Continue reading

What has God invested in you personally? What has He given you the capacity to do?

What are the gifts God has entrusted you with? Who can you bless with your life?

This is a guest post on Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale's Daily Devo blog. Click on the link to read more– ROI Expectations

We'll return to our study in Ecclesiastes next week.

Spiritual Talk

Photo credit: When you hear people say things like, “The Lord told me...", do you wonder how this happens or if they really hear from God? Do they have some mystical connection with God or are they just hearing voices? I’m skeptical of anyone who says to me, “The Lord told me to tell you....” And yet, throughout the Bible we read about God speaking to people.

Years ago, when I took courses to be certified as a substance abuse counselor, I was required to take the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI). Several questions dealt with hearing God speak or other voices. The clinical bias of the test was that if you heard God speak, or heard any other voices, your mental stability was in question. Since I understood this, I carefully picked my way through the test. And in case you’re wondering—yes, I passed the test and my courses.

So, how is it possible to hear God’s voice and be in your right mind?(Read more)

This is a guest post for Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale's Daily Devo blog called Spiritual Talk

Next week I'll return to the study Reflections from Ecclesiastes

What's Your Story Morning Glory?

Photo credit: I remember this phrase when I was young. It's a variation of asking the simple question, "What's up?" or "What's going on?" I know there are at least two songs with this as a title, but I'm not referring to them.

The morning glory is a climbing vine with beautiful, white, blue, pink, and deep purple blossoms. The blossoms open in the early morning and close as the day moves to evening. I remember my first encounter with their beauty as a young boy at a daycare center.

I still admire their simple beauty and prolific trumpet-like blooms. My favorite is the deep bluish-purple, but they're all beautiful. Just as their trumpet shape suggests, they shout out beauty in the morning.

Each of us has a story, a life story. In Christian circles, we refer to them as testimonies. This comes from the idea of a witness who testifies what they've seen, or their version of an event. Hence, when someone tells the gospel story, it's often referred to as witnessing.

But as mentioned last week, witnessing or personal evangelism doesn't come easy to many of us. So, I introduced a basic outline for becoming an evangelist without really trying. There are three general points in this outline—keep it simple, keep it personal, and keep alert for opportunities. Today I want to explore the first point—keep it simple.

Start with what you know—your own life story

All of us have a life story

As a young believer, I remember hearing other people share their testimony at church. Some of these testimonies were so vivid and amazing, it may be feel like I didn't have much of a testimony. My life and conversion seemed boring compared to some of the stories I'd hear.

You don't need to compare or compete with others

This is the first thing we need to get squared away—we all have a valuable story to tell. It doesn't need to compare to sensational ones we might hear, it just needs to be genuine. Isn't that the catch-phrase nowadays, to be genuine and real? Who knows your life story better than you?

Your life story is genuine

Your life story is real. You don't need to embellish it to make it worth hearing, but you do need to be able to share it in a brief, clear way. Here's a basic guide if you're not sure how to do this— Guidelines_life-story

Don’t worry about what you don’t know

Most people worry about how to handle questions or challenges when sharing their faith. Don't worry about what you don't know! Focus on what you do know. The point is not to argue theology or get into debates with people. The point is to share your life story with them.

You don't need to have all the answers. You already know the answer. The answer isn't a doctrine or theological point, but a personal encounter with Jesus. So, just share your own encounter with Jesus. It's unique to you, even if it isn't sensational.

Take a cue from Jesus. When challenged by the Jewish leaders, who tried to find fault with Jesus, He side-stepped their challenge with the truth, or put it back to them with a question of His own (Matthew 21:23-27).

If you want to become more knowledgable in how to answer others, here's a resource you can get— Stand to Reason-Tactics

Engage people

When you gain some confidence to share your faith with others, the next thing to do is engage people in conversation. How? It's really not that hard. Think about the conversations you have throughout a day—at work, at a store, in a restaurant, with a neighbor, and others.

Most of the time you can start a conversation with a few simple questions. How's your day going? Do you have family in this area? Do you like your work? You get the idea. Much of the time you will find people willing to talk and open to sharing something about their own life story.

You can also speak something encouraging to a person. I'm pretty sure there's not excessive encouragement thrown around these days. If anything, there's a lot of cynicism, criticism, and complaining. Encouragement is a welcome break from all of that. It may be a start to a conversation, or starting point to develop a relationship with someone.

Once you engage people in conversation, whether for the first time or as a follow-up to previous conversations, you can look for an open door to share your faith. I'll talk more about that in a later post. But a book that expresses this well is, Just Walk Across the Room, by Bill Hybels.

Find a Bible story that matches

This is something that may take some time to develop, but it's a great way to tie your life to a story in the Bible. The great thing about the Bible is that it is honest. It's not a string of fairly tales, but of real life stories.

Many stories reveal the not-so-pleasant side of people. Other stories show great transformations (as in the Gospels or in Acts). The point is to link a story in the Bible to some part of your own life story. I'll also share more about that in a later post.

Just get started!

The first thing to do is get familiar with your own story. Work on getting it clear in your own heart and mind first. Then, try sharing it with others. You can start with people you know first—like a friend, a spouse, or a co-worker.

Then look for opportunities to engage people in conversation. You don't need to be clever, but you do need to be genuine in your interest in them. People can tell when you're just asking to set up what you want to talk about. So, get others talking about their life, the opportunity will come to share your life story after a while.

We'll look at all this more next week. Until then— What's your story morning glory?

About the Beginning of the Story

Image credit: arturaliev / 123RF Stock Photo I've started a new writing project. It's a bit ambitious, but here's the gist of it. My goal is to take God's Story (in the Bible) and show how my own life story and the life story of others is woven together. Here's the beginning point...

God's story starts out with a simple statement, "In the beginning, God…." God exists and all life as we know it began when He spoke it into existence.

Many people have a hard time swallowing this as true, and see the Bible as a book of fables and folk tales. The reason it's hard to see it differently is because we have lost connection with God, and lost touch with our own human history.

The power of story

More progressive cultures have difficulty believing in God than cultures in less developed regions of the world. While it's easy to dismiss the Bible and God as just a story, stories engage people and are popular today.

What may seem as a trend or fad in western culture (an interest in story) has never been lost in other cultures throughout time. In most cultures, stories take center stage. People gather to hear stories, stop what they're doing to listen to stories, and look for opportunities to tell their own story.

The power of story invaded my own life unexpectedly. As a cross-cultural missionary I do a lot of talking. In a more formal setting it's called preaching and teaching. In preaching, stories are incorporated into the messages as a way of illustrating or explaining whatever truth the message is intended to convey.

Most of the time we preachers see stories as something to add to the message. It's not the focal point, but a means to an end. A way to help make a truth more clear by connecting it to something familiar and known. Jesus used stories in a more central way.

A simple story

One Sunday morning in the Philippines, as I went on and on with my message and followed a carefully written outline, I told a story for illustration. As I began to tell it, I engaged everyone's attention. I borrowed it from a book of parabolic stories made popular in Philippine culture by a doctor and journalist. The story revolves around a carabao (water buffalo). It's a simple story that transcends culture.

IMG_0659A farmer and his son traveled back from a day of farming with their carabao. The carabao is a powerful and mostly docile animal used for pulling heavy things and to plow fields. It's common in South East Asia and beloved in Filipino culture.

The farmer had his son ride on the carabao while he walked beside it. As they went by some people, they overheard them say, "Look at that lazy son! His father has worked hard all day and he insists on riding the carabao. How disrespectful!

So, the son got down from the carabao and the father mounted the carabao. They continued home with the father riding and the son walking, until they came to another group of people along the way. Once again, they overheard their conversation, "Look at that father who rides the carabao while his young son is forced to walk beside him. How cruel this father is to his son!"

The farmer and his son dismounted the carabao and began walking together, leading the carabao behind them. As they approached another group of people, this is what they heard, "Look at this foolish farmer and his son. Here they have a strong carabao to ride on after a long day's work, but they're too stupid to take advantage of what God has given them!"

This time the father joined the son on the carabao. They both rode the carabao and continued to their home. Again, people said something critical, "Look at them, the carabao has worked hard all day and this lazy farmer and son are making the carabao work even harder!"

The point of the story

The point of the story, of course, is that no matter what you do someone is likely to criticize it. It's just human nature.

This illustrates out how well story engages us. It draws us in and engages our emotions and our thoughts. And sometimes, the point of the story can be the story itself.

Have you experienced something like this where no matter what you do someone is critical about it?

Does any of this ring true with the story of your own life, or certain events in your life?

Give me some feedback on what you like (or not like) about what I wrote. You can make a comment below. Thanks for reading!