The truth about Jesus

When the feast was half over, Jesus went up to the temple courts and began to teach. Then the Jewish leaders were astonished and said, “How does this man know so much when he has never had formal instruction?”

So Jesus replied, “My teaching is not from me, but from the one who sent me. If anyone wants to do God’s will, he will know about my teaching, whether it is from God or whether I speak from my own authority. The person who speaks on his own authority desires to receive honor for himself; the one who desires the honor of the one who sent him is a man of integrity, and there is no unrighteousness in him. Hasn’t Moses given you the law? Yet not one of you keeps the law! Why do you want to kill me?”
John 7:14-19 (NET)

The challenge every Sunday morning for every preacher is to speak in such a way as to convince people of the truth about Jesus. Yes, truth. Not the subjective or relative post-modern definition of truth, but universal and objective truth. Can we ever know?

This same question is posed by the Jewish leaders to Jesus. The question relates not just to “how” Jesus attained such knowledge, but to the nature of the knowledge. The “how” determines whether what Jesus is saying is true. This is the clincher: if Jesus is proven to speak truth, then He is proven to be true, since His claims are about Himself. 

Just like the scientific community today, the Jewish leaders were more inclined to accept the teachings of a famous Rabbi as truth over a small fry academic’s ideology. Truth comes from the reputation of the teacher. If Jesus said His teaching was from one of the famous Rabbis of the time, then its got to be true! Teaching from a famous Rabbi means that the ideas are published in a reputable journal, well researched, peer reviewed and has good methodology.

But whats true for the scientific community isn’t necessarily true when it comes to God/kingdom truth. The test is different. This is where Jesus talks about the litmus test for His truth. Its simple:

  • If you desire to do God’s will, you will know whether the speaker is truly from God.  
  • If the speaker gives honour (glory) to the one who sent him (God), then the speaker is true.

This test is easily applied to others and so often we do. But what about first applying this to ourselves? Am I a true spokesperson for God? Do I speak His truth? I can only find out by desiring His will and ascribing to Him the glory and honour. The opposite of this is self-exaltation – speaking from my own authority and honouring myself.

His retort to the Jewish leaders is about their lack of desire to follow Law – God’s expressed truth and will. They have no desire to do God’s will, nor do they do so, and thus no one recognizes Jesus’ truth! It wasn’t because they didn’t know His will, it was because they didn’t want to do His will. We need to recognise that accepting the truth about Jesus is not a matter of knowledge. It is a matter of the will – the heart.

I ask that God would so transform my heart that every desire I have is His. Every preference is His preference. Every will is His will. Every self-glorifying cell in my body submits under God-glorifying.

εὐαγγέλιον

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
Matthew 9:35-38

We all are familiar with what is required of us with regards to evangelism: a presentation of the gospel, often verbal and a call for acceptance. We are told that if you present the gospel, you’ve done your bit. If they decline, its not your fault, you’re responsible for bringing the good news not compelling belief. Afterall, Jesus said that the harvest is ready, all we need to do is go out and grab people into the Kingdom. Family, friends, strangers, it doesn’t matter who it is, as long as they’ve been presented the gospel.

What is wrong with this picture? The problem is that evangelism has fallen victim to our everything instant culture. Present the gospel, give the call, and wham-bam, you’re done! Next please! Better still, hit them up all at once in a huge evangelistic meeting! No slow oven roasted prayer-glazed with years of sowing nonsense, give me quick microwave straight from the frozen pack evangelism.

The harvest is ready, but that doesn’t mean we can be haphazard about the way we evangelise. Good evangelism needs to be birthed from prayer, sowing, witnessing and showing love. There is so much more to evangelism than just wham-bam gospel in your face and expect people to accept Christ. In this day and age of subjective truth, no one really cares for what we believe in if it doesn’t mean anything to them. The only way to break subjective truth is to bring meaning into truth – meta-truth.

Meta-truth is a kinda of quality in the statement you are making; it is the thing that makes the truth matter. “Jesus is God” has no meaning to an unbeliever but is filled with meaning to a believer, because that statement (generally) matters much more to a believer than an unbeliever. At the same time, a statement like that might matter very much to a militant atheist/agnostic like Richard Dawkins, who is strongly against the Judeo-Christian belief. We need to make the gospel matter (in the right way) before we present it, not by hellfire and brimstone preaching but with love.

People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
John C. Maxwell

Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.
Francis of Assisi

In the same way that we care much about how our close friends share our perspectives/opinions but couldn’t care less about a stranger’s perspectives/opinions, we can affect how our truths are viewed by others. The truth of Christ in us means nothing to others if we mean nothing to others. It is not our place to convict, but I believe we can play a part.

If we want to see our friends saved, we need to mean something to them as they mean something to us. I have often heard of families who have come to Christ after seeing a change in a family member’s attitude, behaviour or character after receiving Christ. That family member has made Christ mean something to the rest of the family. To the other family members, Christ once meant nothing, now carried the power to transform and improve. There is a certain quality to the truth of Christ.

We are preaching the gospel at all times, in every deed and action to each and every person, we are forming in their heads a picture of Christ. Lets make it matter even before the gospel is presented.

THE WORLD’S BIBLE

Christ has no hands but our hands
to do His work today.
He has no feet but our feet
to lead men in His way.
He has no tongue but our tongues
to tell men how He died.
He has no help but our help
to bring them to His side.

We are the only Bible
the careless world will read.
We are the sinner’s Gospel;
we are the scoffer’s creed.

We are the Lord’s last message
given in deed and word.
What if the type is crooked?
What if the print is blurred?

What if our hands are busy
with other work than His?
What if our feet are walking
where sin’s allurement is?

What if our tongues are speaking
of things His lips would spurn?
How can we hope to help Him
and hasten His return?

To hasten our Lord’s return
we truly need much power.
So let us all be Spirit-filled,
and awaiting Him each hour.

In an hour that we think not,
He said He should appear;
Then let us walk in holiness,
And meet Him with a cheer.

By A.J.F. and A.O.S.

Major on the majors

This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.
Titus 3:8

Why fight with the saved when you can save the lost?” asks a preacher once. Often we (me included) forget that our call is not to be correct, but to save the lost. We know that false teachers were creating division in the chuch in Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3-7; Titus 1:10, 14), here the author warns us not to engage with such people. Instead we are to live worhy lives, testifying to what we have already attained. Listen to what the author considers a trustworthy saying:

“But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”
Titus 3:4-7

That right there is the truth, it is the full statement of faith. We are to live this truth and act in accordance with this truth. Not just that, we are to stress on it. We are to make that the main message; Everything else is peripheral. When we focus on that truth, the natural reaction is that people would “devote themselves to doing what is good” (see also Titus 3:1-2).

True behaviour change doesn’t begin by managing our actions or reactions, it doesn’t even begin by controlling our emotions or thoughts, it begins by looking at what Christ has done and realising our position in Christ. Although v3-7 appears as two sentences in English, it is one single long and poetic sentence in Greek, skillfully crafted to magnify God’s redemptive work and conclude it with our new position in Christ. God’s redemptive plan and man’s position to God are not two different stories, it is one and the same story.

Stressing on this truth is not just good for a few people, it is good for everyone, man or woman, saved or unsaved. For the saved, it is the bedrock of our belief. It is the truth that everyone is saved into and is united in. It is the truth that makes the church what it is. It is beneficial for us to listen to this over and over again. For the unsaved, it is what they need to hear. It is the message of salvation and life. It is beneficial for them to hear and accept this truth (Romans 10:14-17).

But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned.
Titus 3:9-11

The author then warns of what we ought not to do. We are to “avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law”. We are not to argue over the peripherals and the unimportant bits. They are not beneficial to anyone but yet we engage in them. We get caught up in the trivial bits, we get divided because of these things. We make our brothers and sisters our enemies over these things knowing that our arguements amount to nothing. Silly isn’t it?

The author calls a divisive person “sinful”, “warped (NET: twisted)” and “self-condemned”. Such strong condemnation is reserved for them. They often have an uncanny ability to draw people into their little discussion, debate or arguement. Beware: Divisiveness is contageous. The author’s advice is that we “have nothing to do with them”. Unfortunately, such people are not deserving of our time or energy. Flee them like the plague.

Major on the majors and minor on the minors.

Read also:
http://www.sbcbaptistpress.org/bpnews.asp?id=23459 


Father, I thank you for this word of advice. I thank you that your redemption plan is for mankind and that we are heirs with Christ in eternal life.  I thank you that unity is found in you. I want to look at the work of Christ and be in awe. I ask that it will affect me inside out, to transform me to your likeness. Help me to stress on your truth and focus on it daily. Point out to me the parts where I am divisive, the parts of me that focus on the wrong things. Give me a discerning heart to know when divisiveness appears. Help me to speak the truth in love and give me the courage to rebuke it when I am faced with it.

Amen.

Of truth and hearts

Scripture

This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.
1 John 3:19-20

Observation

  • “This then” refers to loving practically by using our material possessions to meet a fellow Christian’s lack (v19)
  • “is how we know that we belong to the truth” it is the evidence of the truth in us, to love in truth is to belong to the truth; this connects that which we belong to (to belong to the truth) and that which flows out from us (to love in truth, v18) (v19)
    • We know of only one objective truth, Jesus Christ (John 1:17, 8:32, 14:6), it would be correct to say that we belong to the truth and that the truth flows out from us (John 4:24, 16:13)
  • “how we set our hearts at rest in his presence” it is how we are confident of our standing before Christ
    • A better translation would be “will convince our conscience in his presence” (NET); meaning our conscience will be clear before Christ, we can be assured of our position in His presence
  • “whenever our hearts condemn us” from this we know that our own conscience is able to condemn us – we can be prisoners of our own guilt and shame
  • “For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything” this almost needs no explanation
    • A Christian needs nothing to be above God; when we elevate our own conscience above God as our judge, we have belittled God. We must at all times remember that God is greater than our hearts/conscience, He is the ultimate Judge
    • There is nothing that we can hide from Him that we should feel guilty or ashamed about

Here the writer outlines some practical and spiritual reasons to love practically – to combat our own guilty conscience. When we love practically, using our material possessions to meet fellow Christian’s lack, we are confident of our belonging. With this, we are assured of our standing before Christ. When our own conscience throws guilt and shame at us, we can remind ourselves of 3 things:

  1. That we have loved in truth and thus belong to the truth, in that we can confidently stand before God
  2. That God is bigger than our conscience, we should never let our conscience be bigger than God. Since God doesn’t condemn us, our conscience has no right to
  3. God already knows everything there is to know, so there is nothing to feel guilty or ashamed about; in fact, He already knows that we feel bad about what we’ve done

Application

I have no right to feel guilty trip or shame myself about anything that I’ve done, God is my Judge, not my conscience. He is a graceful and all-knowing Judge, I can always approach Him knowing that He will forgive (and already has forgiven).

I can assure myself of my standing before Christ by loving others practically – since it is the evidence of my salvation and standing.

Prayer

Father, I thank you that you are a merciful and graceful Judge. I thank you that you have made a way for us to know for sure that we can rest in your presence and we need not condemn ourselves. Thank you for freeing us from our own conscience and our own guilt and shame. There is freedom in You. Help us to love practically everyday, and more and more as we walk with You.

Amen.

Of possessions and need

Scripture

If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.
1 John 3:17-18

Observation

  • “If anyone has material possessions”, the author makes no exclusions in this message since everyone has some sort of material possession (v17)
  • “sees his brother in need but has no pity on him”, here brother is better translated as “fellow Christian” (NET) as a general term for any genuine Christian who is in the community (v17)
    • The use of the word “pity” isn’t quite correct, I find other translations more helpful – “closes his heart” (ESV) or “shuts off his compassion” (NET); that paints a much stronger picture of what goes on in our hearts, it is an intentional deadening of our compassion
  • “how can the love of God be in him?”, an obviously rhetorical question to which the answer is clear to the author – the love of God simply cannot be in such a person (v17)
  • “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” an exaltation for all his disciples whom he calls “children” (v18)
    • “actions” or “deeds” (ESV/NET) gives the idea of actual work; the direct opposite of not working or simply speaking
    • “in truth” seems like a strange thing to say here, but if you connect the sentence together, it makes sense to “love… in truth”; the author exalts us to love with a genuine love (Romans 12:9)

The implications here are extremely strong. John says that the love of God cannot be in a person who does not love with his actions by sharing / giving of his own material possession to a fellow Christian who has a need. Such a person is described in v15 as a “murderer” who “hates his brother” and has “no… eternal life in him.” That makes it absolutely impossible for us to receive the love of God and not give of ourselves to love others. Love that doesn’t move a person to action is not genuine love at all, it is non-committal, false, superficial love.

In context, the author says that if God has loved you to the extent of giving His own life, you should also give your own life to others. This is done practically by filling a fellow Christian’s lack with your much. It is impossible for a person who has the love of God to not do so. It requires an intentional shutting off of our heart to do so.

Application

My father always told me “talk is cheap”. This is exactly what my father meant. Love that does not act on a fellow Christian’s need it is not love at all.

Prayer

Father, give me a heart like yours. Let me look at how you gave and how much you gave and follow your lead. I admit that it is easy to cling on to possessions, help me to hold on tightly to you and loosely to the blessings you abundantly pour on us.

Amen.

What is truth?

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
What is truth?” retorted Pilate.
John 18:37-38

I conclude that the whole world has gone absolutely mad. Just as Pilate did, the whole world is staring into the eyes of Truth and asking “What is truth?” The church is doing the same.

“Postmodernism… is a tendency in contemporary culture characterized by the problem of objective truth… it holds realities to be plural and relative, and dependent on who the interested parties are and what their interests consist of.”
Wikipedia on Postmodernism 
Read also: Christianity Today’s take & Postmodern Christianity

Gone are the days when we could read the bible (or any other book) and take some objective truth from it. These days we are told that all truth is relative. Don’t take someone else’s word for anything, we need to find out for ourselves and formulate our own understanding of the truth.

Most of us have a diacotomous perspective, while we accept some things as having absolute truth, others are entirely relative. That is pretty normal. But isn’t it convenient that we can make pretty much anything relative? Sexual orientation is relative to upbringing and cultural pressures. Loving your enemies is relative to defining love and seperating love from like. This same view can be every Sunday to justify bone picking the sermon. Take what applies to you as truth (or what you like) and throw out the bones. None of them yucky bits. Afterall, what the pastor says might not apply to you as truth.

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.
Acts 17:11-12

What happens when we approach the bible the same way? Or when we approach God the same way? Or when we approach our understanding (and the collective understanding) of God the same way? Well, hopefully we get what get something similar to what the Bereans have – a legendary nobility.

But do we? Since all truth is relative, it is not a matter of whose truth is more true, but whose truth is more applicable to me. Unfortunately, no one else knows me like me. No one else judges quite correctly for me but me – which is why we are told to “see it with your own eyes”. Absolute truth no longer has any weight. We are the judges of truth. We no longer submit to truth. Truth submits to us.

We are told that the persecution upon the Berean church was heavy, so heavy that Paul had to be sent away. Leaving Silas and Timothy in Berea, Paul fled to Athens (Acts 17:14). Now, the Bereans examined the scriptures with eagerness and “many of them believed”. They did not just take the truth and judge it as true, they submitted themselves under the Truth. They placed their lives under it. Accepting the Gospel as truth wasn’t as simple as saying a sinners prayer, accepting a small booklet to read and taking a bag of lollies home, it meant so much more.

It still does. It means getting rid of high and mighty person, me. It means subjecting myself to the Truth. It means not bone picking on what is clear in the bible. The bible is full of treasures, some declared as undeniable and unquestionable truths, others have leeway for ambiguity. To distinguish the two is a true gift.

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching…”
Acts 2:42

It doesn’t mean I leave my brains at the church door, but I must acknowledge that the God I serve has placed in my life different people with influence/authority. Mentors, pastors, parents, authors, song writers, friends – they all put something into my life. Some for one reason, others for another. Paul had Barnabas, and Timothy had Paul, and they did very different things for different reasons.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
John 14:6

God states decisively that there is absolute truth. Jesus is absolute truth. His words are absolute truth.

I recognise that I bone pick every sermon I hear, almost every book/article I read. I do not consider myself more intelligent, more godly or wiser than others. I do not consider myself to be able to do a better job in writing the book or preaching the word. But it is part of my processing. It is part of internalising what I have heard, seen, read or experienced.

It is perhaps a problem that I have. Is it because I am high and mighty and the judge and ruler of truth? I guess it is something I have to struggle with.