Category Archives: Scripture commentary

Approach Boldly

Hebrews 4:14-16 states, “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are– yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

If God was going to speak to you today, what might He say? What thoughts arise to answer that question? Imagine for a moment that Jesus Himself was standing there in your office. What would you say to Him, and what do you think He might say to you?

Many times I have found myself expecting judgment, discipline, or condemnation from God. Sometimes, I hesitate to pray or to worship based on that expectation. After all, He is a holy God, seated on His throne of righteousness and justice, and here I am, little old me; I stumble and fail in so many different ways. If I go to God in my condition, He’ll probably tell me how many things I am doing wrong, or correct me for my faults. He probably doesn’t have a lot of time for a failure like me. On top of that, I’m reminded of everything I should be doing… I don’t pray enough, I don’t read my Bible enough, it’s been a while since I went to church, etc.

Ever feel that way? This phrase, “approach God’s throne with confidence,” shatters that fear of God’s anger and judgment for all those who are covered by faith in the high-priest ministry of Jesus. Christ’s blood was the perfect sacrifice, making atonement and “reconciliation for the sins of the people.” Our high priest is called “merciful and faithful.” He understands our weaknesses because He has walked in our shoes; He does not stand aloof, out of reach, glaring down on pathetic and pitiful humanity. Instead, He became pathetic, pitiful, “a man of no reputation, familiar with sorrows,” in order to reconcile us to God.

Now we are free to come to the throne. The throne is the seat of authority, and is approached with reverence and fear. The one who sits on the throne in a particular land holds the power of life and death for anyone who approaches that place. But because of our high priest, we are not coming to a throne of judgment, but a throne of grace, of unmerited favor. Nothing I can do will earn God’s acceptance– He has already accepted me! We come with confidence because the One on the throne has granted us His favor and love. He has approved us, selected us, welcomed us to come before Him.

This breaks down all my thinking that my relationship with God is based on “Jesus and _______.” All the good things that I do will not grant me special favors from God. “Without faith, it is impossible to please God,” and when I work to earn something from God, my faith is in what I have done instead of in Him. God’s plan works the other way around: He saved us by His grace, through faith, and not by good deeds that we have done, so that we can’t boast about our “special” relationship with Him as though we did it on our own. But we were saved for a purpose, so that we can be in the right position to accomplish good deeds for God’s glory. We do good deeds because God loves us, not so that God might love us.

At all times, knowing that we have received His favor, we can come boldly to God in prayer and in worship, knowing that we can receive His loving assistance (mercy) and find divine power and strength (grace) to help us whenever we have a need. Jesus is a faithful priest in things pertaining to God; He is always able to administer the blessings of God to us. There is no time where He takes a leave of absence; He is never too busy; He is never taking a break. We can always rely on His ministry, and find mercy and grace at every point of need.

Praying for Apocalypse

Over the years, I’ve had friends ask me why or just make the comment that “Christians are crazies looking forward to the end of the world.” The Left Behind series and its immense popularity (as far as Christian fiction sales go) is a good example from a few years back. There’s always a curiosity about “the end” even if we know it’s not really the end… a pastor makes a rapture prediction that becomes a news story, and the Mayan calendar ends in 2012, and what about those asteroids out there that are supposed to pass close to Earth in the next decade or so? The end of the world holds our interest, and it seems like Christians are actually seeking it.

Apocalypse is defined as:

1. A writing prophesying a cataclysm in which evil forces are destroyed.

2. The name of a book of the Bible

Cataclysm is: a violent change or upheaval.

The English versions of the New Testament often use the word “revelation” for the Greek word “apokalupsis” (which also is the Greek title of “The Revelation of John”).

Revelation means:

1. an act of revealing

2. something revealed; esp. an enlightening or astonishing disclosure

The Greek word “kalupsis” is translated into English as “veil.” It is also defined in the phrases “to hide, cover up, and wrap around.” In the way that our skin covers our inner body parts, it serves as a “kalupsis.”

Apo-kalupsis is simply adding the prefix that means “off or away.”

 

The word apocalypse has been transformed as the years have gone by into the meaning as defined above. Taking the title of the last book of the NT and applying it to other similar texts may have started the trend, and as such trends go, the meaning is further distorted when people assume their definition is correct. Apocalypse is now often used as if it means “the end of the world,” or at least “a terrible catastrophic situation” (which is close given the “cataclysm” reference in the definition and the events portrayed in the Apocalypse). All this is simply meant to say that the word apocalypse carries a very negative connotation.

Interestingly enough, looking from a Christian perspective, many people view a literal apokalupsis as a cataclysm in their lives. When the veil is taken away (2Cor 4:3-4) a person has to face who they really are, what’s “under the skin” within their hearts and minds. This is true of both Christians and nonChristians. Few want to face their own failings and weaknesses. But such an apocalypse is necessary in order to grow. You cannot change the problem you are not aware of.

Jacob’s apocalypse on the day he wrestled with God’s Angel is a great example. Before he could receive “victory” he had to acknowledge all that he had been… “What is your name?” His name is Jacob. Supplanter. Schemer. Trickster. Swindler. In recognizing who he is, he becomes someone he is not… Israel.

But he had to lose his ‘skin’ to get there. Notice the violent manner in which this change takes place. This is a cataclysm in the life of Jacob. It really is the end of the world as he knows it. It affects him both physically and figuratively for the rest of his life.

What’s my skin, I wonder? What stuff from my past is keeping me from the better things God has in store? What about the church at large? Where are we missing the mark? Where are we walking around blindfolded or veiled?

Maybe it’s time to pray for an apocalypse in the Church of Christ. An uncovering. A violent upheaval. A complete change. Revelation of who we are.

Maybe even the end of the world as we know it. One can only hope. And pray.

Ambassadors

He spoke to them again and said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (John 20:21)

Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given complete authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all 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.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

God has given us the task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. This is the wonderful message he has given us to tell others. We are Christ’s ambassadors… (2nd Corinthians 5:18-20)

At our church we were studying the term “apostle.” It comes from a Greek word that translates as “sent one.” This makes a lot of sense given Jesus’ commission and commands to His disciples (who are also referred to as apostles).

I’ve been fiddling around with a Vietnamese copy of the Bible. I decided to look up the word for “apostles” to see how they convey the meaning of that word. In so doing, I had one of the most interesting insights. The word is actually a combination of two words. One means “an ambassador” and the other means “a tracing” like a picture that is made by tracing another image. I’d like to share a little on that.

An ambassador is “an official envoy; an authorized representative or messenger” (Webster’s). They operate with delegated authority of the one they represent. Christ’s message that “all authority in heaven and on earth” have been given to Him is followed by the words “therefore, go.” Our act of going and making disciples is the expression of His authority. We can make disciples of all nations because He, having all authority, said so. We must because He said so.

An ambassador is an envoy– he or she must be sent to a location where the one they represent is not present. If we are called to be ambassadors, then we have to represent Christ in a location where His influence is not already present. In one sense, we can’t fully function as Christ’s ambassadors only within the church community, because we’re trying to represent God to the world that does not yet know Him.

An ambassador also must be faithful in representing the one who sent him or her. Jesus said that He was sent by the Father. At the same time, He made it known that He did nothing on His own– He only did what the Father was doing and what He had been sent to do (John 5:30). He faithfully represented the Father, to the point that when the disciples asked to see the Father, Jesus said, “Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father, because I and the Father are one” (read John 14). In the same way, Jesus has sent us, and said that “anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater.” It sounds presumptuous, but our goal is to come to a point where we can say, “If you have seen me, then you have seen Jesus.”

An ambassador has to carry the message of the one who sends him. If I am Christ’s ambassador, I cannot pick and choose parts of the message that do or do not apply. That is not for me to determine. Christ’s commission included the command to “teach these new disciples to obey all the commands” He had given; not just the ones we like, or the ones that make us popular.

That faithful representation leads very nicely into the second aspect I referred to– being a “traced image.” Time and again, the apostles in Acts were noticed by others as being faithful representatives of Jesus, who had already departed the scene. In Acts 4, the teachers took notice, looking at Peter and John, that “they were ordinary men who had had no special training. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus.” Acts 11:26 shows us that at Antioch, the disciples were first referred to as “Christians.” This was probably a form of mocking, but there is truth to the joke– Christians means “little Christs.”

Many times we think that we are to simply learn the concepts and theology of the Bible in order to be good Christians. When someone is particularly interested in learning the teachings of the Bible, they may be called a disciple. Discipleship actually carries a much deeper meaning; in the time of Christ, discipleship meant a day-to-day, moment-by-moment training where the disciple learns in all things to follow the example of the master. A good analogy would be the way the Air Force does training. A bad trainer would simply throw you a study guide and say, “Read it and follow it, and you’ll be fine.” A good trainer sits down with you and shows you by example how to perform the various tasks that you are required to do. He or she teaches you from experience, from having been there before. “It was necessary for Jesus to be in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. He then could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. Since he himself has gone through suffering and temptation, he is able to help us when we are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:17-18).

Jesus became like us, so that He could present us an example to follow and make atonement for our sins. Now we are taught that we are to follow His example (not simply comprehend His teaching) until we become more and more like Him in all things. Here are, in closing, a few verses to express this thought:

2nd Corinthians 5:15, He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves but for Him who died for them and rose again.

1st Corinthians 11:1, And you should follow my example, just as I follow Christ’s.

Ephesians 5:1-2, Follow God’s example in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love for others, following the example of Christ, who loved you and gave himself as a sacrifice to take away your sins.

What a challenging and difficult calling, but what an exciting opportunity to recognize that wherever we find ourselves, God has sent us there to accomplish His purpose and be His representative, to literally be the visible image of the invisible God.

Therefore, go!