The Gospel According to Romans 1:2-4

The gospel of Jesus Christ did not come out of the blue as God’s plan B or C. The gospel was not a mere human invention. The gospel was not Paul’s idea, or the apostles’ for that matter.

According to this passage, the gospel was God’s idea and God’s doing. This gospel is not just found in the New Testament, but in the Old Testament as well. The gospel was, in Paul’s words, “promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures” (v. 2).

The truth is the gospel of Jesus Christ has a context; it has a “before” and an “after.” In other words, the gospel has a story. This is what Paul is communicating here in this greeting to the church at Rome.

It is essential for one to put the gospel of Jesus Christ in its proper place—as the climax of the redemptive story of God, which has as one of its key characters the nation of Israel.

A quick glance at the Old Testament shows us that the nation of Israel has a story, which has at its center the Creator God who, in His grace, delivered her from Egyptian slavery, and called her to be holy and to be a light to the nations.

That being said, let’s take a look at Romans 1:1-7 and unpack it a bit by understanding the difference between the source, the story, and the subject regarding the content of the gospel as presented here by the Apostle Paul:

1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, 6 including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, 7 To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 1:1-7, ESV)

The Source

The Apostle Paul begins his letter to the church at Rome by stating that he is “a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,” (v. 1, emphasis added).

The source of the Gospel is not man, but God. That is good news! The gospel was not invented or planned or brought about man’s wisdom or power, but by God and His infinite grace and mercy demonstrated in and through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

This Gospel that Paul was commissioned to proclaim (Acts 9:15; 13:2) came from God. It is God’s gospel (15:6; 1 Thess. 2:8-9; 1 Peter 4:7)—His good news to a sinful and broken world. That is encouraging.

The Story

After stating his job description, Paul continues and, in a condensed way, talks about the story of the gospel. He states, “which he [God] promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures” (v. 2).

The gospel that we have come to know and love—and by which we have and are being saved—has as its foundation the Old Testament. Put in a different way, Paul’s view of the gospel is rooted and grounded in who God is and what He has said, done, and promised in the past, namely, to His people—the nation of Israel.

So, according to Paul, this gospel of God was promised “beforehand.” It is important to note that this gospel is not explicitly stated in all its fullness in the Old Testament, but is, nevertheless, pointed to in various places and ways. For example, Isaiah 52:13-53:12talks about a suffering servant who was going to be sent by God to bear the sins of God’s people and to bring about God’s promises. This OT passage is often quoted in the NT to demonstrate God’s faithfulness in the Jewish Messiah.

Simply put, the gospel we read and study about in the New Testament is the climax of an already-developed story, which has, at its center, God and His mission to bring about restoration to creation and mankind.

The Subject

Now, who or what is the gospel about? Paul does not leave us hanging. He says, “concerning His Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh” (v. 3, emphasis added). Much can be said here, but a few brief comments will suffice.

This gospel, which comes from God and was promised in the past, is about none other than Jesus Christ. And who exactly is this guy? Why is He so important to the story the Gospel?

Before you and I can answer the question  regarding Jesus’ identity, we must understand His lineage. Why in the world would Paul mention that Jesus is a descendant of David—a dead, but highly revered king? Was Paul just trying to increase his word count by adding this brief, but highly significant truth?

For Paul, Jesus Christ is no ordinary person. He is the promised Jewish Messiah—the long-awaited Davidic King. All of this messianic language would have caused a great stir in Jewish minds. They were no strangers to the story of David and God’s covenant with him to bring about a future king, whose kingdom would be unlike any other kingdom in the history of the world (2 Samuel 7:12-16).

One must have an understanding of Israel’s story in order to more fully comprehend the story of God and the importance of the life and work of Jesus Christ, who is the fulfillment and embodiment of all of God’s promises.

Paul continues and says that this Jesus was, “declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead,” (v. 4). Jesus was no ordinary man, and the resurrection was no ordinary event. The gospel is about Jesus Christ, who was declared/proven/demonstrated to be the Son of God through the resurrection from the dead—a historical event that proclaimed Jesus Christ as the Jewish Messiah and Lord of the world.

Concluding Thoughts and Upcoming Series

Romans is a theologically-rich, mind-renewing, worldview-shaping letter. In the following weeks, I will be sharing some reflections based on the letter of Romans. We will be asking some questions like: “How does Romans shape our understanding of the gospel?” and “How does that understanding of the gospel then impact the way we live?”

Let me say upfront that I do not have all the answers, and by no means, pretend to. And, I am no Bible scholar (at least not yet), so what I share here on this blog are my thoughts as I study in Bible College and serve in ministry.

My hope and desire is for you—my dear reader—to engage with the Bible and its life-changing message. I want to make Bible truth accessible to people. That’s my aim.

For now, let me take a stab at defining the gospel according to the letter of Romans:

God, in accordance with His promises, has demonstrated His covenant faithfulness in sending His Son—the promised Davidic King—who lived a sinless life, died on a cross, and rose from the dead to deal with the problem of sin, and to bring about, in due time, a full and complete restoration of creation and mankind.

This, my friends, is good news! Hopefully, I can flesh this out a bit more in the weeks ahead.

That’s it for now. Thanks for reading.

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¡Él Vive! (Parte 3)

Nota al lector: Esta es la tercera parte (lee Parte 1 y Parte 2) de una serie de blogs acerca de la resurrección. Espero que sea de edificación.

¿Qué tan importante fue y es la resurrección de Jesús? El Apóstol Pablo, corrigiendo falsa enseñanza acerca de la resurrección en general, y de Jesús en particular, escribió lo siguiente en su primera carta a la iglesia de Corinto:

12 Ahora bien, si se predica que Cristo (el Mesías) ha resucitado de entre los muertos, ¿cómo dicen algunos entre ustedes que no hay resurrección de muertos? 13 Y si no hay resurrección de muertos, entonces ni siquiera Cristo ha resucitado; 14 y si Cristo no ha resucitado, vana es entonces nuestra predicación, y vana también la fe de ustedes. 15 Aún más, somos hallados testigos falsos de Dios, porque hemos testificado contra Dios que El resucitó a Cristo, a quien no resucitó, si en verdad los muertos no resucitan. 16 Porque si los muertos no resucitan, entonces ni siquiera Cristo ha resucitado; 17 y si Cristo no ha resucitado, la fe de ustedes es falsa; todavía están en sus pecados. 18 Entonces también los que han dormido (han muerto) en Cristo están perdidos. 19 Si hemos esperado en Cristo para esta vida solamente, somos, de todos los hombres, los más dignos de lástima (15:12-19, NBLH; énfasis agregado).

El argumento aquí de Pablo es fácil de entender: si no hay resurrección de los muertos, Cristo no ha resucitado; y si Cristo no ha resucitado, vana es nuestra predicación y fe. En otras palabras, es una fe falsa porque su fundamento es falso. Pero, hay buenas noticias. La verdad es, de acuerdo a Pablo, lo opuesto: ¡Cristo ha resucitado! Él lo dice de la siguiente manera:

Pero ahora Cristo ha resucitado de entre los muertos, primicias de los que durmieron (murieron). 21 Porque ya que la muerte entró por un hombre, también por un hombre vino la resurrección de los muertos. 22 Porque así como en Adán todos mueren, también en Cristo todos serán vivificados” (15:20-22, énfasis agregado).

Pablo afirma que Cristo resucito de los muertos, y esto significa que nuestra fe y predicación tiene una base sólida. La resurrección de Jesús lo cambia todo, absolutamente todo.

Tal vez usted se está preguntando: “¿Por qué debemos de creer lo que dijo Pablo?” o ¿Cómo sabemos si en verdad sucedió la resurrección?” o “¿Qué evidencia hay para comprobar la resurrección?”

Hay muchas cosas que se pueden decir aquí. De hecho, hay una gran cantidad de libros que tratan con este asunto. Solo mencionare tres breves puntos:

1. El Testimonio de los Apóstoles (Lee Hechos 2:32; 3:15; 5:32; 10:39–41).

Una tras otra vez los apóstoles confesaron su testimonio de que vieron al Cristo Resucitado. Ellos no podían mentir. Ellos no podían negar lo que vieron. Por lo tanto, nadie los pudo detener. El cristianismo exploto, y el movimiento continúa hasta el día de hoy.

2. El Testimonio y La Vida de Pablo (Lee Hechos 9:1-19; 1 Cor. 15:1-11).

El más grande defensor del cristianismo en el primer siglo fue, en mi opinión, el Apóstol Pablo. ¿Sabe quién era Pablo antes de convertirse en un cristiano? Pablo era un perseguidor de la iglesia. Muchos cristianos fueron encarcelados y matados por la influencia y el celo religioso de Pablo. ¿Entonces qué fue lo que cambio a Pablo? Nada más y nada menos que un encuentro personal con el Cristo Resucitado. Un ex-perseguidor de la iglesia se convirtió en una de las más notable figuras del cristianismo.

3. La Existencia de la Iglesia (Lee 1 Timoteo 3:14-16).

La iglesia es, de acuerdo a Pablo, una “columna y sostén de la verdad.” ¿Que verdad? La verdad acerca de la encarnación, muerte, y resurrección de Jesús. Dos mil años después y la Iglesia continua, por la gracia de Dios, predicando el Evangelio. La Iglesia sigue testificado acerca de Dios y Su plan de restaurar todas las cosas en, y a través de, la persona y obra de Jesucristo.

Conclusion

La fe cristiana tiene una firme e inquebrantable fundación—la muerte y resurrección de Jesús. Aquí es donde nosotros los creyentes encontramos seguridad para el presente y esperanza para el futuro.

Nuestra fe cristiana está basada en la muerte y resurrección de Jesucristo. Si usted quita una de estos hechos históricos, el fundamento de nuestra fe se desmorona. Pero en realidad, nadie puede “quitar” estos hechos históricos, solo negarlos.

La resurrección de Jesús hace que el cristianismo sea distinto a las otras religiones del mundo. El cristianismo es la única “religión” en el mundo que proclama que Su fundador y líder no está muerto, sino vivo; y, no solo eso, sino que está sentado a la diestra de Dios Padre y que muy pronto regresara por segunda vez como dice el autor del libro de Hebreos, “así también Cristo fue ofrecido una sola vez para llevar los pecados de muchos; y aparecerá por segunda vez, sin relación con el pecado, para salvar a los que le esperan” (9:28, énfasis agregado).

La resurrección de Jesús fue un evento histórico que impacto a grupo insignificante de discípulos a darlo todo por compartir este mensaje de esperanza. Si creemos lo que la Biblia enseñar acerca de la resurrección de Jesús, nuestras vidas, así como la de los primeros cristianos, nunca serán las mismas.

¡Él Vive! (Parte 2)

Nota al lector: Esta es la segunda parte (lee Parte 1 aqui) de una serie de blogs acerca de la resurrección que estaré escribiendo esta semana santa en preparación para la celebración de la pascua este domingo. Espero que sea de edificación.

Hoy vamos usar nuestra muy-avanzada máquina de tiempo—es decir nuestras mente—para regresar dos mil años atrás a ese glorioso domingo cuando todo cambio. Vamos a re-vivir ese momento sobrenatural al leer, meditar, y reflexionar en la resurrección de Jesucristo.

Para ello, vamos a consultar con un testigo—alguien que vio personalmente al Cristo Resucitado. Este es el testimonio del ex–recaudador de impuestos, convertido en apóstol, Mateo:

Pasado el día de reposo, al amanecer del primer día de la semana, María Magdalena y la otra María vinieron a ver el sepulcro. 2 Y se produjo un gran terremoto, porque un ángel del Señor descendiendo del cielo, y acercándose, removió la piedra y se sentó sobre ella. 3 Su aspecto era como un relámpago, y su vestidura blanca como la nieve; 4 y de miedo a él los guardias temblaron y se quedaron como muertos. 5 Hablando el ángel, dijo a las mujeres: “Ustedes, no teman; porque yo sé que buscan a Jesús, el que fue crucificado. 6 No está aquí, porque ha resucitado, tal como El dijo. Vengan, vean el lugar donde estaba puesto. 7 Vayan pronto, y digan a Sus discípulos que El ha resucitado de entre los muertos; y El va delante de ustedes a Galilea; allí Lo verán. Miren, se los he dicho.” 8 Y ellas, alejándose a toda prisa del sepulcro con temor y gran gozo, corrieron a dar las noticias a los discípulos. 9 De repente Jesús les salió al encuentro, diciendo: “¡Saludos!” Y ellas, acercándose, abrazaron Sus pies y Lo adoraron. 10 Entonces Jesús les dijo: “No teman. Vayan, avisen a Mis hermanos que vayan a Galilea, y allí Me verán.” (28:1-10, NBLH)

Este pasaje incluye varios detalles que solo un testigo fiel es capaz de compartir. Tomemos una mirada más cercana:

Un Domingo al Amanecer (v. 1)

Mateo inicia diciendo que todo cambio un domingo. Ese día, María Magdalena y otra María (este nombre parece que era popular)—dos fieles seguidoras del Mesías—fueron a la tumba de Jesús.

Aparición Angelical (v. 2-4)

Mateo nos informa que hubo un terremoto causado por la apariencia (¿aterrizaje brusco?), de un ángel del cielo cuyo aspecto causo gran terror en los bien-entrenados, guardias de Roma. Pastor John MacArthur, en la Biblia de Estudio MacArthur, dice que los guardias “no estaban simplemente paralizados con temor, sino completamente inconscientes, totalmente traumatizados por lo que habían visto.”

Como si nada, este ángel quito la gran piedra y se sentó en ella (un poco chistoso, ¿verdad?). Mateo nos describe la apariencia del ángel como un “relámpago,” cuya ropa era “blanca como la nieve.” Esta descripción del ángel no era fuera de lo común.

En la Biblia encontramos varias historias de encuentros personales con ángeles y todas, por lo regular, describen a ángeles en la misma manera—como seres vivientes sobrenaturales, cuyo propósito era (y es) el de compartir un mensaje de parte de Dios.

La Biblia nos enseña que estos ángeles de Dios reconocen sus funciones como mensajeros; por lo tanto, rechazan cualquier tipo de adoración, sabiendo que El único que la merece es Dios y nadie más.

Buenas Noticias e Instrucciones (v. 5-7)

Mateo nos cuenta que el ángel hablo y dijo lo siguiente: “Ustedes, no teman; porque yo sé que buscan a Jesús, el que fue crucificado. 6 No está aquí, porque ha resucitado, tal como Él dijo. Vengan, vean el lugar donde estaba puesto” (v. 5b-6). El ángel inmediatamente comparte las buenas noticias a las mujeres. ¿Cuál era el mensaje? ¡Jesús ha resucitado! ¡Él vive!

Es importante notar que el ángel les recuerda a las mujeres que Jesús resucito tal como Él había dicho. Mateo nos dice, en otro pasaje, que Jesús profetizo su muerte y resurrección en varias ocasiones: “Desde entonces Jesucristo comenzó a declarar a Sus discípulos que debía ir a Jerusalén y sufrir muchas cosas de parte de los ancianos, de los principales sacerdotes y de los escribas, y ser muerto, y resucitar al tercer día” (16:21). El ángel, en pocas palabras, dijo que la resurrección de Jesús fue cumplimiento de profecía.

El ángel, también, invita a las mujeres—por si acaso no creían que Jesús había resucitado—a ver el lugar vacío donde Jesús había sido puesto. Y por último, el ángel instruye a las mujeres a hacer los mismo que el hizo—compartir con urgencia las buenas noticias que Jesús está vivo y que se iba a reunir con los discípulos en Galilea.

¡Sorpresa! (v. 8-10)

Si la apariencia de un ángel no era suficiente para darles un ataque al corazón a las mujeres, tal vez el encuentro con el siguiente personaje las iba a poner en un estado de shock.

Mateo nos cuenta que de repente Jesús—El que había muerto una muerte horrible y vergonzosa—aparece a las mujeres, confirmando lo que el ángel había dicho. “¡Saludos!” dijo Jesús. Mateo nos informa que las mujeres se acercaron a Jesús y “abrazaron Sus pies y Lo adoraron” (v. 9b, enfasis agregado). Esto nos confirma que Jesús no era simplemente un espíritu volando, sino una persona con un cuerpo fisico y palpable—un cuerpo de resurrección.

Es interesante notar que Jesús, siendo un hombre judío—conocedor de la Ley, la cual enfatiza que solo Dios es digno de adoración—no rechaza la adoración, sino la recibe. Jesús acepta el reconocimiento de Su deidad. En otras palabras, Jesús está diciendo, implícitamente, que Él es Dios.

Aquí vemos la manera correcta de como cada ser humano debe responder al Jesús Resucitado. Estas mujeres nos dan un ejemplo digno de ser imitado. Ellas reconocieron que Jesús era el Mesías Crucificado y Resucitado. Sus vidas nunca fueron igual.

Un poco más adelante en este mismo capítulo, Mateo nos relata la reunión de Jesús y sus discípulos (sin Judas Iscariote, quien se orco) en Galilea y, con toda honestidad, nos informa que algunos creyeron y otros dudaron (v. 16-17). Mateo concluye su testimonio (su libro) con lo que es conocido como “La Gran Comisión,” donde el Cristo Resucitado con toda autoridad comisiona a Sus discípulos a predicar el evangelio y hacer discípulos de todas las naciones (v. 18-20). Esta es la misión de la Iglesia de hoy.

Reflexión

Que historia más asombrosa, ¿verdad? Pero aún más asombroso es el hecho de que esta historia sucedió. Aquí leímos el humilde y honesto testimonio de uno de los discípulos de Jesús. Si esta historia hubiera sido un cuento ficticio, no hubiera tenido tanto impacto en la vida de los discípulos, quienes tal vez hubieran regresado a sus vidas normales, evitándose todo el sufrimiento y persecución que más adelante iban a experimentar por causa del Evangelio.

Y, si Mateo hubiera inventado esta historia, no hubiera mencionado a mujeres (quienes, desafortunadamente, no tenían una voz y derechos como las mujeres hoy en día) o hablado mal de algunos de sus colegas (el v. 17 dice que algunos discípulos dudaron). El simple hecho de que Mateo menciona estos detalles nos afirma que su testimonio es verdadero y confiable.

Mantengase al tanto para Parte 3.

¡Él Vive! (Parte 1)

Nota al lector: Esta es la primera parte de una serie de blogs acerca de la resurrección que estaré escribiendo esta semana santa en preparación para la celebración de la pascua este domingo. Espero que sea de edificación.

La Tumba Vacía

En el año 2009, Dios me dio, para mi sorpresa, el gran privilegio de ir a Israel. A pesar de ser desanimado por la comercialización de todo, tuve una experiencia inolvidable. Después de un total de casi 20 horas de vuelo, aterrizamos en el aeropuerto de Tel Aviv, Israel.

Después de acomodarnos en el hotel a la orilla del Mar de Galilea, empezamos nuestra emocionante excursión de diez días. Tuvimos la oportunidad de visitar varios lugares turísticos como: Jerusalén, el Mar de Galilea, Capernaum, Masada, el Jardín de Getsemaní, Belén, y el Monte de las Bienaventuranzas, entre muchos más.

Obviamente han pasado más de dos mil años desde que Jesús vivió en Israel, así que las cosas han cambiado drásticamente; por lo tanto, algunos lugares fueron más interesantes visitar que otros.

Todavía me recuerdo muy bien del paseo de barco por las aguas del Mar de Galilea. Fue un tiempo tranquilo y refrescante. También me recuerdo del rico olor del muy popular pan de pita, mientras caminábamos por el mercado de la ciudad antigua de Jerusalén.

Y, por supuesto, me recuerdo de las dos chicas Israelitas que trataron de decirme en hebreo que yo me parecía a un muchacho que ellas conocían que, al presentármelo, en verdad, ¡pensé que era mi gemelo perdido! Sí, me recuerdo muy bien. Fue un tiempo muy agradable.

Pero de todos lugares que visite, y de todas las cosas que vi, y de todos los momentos especiales que tuve, ¿adivine cuál fue el momento más impactante para mí? El momento más impactante para mí fue visitar la tumbía vacía de Jesús, donde tuvimos un devocional y yo participe por primera vez de la santa cena.

La puerta de la tumba vacía dice en Ingles, “He is not here—for he is risen,” que significa, “Él no está aquí—porque Él ha resucitado.” Este fue el lugar y las palabras más impactantes para mí durante todo el viaje.

Si a mí me impacto visitar el lugar donde tradicionalmente creen que esta la tumba vacía de Jesús dos mil años después del hecho, pregúntese: ¿cuánto más impacto tuvo la resurrección para los primeros seguidores de Jesús?

La resurrección fue algo increíblemente impactante. Las primeras mujeres que visitaron la tumba vacía ya no fueron las mismas después de encontrarse con el Mesías Crucificado y Resucitado. Los apóstoles cambiaron de hombres incrédulos a hombres valientes e imparables—hombres que predicaron las buenas noticias del Mesías Crucificado y Resucitado hasta la muerte.

Muchos otros—incluyendo a Jacobo, el medio-hermano de Jesús—fueron totalmente transformados por este acontecimiento. Sus vidas fueron impactadas por la resurrección de Jesucristo al tan punto de que se comprometieron a una sola causa—la predicación y demostración del Evangelio. El mundo nunca ha sido el mismo desde entonces.

Unchanging Truth, Unshakable Security

I was reading the Bible this morning and came upon this encouraging truth:

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39, ESV).

According to this passage, what is the one thing that the Apostle Paul is convinced of or sure about? Simply put, Paul is convinced that nothing will be able to separate us—followers of Christ—from the love of God. That is right: nothing.

Dear child of God, when was the last time you heard and meditated on this gloriously-encouraging truth?

I do not know about you, but there are times in my life when I forget this truth. Why? Life is hard, especially when trials and hardships come my way. The pain is real. The frustration is real. The longing for something better is real. And the forgetting of this truth is real, unfortunately.

But so is God’s love. His love is real, and it is permanent, not temporal.

We need to remind ourselves of this truth—that God’s love for us is real and permanent—over and over again. And equally important, we need to remind ourselves that this truth is rooted and grounded in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

This love is permanent because of who Jesus is and what He has done for us. Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead for our redemption and adoption as sons and daughters.

The atoning work of Jesus Christ has both displayed God’s justice and satisfied His wrath on our behalf.  Therefore, “It is finished,” as Jesus said before breathing his last. And just how He died once to purchase us with His precious blood, He will also keep us and protect us and sanctify us completely until the day of His triumphant second coming.

This is good news! And this is the only reason why nothing in the world can separate us from the love of God. And because of that, there is a real, unshakable security for the Christian.

There is hope for our wearied and restless hearts. We can have security now, even in the midst of pain, suffering, confusion, and whatever else life throws our way.

God’s love for us is eternal in and through Jesus Christ. There is nothing, absolutely nothing that can change that. Ever.

May this life-changing truth sink in and penetrate the inner chambers of our hearts and bring about real hope and peace and joy and confidence. May we ponder and think and feel and rejoice in this amazing truth—that God’s love for us is real and permanent.

And that my dear friend is an unchanging truth.

A Sweet Conversation

Change Is In the Air

Yesterday I made the following post on Facebook:

Just spent the whole morning teaching my dad about the Mosaic Law, its purpose, and how the gospel fulfills it. After all these years, we finally had a meaningful conversation. The expression on his face as he began to see—from Scripture—the glory of the new covenant was priceless. Glory be to God! ‪#‎ForeverThankful‬

Let me share with you the story behind this post. It all started early in the morning. I was trying to decide whether or not to go to work. After giving it some thought, I decided to stay at home. It was a tough decision. Maybe laziness or the fact that I was restless over finals week had something to do with it, I do not know.

I noticed that my father was off from work as well (coincidence?). After breakfast, we quickly started a conversation that, to my surprise, would last for about four hours. Lunch time came and we were still going. Can you believe that even food did not stop us? Now that is crazy!

Why did we spend so much time talking? What was the subject of our conversation? Sports? Nope. Politics? Nope. News? Entertainment? Nope. We talked for four hours about the Bible, in particular, topics like: the Abrahamic covenant, the Mosaic Law, the gospel, the new covenant, justification by faith, and the person and work of the Holy Spirit, among others. These are biblical concepts/truths that my father has had difficulty understanding and reconciling over the years, so the fact that we were able to talk about them was super encouraging.

This was the first time my father and I had a fruitful conversation. It was awesome. I do not remember the exact order, but we read and talked about passages such as: Genesis 12:1-3, Habakkuk 2:4, Jeremiah 31:31-34, Ezekiel 36:22-28, Mark 14:22-26, 2 Corinthians 3 and 4, Matthew 22:34-40, and Galatians 3 and 4. (I share the Scripture references just in case you want to read them for yourself).

I asked him questions about the text and challenged him to dig in deeper by making observations and connections. He thought and processed through key concepts and themes. I gave him some feedback as we made our way through the passages, highlighting important truths along the way.

I was blessed. I did not care what time it was. This was a special moment ordained by God Himself. My heart was filled with joy when I saw how my father was getting it. He was being blown away by the truth of Scripture. He was connecting the dots for the first time. The expression on my father’s face was priceless. It was like if the “light bulb” in his mind turned on for the first time. I wish we would have recorded the conversation. It was a sweet moment–one I will never forget.

I had no idea this was going to happen. I did not plan for it, and neither did my father. I was surprised that we ended up talking for such a long period of time in one sitting without arguing or something.

I can honestly–and gratefully–say that I have witnessed some change in my family recently, especially over the last few months. My father and I talking about the Bible is just one example. God is on the move. He is doing something new in my family and I am so thankful for it.

Who is to receive credit for this change? Not me. No way. Yes, God used me, but He alone deserves all the credit. If there is anything God deserves is the glory due to His name. Change is in the air and there is one else to thank and praise but God alone.

Family As a Mission Field

If you or someone you know is having a hard time at home with family, please be encouraged: you are not alone. Family life can be very challenging at times. There is no doubt about that. What has helped me lately is realizing the fact that ministering to my family is the greatest investment I can make in life. God has been challenging me to see and approach my family from a different perspective–one that I am still trying to figure out how to live practically.

But nevertheless, I am starting to see my family as my mission field. God has given me a great opportunity to be a missionary to my family and bring the gospel to bear on every aspect of our lives. Will it look or feel perfect? No. In fact, it will be messy, hard, frustrating, and disappointing at times, but the effort is well worth it.

If you want to leave a legacy, make it your aim in life to impact your family. Invest your time and energy to build relationships with those who God has given you the privilege of doing life with on this earth. And what better day to start than today. Let’s go and make an eternal difference in the lives of those who matter the most–our families.

May God be glorified as we seek to humbly love and serve our families for the better.

God’s Will for the Christian

Growing up I thought of the will of God in terms of job and occupation, or to sound a bit more Christian, “calling,” whatever that means. The fact that I did not know exactly what God wanted me to do for the rest of my life troubled me. “Are you calling me to be a pastor?” I often asked. “Am I called to full-time ministry?” If so, then when or how or where should I be a pastor? These are the questions that I have wrestled with over the years, leaving me with even more questions than answers.

I was in class the other day and the professor briefly brought up the topic of the will of God for the Christian. He mentioned how Christians, more often than not, think of the will of God as this warm, fuzzy, opening-of-the-clouds moment where God will “reveal” His will for their lives, whether it be becoming a nurse, getting married, applying for a particular job, living overseas, or buying a house, etc.

Please, do not get me wrong. These decisions are important; we need not to take them lightly. What we do with the rest of our lives is important to God and others, so we should definitely seek counsel from the Word of God and the community of God in order to make wise decisions that will bring about the greatest impact for the kingdom of God during our brief time on this earth.

But the more of think about the will of God for my life, and the more I read and study Scripture, the more I realized that it is not this warm, fuzzy, opening-of-the-clouds moment where God tells me in a thunderous voice: “Jonnathan, you are to become a pastor at this church and at this time and in this city.” I have realized, from personal experience, that God does not work that way. I am no Saul about to have a Damascus-like encounter with God and His will for my life, and neither are you. And that is okay.

Looking back at some of the decisions I have made, I have always (if I am honest) wanted God to give me some kind of sign or clue, letting me know if I was making the right decision or not. “Lord, just tell me what you want me to do, please.” I often worried that my decisions would take me this way or that way or put me on the wrong path; or worse, prevent me from what I believed God was really “calling” me to do. Can you relate?

When it comes to knowing and doing the will of God, the clear teaching of Scripture is actually more refreshing, more liberating, more empowering, and more encouraging than we think. In his first letter to the Thessalonian church, the Apostle Paul wrote:

Finally then, brothers, we ask and encourage you in the Lord Jesus, that as you have received from us how you must walk and please God — as you are doing — do so even more. For you know what commands we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is God’s will, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality, so that each of you knows how to control his own body in sanctification and honor, not with lustful desires, like the Gentiles who don’t know God. This means one must not transgress against and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger of all these offenses, as we also previously told and warned you. For God has not called us to impurity but to sanctification. Therefore, the person who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who also gives you His Holy Spirit. (1 Thessalonians 4:1-8, HCSB; emphasis added).

God’s will for our lives is, after coming to a saving faith in Jesus, our sanctification. In other words, God wants you and me, after responding to the gospel by putting our faith in Jesus Christ, to be holy, which means both to be set apart from evil and sin, and to be set apart for God and His purposes.

I am called to live a holy life before God and others. I am called to actively participate in my sanctification by living in step with the Spirit as He guides me in all truth through His Word to, as Paul says in Colossians, put off the old self and put on the new self (3:5-11), and put to death the deeds of the flesh (Rom. 8:13).

God’s will for us Christians is our holiness. “But how exactly does God want me to use my gifts and talents for His glory and the good of others?” you may be wondering. I do not know, but I have confidence in the faithfulness of God to instruct me and you in all matters of life and faith through His Word and through His Spirit.

In this regard, I have found that God does not leave us in the dark. In His perfect timing, and in His perfect ways, God is gracious and kind to let us know how He wants us to spend our time, our money, and our energy to further His kingdom purposes on earth. Truth be told, we may not like His answers, but we can rest assured that God will lead us and guide us through His Holy Spirit. And that is good news! Good news for all of us restless, anxious, and troubled souls who are often thinking about what God wants us to do next.

Here is where I think the local church comes in handy—by playing a vital role in the spiritual formation of our lives. The local church is not just a place for socializing and fellowship, but a place where we can grow, serve, and live on mission with like-minded individuals who want to make much of Jesus, grow in grace, and love one another.

The Apostle Paul goes on to say: “Rejoice always! Pray constantly. Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:16-18; emphasis added).

Rejoice. Pray. Give thanks. This is, along with our sanctification, God’s daily will for us as Christians. We do not need for God to “reveal” this to us, right?

Or do we?

Giving Generously

What does new covenant giving look like? For starters, it is different from the old covenant in that it is not really tied to numbers or percentages anymore. New covenant giving, when truly done right—i.e., when one is motivated by the gospel and moved by eternity and what is to come—is characterized by generosity.

New covenant giving should reflect the all-transforming reality of the new covenant under the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The truth is God has done a new, refreshing spiritual work in the lives of us believers. Shouldn’t our giving be impacted as well?

But how is the believer going to be motivated to not just give, but give generously? First of all, it starts with a right understanding of what giving is. The act of giving is, as Paul calls it, an “act of grace” (2 Cor. 8:6-7). Second, believers are encouraged to follow other believers’ example of generous, sacrificial giving. In this case, the Macedonian believers modeled this powerfully:

1 We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— 5 and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. (2 Corinthians 8:1-5; ESV).

For the Macedonian believers, giving was not an obligation, but a joyful opportunity to participate in helping the saints in Jerusalem and supporting Paul’s ministry (8:5). The Macedonian Christians did not just give; they gave over and above what was expected of them—giving to the Lord, first, and foremost; and then, to the apostle Paul and his ministry colleagues. And what is crazy is that the Macedonian believers begged to participate (8:4). Believers today are called to imitate this great example of giving and to model it for others to see, especially in and among our local churches.

Now, there is one more reason why a believer should be motivated to give and give generously. What is it? The person and work of Jesus Christ. Paul states, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (8:9). Jesus, being rich, became a servant and gave of himself for the sake of others (this includes you and me!). He is the biggest reason why believers should give generously.

We are called to give generously as a response to the gospel and as an expression of our love and gratitude to the Lord for His atoning work on our behalf. Jesus died on the cross and rose again from the dead for us. The truth is Jesus is the greatest giver of all time! He gave His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).

As believers—who have been changed by the power of the Holy Spirit—we should be moved to give generously to the Lord, the local church, the spreading of the gospel, and to other worthy and noble causes that glorify God and seek to promote the well-being of others, Christians and non-Christians alike. But our giving should be characterized by wisdom (i.e., investing in eternity), integrity (especially within churches and non-profit ministries and organizations), and gospel-centered joy. After all, the Lord “loves a cheerful giver” (9:7).

God (Re) Visits His People

As I was reading How God Became King by N.T. Wright this week, I was struck by the fact that the story of Jesus is the story of Israel’s God visiting His people. The truth is the story of Jesus can only be rightly understood in light of the story of Israel. Why? Simply put: the story of Israel finds its fulfillment in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

The story of Jesus is really the story of Israel’s God re-visiting His people. During the exile, the presence of God had departed from the temple due to Israel’s idolatry and wickedness. The four hundred years between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament is known as the four hundred “silent” years because there was no prophet or divine revelation of any sort. During this time, history was unfolding of course, but God seemed distant.

Mark the evangelist intentionally begins his gospel account by reminding us of God’s promised visit as told through the prophets Malachi and Isaiah:

“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts” (Malachi 3:1; ESV).

And in Isaiah we read:  “A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God …” (40:3).

Time for a pop quiz. Who was going to visit the people of Israel according to both Isaiah and Malachi? Yes, that is right: God. God was going to re-visit His people! This is huge! This is how explosively encouraging the beginning of the gospel of Mark is. I can only imagine how encouraging this was for the Jewish people during Malachi and Mark’s time.

As I was reading Mark 11:15-19 this week, one phrase stood out to me:

15 And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 16 And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. 17 And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” 18 And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching. 19 And when evening came they went out of the city.

And he entered the temple. It hit me there and then: God was re-visiting His temple in the person of Jesus! God was re-visiting His people in the coming of Jesus in general, but here we see, God re-visiting His temple in particular. Malachi’s prophecy was being fulfilled before their very eyes.

Jesus had been preparing His disciples for the moment in which He would enter Jerusalem and all events associated with it would unfold as written in the Old Testament Scriptures.

The disciples were told that the Son of Man was going to suffer, die, and rise from the dead not once, not twice, but three times (read Mark chapters 8-10). In Mark 11:15-19, we see Jesus entering the temple for the first time in the gospel of Mark. The Lord was finally visiting His temple in the person of Jesus Christ, and unfortunately, they completely missed it.

Now, what does Jesus say and do inside the temple? Jesus entered the temple and began to cleanse it. Jesus was bringing God’s judgment to bear on the corruption of the temple. “Why judgment?” you may be wondering. This may seem strange at first, but here we have to go back to Malachi to get more insight. After sharing about God’s promise to re-visit His people, Malachi goes on to say:

“But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap.  He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the  Lord” (3:2-3).

Here is the main point: God was, indeed, re-visiting His people in the person and work of Jesus Christ. This was both encouraging, but frightening as well. Why? God’s visitation meant that His life-giving presence was returning to His people alongside His purifying judgment to bring about restoration and renewal.

 

 

Following Jesus

The call to follow Jesus as Messiah is a not an easy one. It is a costly and challenging invitation. Why? The call to follow Jesus is a call to die to self and to take up one’s cross. Then, and only then, can one truly began to follow the Messiah. We would be wise to hear and heed the heart-cutting, soul-penetrating, life-giving words of the Messiah Himself:

“If anyone wants to be My follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me and the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:34b-35, HCSB).

The radical call to follow Jesus only makes sense in light of who Jesus is and what He has done for us. In other words, apart from the person and work of Jesus, the call to live a selfless and sacrificial life sounds a bit scandalous, counter-cultural, and altogether, impossible for one to live out in his or her own strength or wisdom.

It is important to note that Jesus’ call to follow Him comes right after Mark 8:27-30 and Mark 8:31-33—two important passages that share a light on the identity and mission of the Messiah.

In Mark 8:27-30, we see Jesus asking His disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” (v. 27). After the disciples respond by stating the various opinions of the day, Jesus goes on to ask them directly, “who do you say that I am?” (emphasis added). Peter, standing up and speaking on behalf of the group, expressed the following: “You are the Messiah!” (v. 29). Peter got the right answer, but he—along with his fellow disciple buddies—misunderstood the Messiah’s God-given mission (at least during His first coming).

The predominant Jewish belief in regards to the Messiah was that he was to be a military/political leader, whose very coming meant the liberation from Roman oppression and the restoration of Israel’s kingdom.

But the Messiah had something else in mind. His primary purpose was not to bring about Rome’s demise, or the restoration of Israel’s earthly kingdom for that matter, but to bring about spiritual restoration. If this spiritual restoration was not going to come through military conquest, then how exactly was this going to be accomplished? The second passage will give us insight to this question.

In Mark 8:31-33, we read that Jesus began to teach His disciples the real purpose for His first coming. What was it? Mark puts it this way:

“Then He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, be killed, and rise after three days” (v. 31).

The Messiah was supposed to suffer and die? That cannot be right. This was God’s great plan? Yes, that is correct. Jesus taught His disciples that He must suffer and die at the hands of Israel’s religious leaders. This is what the disciples did not understand, let alone believe. The Old Testament alluded to the Messiah’s suffering (look at Isaiah 52 and 53, for example) but the majority of the people—including His disciples—was not able to discern what this meant.

Jesus is, as Peter exclaimed, the Messiah and His God-ordained task was to suffer and to die. But it did not stop right there. Jesus was going to rise from the dead on the third day. Jesus was going to conquer the grave through the resurrection. And this was the way in which He was going to bring about spiritual restoration to His people.

God, through the person and work of Jesus, was restoring people to a right relationship with Himself. And this was only made possible through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Having said all of that, the call to follow Jesus, then, is a call to restoration; a call, indeed, to life—but life through the way of the cross. The call to follow Jesus is a call to be restored and to be part of the kingdom of God. For this, one must, as mentioned above, deny himself, take up one’s cross, and follow the Messiah.

But this is hard. We would be fooling ourselves if we say otherwise. It is our natural tendency to be self-centered. Jesus’ call to follow Him is a direct attack at our selfish nature. Jesus’ call to abandon our selfish way of living does not only sound outrageous and unappealing, but also foolish and out-of-this-world crazy, especially in today’s self-absorbed, self-obsessed society.

A call to die is not an easy pill to swallow. But following Jesus is also a glorious call. How? The fact that Jesus gives an open invitation to follow Him as Lord is an expression of God’s amazing grace. When was the last time you and I saw the call to die to self, take up our cross, and follow the Jewish Messiah as an expression of grace? But this is exactly what it is! The call to follow Jesus is an opportunity to experience the undeserved grace of Almighty God.

Many Christians today can testify that choosing to follow Jesus as Lord has been the most important decision they have ever made. The truth is one cannot be drawn—by the power of the Holy Spirit—to accept and follow the Messiah and not have his or her life radically transformed.

To follow the Messiah is—as challenging as it may sound and be—the single, most important, heart-changing, worldview-shaking, spiritually-satisfying, and life-transforming decision/commitment one can make in life.

The invitation is open. The call is challenging, yet glorious. Let’s follow Jesus as Messiah for the glory of God and for our joy. Amen.