Thursday, December 26, 2019

First-Begotten of the Dead, Firstborn Among Many Brothers

First-Begotten of the Dead, Firstborn Among Many Brothers

Revelation 1:4-5 (ESV)
John to the seven churches that are in Asia: and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.

There are two primary things that separate Jesus Christ from all others who claim to be a savior: the virgin birth and the resurrection from the dead. Without these two essential attributes He would just be another prophet.

This is why we celebrate the two major holy days on the liturgical calendar, Christmas and Easter. It’s not important that Jesus was born, or that He died. It does matter HOW He was born, and that He AROSE from the tomb.

The title of First-Begotten of the Dead, used to describe Jesus when John wrote down the Revelation given to him, comes from the fact that He was the first one to be fully resurrected from the dead. Lazarus came back to life, as did the little girl Jesus spoke to, but they both died again. They were not fully resurrected. Jesus was in essence born again from the dead, showing us what would be available for us through the New Covenant He established with the Father on our behalf.

Now, through faith, we can be identified with Christ through His death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and seating at the right hand of the Father, and in so doing enter into the New Covenant with Christ. We are then re-born spiritually. Though our body will eventually die, our spirit will live on forever with Christ. That is the Good News that Jesus came to bring us.

If you are a Christian you no longer have to fear death because you have already died, spiritually, when you were baptized into Christ by the Holy Spirit. This is the new birth. This “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17) will never die. We are now “born of the dead” just like Jesus. He was the first; He showed us the way, and provided the means through His own resurrection.

So celebrate Christmas but, in so doing, acknowledge the virgin-birth of our Lord. Celebrate Easter when Christ was born-again so that we can now live!

This new life given to us through the New Covenant comes with is a calling; one calling. It is so simple yet so overlooked by many. Jesus became the First-Begotten from the Dead to show us the way to really live. Paul put it like this.

Romans 8:29-30 (ESV)
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Another Name of God is closely related to First-Begotten from the Dead. It is given in this passage: Firstborn Among Many Brothers. We are born again as children of the Most High God, just like Jesus. We become His brothers (and sisters). It would have been pointless for Jesus to do all that He did just so He could remain the only begotten of God. He did all He did so we, too, could become children of God! Our calling is simple: to be conformed to the image of Christ. Every human born has the same calling. I discuss this in much more detail in my book, The Call to Worship.

Worship is the simple way to describe our relationship with our Father, God.

There is one other related Name of God that I would like to include here. Paul also shared this about Jesus.

Colossians 1:15-17 (ESV)
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

We are called to be conformed to the image of Christ because He is the image of God Himself. Jesus is the Firstborn of Every Creature. He was present at creation as The Word of God, and spoke everything into being. As we become conformed to Jesus through our re-birth by the New Covenant, we then begin to re-create our world by speaking God’s words into it. As we are conformed to the image of Christ by renewing our minds to think like the Father and act like Jesus, all through the power of the Holy Spirit that abides in us, we join Jesus as a joint-heir of the Kingdom of Heaven.

We love the King and we abide in His Kingdom; all through the New Covenant provided by the First-Begotten from the Dead, Jesus Christ.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Mary, the Mother of Jesus

Mary, the Mother of Jesus

Luke 1:34 (ESV)
And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

The story of Mary has been told and re-told for thousands of years. Elizabeth spoke the prophetic words that, “You are blessed among women!” Mary certainly is.

Whenever I share the story of Mary I tell it from a little different perspective. Most, especially artists, portray Mary as an almost deified person dressed in white with beams of light radiating her angelic face, awaiting the arrival of the news from the angel that she would become the mother of the Son of God. This is not the image that I see when I think of Mary.

Based on what we know about Jewish customs of the day, Mary was most likely a teenager. Like most women of that period, her day was likely filled with chores, either for her family or working for others. It is quite possible that she was down at a nearby brook washing clothes, or at the well drawing water, or in the stable shoveling manure, or a myriad of other duties necessary to maintain a household.

We also know from Jewish tradition of the day that young women like Mary knew the words from the Prophets that, “a virgin would conceive and bear a Son, the Messiah, who would save the world.” It is possible that she was hoping, like many others, that she would be the one chosen to become the mother of God.

Regardless of which of these you choose (I’m sure there are many other scenarios to be made) Mary was surprised by a visit from an angel. The primary reason I believe my view of this is based on her response to the angel. In the Old Testament writings, whenever an angel appeared, most immediately bowed down in fear, or even fainted. After hearing the greeting of the angel and the words he came to deliver, Mary responded with a question: “How can this be?”

She did not go off on a tear of false humility (as many of us would do) and declare, “I am not worthy.” Instead, she sought more information, saying, “I know how babies are made, and it is biologically impossible for me to be pregnant.”

I consider this story “The Forgotten Chapter from The Wonder in the Wilderness.” I recently published a book describing several characters from the Bible and how they dealt with wilderness experiences. I was actually surprised when I realized I did not include Mary’s story.

To use the imagery from the book, Mary just entered into a wilderness. Her normal life of very-close-to-indentured-service, being engaged to Joseph (most likely a financially-beneficial arrangement for the family), yet still hoping for a chance to know God in a way that no other human ever had, or has since, was about to change as she encountered the angel. She did not consider any of those things, only the strange words that the angel spoke.

One of the first things she did after this encounter was to go and visit her relative, Elizabeth, who was living in her own wilderness. Elizabeth and Zacharias had been childless when they miraculously conceived a child, later known as John the Baptist, the forerunner to the Messiah. The encounter with Elizabeth ended Mary’s short time in her wilderness.

As soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, John jumped in the womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and began to prophecy. This totally independent (of any human knowledge) confirmation of Mary’s pregnancy gave Mary peace in knowing the encounter with the angel was not simply a dream or mirage. She was now carrying the Savior of the World inside her, even though she had no physical proof (yet) that she had conceived by the Holy Spirit that which the angel had promised.

Mary’s wilderness immediately changed from wander to wonder. There would be hard conversations in the days to come. How could she explain this to Joseph? What would others say about her? None of this was considered before she said, “Yes!” None of this mattered now because Mary had the ultimate Promise inside her. She was literally carrying the Prince of Peace, the Wonderful Counselor, the Savior of the World.

Years ago I heard a recording of a message by T. L. Osborn that described the response of the Believer to prophecies read in scripture. He said of Mary, “Don’t read that and get excited for Mary’s sake.” He said, “Read that for yourself and declare, ‘I’m blessed and highly favored!’” Dr. Osborn went on to say, “Whatever God did for anyone He can do for you.”

Jack Hayford describes this incident in his book, “The Mary Miracle,” as “the fountainhead of all miracles.” Because Mary said, “Yes,” each of us can now “carry” the Prince of Peace inside of us. As Believers we can be filled with the Holy Spirit of God, the Comforter that Jesus sent to abide in us forever.

I hope this Christmas you say, “Yes,” to God’s request to come near to you. Become identified with Christ. Move from wander to wonder. Your life will never be the same.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

The Names of God - Father of Mercies

Father of Mercies

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (ESV)
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

One of the most dynamic actions humans can show is that of mercy. This is very different than love. Love is more of a relationship than an action. There certainly are “acts of love” that can be expressed, but mercy requires a deliberate decision. A situation is presented where you have the right, based on law, tradition, etc., to act in a certain way. However, in that moment you choose to put aside the punishment that is due and instead show mercy. You offer forgiveness instead of justice.

This is not in the basic nature of mankind. Mercy comes from the Father of Mercies. Mercy is not just something God gives on occasion; it is part of His very nature.

Some read passages of scripture, such as the “negotiating with Abraham over Sodom” (Genesis 18) or the “dealings of Moses with Pharaoh” (Exodus 7-11) and come away with the idea that “God changed His mind.” I do not believe this is the correct interpretation. I believe it was God showing mercy.

Do you remember the story of Jonah? If not, take time to read the short Book of Jonah in the Old Testament. After fleeing from the call of God, being thrown overboard from the ship, swallowed by a “great fish,” and finally going to Nineveh, Jonah made known his true reason for fleeing in the first place.

Jonah 4:1-2 (ESV)
But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.

“I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful…” This apparent “change of mind” God had was actually Him acting consistent with His nature. He is the Father of Mercies!

King David understood this well. “Then David said to Gad, ‘I am in great distress. Let us fall into the hand of the LORD, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into the hand of man.’” (2 Samuel 24:14 ESV) He knew that man would exact justice; God would show mercy.

Jeremiah had firsthand knowledge of the Father of Mercies:

Lamentations 3:22-23 (ESV)
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

As New Covenant Believers our ability to worship is found in the mercies of God.

Romans 12:1 (ESV)
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

The only way we can give ourselves completely to God in worship, as a living sacrifice, is to know that He can be trusted. He is the Father of Mercies! Get acquainted with this characteristic of our Father. He is good! His mercies never come to an end.

I know there are many who never received mercy from their earthly father. Because of this, it is difficult to relate to our Heavenly Father. All I can say is this: “Find a way!” Until we allow the Father of Mercies to manifest His work in us we will never fully express the nature of our God to our world. Here is Paul’s plea.

Colossians 3:12-13 (ESV)
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts (mercies), kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

The ability to show mercy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit in us. We cannot, of ourselves, show mercy. We must allow the Father of Mercies to lead us as we choose mercy over justice, grace over law, and love over hate. Through the power of the Holy Spirit we can now make these choices, and in so doing, show the Father to our world.