Category Archives: Jesus

Hear the Lion. See the Lamb.

A Blog Series on the Book of Revelation, Chapter 5:1-7

Part 11 (4:6b-11)  ΑΩ  Part 13 (5:8-14) →

I love

Love. Love, love, love. I order a lot of books, and I love the experience of seeing a package addressed to me sitting on the front porch. (And who doesn’t?) Once in a while I order so many books that I forget which books I’ve ordered and I literally have no idea what’s in the box on the porch. Which is the best. It’s like a little Christmas.

That I made.

For myself.

I’m sure you can relate. Or not. At any rate, when the boxes arrive they’re always addressed to me, so I know they’re mine. But imagine that one day a box arrived on my front porch, and instead of saying “Bryan McWhite” in the address line it said, “To the one who is worthy to open this.”

Bummer. Self-made Christmas is over. I’m gonna be pretty sure that’s not addressed to me. I’m not the one who’s supposed to open it. And is there anyone around who is? Will we ever know what’s in the beautiful, brown Amazon-stamped cardboard box? I could weep…

A (somewhat) similar scene unfolds in Revelation 5:

“Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it.” (vv. 1-3)

Think of God, in this scene, as an Architect/General. In chapters 1-3 he has given the church some initial details of his cosmic plan. He is going to war against the forces that have marred and corrupted humankind and his creation. He will defeat and destroy these forces once and for all, and will rebuild his broken and tattered world—a greater and better Eden. The scroll he’s holding, then, is his battle plan and blueprint for rebuilding. It’s perfectly sealed (“seven seals”) with a sealing wax that can only be cracked by one who is truly worthy.

And no one fits the bill.

God decided, from the beginning, that his great battle plan would be initiated by humankind. For God to press ahead without a worthy human being to lead the charge and the rebuilding effort would be an admission that he was mistaken; That his plan had failed; That he had hoped in humanity and that his hope had been not only mistaken but foolish. And yet it appears that that’s exactly what’s happened. Humankind has gone completely astray. They’ve all rebelled. They’ve all fallen. Even the best of them have become corrupted by sin and self-interest.

So, John weeps (v. 4), because for a moment it appears as though God’s plan will not unfold. Evil has won after all, and will be allowed to engulf the earth completely. God’s new world is a dream that will never be realized. Hope is lost, because humankind has failed. We ran God’s beautiful plan straight into the ground.

This is where we find ourselves. Looking at the ground, sobbing over the shattered remains of our world, like a kid standing over the broken pieces of his favorite toy, knowing his recklessness alone led to this. We should all feel this. We’ve all contributed to the wreckage. And none of us have lived lives virtuous and worthy enough to undo the wreckage.

But then one of the twenty-four elders speaks:

“‘Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.‘” (Rev. 5:5)

So there is someone who can crack the seal? There is someone who is worthy to initiate God’s rescue and renovation plan? There is a human being who is untouched by sin, corruption and darkness? Who is he?

“Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits[a] of God sent out into all the earth. He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne.” (Rev. 5:6-7)

Did you catch that? “See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. …Then I saw a Lamb…”

This is one of the most stunning portraits of Christ in the entire Bible. John hears “Lion” and sees “Lamb.”

The one and only human being worthy to break the seals and unfold God’s cosmic plan to defeat evil and restore his broken world is Jesus, the Lion who wages war on evil with terrible ferocity, but who wins the war by self-sacrifice—by being slain himself. But don’t think for a moment that the fact that the Lamb was killed means he’s weak. The Lamb has seven horns (a symbol of perfect power) and he has seven eyes (a symbol of perfect knowledge). This Lion/Lamb is invincible. He cannot be killed by any means but self-sacrifice. And in his self-sacrifice he wields the most dominating and unstoppable power the universe has ever seen.

Suddenly we understand more clearly why the elders have fallen down before him; Why they cast off their crowns before him and worshiped (4:10). He is staggering. He is worthy of our praise and songs. Celebrate him. Celebrate the Lion and Lamb who is our once-and-forever rescuer and redeemer. But we cannot just celebrate him from afar, like fans of a favorite artist or athlete.

We must follow after him in his likeness.

N.T. Wright sums it up well:

“There have been, down the years, plenty of lion-Christians. Yes, they think, Jesus died for us; but now God’s will is to be done in the lion-like fashion, through brute force and violence to make the world come into line, to enforce God’s will. No, replies John; think of the lion, yes, but gaze at the lamb. And there have been plenty of lamb-Christians. Yes, they think, Jesus may have been ‘the lion of Judah,’ but that’s a political idea which we should reject because salvation consists in having our sins wiped away so that we can get out of this compromised world and go off to heaven instead. No, replies John; gaze at the lamb, but remember that it is the lion’s victory that he has won.” (Revelation for Everyone, 54)

So, church, may we lay down our lives like lambs, in sacrifice and love, commending salvation through Christ to friends, family, and co-workers. And may we fight for justice, truth and goodness like lions, declaring the end of the reign of evil. May we follow closely behind our great Architect/General—the Lion-like Lamb and Lamb-like Lion.


O Come, O Come Emmanuel (Part 1)

Originally written as a Christmas message, delivered on 12/12/10. Listen to the original audio recording here.

I’m driven to the Old Testament book of Zephaniah during the Christmas season. Zephaniah has a marvelous sense of anticipation to it. Some people most associate the Christmas season with joy, or family or hope or peace or rest—I have always associated Christmas most with the sense of anticipation and excitement.

Some of that comes from before I was a believer. I didn’t become a follower of Jesus until I was 19, but I’ve always loved Advent. It was pretty much the only time I liked going to church as a kid. The church I grew up in had an advent wreath, and if you grew up in a more traditional church, you’re probably familiar with this. The advent wreath had a candle for each of the four Sundays of advent. And each Sunday of advent in church, they’d light the next candle, until all four were lit, which meant Christmas was here.

It lent this intense sense of anticipation and eagerness and excitement—almost longing for Christmas to come. And of course, back then, Christmas anticipation was mainly about school letting out and wondering, “Will I get the G.I. Joe Aircraft Carrier?!” or will dad cheap out?

But while what Christmas means to me has changed, the sense of anticipation and eagerness and longing has not. And that’s why Zephaniah resonates with me during advent—because it has this intense sense of longing.

I’d like to start by looking at the last seven verses of this book. But before we do, here’s what you need to know about this passage. This passage reflects an anticipation of what has not yet come. What I mean is that much of the language of these seven verses is present-tense. It reads as though these things have already happened.

But the fact is that these things have not yet happened for the original readers. At the time Zephaniah was speaking and writing these things were still a long, long way off. And the original readers would obviously have known that. They wouldn’t have been confused. They wouldn’t have been reading this and saying, “Wait, what?! This hasn’t happened yet!” They would have understood that Zephaniah was using present-tense language as literary device to heighten even further their anticipation for what is still to come. Almost as if to say, “Imagine that this is here now. Imagine what it would be like to have this still-far-off thing happening right now.”

So, with that in mind, let’s look at chapter 3, starting in verse 14: “Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! The LORD has taken away the judgments against you; he has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil. On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: ‘Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival, so that you will no longer suffer reproach. Behold, at that time I will deal with all your oppressors. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. At that time I will bring you in, at the time when I gather you together; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes,’ says the LORD.”

So, this is what the people of God were anticipating at the time of Zephaniah. This is what they were desperately longing for. That much is clear. The questions are, first of all: Why are they in such longing? Why aren’t these things a present reality for them? And, second, do they ever get it? Do they ever get the G.I. Joe Aircraft Carrier? Do they ever get the things they’re so desperately longing for?

So, first: Why are they in such longing? What’s going on here? What’s the back story?

The situation facing the people of God during Zephaniah’s ministry is that the people are in a state of utter moral and spiritual wreckage. Almost everyone has turned away from Yahweh. They’re worshiping the gods of other nations. They’re making pagan sacrifices—even sacrificing their own children to some of these other gods. They’re not keeping God’s law. The kings are corrupt, the priests are corrupt—everybody is corrupt. It’s a mess. It’s awful. It’s The Jerry Springer Show.

And because of the utter rebellion and sin and evil of the people, God has decided to do something about it. Namely, he’s going to send the nation of Babylon—this terrible, powerful pagan empire to the north, to destroy Israel, destroy the capital city, Jerusalem, and even destroy the temple. They’re going to come in, there’s going to lay waste the Promised Land, and they’re going to carry the people of God out of the promised land and into exile in Babylon. It’s going to be unimaginably awful.

In fact, it’s almost impossible for us to understand just how horrifying—how terrible—this situation actually was to the people of God. Probably the best we can do to try to imagine it by imagining another nation coming in and laying siege to the United States, destroying Washington D.C., and dragging us all away from our homes and out of the country to live in exile in, say, Siberia—or Tehran.

But even that doesn’t quite do it.  Because, you see, it wasn’t just that they were getting displaced. It wasn’t just that they were losing their homes. It wasn’t just that their whole way of life was changing. That’s all bad enough. But it was really so much more than that. So much more horrifying than that.

Israel was The Promised Land.  It was the land that God had given to his people as part of his covenant with them—as part of his solemn agreement that he would be their God and they would be his people. So, this wasn’t just a matter of wondering, “Where are we going to live now?!” This was a matter of wondering, “Has God forsaken us?” “Are we cast off?!” “Is it over?!” “Has God finally reached the limit of his patience with us?!”

That’s the horror we have to try to imagine.

Imagine the feeling that would come over you if you realized that it looked like God was finally done with you. He’s seen enough of your idolatry. He’s seen enough of your perversion. He’s seen enough of your pornography. He’s seen enough of your greed. He’s seen enough of your self-centeredness. He’s seen enough of all of it… And that’s it! He’s done. He’s washing his hands of you. Grace has run out. It’s over. No more saying, “It’s okay if I sin. There’s always forgiveness. No more second, third, fourth, five-thousandth chances! He’s cutting you off from him forever…

Imagine that horror of believing that. That’s what the people were forced to consider.

And that’s not all! It wasn’t just the fact that their sins had become so many and so repugnant.  And it wasn’t just that they were going into exile in a foreign country, which made them wonder if God had cut them off forever. Even that wasn’t the worst part. The worst part was the destruction of the temple. You might think, in light of God forsaking you and of being exiled into a foreign country, the destruction of the temple just doesn’t seem like that big a deal, really. Right?

But remember that for the people of God under the old covenant, the temple was the very dwelling place of God. Yes, they knew God was omnipresent—that he was, in one sense, everywhere. But God dwelled in a special way in the temple. It was the place where God was with his people. It was the place where God dwelled among his people. It was the place where he was Emmanuel—the “God who is with us.”

And so God sending the Babylonians to lay siege to Jerusalem and destroy the temple was a signal that God was leaving. He would no longer be among them. He would no longer dwell with them. He would no longer be “God with us.”

So, as the people begin to see the events prophesied begin to unfold; as they see Babylon pressing into their borders; as they see the foreign armies coming to lay siege; as they realize that this is really happening—that it isn’t just a strong warning; that the nightmare is coming true… they begin to long and wait and anticipate.

And as you can imagine, what they were longing for were three things: First, that God would somehow forgive their sins. That somehow he’d have mercy. Second, they longed for him to bring an end to the exile, and that he would be their only master—their only king—once again. And third, they longed for him to come again to dwell among them—to be “God with us.”

And that’s what Zephaniah invites the people to anticipate with him in the passage we read. Remember: These things were not yet a present reality for the people. These are the things they’re longing for.  Zeph. 3:15, again, says: “The LORD has taken away the judgments against you.” That’s forgiveness of sin. “He has cleared away your enemies.” Verses 18-19: “I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival, so that you will no longer suffer reproach. Behold, at that time I will deal with all your oppressors.” That’s the end of exile.

And, perhaps the most beautiful portion, starting midway through verse 15: “The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil. On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: ‘Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.’” What is that?

That’s “God with” his people. Loving them. Singing to them. Exulting over them.

So, what’s the rest of the story? Did this ever happen? Well, in 538 B.C. (50 years after the exile began) the Babylonians were overthrown by the Persian Empire, and King Cyrus of Persia began to allow the people of Israel to return to their land. So, it seemed like that exile was over.  Twenty years after that a temple was built in Jerusalem. And so, apparently, it was over. The darkness was ending. The people were living in the Promised Land. There was a second temple.

…And still… something was off. It just was off.

First of all—they were back in the Promised Land, but their King is really still Cyrus, king of Persia. They weren’t free. They were still under a pagan ruler. It didn’t really seem like God’s kingdom. In some ways, it almost felt like they were still in exile, because they were still slaves.  They were still under the dominion of a foreign nation. In fact, in Ezra 9:6-9, the authors write this (and keep in mind, this was written after the people have returned to the Promised Land):

“O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens. From the days of our fathers to this day we have been in great guilt. And for our iniquities we, our kings, and our priests have been given into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plundering, and to utter shame, as it is today. But now for a brief moment favor has been shown by the LORD our God, to leave us a remnant and to give us a secure hold within his holy place, that our God may brighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our slavery.

For we are slaves. [Don’t miss this! He doesn’t say: “we were slaves—until recently, when you brought us out of slavery!”  No. He says: Even right now back in the Promised Land, “We are slaves…”] Yet our God has not forsaken us in our slavery, but has extended to us his steadfast love before the kings of Persia, to grant us some reviving to set up the house of our God, to repair its ruins, and to give us protection in Judea and Jerusalem.”

So, apparently, the people who had returned still viewed themselves as living in slavery. They still viewed themselves as in living exile. They knew that this wasn’t what the “Kingdom of God” was supposed to be like. There had to be something more coming.

Moreover, their sins clearly still had not been dealt with. Remember that Ezra said in 9:6: “O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens.” So the forgiveness they had longed for and had anticipated still had not come.

And worst of all, while a temple had begun to be reconstructed, it was such a small, shoddy, lackluster building in comparison with the first temple that when the old men saw it—men who had lived long enough that as boys they had seen the first temple—they wept (Ezra 3:12). Not for joy.

For sadness.

They wept because they felt, “This can’t be right. This is all wrong. This can’t be what we were waiting for! This is not a place where God will dwell!” Everything was just wrong somehow.

And so even after they returned to the promised land, the people of God still longed for a return from exile, for forgiveness of sins, and for God to come and reign and dwell among them. And they didn’t know if it would ever come. It was a time of deep darkness and hopelessness and fear.

The song doesn’t date back that far, but it captures perfectly the despair of the people of God: “O come, O come, Emmanuel (“God with us”); And ransom captive Israel; That mourns in lonely exile here…”

And we all know that that’s not where the song ends.  But Israel didn’t know whether or not the song would end there. And so they waited. They waited for hundreds of years…

Until some people started hearing a strange story.

Apparently a story had originated in a town called “Bethlehem” that was really of no consequence other than that it was the city where the great King David had been born. But that was a long, long time ago. And this story really wasn’t believable. Surely it was just another wishful fairy tale. But it had such teeth, and was so over-the-top in what it claimed, that it was hard not to listen to it.

The story went something like this:

“When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, “God with us”).  When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son.  And he called his name Jesus.

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?  For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’ When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.  They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: “And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.”’” (Matthew 1:18-2:6).

It was an outrageous story. An almost unbelievable story. That after all this time, God would bring (in the form of an infant, no less!) one who would bring forgiveness of the sins of his people, who would be a Messiah King who would end the exile, establish the Kingdom of God and reign over his people, and who would be “Immanuel”; God dwelling with his people.

An outrageous and almost unbelievable, but true story. “O come, O come, Emmanuel; And ransom captive Israel; That mourns in lonely exile here; Until the Son of God appear. Rejoice!  Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

The nightmare has come undone. The darkness has lifted. The wait is over.

What Zephaniah invites the people to long for is here. We might use Zephaniah’s own words to express it this way: “Sing aloud, O Church!; shout, O people of God! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O Church! Jesus, the savior, our ransom, our sacrifice, our Lord has taken away the judgments against you; he has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, Jesus Christ, is in your midst—dwelling among you by his Spirit; you shall never again fear evil.

It is said today in all the world: “Fear not, O Church; let not your hands grow weak.  Jesus, the Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who has saved; he rejoices over you with gladness; he quiets you by his love; he exults over you with loud singing. He has gathered those who mourned for the festival, so that we will no longer suffer reproach. Behold, he has dealt with all your oppressors through the Cross. And he has saved the lame and gathered the outcast, and He has changed our shame into praise and renown in all the earth. He has brought us in, and gathered us together; and has made us renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, and has restored our fortunes before our eyes,’ says the LORD.”

One of the most beautiful and joy-giving ways we can celebrate Christ in the advent season is not to take his coming for granted. Most of us are not as amazed by his coming as we ought to be. It isn’t a stunning reality for us because we’ve gotten used to it. But as we consider our spiritual ancestors; as we consider their hardship; their trouble; the darkness and hopelessness in which they lived; the fear and despair, we may begin to see the coming of the Messiah King, the end of the exile, the dawn of the Kingdom of God, the forgiveness of sin, and God making his dwelling among us in Jesus Christ as absolutely stunning realities.

“O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice!  Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”

Oh, How He Loves Us

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. …No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.” (John 10: 14-15, 18)

Who killed Jesus?

It seems like a simple enough question and answer, right? Anyone who’s read through any one of the gospels might say, “Well, Pontius Pilate did. He gave the order to have Jesus crucified.” And that answer isn’t wrong. But it’s not the best answer. Some people might remember what they read earlier in the Gospel of John: “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him,” and say, “Well really it was the Jewish leaders. Pontius didn’t really want to crucify Jesus, but the Jewish leaders pushed him to do it.” And that answer isn’t wrong. But it’s not the best answer.

People who really know the depth of their own sin, and who understand what Jesus did for them on the cross might say, “It was me. I crucified Jesus.” As the song goes, “It was my sin that held him there until it was accomplished.“ And that answer isn’t wrong. In fact, it’s almost the best answer.

But not quite.

In John 10, Jesus is explaining the depth of his love for his followers—his sheep. He says, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. …No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again” (vv. 14-15, 18).

This makes perfect sense if we just take a moment to connect the dots: Jesus is the God who spoke galaxies into existence, set the earth spinning on its axis, invented life and designed the tree from which his own cross was made. So… let’s try this again. Who killed Jesus? Who killed the architect of the universe and the Commander In Chief of the Armies of the innumerable angel warriors of Heaven?

Who killed Jesus? God did. That’s the best answer.

Jesus chose the cross. He chose this path. He chose death. He chose his death because he’s the only one who could choose it. He’s the only one who has “authority to lay his life down” and “authority to take it up again.” No one can take his life from him. I mean, how do you take life from the designer and giver of life? You don’t. No one can.

So why did he choose to give it up? Why did he lay his life down?

We have to start with the answer we gave to the question in yesterday’s post: He chose death first and foremostly for the glory and fame of God. This is the highest design of the death of Christ: God’s fame.

But, of course, there is another answer. Even though we are very, very small, he loves us so very deeply. “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me…and I lay down my life for the sheep.” Oh, how he loves us. No man has greater love than this: That he lays down his life for his friends.

Is Jesus a Puppet King?

When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself. (John 6:14-15)

What’s the strangest scene in the entire Bible? The frogs falling from the sky? That’s a pretty good one. What about Balaam’s donkey turning around and demanding that Balaam stop hitting him? Sheesh. That would get your attention. Maybe Ezekiel’s vision of wheels with eyes all over them? Creepy, right?

I’ve always thought that one of the strangest scenes in the Bible is recorded in a comment the apostle John makes in chapter 6 of his gospel. Jesus had just performed the miracle of multiplying the loaves and fishes. From five pieces of bread and two small fish, Jesus feeds five thousand people and has enough leftovers for lunch the next day. The people are absolutely amazed by what they’ve seen. So much so that they declare as one, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world” (v. 14).

The people were so overwhelmed by what Jesus had done that they immediately agree together that Jesus must be the messiah—the long-awaited prophet-king who would come to rescue the people of God and rule over the world forever and ever. And yet, something so very strange was happening in their hearts. And Jesus saw it as it was happening.

John writes, “Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself” (v. 15). Wait… what? Did you catch that? They intended to make him king? So… if they wanted to make him their king it kind of seems like they were under the impression that he wasn’t yet their king. They seemed to think that he needed them to make him their king.

Maybe they thought that he still needed a crown or a robe or a throne in order to be a proper king—not realizing that his crown is power, his robe is heaven, and his throne is not of this earth. In fact, the earth is merely his footstool (Isa. 66:1). And what kind of king did they think he was going to be, exactly, if they thought they could take him by force and make him king? What kind of king would you be if your own subjects could take you by force and make you to do what they want you to do? That’s called a puppet king.

On the other hand… Don’t we all do this? Don’t we all try to force Jesus to be the kind of king we want him to be?

Don’t we all try to dictate to him when he’s going to be king, and what things in our life we will and won’t let him be king over? Don’t we all decide that we will only follow Jesus if he doesn’t demand too much of us? If he doesn’t ask us to step out into risky situations for the gospel? If he doesn’t call us out of our comfortable and self-centered lifestyle for kingdom causes? If he doesn’t point to our sin and say, “Turn. Turn from that. Why will you die?”

Jesus is not a tyrant king. He is a king who loves us enough to die for us. But he is also most definitely not a puppet king who will always approve and always agree with whatever we want him to do or be. He is most definitely not a king who will let us define him by our own preferences of how we think he should be. He said, “I AM that I am.” Which means, he defines himself. We can never invite him to get on board with our plan for our lives. If he is truly the king our only decision is whether we will get on board with his plan for the rescue and restoration of his world, or whether we will rebel and continue to contribute the decay of the world.

For far too long, I allowed myself to imagine that I defined what kind of king Jesus would be to me, and what parts of my life he would be given access to. I know many of you can relate. May we be people who invite and embrace the benevolent reign of Christ over every part of our lives.

The Greatest

“You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! …For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (John 5:39, 46-47)

Muhammad Ali.

What do you think about when you hear that name? Maybe some famous photo of the boxer. Probably the one where he has his glove up, jawing at a fallen Sonny Liston. “Dance like a butterfly, sting like a bee”? Will Smith, maybe?

Some of us immediately think of the attitude. The “I-own-this-world” bombast that would have been incredibly annoying if it wasn’t so awesomely entertaining. Ali was famous not only for his skill and strength in the ring, but also for laying the praise on pretty thick when he was talking about himself.

Here’s some of my favorite Ali sound bites. Even if arrogance isn’t your thing, just try to stop yourself from grinning when you read these:

“I am the greatest. I said that even before I knew I was.”

“I’m so fast that last night I turned off the light switch in my hotel room and was in bed before the room was dark.”

“If you even dream of beating me you’d better wake up and apologize.”

When people accused him a being a braggart, he said, “It’s not bragging if you can back it up.” The problem was that Ali couldn’t always back it up. He lost to Frazier and (a few) others. He wasn’t really (quite) faster than light. And while he may very well have been the greatest boxer of all time, there was always One who was greater than him. Still, there’s a certain truth in what Ali said: “It’s not bragging if you can back it up.”

Jesus makes some absolutely stunning claims in John 5. Try to imagine yourself being there when he said it, and think about how crazy the sheer magnitude of these claims would have sounded coming out of the mouth of a human being:

“Whatever the Father does, the Son also does.” (v. 9)

“Just as the Father gives life to those he raises from the dead, so the Son gives life to anyone he wants.” (v. 21)

“[The Father] has given the Son absolute authority to judge, so that everyone will honor the Son, just as they honor the Father.” (v. 23)

“The Father has life-giving power in himself, and he has granted that same life-giving power to his Son.” (v. 26)

“You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!” (v. 39)

“If you really believed in Moses, you would believe in me, because he wrote about me.” (v. 46)

When Jesus says these things, is he bragging? Is he hopelessly arrogant? Is he pridefully self-centered. Well, that all depends. Muhammad Ali might ask: Can he back it up? In fact, everything about Jesus’s birth, life, death and resurrection backs up what Jesus says about himself. Jesus is one with the Father. He has all the power of the One Great God. He is the Lord of Heaven and Earth. He is the Alpha and the Omega. The beginning and the end. And only he is truly The Greatest.

What would change about the way we view our lives and the world if we fully grasped and embraced that Jesus is the greatest—the greatest treasure, the greatest peace, the greatest life-giver, the greatest joy, the greatest king and ruler of this world and of our lives, the greatest comfort, the greatest priority, the greatest satisfaction, and the greatest love?

May we live, today, believing that Jesus is the Greatest.