The Man With Two Names: How Jesus is the Fulfillment of Immanuel

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We celebrate and sing the name “Immanuel” at Christmas, and rightly so. “Immanuel” means “God with us,” and in one sense this is the story of the entire Bible. It is certainly the story of Advent.

But a Bible search for the word “Immanuel” doesn’t return many results. Aside from its appearance in Matthew 1, we only find this name twice in the early chapters of Isaiah.

Matthew 1

When the angel of the Lord visits Joseph in Matthew 1, he tells Joseph to name Mary’s baby Jesus, “for he will save his people from their sins” (v. 21). Matthew comments:

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).” (vv. 22–23)

Since “all this” which took place must include the angel revealing Jesus’ name to Joseph, then the name “Jesus” fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy. But in Isaiah’s prophecy, the son would be called “Immanuel.”

This passage raises a question: How does the name “Jesus” fulfill the prophecy that this son would be named “Immanuel”?

Isaiah 7

We need some background before we land on an answer. After King Solomon’s reign, the nation of Israel splintered. The 10 northern tribes formed their own country with the capital of Samaria. This country was then referred to as “Israel” while the two southern tribes formed the country called “Judah.”

During the time of Isaiah, the Assyrian empire was gaining power, and the other nations in the area were scrambling. Israel joined Syria in a pact of mutual defense against Assyria, and they pressed Judah to join them. As Ahaz, king of Judah, resisted, Israel and Syria threatened to attack Judah and replace Ahaz with their own king.

Isaiah 7:10–17 is one of the best-known passages in all the Prophets. God told Ahaz to ask for a sign that God would protect Judah from their enemies. Ahaz refused, so God promised his own sign—the sign of Immanuel.

We know that the prophecy about the virgin bearing a son (v. 14) is fulfilled when Jesus is born. Matthew says so! But many biblical prophecies have both immediate and ultimate fulfillments. Is this prophecy fulfilled before Jesus is born?

Isaiah reveals the answer as we read on. One key is that the Hebrew word often translated “virgin” can also be rendered “young woman” or “maiden.” Thus, a miraculous birth is not necessary for an immediate fulfillment. Verse 16 also contains language pointing to a not-long-from-now fulfillment. And the beginning of the next chapter brings this first fulfillment into focus.

Isaiah 8

In Isaiah 8:1–8 we read of the way God will bring about his thorough judgment.

One of the striking features of this passage is the strangeness of Isaiah’s son’s name: Maher-shalal-hash-baz (v. 4). This name means “the spoil speeds, the prey hastens.” Through this name God was communicating his plan to break the Israel-Syria alliance by the coming of Assyria.

Isaiah was used to giving his children names with messages. In Isaiah 7:3, God told Isaiah to take his (older) son Shear-jashub with him to speak to Ahaz. This name means “a remnant shall return.” This son carried his name as a reassuring message to Ahaz, designed to give him confidence in God.

It’s impossible to miss the parallels between Isaiah 7:16 and Isaiah 8:4. The birth of Maher-shalal-hash-baz is tied to the victory of Assyria over Israel and Syria. As Immanuel comes, Judah will be free from the immediate threat of these nearby nations.

But how should we understand the meaning of “Immanuel” in Isaiah 8:8?

Even when defeat looks near and the Assyrian army is filling the land, it is still Immanuel’s land. God will not abandon his people, even in their darkest hour. Assyria will come in like a flood, sweeping Syria and Israel away. But Assyria will eventually fade from history. Judah will remain in the land of Immanuel. God will be with them.

There is one final mention of Immanuel in this chapter. Though not a title, Isaiah specifically refers to “God with us” in verse 10:

Be broken, you peoples, and be shattered;
give ear, all you far countries;
strap on your armor and be shattered;
strap on your armor and be shattered.
Take counsel together, but it will come to nothing;
speak a word, but it will not stand,
for God is with us. (Isaiah 8:9–10)

Isaiah was speaking to those who would attack Judah in the future. He dared them and warned them that they would be broken and shattered. The reason all their counsel will come to nothing and none of their words will stand is because God is with them.

Putting It Together

What does this background to the name “Immanuel” add to our reading of Matthew 1?

“Immanuel” in Isaiah is a sign for God’s people that they will see victory over their enemies. Despite the doom and devastation, God will be with them, and they will be victorious. Isaiah’s son was a first, imperfect version of Immanuel, pointing to God’s victory over military enemies through his presence.

Notice how the announcement to Joseph fulfills this prophecy. Jesus will “save his people from their sins.” For God’s people then and for us now, our sins are an enemy. They are worse than any menacing country. We are no match for them on our own, and we dare not make peace or an alliance with these scoundrels.

Sometimes our sins seem overwhelming and damnable. These rise to our necks and threaten to drown us—

But Jesus is Immanuel, God with us! He will save us from our sins!

For those who trust in him, he has taken away the punishment our sins deserve. And he will strip our sins of their power over us, taking away their allure, appeal, and longevity.

The more we see the strength and rebellion of our sin, the more we see the glory and love involved in the work of Jesus for us. He is God with us, and this is good news worth celebrating, not just at Christmas but all year long.

This post originally appeared at Unlocking the Bible.


Photo Credit: Aaron Burden (2016), public domain

 

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The Good News of the Ascension of Jesus

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“Do not cling to me.”

This can’t be the reception Mary Magdalene was expecting when she encountered the resurrected Jesus.

Mary had been weeping outside Jesus’ tomb. You can imagine her distress, having just watched her dear friend suffer a humiliating, grisly death. Now his body was missing.

Jesus walked up to her while she investigated the empty tomb. Mary initially thought he was the gardener, but when Jesus spoke her name, she recognized him! She called out, in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (John 20:16).

But instead of an embrace or some other warm gesture, Jesus was much more direct:

“Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” (John 20:17)

Read in the wrong light, this sounds cold, almost cruel. But in this statement, Jesus reveals his focus on his Father and also provides hope for Mary and the other disciples.

Jesus Longed for His Ascension

As you read through the Gospels, especially the Gospel of John, you’ll find that Jesus focused much more on his ascension than we do. By “ascension,” I’m referring to Jesus’ bodily return to heaven after his resurrection (see Luke 24:50–51 and Acts 1:9–11).

In John 20, Jesus didn’t want Mary to think he’d be on earth forever. He didn’t want her to get attached to his resurrected form. There was still work to do.

We think of Jesus’ work for us in three distinct categories: his life, death, and resurrection. But Jesus would have us add his ascension as a fourth category. And there’s no doubt this was his most anticipated work.

The Ascension Is Relational

Jesus loved his Father and longed for a reunion.

  • Jesus says to his disciples, “You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I” (John 14:28).
  • “I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father” (John 16:28).
  • Jesus prays to his Father, “And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one” (John 17:11).

Before his incarnation, Jesus enjoyed perfect fellowship in the immediate presence of God the Father. This is what he longed to reclaim, and it’s one reason the ascension was so important to him.

In his ascension, he would experience the unbroken presence of his Father.

Don’t miss the fact that Jesus’ ascension was a bodily ascension. This matters! It means that in the incarnation Jesus took on and identified with the human body for all time. It also means that, as the head of the new humanity, Jesus shows us the destination of the redeemed: to be with God, bodily, forever (see Revelation 21:3).

This destination should shape our longings. When our aspirations or goals are dashed, when we experience pain in body or soul, we can lift our eyes to our final home. The new heavens and the new earth await, and we will dwell with God!

The Ascension Is Functional

Though Jesus wanted the heavenly reunion that his ascension would accomplish, he also had work to do. In his ascension, Jesus accomplished and began several vital tasks for our salvation.

Jesus is coronated as King.

Jesus was declared to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead (Romans 1:4). The Old Testament background for the title “Son of God” (see Psalm 2 and 2 Samuel 7) makes it clear that this title has a royal meaning. By his resurrection, Jesus was declared to be the king!

If the resurrection declared Jesus to be King, then the ascension functions as his coronation ceremony. It was important that his disciples saw him depart, ascending to his throne, knowing he would return in the same fashion.

For more support of this function of the ascension, note the following:

  • Jesus has conquered and sat down with his Father on his throne (Revelation 3:21), where he is praised (Revelation 5:6–14).
  • Peter says that God made Jesus Lord, sitting at his right hand until his enemies are his footstool (Acts 2:34–36). This is the language of a king.
  • Paul writes that Jesus must reign (like a king!) until he has put all enemies under his feet (1 Corinthians 15:25).

Jesus sends the Holy Spirit.

We begin to learn what the ascension means when we consider what we would lose if it never happened. Here’s a huge implication: If Jesus never ascended, his followers would never have received the Holy Spirit.

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7)

Let’s not underestimate the sending of the Spirit! Because of the Spirit, we have the conversions at Pentecost, the growth and expansion of the early church, and the Bible. If the Spirit were not sent, you and I would not be Christians!

Jesus is our heavenly high priest.

Jesus’ ascension also takes him to a place of great importance. He is now at the Father’s right hand, and his ongoing work there is vital.

  • The Bible tells us that Jesus is the true high priest for his people. He “is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). Jesus brings his people to God for true deliverance and salvation.
  • Jesus is also our heavenly advocate. He reminds his Father of his sacrifice for sin and holds our status as sons and daughters before God. “If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1).
  • Jesus transcended physical limitations in his ascension. Though he keeps his human body forever, Jesus is now able to listen, rule, and heal without the familiar time and space restrictions we know.

What the Ascension Means for Us

The ascension of Jesus is a glorious fact that has scores of implications for his people. Here are a few:

Assurance

As our high priest, Jesus sat down at God’s right hand, indicating that his work of sacrifice is done (Hebrews 10:11–12). Our standing with God doesn’t depend on our actions or our emotions, but on the finished work of Christ.

Confidence

The enthroned king has been given all power to rule, and this power is his to dispense to his church (see Ephesians 1:15–23). Nothing can stand in the way of God’s purposes, and he will accomplish them with power, often through us.

Hope

When Jesus spoke to his disciples about his departure from earth, the note was joyous, not mournful. “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:3). In this one verse, Jesus gives at least three reasons for hope.

He is preparing a place for us. He will come again. He will take us to be with him.

This is the destiny for those who, by God’s grace, call on Jesus in faith.


Note: I benefited greatly from reading these three articles in researching this topic: Why Is the Ascension So Important?Four Reasons Jesus’ Ascension MattersMore Than an Afterthought: Six Reasons Jesus’s Ascension Matters.

This post originally appeared at Unlocking the Bible.


Photo Credit: Dawid Zawiła (2016), public domain

 

15 Marks of a Disciple of Jesus

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Christianity is not a club.

Jesus does not want cheerleaders or groupies. Following Christ is not about T-shirts, slogans, or hashtags. Jesus calls us to be children of his Father. He calls us to be his disciples.

Because Jesus has a unique role in God’s plan of salvation, he is more than an example. The best mirror we find in the Gospel accounts is not Jesus but his disciples.

15 Marks of a Disciple of Jesus

Here are fifteen things we learn about being a disciple of Jesus from the Gospel of Luke.

  1. A disciple is called (Luke 5:1–11). Jesus didn’t need a recruiter. He called and his disciples “left everything and followed him.” Likewise, God calls us as disciples, not because we are worthy but because of his grace (2 Timothy 1:9).
  2. A disciple is taught (Luke 6:20–49). Jesus spent a lot of time teaching his disciples about reality. Who did the Messiah come for? Who is worthy of salvation? What is the kingdom of God? We are just as ignorant and resistant to the truth; we need instruction.
  3. A disciple is a follower (Luke 7:11). Inherent in the definition of a disciple is one who does not choose his own direction, causes, or values. Disciples follow Jesus.
  4. A disciple is aware of the kingdom of God (Luke 8:9–10). Jesus reveals truth to his disciples that is obscured to others. Because God’s kingdom is not worldly or political, we must be taught the values and requirements of the king.
  5. A disciple is a servant (Luke 9:14–17). Jesus’ disciples got their hands dirty, distributing multiplied food to the hungry people. Sometimes walking with Jesus means picking up bread crusts and fish bones.
  6. A disciple is sent to proclaim the kingdom of God (Luke 9:1–6; 10:1–12). Jesus sent out his twelve apostles and then seventy-two others as laborers in a plentiful harvest (Luke 10:2). As those sent with a message to proclaim, his disciples were in danger as lambs among wolves (Luke 10:3) because they were announcing a different king. The heavenly kingdom they announced valued peace (Luke 10:5) and healing (Luke 10:9), not riches and power. Challenging existing authority structures is often unpopular.
  7. A disciple confesses Jesus as Christ (Luke 9:18–20). Peter famously confessed Jesus as “the Christ of God.” This is the most important question we face as well: Who do you say Jesus is? We must answer this daily, reorienting our priorities, our passions, and our purpose around the Messiah.
  8. A disciple is a witness (Luke 10:23–24). The apostles walked with Jesus. Many longed to see what they saw. This is part of God’s “gracious will” (Luke 10:21). We also witness the love and power of Jesus through his Word and his work in the world. The arena is much bigger now, but his disciples still sit court-side.
  9. A disciple denies himself and takes up his cross (Luke 9:23–27). A disciple’s life was not glamorous or lucrative. It was full of hardship and danger. Make no mistake—if your highest values are comfort, peace, and safety, you will lose your life. But if you lose your life for Jesus’ sake, you will save it.
  10. A disciple is committed (Luke 9:57–62). Jesus teaches that following him is not easy; it requires everything. “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
  11. A disciple is a cross-bearer and a cost-counter (Luke 14:26–33). Following Jesus is serious and costly. It may cost family and friends; it may cost time and comfort; it may even cost your life. Jesus says, “Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”
  12. A disciple is rebuked by Jesus (Luke 18:15–17). When we submit to Jesus as Lord, we acknowledge his perfection, his wisdom, and his authority to correct us—and we need a lot of correction! The disciples were rebuked by Jesus, and if we do not know the same, we’re probably not encountering the Lord. This ongoing process happens as we read his Word and interact with his people. God’s rebuke is evidence of his love for his children.
  13. A disciple praises God (Luke 19:33–40). When disciples see Jesus clearly, the “King who comes in the name of the Lord,” they rejoice and praise the Father who sent his Son. Following Jesus is not primarily about doing, but about worshipping.
  14. A disciple spends time with his Master (Luke 22:11; 22:39; 22:45). In the hours before his arrest, Jesus yearned for time with his disciples. They ate with him, talked with him, and sang with him. As God changes our hearts and gives us new desires, chief among them will be love for him. We seek out and spend time with those we love.
  15. A disciple is redeemed, comforted, and dispatched to the world (Luke 24:36–53). Jesus seeks out his disciples after his resurrection though they were absent at his crucifixion and burial. He speaks peace and comfort to them. He died for their sins and rose from the grave so they also could have new life. As he sent his disciples into the world with the promise of the Spirit (v.49), so he also sends us.

Disciple, Will You Take Up Your Cross?

There is no place for pride among those who follow Jesus (Luke 22:24–27). We are called, taught, directed, equipped, and corrected by our Master. We cannot meet our greatest need—reconciliation with God—and we often bristle at this reality.

But Jesus is a loving Savior. When we confess our pride, he graciously restores us. Our sin-debt has already been paid, so he doesn’t hold it against us. He is also the Risen King, who replaces our pride with humility, through the work of His spirit within us.

Jesus continues to call us today. Will you take up your cross as a disciple and follow the One who was taken up on the cross for you?

This post originally appeared at Unlocking the Bible.


Photo Credit: Kathy Büscher (2013), public domain

Now, We Laugh

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The victory seemed sure. Against the odds death lashed this man to the wood, this wonder who spoke so much of life. Jesus had assaulted death’s kingdom at every turn, and now, with a final cry, he ran out of breath.

His body found a tomb, and fear stationed a rock and guards. These bouncers would let no one in.

They faced the wrong direction. They missed the show.

∞∞∞

Who knows what sounds or sights burst inside. Perhaps it was ear-splitting, a blinding flash. Maybe it was quiet and small, a hiccup of life stirring the body.

Jesus flung death aside and the boulder with it. The grave clothes lay discarded on the ground. The mighty guards passed out from fear, replaced by heavenly officers.

As he walked out of the tomb, Jesus laughed at death. The righteous Son of God had finished his work. Now he pulsed and thrummed with life.

∞∞∞

We follow our Savior between the times. We see the hatred and the grabbing of the old way, kicking and jerking toward and within us. We mourn and cry and resist.

But we are not all mourning. We know the new way. We laugh at the good news—not because it’s funny, but because it’s so good. We are amazed and overcome and grateful, and we laugh the laugh of those who are free.

We laugh that the good news would be spoken to us. We laugh that we would be loved and adopted. We laugh that we would be promised such a future.

∞∞∞

Death will make its final, futile attempts. It will throw us in the ground, a stone on top.

Who knows what sounds or sights will come. Jesus will fling death aside and the stone with it. The heavenly officers will take us further up and further in to the city coming down.

As we join the throng, we will laugh at death. Where is your sting? Where is your victory?

∞∞∞

Without the curse, without frustration and thorns, we will rejoice forever. In the presence of our Father, we will know as we have been fully known. In our joy, we will laugh.

That joy is not just for Then. It is not just for Easter morning. It is for now and now and now, because the bond Jesus secured cannot be broken. We are grabbed and held by everlasting, full-to-the-brim love.

We will laugh forever because we will be with God, safe. And we laugh now, because we need the practice.


Photo Credit: cheriejoyful (2011), Creative Commons License

King David on the Resurrection

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There’s a moment at the end of the Gospel of Luke that surprises me every time I read it.

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:44–47)

The resurrected Jesus speaks with his disciples and tells them that he fulfilled all that was written about him in the entire Old Testament. He says it is written that the Messiah should die and be raised, and that the gospel would be preached to the whole world.

Did you catch that? Jesus said his resurrection was predicted in the Old Testament. So…where was that again?

Peter’s Sermon

Many people rightly point to Psalm 22 or Isaiah 53 as places to turn for Old Testament teaching on resurrection. But today we’ll examine how the apostle Peter answered this question.

Peter began his Pentecost sermon by explaining that the early Christians had received the Holy Spirit. He then talks about Jesus—his arrest, death, and resurrection. In explaining that “it was not possible for [Jesus] to be held by [death],” Peter does a strange thing. He quotes David in Psalm 16:8–11.

For David says concerning him,
‘I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;
therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
my flesh also will dwell in hope.
For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One see corruption.
You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’ (Acts 2:25–28)

Then Peter interprets for us.

Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. (Acts 2:29–31)

Whoa.

Peter says that David, believing God’s long-term promise, knew that the Messiah could not be abandoned in death. He would not decay in the tomb.

As with Jesus, so with Us

Knowing that David was speaking about the Messiah in Psalm 16, what can we now learn from that text?

Because Psalm 16 is written in the first person, we should read David’s words—at least in part—as speaking prophetically not just about Christ but for Christ. After expressing confidence in the resurrection from the dead (v.10), we read this.

You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11)

Though we may be eager to apply these verses to ourselves, let’s slow down.

Jesus had enormous, painful, tortuous work to accomplish. He bore a weight of sin we cannot imagine, and in his death on the cross he suffered an agony of soul far beyond the bodily pain he endured. His eternal Father turned away, and the Son felt the wrath of God against sin. On the cross there was no presence of the Father, no joy, no pleasures.

But the resurrection (and ascension) turned this story around. Jesus was vindicated by his resurrection and was welcomed back into perfect communion with his Father. In place of the wrath, loneliness, and fury he felt in his crucifixion, Jesus would now have “pleasures forevermore.”

These delights await us too. We can gain nothing greater in the new heavens and earth than God himself and the full joy that comes from his presence. But that fellowship was bought for us at a great cost. The promise is first for Jesus—who died for us but over whom death could never be a victor. And then it’s for us, because we follow our elder brother in his resurrection.


Photo Credit: James Emery (2007, Creative Commons License

The One

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The One

I’ll be the one to grow old without pain,
I’ll be the exception.
Others have tried to gain before gain
always to face rejection.

I’ll be the one to avoid creaky knees.
Arthritis, bad back I’ll resist.
Stay active, stay strong, get plenty of z’s,
I’ll check every box on the list.

I’ll be the one with no lasting disease.
Cholesterol, cancer—no way.
I’ll beat back genetics with veggies and teas.
Organic? I’m willing to pay.

I’ll be the one with an ever-sharp mind.
I’ll slow down not even a bit.
Confusion, dementia—I’ll leave them behind,
I’ll read and converse to stay fit.

Headstrong, determined, and foolish I go,
ignoring the reason One was made low.

He was the one who loved and obeyed
each of his thirty-three years.
Willing to suffer, he saw his strength fade
through anguish and blood-coated tears.

He was the one without sin of his own
who bore a hellish, foul load.
His heavenly army stayed back near the throne
as he stumbled up Calvary’s road.

He was the one who sought heaven’s joy
instead of power or ease.
The works of the devil and flesh to destroy,
the Father’s wrath to appease.

He is the one who’s readied a place
helping me properly long
for curse-free communion at last face to face
adopted and loved in the throng.


Photo Credit: anonymous (2016), public domain

Telemarketers Are People Too

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Imagine you’re sitting down to dinner with your family. As you start the meal, you hear an unexpected knock at your front door.

You don’t recognize the person, but you know this is not a conversation you want to have, not now. The visitor will be selling a product, asking for votes, or collecting donations.

How do you react? Ideally, you’ll treat them with kindness and respect, even as you explain that this is a bad time.

Now replace the knock at the door with a phone call. In a nutshell, this is the telemarketing industry. So why do we treat those at our doors differently than those on our phones?

My Weakness

I shouldn’t speak for everyone. Perhaps you have more patience, grace, and love for telemarketers than I do. (You almost surely do.)

A cable company representative called recently and tried to up-sell me. In the process, the caller put me on hold twice. I got angry, and I spoke in a way I immediately regretted.

Whether from a saleman, a pollster, or someone raising money for charity, I’m not inclined to listen to unsolicited phone calls for very long. I assume I’ve heard everything they have to say, I don’t give them the benefit of the doubt, and I dismiss them quickly. This has been my pattern.

Loving My Neighbor

God convicted me through this phone call. He made each of these people; they are my neighbors. They deserve love and respect.

Though their work interrupts and annoys me, it is legitimate work. I shouldn’t treat them poorly just because I am inconvenienced.

So often I get my standards wrong. If I think someone doesn’t deserve my respect, they don’t get it. But that’s obviously the wrong approach!

The gospel changes everything. God didn’t treat me the way I deserve. In fact, he treated Jesus the way I deserve (with wrath) and he treats me as his son. This is amazing, glorious, life-altering love.

And this love now fuels our behavior. We can treat others better than they deserve because that’s how we’ve been treated. Our standard of love must be Jesus’s standard. He doesn’t just provide an example; he gives me the power to change and to love those who annoy and interrupt me.

Can I Hang Up?

One last thought. Is it ever acceptable to hang up on a telemarketer?

Treating someone with love and respect doesn’t mean we always do what they want. Though we’re called to die to ourselves, this doesn’t mean we’re always pushovers.

We’ve all probably been on the phone in the telemarketer spiral. You say no; they protest, provide a reason, and ask for something slightly different. This pattern continues, and at some point they stopped listening to you. (Has anyone ever changed their mind because of this persistence? I’ve said no five times already, but since you asked a sixth time, sign me up!)

I think it’s fine to hang up the phone in certain situations. The caller is following their company-dictated script. If, after respectfully telling them you’re not interested, they ignore you and press ahead, I think they lose their right to your attention. I usually hang up at this point, trying not to be angry at the person.


Photo Credit: Levente Lenart (2008), public domain

Taking a Biblical Worldview to My Back Yard

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Our theology affects everything, not just the parts of life we call “religious.” We live every second before God, so we should think theologically about every detail, from the majestic to the mundane.

A Familiar Structure

I have an intense, irrational hatred for yard work. I don’t understand or like this about myself, but I’d trade yard work for washing dishes, cleaning the bathroom, or doing laundry any day of the week.

And yet, instead of grumbling about this task, I should think about it biblically. Here’s my attempt to frame this work in the familiar categories of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation.

Creation

A healthy lawn and blooming flowers are beautiful. When God sends the rain and the sun and the yard explodes with color, it can be breathtaking.

We have a great lesson in the plant world: God brings life from the dirt. As Adam was created from the dust (Gen 2:7), so the trees, grass, and other plants grow by God’s good pleasure.

And, in his wisdom, God has called me to tend this space. I’m to work and keep what he’s entrusted to me (Gen 2:15), exercising dominion care in this small area. God asks me to labor and work so the land around me proclaims his glory.

Fall

In my flesh, I hate my yard. I am in the midst of a war, and I am losing.

I don’t enjoy cutting my grass, but that’s easy. It’s the weeding, pruning, planting, and tending I dislike. This is often difficult, unpleasant work.

This shouldn’t surprise me. The ground itself is cursed (Gen 3:17–19), and the weeds and thorns appear because of sin. The consequences of our rebellion spring from the ground, causing me pain (Gen 3:17). I sweat and ache as I beat back the thistles.

Redemption

Yes, the ground is cursed. But there’s more to the story. The weeds and thorns have only so much power.

Jesus walked on this ground, and that changed everything. The wind whipped dust against his face and he got mud between his toes. Though he had power over all the land, he died and was buried in the earth. But the ground could not hold him.

The entire creation is damaged and cursed. Jesus came to shatter the curse, to bring restoration and reconciliation and renewal far as the curse is found.

This begins with the people of God, the pinnacle of creation. But Jesus’ resurrection affects everything. The defeated enemy retreats, and the spoils of Christ’s victory will roll downhill and flood all of creation with new life.

Consummation

Under the curse, creation groans (Rom 8:22). It groans not just for redemption but for newness.

I groan. In Christ, I have new life. I have hope and the promise of God himself. But in the body I groan.

I age and ache and slump, but my body only tells part of the story. I grieve at my remaining sin. I see injustice and pain and grief and oppression and hate, not only in myself but in my community and throughout the world. I too long for newness.

And so we have a circle of sorts. I’m driven into my yard by newness—new growth to trim and new weeds to pull. But, if I’m thinking well, I spend more time dwelling on Jesus’ death and resurrection. He’s remaking me from the inside out, and he will fulfill the groan-filled longing of the creation as well.


Photo Credit: Rudy and Peter Skitterians (2014), public domain

What Makes a Good Friend?

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Friendships can be fickle. Even putting aside the middle and high school years, many adult friendships have flimsy foundations. A hobby? A common interest in a sports team?

Other adults have few friends to speak of.

When Jesus told his disciples, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13), he wasn’t only predicting his own cross-directed future. He was giving a lesson on friendship.

Personal Preference?

If you ask ten Christians what it means to be a friend, you might get ten different answers. Some of this is due to personality, background, and preference. But the Bible teaches that all Christian friendships have some common elements.

The basics might be expressed differently. But, like a leaf burn in autumn, the aroma of Christian friendship is distinctive.

Wanting the Best

Good friends want the best for each other. In other words, friends love one another.

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. (Proverbs 17:17)

We need to be committed to our friends for their good. We should get to know them, listen to them, and ask questions to figure out what that “good” is.

In good times and bad, friends remain loyal. Through sins, slights, and offences, they persevere in love.

A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (Proverbs 18:24)

Doing Good

Love which only occupies intention is no love at all. A real friend takes action.

We should point our friends repeatedly to Jesus. Sometimes this means support and encouragement, and sometimes it means rebuke.

Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy. (Proverbs 27:6)

A good friend is quick to listen and slow to speak. He gives godly advice when appropriate.

Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel. (Proverbs 27:9)

Friends know each other’s weak points, temptations, and sin patterns. They give concrete help in the fight against sin, and they remind each other of God’s grace. They pray for one another.

What a Friend We Have in Jesus

We can usually make more of an impact by being a close friend to a few than being a casual friend to many. We see in the life of the Lord Jesus.

Jesus was and is the best friend we could ever imagine. He is loyal, loving, and ever-present. He is full of grace and wisdom, and he gives both abundantly. He rebukes us and encourages us at the right time and in perfect proportion.

But Jesus is much more than an example. He makes friendship possible. He frees us from our self-focused obsession and gives us love for others.

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged;
take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful
who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness;
take it to the Lord in prayer.


Photo Credit: Steve Buissinne (2016), public domain