Terrorists behead their prisoners and broadcast the video. A gunman invades a grade school and begins to murder small children and their teachers in cold blood. Children are kidnapped and sold into the sex trafficking industry. A father kills his own wife and children before turning the gun on himself.
These acts shock us. We try somehow to explain how these things can happen. How can things go so dreadfully wrong in a person’s life? What compels a person to leave the rails and commit such unthinkable and horrific behavior? We search endlessly for a person to blame or a systemic problem to fix. Desperately, we try to find a way for humans to quit doing these inhuman things.
A few weeks ago, my wife and I ate lunch with my mother-in-law, a godly woman who has served the Lord faithfully for all of her life. One of those dreadful crimes had just occurred and we wondered out loud who could do such a thing? Softly, a scripture memorized long ago tumbled from her lips, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9 KJV)
She nailed it. Who could behead a man or shoot a child? Me. You. Anyone. As it turns out, these terrible things are not so inhuman, after all. People follow their hearts, and we have a heart problem. Some of us can pretty up the top layer good enough to fool others and even fool ourselves. But dig deep enough, and the ugly stuff starts to show.
So, here is the bad news: The human heart—every single one—is sickened by sin.
But, here is the good news: Jesus heals hearts.
Have you ever heard the expression, “There, but for the grace of God, go I”? It’s true.
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.” (Titus 2:11-12 ESV)
While politicians, law enforcement, the media, and behavioral scientists are wringing their hands in angst, God’s Word gives the solution. Now, more than ever, let us introduce people to Jesus, because Jesus heals hearts.
The contrast could not have been starker. Driving home from a weekend speaking engagement it dawned on me that I witnessed a miracle that day. The weeklong media blitz surrounding the demonstrations in Ferguson, Missouri had reached its peak. If the reports were to be believed, the entire nation seemed on the verge of a racial eruption. But an entirely different scenario was being lived out in another major city not that far from St. Louis.
It is a modestly-sized congregation, some might describe it as a small church. Their pastor, a hard-working, unpretentious family man has led the congregation for nearly thirty years. I could observe no majority ethnicity among the attendees. There are Filipinos, others from the Far East, Latinos, Middle Easterners, African Americans, whites, and many of mixed races. In short, the church represents the multi-racial make-up of its neighborhood.
More than that, the congregation represents the Kingdom of God to its neighborhood. The media cycle of Ferguson, Missouri has run its course but genuine racial issues persist in our nation. Sadly, some masquerading as ministers of the gospel have driven wedges between the races and sought to aggrandize and enrich themselves by enflaming conflict. There exists enough blame to go around, whatever “side” one takes. But in this multi-racial neighborhood a church stands tall as a witness to the reconciling power of the gospel.
In the church we are not blind to color and diversity, we are enriched by it. No symphony can create a more glorious sound than the people of God, diverse yet united, lifting songs of praise to the Lord of all. What I remember most of all from our experience in that wonderful outpost of heaven, are the smiles. Anger, so vividly displayed in the video clips from Ferguson, is replaced by joy among the reconciled people of God.
Sadly, deep hostility between races exists in this world. But all across the nation and the world are thousands of these small bands of harmony we call the church. God has planted the church—yes, your church and mine—to be and to do the will of God on this planet. May God empower us to display the grace of God at work, the light of divine love shining in the darkness of sin and selfishness.
A Debt too Large to Repay
Among the many burdens that this culture carries is the devastating weight of debt. As a nation, we owe more than we can possibly repay in our lifetime. Individuals and families are staggering under the load as well. The average household carries $15,800 in credit card debt alone. To illustrate, assume you have a credit card balance of only $10,000, with an attached interest rate of seventeen percent. If you remit the minimum payment of $142 each month, it will require thirty six years to pay the debt in full. In the end, you will pay $61,000 to eliminate a $10,000 debt, assuming you charge nothing to the credit card in the meantime. Add to this a car loan and a mortgage and we understand that the average family finds their financial margins perilously depleted. It is no wonder, then, that bankruptcy becomes the only solution for so many—they owe a debt that they cannot possibly repay.
One day Jesus and the disciples were invited to a meal at the home of Simon, a Pharisee. That was not particularly surprising, but what was absolutely shocking was the lack of hospitality shown to Jesus when he arrived. A welcome guest would always be greeted with a kiss, his feet would be washed by a servant, and he would be anointed on the head with oil. Despite being denied all of these common courtesies, Jesus took his place at the table with the other men. They began to eat, leaning on one elbow, their feet laying away from the table.
In an adjacent room sat the women. As they engaged in lively conversation, it was apparent that one woman was not at all welcome. Ignored as the others talked, this woman sat silently by herself, her eyes riveted on the room next door.
The commotion started with the gasps and protests of the women. Suddenly the ignored woman had left the table, and then returned with a very expensive flask of perfume. Gliding into the room where the men were continuing their animated debate, she moved directly toward Jesus, and kneeled at his feet. She began to weep, so profusely that her tears completely saturated the dusty feet of Jesus with their moisture. With both hands, she reached to her head and allowed her hair to fall on his feet, tenderly drying them with her long black locks. Quickly, she reached for the flask, and poured the entire contents over Jesus’ feet.
Shocked into speechlessness, Simon could only say to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner." (Luke 7:39, ESV) Yes, she was a sinner. But this story isn’t about a woman who finds forgiveness. Indeed, it is the story of two debtors. One the consummate insider, Simon, the respected religious and civic leader. The other, the very definition of an outsider, the woman with no name but with an admitted profession, prostitute.
One of these debtors will leave this encounter completely relieved of debt. The other never quite gets it. It is easy to identify with one or the other of these characters, but, as we shall see, it’s not that simple.
Grace that Truly Amazes
Financial debt weighs heavily on families, individuals, organizations, and nations. But there is an even greater burden to bear than a maxed-out credit card. That heavy load is sin. We inherited it, but willingly accumulated more. We're in deep trouble, because there is no way out--well, almost no way.
Sitting with Jesus are two people who would never be in the same room, had it not been for their interest in Jesus. Simon and the woman are so different from one another that you might call them polar opposites. Simon the Pharisee represents the ultimate insider. He has the favor of God all over him. Just ask him. His ticket to heaven was reserved a long time ago. Or so he thought. You see, Simon missed something along the way. While his life of service to God as a Pharisee was an honorable thing, he forgot that it was people that God loves, not their performance. Simon was devoted to the system and missed the Savior.
The “sinful woman”, in contrast, was the definition of an outsider. She wasn't just marginalized; she was hanging on to the edge of the page by her long fake fingernails. We don't know her first name, but Hopeless was her middle name. When she saw how badly Jesus was being treated by Simon (not much better than she had been treated herself), she had to do something. She was wired to be a worshipper, so she started worshipping the only way she knew how, without reservation.
To Simon, the behavior of the woman and of Jesus was completely unacceptable. So Jesus told him a story.
“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?" (Luke 7:41-42 ESV)
An intelligent man, Simon knows exactly the point that Jesus makes with this anecdote. He sheepishly answers, "The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt."
“Bingo!” replies Jesus. Between the two, there is no doubt who's the longest rap sheet was. But there they sat, side by side in debtors’ prison. Both owed more than they could ever hope to repay.
To Simon the Pharisee and to the Sinful Woman, each from opposite ends of the social spectrum, comes the same message of grace, "You are forgiven."
Imagine that Chase Bank sends you a letter, declaring your $10,000 credit card debt forgiven. But it goes further than that. Now imagine that in that very same letter the president of Chase Bank says, “Not only do I forgive your debt, I want to be your friend. I’ll send the jet to pick you up for lunch next Tuesday.”
“That will never happen,” you say. Of course not. That is exactly the point. The outrageous love of God produces grace that God extends to us through forgiveness of our sins. If we accept God’s offer, our sin goes away completely, the load of debt is lifted. Chances are, you believe that your sins are too many and too large. Forgiveness is out of the question. You’re wrong. The love of God can lift the weight of any sin. Give it a try.
It’s Personal No matter how you come to meet Jesus, the bottom line is this: he wants to forgive you. As amazing as that seems, it goes so much farther—God wants to know you, to have a personal relationship with you. And it doesn't matter if you are an insider or an outsider.
One might say that here we are, reclining at the table with Jesus today. Are you the “Simon” in the room? You have been near the things of God for a long time, perhaps your whole life. You have done good things and avoided doing evil things. But the personal relationship just isn’t there, and you know it. When I first met Jesus, I was a Simon, albeit a very young one. The oldest child of a pastor, I literally “grew up in the church pew.” I knew the songs by heart, learned my memory verse every Saturday night, and said my prayers at bedtime. But I didn’t know Jesus personally. That all changed on a hot summer Sunday night. Seated in my accustomed spot, I began to hear the words of the guest preacher (who happened to be my grandfather) in an unusual way. As the Holy Spirit began to speak to me, I suddenly understood that the Lord wanted to know me, and I wanted to know Jesus personally. I came to the altar, pouring my heart out to God, and sensing God’s presence for the very first time.
Perhaps your story is more like the Sinful Woman/Sinful Man. The first Sunday that Lori (not her real name) attended church, she was covered in an undeniable attitude of resistance. Invited by an acquaintance, she had reached the bottom of the barrel. No money, estranged from her family, with nowhere to turn, Lori arrived with plenty of doubts. She looked downward, with a mix of fear and anger. During the service, an invitation was given for individuals to come forward for prayer for special needs in their lives. Lori reasoned that it probably wouldn’t hurt to go ask the minister to pray for her to find a job. I asked Lori what we needed from the Lord. She surprised even herself when she blurted out, “I want to ask Jesus in to my heart.” And I had not yet even preached my riveting sermon! Jesus was meeting Lori in a direct and personal way. Her life was altered dramatically in that moment. Lori remains a follower of Jesus today, a blessing to her church, her family and her friends.
There is only one way to authentically connect with God in a personal relationship. Humble yourself. Absolutely, no way around it. Humbling yourself means to quit trying to fool yourself and quit making excuses. Simply make an honest assessment by asking yourself, “Do I have a personal relationship with Jesus?”
Sadly, Simon never got it. He walked away from an encounter with Jesus. His life continued on as before, alienated from the God he claimed to serve, carrying his unbearable burden of sin-debt. In contrast, the woman who had lived a life filled with shame and regret walked away transformed and debt-free. Because Jesus forgave her, she could forgive herself. Jesus lavished her with grace. She responded in a surprising way.
Most who witnessed her actions that day said that she went way too far. But how do you say thank you for restoring a ruined life?
And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. (Luke 7:37-38)
What Simon could not bear to do, the sinful woman could not wait to do. She fell at his feet in worship, in complete abandonment of her life to the one that she now knew loved her more than she could imagine. Her most valuable possession had to suffice as her expression of love for Jesus. If possible, she would give much more.
Worship in its purest form is to pour back on Jesus everything that you are and everything that you possess. The enormous grace that God lavished on us compels us to worship without end and without limits.
God’s Love for You is Greater than Your Failures
As this emotional drama has unfolded, perhaps it has become clear that there is a barrier of sin that exists between you and God. That barrier is no shorter for church kids; it's no taller for drug pushers. There is one and only one solution to that barrier—God's unmerited favor. Even if you are coming from a very bad place, Jesus will meet you with forgiveness, if you will approach Him in humility. Many times over, Jesus Christ loves you more than your failures, more than your sins, more than the pain you have caused to Him and to others.
Experiencing God’s presence doesn’t require a church service, just a prayer from your heart to His. There is an ocean of grace and forgiveness waiting for you.
I grew up under Soviet rule. I was told that the whole world spoke Russian. I thought I would live and die under Soviet rule. Then one day the wall fell, and we saw the truth. I believe just as in a day the Soviet rule ended, that in a day Islam too will fall.Armenia, largely regarded as the first Christian nation
-An Armenian church leader
Armenia, largely regarded as the first Christian nation in the world (301 A.D.), finds itself surrounded by nations that are 98% Muslim (Click here to view a map). Among the Christians in Armenia are two Pentecostal Unions and a strategic Pentecostal church (Word of Life), from which a coalition of leaders have requested the assistance of Global University to train leaders to reach the Muslim world.
Currently, there are no Bible colleges in Armenia. In 2014, Armenia Bible College: a School of Global University will launch. The Graduate School of Theology has already begun, with a goal of establishing a largely Armenian faculty. Next, will be translating Global University's undergraduate curriculum into Armenian. Then, the Unions will engage in training leaders to reach Armenia and beyond. Their goal is to train 250 people in the next five years to serve as missionaries to the Muslim world.
Please pray for these efforts. Most importantly, pray that the Lord of the harvest will call those 250 men and women to go as missionaries.
In this series of blog posts, we consider missions and evangelism using the metaphor that Jesus often used—the harvest. For a farmer and for followers of Jesus, the harvest is not a problem, it is an opportunity. We begin to realize the harvest when we see people like Jesus saw them, as “sheep without a shepherd.” Leaders who care are desperately needed today. But, we do not have an unlimited amount of time to get the job done. We have a window of opportunity that will not last forever.
In regard to the harvest, there are three broad categories of involvement. One way that we can be involved is through prayer. In an earlier post, we described the importance of praying for laborers for the harvest. There are many other needs for which we can pray.
Another way to bring in the harvest is to be directly involved yourself. You can go—as a missionary, or as a neighbor. As we become laborers in the harvest ourselves, we are the answer to someone’s prayers.
One more way to be involved in the harvest is through giving financially. Supporting missions and the outreach ministries of your local church through giving remains a great need for the harvest.
At this point, frustration easily sets in. Status quo is not an option, we know that. But we also know that we have limited resources, especially finances. I have been a pastor and I am currently a missionary. I know that pastors want to resource missionaries and I know that missionaries have an increasing need for more resources, especially finances. Missions is not going to get less expensive, or less important. Are we stymied? Absolutely not. The Kingdom is never stymied.
Jesus and his disciples faced a similar situation. The crowds that followed Jesus needed food, which was simply unavailable in the remote location in which they found themselves. Read the story (Matthew 14:13-21) to find the surprising, but simple solution. When the disciples were ready to give up, Jesus pressed them to look deeper. Taking inventory one more time they found one boy with five small loaves of bread and two fish. Not enough to feed five thousand people.
But Jesus blessed it and proceeded to feed every single person, with a pile of leftovers, besides. One boy’s lunch became enough to feed five thousand people, when he gave it to the Lord. A miracle occurred that today. If the disciples and the boy had waited for enough to come in, they would have all starved to death. Miracles happen when we do something—of any size—that God can bless. A miracle can occur today. But we must do something more than we are doing today to bring in the harvest.
For the sake of the harvest, consider doing something more than you are doing now. Don’t hesitate. Perhaps you can give $10.00 per month to missions, please don’t wait until you can give $100.00. Let God bless the $10.00 gift and allow him to increase your ability to give more. If you find it difficult to pray for long periods of time, don’t wait—start by praying for a minute or two. God answers short prayers as easily as long ones. Before long, you may find yourself devoting longer periods of time to prayer. You understand—do something for God to bless and to multiply.
As children, we all played hide-and-seek. The “seeker” always shouted, “Ready or not, here I come!” There is no hiding from the harvest. Ready or not, here it comes—the opportunity of all time.
We have the opportunity of all time, to fill heaven. Wow! We start to seize it by seeing what Jesus saw, but there is something that we can do, and we can start today.
Pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. (Matthew 9:38, ESV)
The job gets done by people. With this instruction, Jesus identifies the workforce as the most important component of the harvest. Before he sent the disciples out as laborers in their own right, Jesus instructed them to ask God to send the workforce. They would need plenty of help to reach the world. The Lord of the Harvest chooses who to send into the fields. God builds the workforce that builds the Church.
If it were left up to me, I would certainly choose the wrong people, like Israel when they desired a king. Tall and handsome Saul pleased the people, but disappointed God. When God chose the leader of His people, he found a ruddy shepherd named David, whose own father didn't see as qualified.
Through prayer, God engages in a wonderful, mysterious partnership with God’s people that gets the job done. Our job is to pray for laborers, including leaders. God, then, will call and send the right people to do the work. As a missionary-educator, my call is to go train leaders who will lead their churches to represent Christ in their communities and countries. We are call called to pray. In missions, praying is as important as going.
Do you hear the urgency in the voice of Jesus when he says to "pray earnestly"? Opportunities are often described as windows; they can pass as quickly as they appear. Unharvested crops spoil in the field. Unfortunately, the harvest doesn't come in by evenly spaced segments, it all ripens in the field at once, creating at the same time, an opportunity and a crisis.
I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. (John 4:35b, NIV)
We have an opportunity to seize. When a window of opportunity opens, the wrong response is hesitation. Indeed, hesitation can be downright dangerous. Some time ago, a gunman arrived at an airport security checkpoint and immediately began firing his weapon. Tragically, a federal agent was killed. But, it could have been much worse. Just weeks before the incident, the agents had received training on that exact scenario. When it occurred, with training fresh in their minds, the agents knew exactly what action to take and proceeded without hesitation.
The time is now. The harvest is ready. We dare not hesitate.
Start today by praying for God to send laborers into the harvest. During 2014, the Lord has asked Ruth and I to pray this simple, but powerful prayer and to ask others to join us. If you will commit to praying at least once per week, please visit our website for a weekly reminder to pray.
(Coming Up: The conclusion of The Opportunity of All Time)
It was New Year’s Eve and I found myself engaged in the rarest behavior of all time. Seated comfortably in my recliner, remote control in hand, I quickly clicked in search of… commercials. Home before midnight, and feeling compelled to stay up until the New Year arrived, we decided to watch television coverage from Times Square. It did not take long for indignation to rise up inside of me, as revelry and drunkenness was celebrated on a grand scale. Embarrassed by the crassness of the performers, I found myself searching for relief by changing the channel from programming to commercials.
The next morning, I wondered if Jesus would have been at Times Square on New Year’s Eve. I don’t know. But if he did, his reaction would have been far better than mine.
In the previous post, we were reminded that the harvest—a huge one—lies before us. God has offered us the outstanding opportunity of living just before Jesus returns, the most important era of human history. And, the harvest is everywhere. It is global, local, and personal. Jesus promised, “I will build my church.” (Matthew 16:19) And, he is beginning to fulfill that promise around the world. But “the laborers are few.” (Matthew 9:37)
Until the crops are actually gathered, they are not a harvest, just the opportunity for harvest. Seizing any opportunity is rarely easy. To continue the harvest metaphor, field work is unglamorous, backbreaking work, usually from sun-up to sundown.
Israel sang a song that describes the emotional cycle of the harvest. "He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him." (Psalm 126:6, ESV) Missions and evangelism is a lot of hard work, no doubt about it, but joy comes from persevering through the weeping times to the reaping times. Joy comes from seizing the opportunity, not from avoiding it.
When he looked out over the crowds, his heart broke. So confused and aimless they were, like sheep with no shepherd. (Matthew 9:36, The Message)
We begin to seize the opportunity by seeing what Jesus saw. That is what I failed to do on New Year’s Eve. Jesus looked full into the faces of those wandering, troubled, and troubling people and saw "sheep without a shepherd." (Matthew 9:36) Some might use less flattering language. The truth is that some of those people were good people. Others were sick or in emotional pain. Many were flat-out sinners, undesirables. The insiders of Jesus' day accused him of hanging out with the wrong crowd.
Remember that the harvest is raw, and may not be pretty. When I was growing up, we had a huge garden. We grew vegetables mostly—corn, green beans, tomatoes, and the like. But the first ripe produce of the summer was always strawberries—red, juicy, sweet strawberries. Impatient, I often ate my first strawberry of the season right there in the patch. You can’t do that with potatoes.
The farmer brings in an unrefined harvest. So does the Church. When you look at the potential harvest, do you see undesirable sinners, or do you, like Jesus, see sheep without a shepherd? Are you drawn to them or repelled by them?
Missionaries have always gone to the neediest places, not just the prettiest places. Many go where the response has been positive, and people accept the message in large numbers. Others, follow the Spirit’s leadership to hard places, where obstacles are many and where “success” is limited. As a result, some of the hardest, most Gospel resistant places are the places where Jesus, today, is building His church. The sheep are being connected to their Shepherd.
The mission field starts next door. May we look at our neighbor, classmate, or co-worker with the eyes of Jesus. By grace, God has placed him or her in your life, sheep with a shepherd—your Shepherd.
The opportunity of all time… In the next post, we will look further at how we can seize it.
Jesus often used metaphors. One his favorite metaphors compared evangelism to a harvest. On more than one occasion, Jesus described the reality of the situation as an urgent need for laborers. There exists no shortage of “crops” to harvest, but there is a shortfall in the workforce.
And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest." (Matthew 9:35-38 ESV)
At first glance, it seems that Jesus is describing a problem. It has often been said that a problem is just the flip side of an opportunity. One can choose. Will you see your situation as a problem to be solved (or avoided? Or, will you choose to see an opportunity to be seized? I am not talking about semantics, mind games or spin. Our approach really matters. It matters to yourself, and, more importantly, it matters to God.
For many years, Ruth and I lived in rural communities. I am not a farmer, but I have watched the agricultural cycle, up close and personal. Several of our friends have been farmers and others that work in related industries. I guarantee that you will never see a farmer complaining about the inconvenience of harvest season! The harvest is not a problem, it is an opportunity. Months earlier, that farmer could not wait to get in the fields, first to prepare for planting, then planting, followed by pest and weed control. Finally, the culmination—harvest time—pay day!
Do you feel the same way about the Great Commission as a farmer feels about his crops?A lot of people were following Jesus, for a lot of different reasons. But when he looked into their eyes, he saw a harvest, and an opportunity.
May I say it again? The harvest is not a problem, it is an opportunity. We are told that more people live on earth today than have ever lived in all of history before us. If the return of Jesus is near—and it certainly is—the greatest harvest of all time lies before us. Follower of Jesus, are you excited, awestruck, and somewhat fearful as this reality settles into your mind and your heart? The Lord is offering to us the opportunity of all time—to fill heaven!
The harvest is ready, and it is everywhere. This is our opportunity to tell the story of Jesus. Billions of people will hear and receive the good news, if there are laborers to tell it.
Until the crops are actually gathered, they are not a harvest, just the opportunity for harvest. Seizing an opportunity is rarely easy. In the next post, let’s consider how to meet the opportunity of all time.
I love the Christmas season. Everything about it. Well, almost everything. (Lifetime Network Christmas movies, for example, provide nothing except something for my wife to watch on the other television while I watch football.)
I adore Christmas music, classic old movies, gift giving, and a chill in the air. But what I really enjoy during the month of December is rehearsing, over and over, the story of the first coming of Jesus. That story tells you and me just how much we are loved by God the Father, and Jesus the Son.
1. Jesus loves you so much that He created you
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:1-3 ESV)
I knew of a young man and woman who decided to go ahead and marry even though one of them was terminally ill. They knew the pain that waited for them, but were willing to pay that price. Even if it was only for a short time, they wanted more than anything to share their lives.
As God gathered the first lump of clay and began to shape Adam, God knew how it would turn out, but did it anyway. He ignored the knowledge that His creation would turn their backs on Him for their own selfish satisfaction.
You are no biological accident. The Word knew you and loved you before the first revolution of the earth around the sun. God knew whether you would love Him or leave Him and He loves you either way.
Because God is love, He could never be content as a disengaged, distant Creator…
2. Jesus loves you so much that he lives with you
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14 ESV)
"Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel" (which means, God with us). (Matthew 1:23 ESV)
God has always been Immanuel. It began in the Garden of Eden. Although the Fall ruined the intimate connection Adam and Eve one enjoyed, God continued to be with the people He created. The Tabernacle, then the Temple, served as a limited expression of Immanuel. But it wasn’t enough. God longed to be with His people.
When Jesus entered the human race, He brought Immanuel near to His people. Omnipresence became immanence. The Word stepped outside the confines of the Temple, put on human flesh and pitched his tent next to ours.
God still loves the world so much that he continues to be present through the Church. A few years ago, I met a young missionary family who live in a sensitive country among people who are sworn enemies of the United States. They are loving those people on behalf of Christ.
Long before you received Christ, He was near you. The Spirit relentlessly walked by your side. Immanuel was there through the care of a godly mother or a Christian neighbor.
If you do not know Jesus, He is with you now, and always has been.
But we have just begun to explore the magnitude of Jesus’ love for you and me…
3. Jesus loves you so much that he redeemed you
"Greater love has no one than this that someone lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13 ESV)
Ironically, I am warmed as I reflect on the manger. I have been influenced by the images that pervade our celebration of Christmas. Through the centuries, thousands of artists have crafted their imaginations of the Nativity. They almost always come across as cozy—Mary, Joseph, and Jesus huddled together and surrounded by a subtle glow.
I am a native Midwesterner. Inevitably, the local live Nativity seems to occur on the coldest night of the season. The amateur actors brace themselves against sub-freezing, or even sub-zero temperatures. They experience firsthand the discomfort that Mary and her newborn son endured in Bethlehem.
As harsh as Jesus’ first night on Earth proves to be, it gets worse. Much worse. The life that began in the safety of Mary’s womb will come to a violent end on a cross outside of Jerusalem. The Word becomes Immanuel, and then the Lamb slain for the sin of the world. Jesus would pay the price for every sin ever committed in all of history.
I must confess, that kind of love exists beyond my ability to conceive—it has always been the Son’s mission to die for my sin. “Such love, such wondrous love!” The tiny little hands of baby Jesus are destined to the penetration of a Roman’s spike, the baby-soft torso will be pierced by the point of a soldier’s spear.
But Jesus loves you even more than that…
4. Jesus loves you so much that he lives in you
…that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith--that you, being rooted and grounded in love… (Ephesians 3:17 ESV)
Many legends and false religions contain stories of sacrificed heroes. The uniqueness of Christianity as that the Hero has risen from the dead! God, by the Spirit infused the body of Jesus with Divine life and brought him out of the grave.
Resurrected, Jesus loved you too much to stay here, limited by the flesh he continues to wear. So, He returned to the Father, so God the Spirit could come to live inside each one of us. Unlike other religions, the God of Christianity refuses to live apart from humans, or even to control them through possession. Instead, God dwells gracefully and peacefully within those who believe.
One measurement of Jesus’ love for you remains…
5. Jesus loves you so much that he is returning for you
"Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (John 14:1-3 ESV)
The Bible describes of the relationship between Jesus and the Church as resembling that of a husband and wife. When Jesus, the Groom, returned to heaven, it was to begin the next phase of his love-mission—to prepare your place in the Father’s house.
Our Christmas celebrations are incomplete if we neglect the Blessed Hope. Celebrating Advent reminds us that Jesus came, but Jesus is also coming again. The baby, who arrived in a Bethlehem stable, will return as the Lord of all. And we will see him face to face. Jesus is coming for you!
Jesus' instructions to his disciples is a well-known text to all of us involved in missions, whether we are missionaries, pastors, or passionate supporters of the Great Commission.
And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest." (Matthew 9:35-38, ESV)
Included in these instructions are three non-negotiables for missions.
1) The heart of Jesus.
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them. (Matthew 9:36)
Jesus loves the lost person. Sure, he recognizes the sin and brokenness, but his shepherd's heart compels him to act on their behalf and minister to them, not to recoil in disgust. His critics often accused Jesus of hanging out with the wrong crowd. Jesus was mission-focused. "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost." (Luke 19:10 ESV)
2) The ministry of Jesus
And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. (Matthew 9:35 ESV)
In a later blog, I will break down this three-fold ministry of Jesus in greater detail. For now, let's note that Jesus engaged in a balanced approach to evangelism-discipleship. He 1) prophetically declared arrival of the kingdom of God, 2) accurately taught the scriptures, and 3) compassionately cared for the physical needs of the lost.
3) The prayer of Jesus
Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest." (Matthew 9:37-38 ESV)
Do you find it surprising that Jesus did not instruct his disciples to pray for the harvest, or to pray for the lost? The same mandate is ours. There is no harvest problem, but there is a workforce problem. The need for compassionate, dedicated, empowered workers continues. With a sense of urgency, let's pray for those workers.
Let's engage in the mission that the Lord has given to us, by doing what Jesus did.
David L. DeGarmo (D. Min.) serves Global University as Associate Dean of the Graduate School of Theology. Along with his wife Ruth, he is also a U.S. Missionary. He has extensive experience as an educator, missionary, and pastor.
David writes an additional blog on a variety of topics. Check it out...