Who Needs Jesus? Part 3: The Righteous King

The prominent color associated with Advent is purple, the color of royalty. The Christmas season, for the Christian, looks forward to the coming of Christ as King.

But who needs Jesus? Why do we need a King? Isn’t our own president and other government leaders enough? Obviously they aren’t and it doesn’t matter what their political affiliation. The lowly Babe in the manger was a King. But who needs Him? And why?

Yet again, we start in Genesis. This time in 49:10. The patriarch, Jacob, right before his death, prophesied concerning his son Judah that a King would come from his line. The implication is that this King is one to whom the nations of the earth will give their obedience.

As the nation of Israel grew, eventually there came a king from Judah’s line: David. God made a special covenant with David (kind of like He did with Abraham as we saw last week). Of importance is that God promised to keep David’s house and line running forever. The true king of Israel would be a descendant of David (see 2 Samuel 7:16).

This gave the people a special kind of confidence. If we have an eternal line of kings slotted for us, heck, God’s never going to boot us out or let anything bad happen! But their confidence was somewhat unfounded. Subsequent kings failed to honor the LORD as David did and instead led the nation into idolatry and rebellion against God.

Then came the prophets. These guys started talking crazy talk. They claimed that God was talking to them, that He wasn’t too pleased with their dishonorable lifestyles, and that He was about to punish them by removing them from the land. That would include the king…the guy in David’s line.

But in the midst of all this doom-and-gloom preaching, they also held out a tiny candlelight of hope. They said that although God was going to clear them out, Someone from David’s line would eventually arise in David’s place and claim the throne in such a way that it seems to be the same Person Jacob prophesied about all those years before.

Just see the connection the prophets made about this coming Messiah and David’s throne: Isaiah 9:6-7-the government will be His responsibility as He sits on David’s throne; Jeremiah 23:5-6-this King in David’s line will reign in a wise and righteous manner..in stark contrast to the kings of the prophet’s day; Ezekiel 37:21-28-the King (called “David” himself) will establish peace among God’s people forever; Micah 5:2-5a-promised coming of the King who will rule as God’s Man and the whole earth will know it; Zechariah 9:9-10-this King is again portrayed as righteous and peaceful, bringing peace to the earth.

This is just a smattering of passages (though very important ones) that connect a coming Messiah with David’s line. It’s important to note the common theme of this King being a source of righteousness. There’s something about this Man…something perfect.

Enter Jesus. He came from David’s line (see Matthew 1), his birth was heralded by angels (see Luke 2), and later celebrated with royal gifts by royal men (see Matthew 2). Jesus had not just the human pedigree but the divine as well. He came fulfilling the prophecies made about the future King from David’s line. Most significantly, and this why we need Jesus, He died to take God’s punishment on our sin and give us His righteousness. This King of righteousness gave us His righteousness! Think about that! I’d say that’s a pretty good reason to need Jesus, wouldn’t you?

Now some may look at those passages mentioned above and note that they aren’t totally fulfilled. And you’re right, they’re not. Part of the Christmas season is meant to turn our eyes toward Christ’s Second Coming or Advent. In fact, did you know that the classic carol “Joy to the World” is actually about Christ’s second coming? This gives us great hope. If the Righteous King has already made one appearance, we can be sure He’ll make another and that those many prophecies will have their final fulfillment then. Read through the passages, drink them in deep. Let the hope and longing fill your heart and always remember and look for the coming of this Righteous King.

Who Needs Jesus? Part 2: The Peculiar People

So in the spirit of Advent, we’re answering the question “Who needs Jesus?” Why was it so important for Jesus to be born? Why do we celebrate that? Last week, we looked at our fundamental problem: sin. We saw how Jesus came to solve our problem of sin, giving us a pretty good reason to celebrate His birth. This week I want to approach it from a different angle. Why did it have to be Jesus?

Like last time, it’s best to begin in Genesis. In Genesis 12:1-3, God calls a lowly man named Abram and sets him apart in a very unique way. Up to this point, there have been several diverging lines that pop up. We looked at one last week (the woman’s seed from the serpent’s), and there are a couple more. But with Abram, the split is more pronounced. God calls this guy and promises him, no strings attached, to bless him, make his name great, and turn him into a mighty nation. He promises Abram that he’ll be a rod of blessing to friends and cursing to enemies. In the end, through Abram, all the nations of the earth will be blessed! Subsequent reiterations of this promise add in the idea that his “offspring” would reap these same benefits (see v. 7 of this chapter).

Well, Abram grew to become a great man of faith, eventually having his name changed to Abraham. From him eventually comes the nation of Israel. They wind up enslaved in Egypt, but God miraculously frees them and calls them to be His people.

Being His people was no ho-hum ordeal. They were “Abraham’s children” and as such carried with them the great promises that God made to their father. He drives this point home from the beginning of their formation as a nation in Exodus 19:5-6. In short, He wanted them to be a “peculiar people” who were vastly different from all the other nations. They were to stand out. To bless the earth in their difference-making. To show what the salvation of God can do.

But things didn’t end gloriously for Israel as a nation. From the time they crossed the Red Sea to the time that the final king of a split kingdom was led into exile, the “holy nation” acted in an unholy way. Time after time they were tripped up by sin. Time after time God would punish but forgive. Still, as the Old Testament closes out, it looks dolefully at the holy people and looks instead to a coming Messiah.

Enter Jesus. Born in a manger with only animals and shepherds to witness His coming to earth, He grew up and did what the nation of hope and holiness couldn’t: live a perfect life. Where Israel failed, Jesus prevailed. Where Israel stumbled, Jesus jumped the hurdles. In the end, not even Death itself could hold Him down. Turns out it wasn’t necessarily a peculiar people that the world needed, but a peculiar person. 

This seems to have been God’s plan all along (see Galatians 3:16). Now, all who look to this wounded, but triumphant Savior are grafted into His family and are brought into the inheritance promised to Abraham’s offspring. Now the Church has become the “peculiar people” (see 1 Peter 2:9). Although we are held to a high standard, too, we don’t see ourselves as the hope for the world. We leave that honor to the peculiar Person who was born in a smelly manger on Christmas night…

Who Needs Jesus? Part 1: The Fundamental Problem

In my early days of high school I tried witnessing to a friend one night. I noted how he grew up in the church, knew the Bible on the surface well enough, and knew Christianity inside and out. Yet he wasn’t a Christian. Why? His response was basically, “Why do I need Jesus? I didn’t ask Him to die for me.”

It’s kind of a simplistic response to a simplistic question. But it deserves an answer. Who needs Jesus? Why is it so important that He came and died? Well, in the spirit of Advent and looking forward to celebrating His coming as a baby boy on that first Christmas morn, I’ll spend the next 4 weeks answering “Who is Jesus?”

I think the proper place to begin is with the fundamental problem. It’s pretty easy to pinpoint. It’s sin. Sin is the fundamental problem of humankind. And it’s a fundamental reason why Jesus was born in a manger. But how do the 2 connect?

Best to begin in Genesis. In Gen. 2:9 we find that God has placed 2 trees in the middle of the Garden of Eden: a tree of life and a tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Then, in v. 17 we’re told that to eat of the latter is to invite death. Well, Genesis 3 comes along with a certain serpent who deceives Eve into eating of the tree and Adam follows shortly thereafter. Thus, sin is born. But sin hasn’t had long in this world when God comes walking in the garden. After He pries the truth off the guilty parties’ lips, He hands out 3 judgments.

But probably most interesting of all was what God told the serpent in 3:15. He tells it/him that a particular descendant of the woman will give the serpent quite the headache. So here in the beginning, when all that is good falls to pieces and the fundamental problem of humankind is born, we have a divine promise that God will send someone to deal with the serpent and his machinations.

So who is this Person who will take care of our fundamental problem? You know the answer: Jesus! Jump to Romans 5:12-21 and you’ll find a lengthy explanation about how Adam introduced our bane and Christ came to save us from it.

So who needs Jesus? We do! All of us. That’s why His birth is so important. That’s why Christians celebrate His coming. Christ dealt with our fundamental problem by conquering it through His virgin birth, perfect life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection. So let’s take some time this season to celebrate that glorious night when the Solver of our problem was born!

Re-Post: A Sacrifice of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is less than a week away. That means everyone’s looking forward to camping out in front of Best Buy and shopping for Christmas! No wait, wait. That’s not right! Thanksgiving is like the middle child of year-end holidays. People look forward to Halloween and can’t wait for Christmas, but Thanksgiving is just there. Pass by it quickly and move on to a greater holiday. But in a cynical, critical world, thanksgiving as an attitude is all the more necessary to soften our hearts. So in lieu of a day devoted to that most overlooked of attitudes, here’s an edited re-post of a Thanksgiving piece I wrote a couple years ago…Enjoy! And be thankful.
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Psalm 50. The Psalm revolves around the thought of God being great and mighty and demanding something higher than mere animal sacrifices to please Him. The solution He gives is that we offer a “sacrifice of thanksgiving” (v. 14, 23). The phrase struck me. How can thanksgiving be a “sacrifice?”

Another version, the NIV, translates it as a “thank offering sacrifice,” which would mean that it’s within the Jewish sacrificial system. I’m not completely ruling that out, but since God just said that He really had no need of their sacrifices (v. 9), I feel like something deeper and loftier is implied. But that doesn’t answer the question.

When I think of a “sacrifice”, I think of losing something of my own (time, money, etc.) for someone else’s good or for a greater cause. And when I think of thanksgiving, I think of being grateful and acknowledging what I’m thankful for. But how is that a sacrifice? I’m not giving up anything, except maybe some breath and a little bit of time. Sometimes sacrifices can be painful, but I see nothing painful in giving thanks. So what does it mean?

Connected with the “sacrifice of thanksgiving” in both instances is salvation. So it seems that salvation should be the spring-board for gratitude. In the context of the Psalm, it seems like God is chiding Israel for going through the motions of ritual sacrifice with a callous, ungrateful heart. Thus He calls for a “sacrifice” of thanksgiving instead of the regular physical ones. So it seems, as my wife noted, that the sacrifice comes from living life intentionally thankful. This fits with the Psalm since God’s call/point seems to be that salvation gives us all the reason to be thankful and that should affect our everyday living.

Thus everyday we should recall the salvation won for us through Christ’s death and resurrection and offer a “sacrifice of thanksgiving” by living out of grateful hearts. Thankfulness has to have direction; it will be pointed at someone else or an institution or God. While there’s nothing wrong with being thankful for a great country to live in or a home or anything like that, we should render due sacrifice to God for the salvation He has granted us by the sacrifice of Christ and the covenant He allows us to enter in to. So on this day of thanks, let us not be thankful just for one day but continually offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving for the rest of our lives.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

You May Not Be Meant to Be Great

Americans like to champion the “American Dream”, which, I would say, is being able to be whoever you want. For most people, being whoever you want means being great; being famous; being rich and well-known. But as I carry on through life and study more of the Bible, I’m slowly realizing that “greatness” may not be for everyone.

When I was in high school I felt a very distinct call to be a musician/songwriter who used music as a medium to share the gospel. In my naive young mind I perceived this as coming to fruition in being famous and part of a popular rock band. I hit college and beyond, began to realize it wouldn’t be that easy, and suddenly found myself re-evaluating my heart motives. Had I become too “Hollywood” in my approach to God’s call on my life? What if sharing the gospel through music meant I never went beyond the city I was living in?

Since then I’ve been wrestling with this idea that I may never achieve “greatness” as I had fondly dreamed of it. I found my wife in the same boat. She had gone through ministry training passionate and ready to change the world. Then, after graduating, it became apparent that no change would be a simple change.

I don’t know, maybe most of us aren’t meant to be great.

In the Bible you see all these famous heroes of faith: Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah, the apostles, Paul…and, understandably, we want to emulate them. Nothing wrong with that. But do you ever notice the people around them? Most likely not. Did you know Jacob and Esau probably had other brothers? Do we ever hear of any of them specifically? Erm…not really. Did you know there were probably more than 12 disciples hanging around Jesus? There are at least 70-72 at one point. Do we get to know these people? By and large, no. Are they less important? Well, no, they existed for a reason, but do we know their names and associate them with great acts of faith? Ah hmm….

Maybe most of us are meant to live modest lives–unsung and unknown by the generations after us. Maybe “greatness” for most of us isn’t being famous, but simply living well. Maybe most Christians are better off not dreaming about being the next Billy Graham and instead loving their neighbor like they love themselves. Maybe the Church should focus on raising Christians who live quietly in their communities, making a small impact where they’re at, instead of charging everyone to go out and conquer the world for Jesus.

Maybe there’s less “glory” in that. Maybe it seems messier and harder. But I think such a route is worthwhile. I think if more Christians simply made themselves to be available where they’re at, their impact would be much more far-reaching and “greater” than if they had tried to be someone famous. There’s something to say for the “little” people, those inconspicuous beings simply living life the way God intended them to do in Christ. I think in heaven those will be some of the “greatest” stories we’ll share.

Autumnal Mirth

The fall season is undoubtedly my favorite. The air starts to get cooler without being too cold, it’s rainy and cloudy most of the time, the days are shorter…all this makes for great writing weather. But not everyone is a writer and perhaps some people don’t know how to get into the proper seasonal mood. Well I’m going to take a break from telling you about Plethora (which you can buy here), and give you some ways to get into the autumnal spirit!

Movies-
Ghost stories are typically the best for October. I’m not a huge horror fan, but I like the older noir films from the 40’s and 50’s. Here are some films I think you should check out:
1. Dark and Stormy Night- This in-house murder mystery spoof is a hilarious venture.
2. House on Haunted Hill- This old horror classic is clunky, weird, and, in the end, very dumb. Which makes it such a classic. You’ll spend more time laughing at this film than cowering in fear.
3. Arsenic and Old Lace- Here’s another classic that’s more along the humor lines.
4. The Ghost and Mr. Chicken- This Don Knotts led flick is pretty funny with a nice twist at the end.

Music-
Sometimes music can get you into the mood better than a movie. So here are my autumn picks:
1. Autumn by George Winston- I discovered this solo piano album in college and I’ve loved it ever since. Nice and soothing, it harps on the more peaceful aspects of fall.
2. Lovesick Zombie by House of Heroes- This single humorously compares a failed relationship to dealing with a zombie. It’s sweet in the end and worth the listen.
3. “Jekyll & Hyde” and “Witch Hunt” by Petra- Had to fit Petra on here somewhere. These two songs (on different albums) give a spiritual swing to the Halloween mythos. From wrestling with sin to “burning” fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, these tunes can give a creative way of handling the spooky aspects of fall.
4. Fall EP by Jon Foreman- This beautiful and well-crafted 6 song EP will get you into the melancholic fall mood if nothing else will.

Books-
If you have time, there are some classics that will can add to your enjoyment of autumn:
1. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley-I remember reading this classic during a fall semester in college and it helped add to the atmosphere of the book by reading it then.
2. Dracula by Bram Stoker- Yes, it’s kind of a creepy and scary classic, but it’s a good autumn read.
3. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson- This short novella is easy to read and is much better if you know absolutely nothing about Jekyll and Hyde.

So those are some of my recommendations. Anybody have any other suggestions?

Re-Post: America is a Factory

This may sound vain, but every now and then, when I have time and when I think about it, I like to go through the archives on my blog and see what I wrote 2 or so years ago. I randomly chose November 2011 as a starting spot and came across a post that I find appropriate even for today. So join me in a trip down memory lane to revisit this old post and be sure to tell me what you think!

http://jrunderdown.wordpress.com/2011/11/20/america-is-a-factory/

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