Tag Archives: Christ

God Is a Stronghold

Psalm 31 has been characterized as a “lament” psalm. Indeed, as you read it, the psalmist (David) appears beset by all sorts of trouble: his enemies have laid a net for him (Psalm 31.4); his physical condition is miserable: his eyes fail, his body is sick, his years cut short, his strength fails, and his bones waste away (Psalm 31.9-10); he is scorned and avoided by friends and neighbors (Psalm 31.11); he is forgotten, out of mind, like a dead man (v.12); and there are plots against him (Psalm 31.13-20). Depressing stuff, huh?!

But David is not complaining. No! This is a psalm of “magnificent confidence!” “Blessed be the LORD,” he shouts, in Psalm 31.21. “As for me, I said in my alarm, ‘I am cut off from before Thine eyes’; Nevertheless Thou didst hear the voice of my supplications when I cried to Thee.”

A familiar quotation is found in verse Psalm 31.5:“Into Thy hand I commit my spirit”  – the last words of Jesus on the cross before He died. He had assumed the guilt of every sin that would ever be committed and was dying in shame, offering His sinless life to atone for those sins. He felt forsaken, crying to His Father, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”

Yet in the moment of His death he remembered the Divine assurance of this psalm: “In Thee, O LORD, I have taken refuge; let me never be ashamed; in Thy righteousness deliver me. Incline Thine ear to me, rescue me quickly; be Thou to me a rock of strength, a stronghold to save.”

The psalms are hymns of prayer and praise. They remind us of the wondrous majesty of God, our Creator. And they remind us, too, of the marvelous grace of God, our Benefactor, who, even amid the hardest of times and deepest despair is always a stronghold to save.

– Bill

 

“And the Tempter Came…”

Not even God, for that is who Jesus is – remember Immanuel, “God with us?” Not even God could escape the pressure and challenge and nuisance and allure of temptation while He was on earth. The difference, though, between Him and us is that He never yielded. He never gave in to the temptation. He overcame the tempter on every occasion. But He knows how it feels to be tempted. He knows the struggles involved in having to deal with jealousy and greed and lust and ambition and anger, because He faced them too.

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4.14-16).

Jesus, now in heaven in the presence of God the Father, is our High Priest and our Advocate. He is qualified to intercede for us because He was tempted like us in every way. And having overcome all temptation He sacrificed His sinless life to redeem us from our sins when we fall to the temptation.

Because of Him and through Him we may indeed draw near with confidence to God’s throne of grace. Hallelujah!

– Bill

 

Having the Mind of Christ

My intention was to begin the year with a series of sermons entitled “Back to Basics,” addressing the foundational tenants of Christianity. I still think such a series is necessary. But taking a page from our brother Jude, who also changed his mind, “Beloved, while I was giving all diligence to write unto you of our common salvation, I was constrained to write unto you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints… (v3). I, too, feel constrained to pursue another line of investigative study.

For anything to have any value it must be relevant to the times it purports to address. I believe Christianity is timeless. It’s consistently relevant because it addresses the basic human condition, and that’s not something that’s governed by the calendar.

As we make our pilgrimage through this life, we’re confronted with a constant variety of circumstances. As Christians, we are called to meet those circumstances in a way that reflects the Lordship of Christ in our lives. We don’t have a choice in this matter. Christianity isn’t an optional extra. It’s not something we adopt depending on the situation. We either are, or we are not. Jesus put it this way: “He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me scatters” (Matthew 12.30).

The Political Climate Now

Currently, a circumstance which seems to be occupying much of our nation’s energy and creating a great deal of anxiety, is the present political turmoil. Americans are energized, to say the least, taking to the streets demonstrating in vast numbers for a variety of causes and issues.

I too have a moral and social conscience. I’m alarmed at what’s happening in our country. So how am I supposed to frame my response to what I see as immoral and irresponsible leadership and behavior?

To wrestle with that challenge I’m embarking on a new series of sermons entitled, “Having the Mind of Christ. The title for the series is borrowed from Paul, “Have this mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2.5). In order to do that, we must return to the source – to the story of Jesus Himself – His life, His work, His words. Peter said He left us an example that we should “follow in His steps” (1 Peter 2.21). That will be the focus of these coming lessons, to let the life of Christ, as recorded in the Gospels, guide us through the uncertainty and turmoil that surround us.

The Political Climate Then

As we begin, I think it’s important we keep this in mind, too – Christianity was born in the midst of a corrupt secular environment (not unlike ours). Political position was bought and bartered by unscrupulous people who would stop at nothing to gain advantage. Gross immorality characterized the culture. The poor and underprivileged were exploited. Unwanted babies were literally thrown away as garbage. Christians were mocked and hounded and finally viciously persecuted. They were accused of being atheists by idolatrous pagans who bowed before a pantheon of false gods. When they observed the “Lord’s Supper,” they were slandered as cannibals for “eating His flesh and drinking His blood.” Married couples were charged with incest because they called each other “brother” and “sister.”

It was into that cultural chaos that Jesus called His first disciples to be “the light of the world.” They had no political rights; no voice in selecting who would govern them; and no forum for redress of their grievances.

We’re fortunate we don’t live in such a world – but make no mistake, we do live in a world that’s hostile to our faith and values. The warnings Jesus gave His early disciples ring just as true today as then: “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. But beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues; and you will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake…You will be hated by all because of My name” (Matthew 10.16-23).

The principle of government is ordained by God as necessary for the function of an ordered society. Modern politics is a vicious game. Even the best candidates will say or do nearly anything to get elected. Rhetoric is cheap; promises made and positions espoused during a campaign are seldom kept once the candidate assumes office.

To become so invested in a particular candidate or political party’s promise to restore our values and morals only to be devastated when the election is lost is, in my view, naïve. Ours is a progressively secular nation. A gradual but definite culture shift has occurred over the last half century. While we hope and pray our government officials will honor and respect Biblical (Christian) morals and values, it’s a mistake to place our confidence in them to actually do it. “God Bless America” coming from the lips of most politicians these days is a hollow phrase.

The Mind of Christ: Timeless

Christianity is a personal religion, not a national religion. When Jesus said, “you are the light of the world,” He literally meant you, me, us. Whether or not our nation values the life of the unborn, the sanctity of marriage, or the natural role of gender is really beside the point – those are God’s immutable values, and that’s the only thing that matters. When Christianity turned the first century pagan world “upside down” it wasn’t because of an election, because they put the “right guy” in office. It was because Christian men and women refused to yield their faith, morals, and values to the surrounding culture regardless of the cost to themselves. They paid a high price – but they changed the world, one person at a time.

In order for us to be faithful to our calling, to have any influence in the world about us, it’s essential we “have the mind of Christ” in our daily conduct.


– Bill

 

The Revelation of Christ: Who He Is, What He Does for Us

 

November 27, 2016 – Bill Bryan

Revelation 1:4-6

John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace, from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood – and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father -to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

The Faithful Witness

The Firstborn from the Dead – Romans 1:4; 1 Corinthians 15:20-23

The Ruler of kings on earth – Philippians 2:9-11

Who:

Loved us

Loosed us

Made us a kingdom, priests – Colossians 1:13-14; Philippians 3:20

 

 

In Him was Life…

In Him was Life,
and the Life was the Light of men

(John 1.4)

When John uses the term life he usually means “spiritual life or eternal life,” but here he has a broader view in mind – Jesus is the source of all life – physical, moral, spiritual, and eternal.

He is keenly concerned with all those aspects of life. His ministry focused on transforming mere life into abundant life, to have a “surplus” life, a life of meaning and purpose now and a transcendent life that exceeds our ability to comprehend.

When He breathed life into the nostrils of that lump of clay, we became “living souls” (Genesis 2.7). He created us for life not death, and He came and walked among us to show us the way to true life.

In Scripture light is frequently used of things pertaining to God while darkness is just the opposite, as in 1 John 1.6: God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.

The darkness Jesus came to dispel was caused by sin. We got ourselves into this mess through our own willfulness and we’re powerless to find our own way out. That’s where He comes in – He’s “Life and Light.”

I am the Light of the world;
he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness,
but will have the Light of life
(John 8.12).

 

Too Precious for Profit

The west Texas summers were hot and the houses weren’t air conditioned. Summers are supposed to be hot, that’s why there are lawn sprinklers. You could play in the water all up and down the block, get soaked, and in a matter of minutes be dry again. Ah, the good ole summertime, what fun!

It wasn’t such fun for my parents. I remember their guarded glances and whispered conversations one particularly hot summer. A playmate of mine, a little girl named Ruthie, fell ill. She lost the ability to move her arms and legs and she was unable to breathe on her own. She had to be placed in an “iron lung.” Polio had struck our neighborhood.

A Cure

Two American physicians, Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin, were working feverishly and independently of each other in an attempt to develop a vaccine for this crippling and deadly disease. By the mid-1950’s both had produced a vaccine. Salk’s “killed virus” vaccine was injected while Sabin’s “live virus” vaccine was administered orally.

I still remember clearly the day we were lined up and marched to the school nurse’s station to be vaccinated for polio. Vaccinations had always meant needles and I was concerned about crying in front of my schoolmates. But instead of a syringe, the nurse handed us a little cup containing two sugar cubes to eat. Now that’s my kind of vaccination!

It was sixty-three years ago last month that health authorities announced the development of the first safe and effective vaccine for polio. Thanks to these two men, their staffs, and research facilities, the disease is unknown today in the United States and is about to be eradicated in the rest of the world.

And you want to know something else? After years of work, research, and development, neither Jonas Salk nor Albert Sabin patented their vaccines. They gave it away – it was too precious for profit!

Disease Worse Than Polio

But as bad as polio or cancer or AIDS or a host of other physical diseases are, there’s another killer out there that’s far worse – it’s called sin. Physical disease destroys the body, but that’s all it can do. Sin destroys not only the body but the soul.

The soul is the eternal essence of mankind. It is immune to physical disease. An individual may suffer from polio or cancer or have diseased coronary arteries, but those have no effect on the soul.

The soul is susceptible to only one affliction, sin. It’s wide-spread; in fact, everyone has it. It’s as pernicious a malady as one can imagine. Yet its symptoms are often eagerly embraced and its nature ignored or even made the object of lighthearted humor. But make no mistake about it, sin is no laughing matter – its terminus is eternal conscious hell.

The Cure

There is only one vaccine for sin – sinless blood – the blood of a divine innocent victim, the blood of God incarnate, Jesus of Nazareth. Throughout the long storied history of human existence, no one ever devised or developed a remedy for sin, though they’ve tried. The heavenly bodies, the sun, stars, and moon, have been made objects of veneration, as have the mountains, rivers, and forests. Animals have been offered, plants offered, even other human beings have been sacrificed to atone for sin. “Nothing can for sin atone, nothing but the blood of Jesus.”

Seeing our helplessness, our susceptibility to sin and its awful consequences, God, our Creator, offered His own Son to be our sin offering:

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5.6-8).

And though the “wages of sin is death, the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6.23). O! Thanks be to God who loves and cares for us so much that He gave His own Son away – we are indeed too precious for profit!

–Bill

In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine,
A wondrous beauty I see,
For ’twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died,
To pardon and sanctify me.

 

The Cross and the Resurrection (Conclusion)

From Death to Life – Part 1

From Death to Life – Part 2

From Death to Life (Conclusion)

“The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross. He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses of these things…” (Acts 5.30-32).

It was the horror of the cross God chose as His instrument of redemption. The disciples believed Jesus was their long-awaited Messiah. But at the cross all seemed lost. He was dead at the hands of the Romans and buried in a sealed and guarded tomb. Despair and disillusionment gripped His followers, “we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24.21). If His claims were true, only a miracle could change the situation – only a resurrection – and resurrection it was!

Resurrection became the driving message of the new Christian movement. It was the subject of the first sermon ever preached (Acts 2), of the second (Acts 3), of the third (Acts 5), of Peter’s sermon to Cornelius (Acts 10), and Paul’s sermon in Antioch of Pisidia (Acts 13): “You killed Him, God raised Him, and we’re witnesses!”

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve… (1 Corinthians 15.3-5).

Paul here identifies the gospel that was preached by the apostles and believed by the Corinthians as the basis of their salvation. It concerned the truths of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

  1. These are central truths. Other truths concerning the life of Christ are important, such as His virgin birth, sinless life, miracles, and ascension, but His death and resurrection are “of first importance.”
  2. These are historical truths. They aren’t myths but verifiable historical events, which can be pinpointed on the calendar, as indicated by the specific phrase “on the third day.”
  3. These are physical truths. That is, Christ died, and to demonstrate the physical reality of His death, He was buried. Then He rose, and to demonstrate the physical reality of His resurrection, He was seen, and Paul lists His appearances to three individuals, and three groups. Moreover, all four events – death, burial, resurrection, and appearances – must have been equally physical. That is, the Jesus who was raised and seen was the same Jesus who had died and was buried. The tomb in which He was buried was empty! The resurrected and transformed body of Jesus was the first bit of the material universe to be redeemed, and it is a pledge that the whole will one day be transformed.
  4. These are biblical truths, for both took place “according to the Scriptures,” witnessed to by the prophets of the Old Testament and the apostles of the New. An encounter with the risen Lord was an essential qualification of an apostle (1 Corinthians 9.1; 15.8).
  5. These are theological truths – events of huge significance. We deserve to die for our own sins, but He died our death instead of us. How great is His love!

The death and resurrection of Jesus (central, historical, physical, biblical, and theological truths) constitute the Gospel. If this foundation is false then the whole Christian faith is a fraud (John Stott, Through the Bible, Through the Year, 278).

 “Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15.12-19).

       – Bill

 

The Cross and the Resurrection, Part 2

From Death to Life 

(Continued)

 “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.

More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3.7-11).

The Significance of Passover

Events occur throughout the Scriptures which have a larger significance than the actual event itself may indicate at the time. For instance, the killing of the Passover lamb was merely the slaughter and preparation of an animal for a meal – it was done all the time. Now this particular meal was a little unusual in that certain prescribed details were to be specifically observed, but for all practical purposes, it was simply a meal. However, centuries later that “sacrifice” and “meal” was directly applied to Jesus of Nazareth and His purpose for coming to earth – “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1.29).

Fiery Serpents – Another Sign

Another Old Testament event which had a greater significance is recorded in Numbers 21.4-9:

Then they set out from Mount Hor by the way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the people became impatient because of the journey. The people spoke against God and Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this miserable food.”

The LORD sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. So the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, because we have spoken against the Lord and you; intercede with the LORD, that He may remove the serpents from us.” And Moses interceded for the people.

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live.” And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived.

Those ancient Israelites could not have imagined that their terrifying experience of the “fiery serpents” was actually a type foreshadowing an even greater deliverance 1,500 years later. Before going to the cross, Jesus likened His impending crucifixion to that wilderness event:

“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up” (John 3.14).

“If it were not for the cross…”

John Stott has written in The Cross of Christ (335-36):

I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross. The only God I believe in is the One Nietzsche ridiculed as “God on the cross.”

In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? I have entered many Buddhist temples in different Asian countries and stood respectfully before the statue of the Buddha, his legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, the ghost of a smile playing round his mouth, a remote look on his face, detached from the agonies of the world.

But each time after a while I have had to turn away. And in imagination I have turned instead to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from thorn-pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in Godforsaken darkness.

That is the God for me! He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us. Our sufferings become more manageable in the light of His.

 – Bill

(To be continued)

 

Life – The Big Picture

One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, “What commandment is the foremost of all?”

Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

The scribe said to Him, “Right, Teacher; You have truly stated that He is One, and there is no one else besides Him; and to love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as himself, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

When Jesus saw that he had answered intelligently, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that, no one would venture to ask Him any more questions.               (Mark 12. 28-34)

When Jesus recited the greatest of the commandments, He repeated the word “all” four times. Later Paul emphasized that “all things were created” through and for Christ (Colossians 1.15-18). How much of “all” is all?

Here’s how the typical American who lives to be 75 year old will spend his or her life: 8% Preschool; 12% School; 39% Work; 28% Time Off; 18% Retirement; and .9% Church.

In light of the use of time, when does a person “love the Lord God” as Jesus commanded? Is that limited to what one does for an hour or so on Sunday morning? If so, then worship takes up a mere 3,900 hours, or 0.9 percent, of one’s waking life – assuming that one goes to church every Sunday for 75 years!

Is that what Jesus or Paul had in mind? No, Christ is Lord of all life – not just Sunday mornings, but weekdays, too, including time at work. Furthermore, He is Lord not only of our time, but of our money and possessions as well. Unfortunately, many Christians in the West have developed some dangerous attitude in these areas that push God to the fringes of life. For example:

Myth: One-seventh of our time belongs to God.

Some Christians speak of Sunday as “the Lord’s Day,” a day of religion. And so it might be if Christians worshipped from sunup to sundown. But for most people Sunday worship means as hour-long service before an afternoon of televised sporting events. Thus the “day of worship” is effectively reduced to less than one-twentieth of the week.

That was never what God intended. Originally, the seventh day or Sabbath rest was viewed as the completion of the week, not a break or separation from the work week. It was a time for review, celebration, and restoration.

Yet already by Jesus’ day there were major distortions regarding the Sabbath. It had become a day of legalistic ritual. Jesus sought to restore it as a day of compassion and worship (Luke 6.1-11; John 5.1-18).

Dedicating all of our time to God does not mean apportioning so much to family, so much to a job, so much for ourselves, and a little left over for God. No, all 168 hours or the week, all 52 weeks of the year, and all of the years of a lifetime belong to God and are on loan to us to manage for Him.

Myth: Ten percent of our money belongs to God.

Some Christians believe that God expects them to give a flat 10 percent of their income to church and other ministries. The reality is that on the average, American believers give only 2.3 percent of their income to religious or charitable causes of any kind.

The underlying principle that needs to be considered is that God has given us the ability to earn money, so actually all 100 percent of our earnings belong to Him. We are called to manage our money – not just what we give away, but what we keep, too – according to His values.

Tithing was intended as a discipline to remind God’s people that all of what they have or earn belongs to Him. Originally a voluntary activity (Genesis 14.13-24; 28.20-22), it was intended for the care of others and as a representation of the worship of God (Deuteronomy 26.1-19). Tithing was never intended to replace obedience to all of God’s commands.

 – The Word in Life Study Bible

 

Christ – the One and Only

January 31, 2016 – Bill Bryan

Notes and Scriptures
  • Ecclesiastes 12:14 – God will bring every act to judgment….
  • 2 Corinthians 5:10 – For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ…
Previous Lessons:
  1. God as Creator
  2. God as Revealer
  3. God as Initiator
  • John 3:16 – For God so loved the world – Universal and Conditional
  • John 6:35 – “I am the bread of life…”
  • John 8:12 – “I am the light of the world….”
  • John 11:21-25 – “I am the resurrection and the life.”
  • John 14:1-6 – “I am the way, the truth and the life.”
  • Revelation 1:8, 17-18 – “I am the Alpha and the Omega…the First and the Last…the Living One…I hold the keys.”