The King in Disguise

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn 1:1) … “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14) … “I go and prepare a place for you, and I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (Jn 14:3).

The child in the stable, the child that we celebrate at Christmastime, arrived in Bethlehem with a past, a present, and a future.  He existed long before that winter’s night.  He existed “in the beginning”; so far in the past that He was there at the start as the Creator himself.  “For in Him [Christ] all things were created (Col 1:16).  “All things came into being through Him” (Jn 1:3).

In His present, which began with the Christmas story, Jesus walked the earth as fully God and fully man.  He was a king in disguise if you will.  He downplayed His kingship even as He invited the world to join His kingdom of God; a spiritual kingdom in the hearts of men, not a political kingdom of military might.  We only get glimpses of His kingly identity such as on the cross in His identification as “King of the Jews”.

Looking forward, we wait for a glorious future when this King will be fully revealed.  The day prophesied by Zechariah – “And the Lord will be king over all the earth” (Zech 14:9) – is coming.  The fulfillment of the promise of Jesus the coming King, is made clear throughout the book of Revelation.

“And there arose loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever” (Rev 11:15).  “And I saw heaven opened; and behold, a white horse, and He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True … And He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood; and His name is called the Word of God … And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, ‘KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS’ ” (Rev 19:11,13,16).

And with an incredible hand of grace reaching out to us, He has invited us to reign with Him.  “And He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.  And He who sits on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’  And He said, ‘Write, for these words are faithful and true.’  And He said to me, ‘It is done.  I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.  I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost.  He who overcomes shall inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be my son” (Rev 21:4-7).

“And who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (I Jn 5:5).  By virtue of your belief in the Son of God, all the promise of Revelation chapter 21 is yours.  You are the overcomer; you are the son of God.

Jesus Christ was and is and is to come the preeminent “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Rev 19:16).  And by faith in Him, you are invited to join Him in this glorious future.  Will you accept His invitation?

Raised Up With Christ

Before we become too far removed from our celebration of Resurrection Sunday, let me encourage you by way of a reminder.  When you embraced the gospel message of Jesus Christ, you were literally – in a spiritual sense – raised with Christ.  Theologically speaking, we call it our co-resurrection with Christ.

“Since you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Col 3:1-2).  Since you were resurrected with Christ, set your mind on things in keeping with your new identity as a resurrected one; focused on things above, things of Christ.

“For when we were dead in our transgressions, God made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:5-6).  Our new station in life; raised up with Christ.

“Having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead” (Col 2:12).  Baptism is a picture of us being buried with Christ and raised with Christ.  Spiritually speaking, we were there; dying on the cross with Christ and bursting forth from the grave with Christ.

“Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.  For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection”  (Rom 6:4-5).

Look at all the phrases referring to “us with Christ” in these four short Scripture passages.  We have been…

  • raised up with Christ   (Col 3:1)
  • made alive with Christ   (Eph 2:5)
  • raised up with Christ   (Eph 2:6)
  • seated with Christ   (Eph 2:6)
  • buried with Christ   (Col 2:12)
  • raised up with Christ   (Col 2:12)
  • buried with Christ   (Rom 6:4)
  • united with Christ   (Rom 6:5)

The last phrase really sums up the others.  In Christ’s death and resurrection and ongoing life, we are UNITED with Him.  The Colossians passage goes on to say, “For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:3).  I don’t think we can get much more united with Christ than to be “hidden with Christ in God”.

All the promises we have been writing about such as your spiritual sonship with the Father, the Spirit living in you, Christ in you, and Christ living his life through you (Gal 2:20) are all made possible by two incredible miracles.  The first is that God raised Christ Jesus from the dead.  And the second is that you and me were raised with Him; raised to walk in a new life.  A life we will continue to explore together in the days to come.

Palm Sunday: A King Declared

As I watched young children leaving the church grounds with their construction paper palm branches last Sunday, I was reminded of one of my absolute favorite prophecies of the Old Testament; a prediction concerning the coming Messiah, the Anointed One, the King of Kings.

To get there is a bit of circuitous path.  It’s a longer post than typical.  It requires close attention.  But stick with me here.  The payoff will be a blessing to you.  Let’s dive in.

In the life of Christ, the week between His riding into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and His resurrection from the dead seven days later is often referred to as the passion week of Christ.  Somewhere between one-quarter and one-half of each gospel is dedicated to this one week.  It is the emphasis and climax of the gospel message.

One of the fascinating things about Christ’s passion week is the incredible number of Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah that were fulfilled in Jesus in that week.  In fact, in one day alone, the day of His crucifixion, Jesus fulfilled at least 29 prophecies regarding the promised Messiah.

The passion week begins with one of the most obscure and powerful predictions about the coming King being fulfilled on Palm Sunday.  If you recall the story, on that day Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey (that in itself is a fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9, “Shout in triumph, daughter of Jerusalem!  Behold your King is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation.  Humble, and mounted on a donkey.”)

But the King on a donkey is not the obscure and powerful prophecy that I wish to highlight so continue with me.  When Jesus rode into town, a large crowd assembled around Him.  They laid their garments in the road before Him.  They cut branches from trees and spread them in the rode as well.  Then the crowd proclaimed, “Hosanna to the Son of David.  Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord.  Hosanna in the highest!”  The crowd proclaimed that Jesus is their King.

The Pharisees however, having rejected Jesus as King, instructed Jesus to silence the crowd.  Jesus rebuffed their command with this answer, “I tell you that even if these become silent, the stones will cry out!” (Lk 19:40).  I believe the “stones will cry out” message reveals that the proclamation of Jesus as King was destined for this very day.

I believe April 6, AD 32 (traditional date for the first Palm Sunday) was in fact a special day on the prophetic calendar where the proclamation of Jesus as King was actually necessary; was actually required.  Follow me through the timeline.

In Daniel chapter 9, over 500 years before Christ, God revealed to Daniel an overarching prophetic timeline.  “490 years are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy” (Dan 9:24).

God then moves on to specifics that are mind blowing looking backward in time.  God reveals to Daniel that the prophetic clock will start at the issuing of the decree to rebuild Jerusalem.  “Know and understand this:  From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the Ruler, comes, there will be 483 years.” (Dan 9:25).

(Aside:  As explained later in Daniel 9, the final seven years of the 490 refer to the future tribulation period after which all of the “end of sin” and “everlasting righteousness” prophecies will come true.)

Now the closest we can tell, the decree to rebuild Jerusalem was given and the prophetic clock counting down to the announcement of the Messiah’s arrival started on March 14, 445 BC.  So can you see where I am going?  When we do the math of converting from the prophetic Jewish calendar to the Julian calendar and accounting for leap years etc, it is not a stretch to conclude that 483 years later is April 6, AD 32.  I believe that Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of Daniel 9, the prophecy of the coming Anointed One, to the very day.

The first Palm Sunday was destined to be the day of the proclamation of the coming King such that if the crowd had not proclaimed it, the stones themselves would have cried out.  What an amazing fulfillment of a prophecy that was announced over 500 years earlier.

We believe the gospel message by faith.  But the gospel message, the message of Christ, is rooted in history.  It is rooted in a reality that we believe actually happened.  It is rooted in historical evidence all around us.  Fulfilled prophecy is one type of evidence that God uses to bring us to faith and to strengthen our faith.

And to me personally, this particular prophecy is incredible.  Over five centuries before Christ, with the prophet Daniel in a state of prayer, God let Daniel in on a secret.  God revealed the timeline for the coming of the Messiah.  And because Daniel wrote it down, we were let in on the secret as well.

God has given us many evidences of Jesus as the Promised One.  The star at His birth, God’s voice at His baptism, the miracles of Jesus, and the ultimate attesting miracle; Christ’s resurrection from the dead.  The proclamation of Jesus as King on Palm Sunday April 6 AD 32 – 483 years in the making – is another powerful piece of the evidence picture.

Happy Palm Sunday as we celebrate the coming of the King!

“Do Not Be Afraid!”

When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, one of the first things he said to her was, “Do not be afraid.”  When an angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds on the outskirts of Bethlehem, his first words were, “Do not be afraid.”  And God’s word to you this Christmas is, “Do not be afraid.”

We live in a fearful world.  On a national and international scale, we are reminded everyday of who and what to fear.  I don’t know if our ramped up fear is a result of the 24-hour news cycle, or if the world really is going crazy.  As believers, we know what is behind the craziness.  We know that “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (I Jn 5:19).  Fear, intimidation, and pure evil are being unleashed on the world in the wake of Satan’s influence.  Into this chaos, God’s word to us is, “Do not be afraid.”

But let’s set the big picture aside, if we can, and bring it down to a personal level.  Even here, we find much to fear.  Family dysfunction, broken relationships, chronic sickness, mysterious pain, financial setbacks, job insecurity, and the worry that accompanies these problems surge right to the front of our brains.  Into this personal chaos, Jesus says, “Do not be afraid.”

This assurance from Jesus is not a Pollyanna, naïve, let’s-not-acknowledge-the-pain word from our Lord.  No, Jesus knows all about tribulation.  He knows all about pain; even to the point of carrying the weight of our sin to a painful death on a cross.  And He knows your pain.  He knows your trial.  And He has a word for you.

“In this world you will have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33).  In this world, in this pain, in this fear, Jesus is asking us to “take courage, do not be afraid.”

How can we take courage when, on both a personal and global scale, our world seems to be falling apart?  The answer is the miracles of Christmas.  The first miracle is lying in a manger.  When we stare into the face of the baby Jesus, we are seeing Immanuel, God with us.  We are seeing the miracle of the Incarnation.  God Himself coming to dwell with us.

But there is a second miracle of Christmas that we often overlook.  If you are a Christ-follower, when you look inside yourself you are seeing Immanuel, God with us.  Do you believe that?  It is a miracle.  But, it’s true!  If you have embraced the gospel message of Jesus Christ, the God of the universe has taken up residence in you.  And recognizing this incredible and supernatural indwelling is key to overcoming fear.

The apostle John highlights this in his first letter.  “You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He that is in you than he who is in the world” (I Jn 4:4).  Can you believe it?  Not only are you indwelt with God’s spirit, but it is a Spirit that is far stronger than Satan’s spirit of fear that grips the world.

Believe it because it is true!  The Spirit of God who indwells you is greater than the spirit of Satan that is wreaking such havoc in the world.  Notice the word “overcome” in both Jesus’ statement (Jn 16:33) and the verse above (I Jn 4:4).  We overcome the world, we overcome the spirit of the world, we overcome our fears though the Spirit that lives inside.

Embrace the Spirit of God living inside.  Run to the Spirit.  Walk in the Spirit.  Listen to the Spirit.  When you do this, the light of God’s Spirit will shine in you, through you, and out from you like the light shining in that first nativity stable.  Follow the light into the stable, and let your gaze land on the manger.  Look into the feeding trough.  Look into the face of the baby Jesus and see God Himself.

When we look into the face of Jesus, we see a miracle.  We see Immanuel, God with us.  And when we look in the mirror, we see another miracle.  We see Immanuel, God with us, living inside.  The miracles of Christmas.  The miracles that empower us to, “Take courage, do not be afraid.”

Thanksgiving and the New You

I am a stickler for truth in advertising.  When the Bible talks about God’s commands as not burdensome or His yoke as light, I want to know how this happens.  Because, quite frankly, I have felt the weight and burden of Christ’s commands and it was not always pleasant.  And I do not think I am alone in that feeling.

What lifted the burden for me was an understanding of all that changed at my new birth.  And one of the changes was an infusion of a new nature – an infusion of the righteousness of Christ – such that obeying Christ’s commands is now my new normal.  I am not saying my new normal is always easy, but following Christ’s commands has become my second nature and yours too.

When we recognize that Christ is literally living His life through us, that He is in the yoke with us (after all Jesus calls it “His yoke” and I fully expect Him to be in there with me), it lifts the burden.  On the other hand, when we fail to embrace or believe or expect that Christ is living His life through us, we become worn down, oppressed, and yes, burdened by all that He requires.  Our Christian life turns sour and gratefulness is the furthest thing from our minds.

But when we recognize that the gospel message is not only about our initial salvation, but also informs our new power to live the life now, a thankful heart is our natural response.  We can not add anything to what Christ has done for us.  We cannot live the life He wants to live through us by will power and shutting Him out.  We cannot lift ourselves up to righteousness by our bootstraps and true grit.  No, we live the life by accepting all that Christ has accomplished on our behalf.

In the book of Colossians, Paul explains that legalism – working our way to righteousness – is not only foolish, but has no value in defeating the flesh.  He goes on to explain that we live the life, defeat the flesh, and experience victory over sin by living into our new nature; by putting on the new self.  And this new self is infused with thanksgiving.

Gratefulness is so much a part of our new life that Paul comes back to it for three verses in a row as He concludes his treatise on the new self.  “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.  Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.  And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Col 3:15-17).

In your unity and peace, give thanks.  In Christ’s word dwelling within you, give thanks.  In your singing, give thanks.  And then it is as if Paul looks up and says, “You know the more I think about it, just go ahead and give thanks in everything you do” (vs 17).  Thanksgiving and a grateful heart are that important.

May I encourage you this thanksgiving to thank the Lord for His goodness.  To thank the Lord for the friends and family in your life.  To thank the Lord for His material blessings.  But don’t forget to thank Him for making you a new creation; a new you with a soft and grateful heart.