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“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should   but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

*This is a continuation of a earlier post entitled, John 3:16: What Does “Believe” Mean?

In our Life Group we were studying this verse – probably the best known in all of Scripture. The study breaks down this verse by its critical components: God loved, God gave, we believe, and we live. If this sounds familiar, it is based upon Max Lucado’s 3:16: Numbers of Hope guide. Although admittedly not a huge Lucado fan, the lessons have stimulated some lively discussion. And rightly so: this verse is pregnant with meaning often overlooked because we are so familiar with it. The 4th session turned to the word “believe” found in this powerful text.

Earlier we had defined “believe in Him” as a surrendered trust in Jesus as our only hope for salvation (eternal life) and a “faith” that suggests following after Christ with a transformed life that includes the desire to be obedient to Him as Lord. In our time together the question was raised: “This verse says that we have everlasting life if we “believe in Him. If so, does it make any difference what we believe as long as who we believe in Jesus?” In other words, is believing in Jesus all there is to saving faith or does what we believe about Him really matter? Or, for clarification: is the most important thing “who” or “what” we believe in? Good question! What do you think?

Karolyn spoke first and quickly said, “You can’t separate the two.” Exactly! History has been filled with those who claim to trust in Christ for salvation (or a form of it) but denied the essence of who He is. Early in the church, the Gnostics come to mind. Today, there many cults, sects, and religions which suggest that faith in Jesus can be central to redemption but cast Him in a lesser light than Scripture itself does. Pluralism does this by saying, Jesus is one way to heaven, but not the only way.” This, of course, discounts Christ’s own claim that He was the only way, truth, and life by which one can know God (John 14:6).

What about believing in a Jesus who wasn’t sinless, really didn’t perform miracles, or was never physically raised from the dead? The latter of these was the constant drumbeat of the early church’s preaching and foundational to true faith. What about a Jesus that wasn’t really God and isn’t the only hope for fallen humanity? Or what about a Messiah who never will return again to rule and reign as He promised?

The core Christian belief is that through the death and resurrection of Jesus, sinful humans can be reconciled to God and thereby are offered salvation and the
promise of eternal life. Essential beliefs held by Christ-followers include his divinity, humanity, and earthly life as depicted in Scripture. Adhering to authentic Christian faith requires a belief that Jesus is the Son of God and the Messiah. As one theologian has said, “The whole of Christian teaching would fall to the ground if it were the case that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus were not events in real history, but stories told to illustrate truths which are valid apart from these happenings.” Also, true disciples of Christ believe that Jesus was both human and the Son of God: God in human form—sharing human frailties and temptations but never acting on them, only seeking to do the will of His father in heaven, never once seeking to make Himself happy in any way but willfully submitting to God as a man, never doing what He wanted to do but what He saw His Father in heaven doing.

Beyond this, believing in Jesus means that He, as God, spoke for God. He was both the message and messenger of the way God expects us to live. The Sermon on the Mount is but one example that Jesus claimed His teachings had the very authority of God. What we believe is that His words are truth and life: “…If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32).

So, just as Karolyn said (and the group concurred), the answer to the question, “who or what?” is, “Yes!” To “believe in Him” is part and parcel of trusting in what the Word of God reveals about Him. “Who” we believe in and “what” we believe about Him are two sides of the same coin. To believe the “what” of Jesus to be something other than what Scripture reveals and He claimed to be is, in essence, a failure to “believe in Him” with the kind of faith that, as Jesus said, allows us to “not perish but have eternal life.”

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*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Eleven – The Source of Righteousness

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I  have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke  of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and  teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven,  but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the  kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the  kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17-20).

When faced with the awesome and noble task of living as salt and light, I  can easily fall into the trap of thinking I’ve arrived. That I’m a better Christian than so-in-so. That I no longer need improvement. In truth, however,  I along with every other believer travel a journey towards perfection: we’ll not achieve it until we breathe our last. Anything good in me—anything good in any Christ-follower—comes not through our righteousness, but the Lord’s. Our best efforts, no matter how sincere, are always as “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6).

The unvarnished truth? No one is righteous. Nothing about us and nothing generated on our own merit is good (Romans 3:10-11). Though the Pharisees and
devout people of Christ’s day sought holiness through ritual and ceremony and adherence to laws, Christ taught that their efforts were worthless. “Unless
your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees,” He said, “you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” But since righteousness proves a foundational need in participating in God’s kingdom and honoring His kingship, we must understand how one achieves it. We must grasp that the righteousness of Christ provides our only hope in satisfying the demands of holy God.

The writer of Hebrews sheds light on Christ’s role:

“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in Heaven” (Hebrews 1:1-3).

Before Christ came to earth in human form, mankind had only one avenue toward pleasing God: keeping the Old Covenant law given by God to the nation of
Israel. This set of rules, which included much more than the Ten Commandments, served as the yardstick by which God measured the love and obedience of His people. James 2:10 clarifies that in order to live as holy a life as God required people must keep all of the law. Not surprisingly, this standard proved too high and the people failed. No religious rituals could bring them acceptance before God who demanded perfect obedience; they desperately needed a Messiah, or a Savior from their sins (see Hebrews 10:1-9).

When Jesus gave His life on the cross, He completely fulfilled the perfect law that humans prove incapable of keeping. While God might have chosen to do away with His righteous demands regarding idol worship, lying, murdering, and committing adultery, He chose not to abolish them. Instead, He had Jesus fulfill the holy dictates; in doing so, God accomplished the obedience necessary to satisfy His own demands and plans. In a sense, God modified the original law, making it richer and deeper and giving it a new and enhanced meaning. In a real and profound sense, Jesus became the New Covenant law of God. Through the person, teaching, and finished work of Christ, we see the completion of all the Old Testament’s revealed teaching, ethical precepts, and prophecy. In Jesus we see the implementation of a New Covenant between God and humanity. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, all who believe in Him can embrace the good news. The unchanging law of God was fulfilled in Christ. Those who believe in and receive Him by faith are declared righteous. This is our salvation!

Unlike the showy ways that the Pharisees and teachers of the law chose to obey the Old Covenant, obedience from the heart proves a requirement in keeping
the new one. Living out kingdom principles projects a different kind of personal obedience. The outward and shallow form of righteousness found in ritualistic religion doesn’t work. God requires inwardly prompted righteousness of mind and motive compelled by a transformed heart. This kind of obedience surpasses the religion of the Pharisees and typifies those who belong to God’s kingdom. Astonishingly, the Old Testament prophets predicted this new type of obedience long before Christ’s birth: “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people” (Jeremiah 31:33). And in Ezekiel 36:27, people were given a clue as to how this would happen, “[God] will put [his] Spirit in you and move you to follow [his] decrees and be careful to keep [his] laws.”

Jesus calls us not only to obedience but to a deeper heart-righteousness that has external manifestations. In John 3:3, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” Truly, we cannot achieve true righteousness without first surrendering to Christ. After that, we receive indwelling power that comes through the Holy Spirit. Kingdom living necessitates a radical righteousness that comes only through the God Himself. In order to see the righteous demands of God’s kingdom fulfilled in us, we must look to Jesus and rely on His Holy Spirit.

Apply It.

Meditate on Second Corinthians 5:21 and John 1:29. Righteousness comes only from Christ. Consider why you obey God’s Word. Do you do so to justify yourself before God or to show loving and thankful acknowledgement that He is worthy of your submission? Ask God to reveal any self-righteousness and to give you an obedient heart.

*This is an excerpt from Captivated by the King and His Kingdom: A Personal Encounter with the Sermon on the Mount published by Crossbooks in 2010. The links for this book are:

Amazon in book form – http://www.amazon.com/Captivated-King-His-Kingdom-Encounter/dp/1615073418/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1302820767&sr=8-1    

Amazon Kindle – http://www.amazon.com/Captivated-King-His-Kingdom-ebook/dp/B004KAA9UC/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2&s=books&qid=1302820767&sr=8-2

Barnes and Noble in book form – http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Captivated-by-the-King-and-His-Kingdom/Linden-C-Wolfe/e/9781615073412/?itm=3&USRI=captivated+by+the+king

Other eReader formats – http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/33572

If you follow along with this category (albeit backwards) by the same name as the book, eventually, Lord willing, we will have walked through the Sermon on the Mount verse by verse in a devotional commentary approach. I pray that this series impacts you as much as it did me as I studied this passage and wrote this book. Grace to you!

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