"The unfolding of your words gives light ..." (Psalm 119:130a)

Month: April 2010 (Page 2 of 3)

Living in Light of the Resurrection (Part 2)

“Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.” (Colossians 3:2)

Paul repeats “the things above” verbatim from verse one. Now he connects it to one of his favorite verbs (“Set your mind”). Paul makes use of it in twenty-three of its twenty-six New Testament usages (ten of those in Philippians). It generally describes the realm of the mind: to think, to have an attitude, to form an opinion. Paul’s frequent use of the word underscores the high place he affords the Christian mind. The present tense imperative calls for continual, habitual action (“Keep thinking,” NET). We are to “seek” the things above (v.1) and “set” our thoughts upon them (v.2). “You must not only seek heaven; you must also think heaven” (Lightfoot, 207).

This is to be done rather than thinking about “the things that are on earth.” This stands as the polar opposite of “the things above” (vv.1, 2). This is the realm where “fleshly indulgence” (2:23) takes place. This is the place where the false teacher(s) centers his counsel and teaching as he prescribes “severe treatment of the body” (2:23). While the believer resides “on the earth,” his home—the center and source of his life—is from above. The believer has “been firmly rooted” and is now “being built up in” Christ (2:7). Jesus is the locus of the believer’s life and existence. The believer has died to the “elementary principles of the world” (2:8, 20). Indeed, the believer has died with Christ and is raised up with Him to a new life (2:13; 3:1). It is in Christ that the believer “has been made complete” (2:10). The ascetic, legalistic rules of the false teacher regarding diet, drink and days (2:16) are “a mere shadow of what is to come” whereas “the substance belongs to Christ” (2:17). The believer is one who is “holding fast to the head,” Christ Himself (2:19a).

The little phrase “the things that are on the earth” becomes quite significant for Paul. Christ has created all things “on earth” (2:16). God’s purpose is to sum up all things—including those “things upon the earth”—in Christ (Eph. 1:10). To this end God, through Christ, has reconciled to Himself all things “upon the earth” (Col. 1:20). Yet we are to put to death our members “which are on the earth” (3:5, NRSV). Part of how we carry this out is by not setting our minds upon these things (3:2).

Paul sets “the things above” in contrast to “the things that are on the earth.” In doing so he tells us that reality upon earth is defined by the reality of heaven, not the other way around. Spiritual truth defines tangible reality. We are on dangerous ground when we weigh spiritual matters by what appears to be the fact based on limited, earthly evidence. He who sees only the earthly sees only partial reality—missing the most vital pieces of evidence for interpreting the fuller reality.

Living in Light of the Resurrection (Part 1)

“Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” (Colossians 3:1)

To what precisely does “Therefore” look back?  Given what follows in the rest of the verse, it appears that the truths of 2:12 and 13 provide the most obvious connection.  There Paul speaks of the believers being “raised up with [Christ] through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead” and that “[The Father] made you alive together with [Christ].”  This is a real union with Christ that is entered through faith and is witnessed to in the believer’s baptism (v.12).  The surety of these facts and experiences is in Paul’s mind here as he says, “if you have been raised up with Christ.”  The condition is of the first class, meaning that the matter is not in question, but considered assured in its fulfillment (thus the niv: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ”).  The precise verb that Paul employs makes this connection clear in that it is used only three times in the New Testament, once in 2:12 (see comments there; cf. also Eph. 2:6).  It is a compound comprised of “with” and “raise.”  The aorist tense looks to this as a definite act.  The passive voice views God as the active agent in raising the believer from death with Christ.  The word then depicts God the Father as raising the believer (through faith, 2:12) in union with Christ in His resurrection.  This is a fact for the believer.  It is not an experience to be scrambled after through zealous effort or the fulfillment of religious rites.  It is a settled fact accomplished by God through Christ.  It is a work accomplished by God and actualized through the vehicle of the believer’s resting faith, reposed upon the finished work of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ.  It is not an experience to seek, but a fact to be rested in.

This being the fact, the Apostle commands “keep seeking the things above.”  The command “keep seeking” is a present tense imperative, underscoring that the action must be taken repeatedly, continuously, and as a matter of habit.  The word carries the idea of aiming for and striving after.  It may have here the notion of “try to obtain” or “desire to possess.”  That which is to be thus sought are “the things above.”  Paul will use the precise expression again in the next verse.  But to what does it point?  Surely it refers to the heavenly realms and its realities.  It looks to the place of God’s abode.  The adverb was used by Jesus to say, “You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world” (John 8:23).  Paul employs to speak of “the Jerusalem above” (Gal. 4:26) and of the believer’s “upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14).  Paul told those same believers “our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20).  To the Colossians he has already spoken of “the hope laid up for you in heaven” (Col. 1:5).

Paul further qualifies just where he is referencing by saying it is “where Christ is.”  True to form, Paul makes our pursuit a Christocentric one.  Our quest is not simply a “place,” but a person.  We seek Him, rather than ascribe to ascetic rules, because it is He “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3).  There Christ “is”—a present tense, on-going existence in real-time.  Indeed, we seek that place where Christ is “seated at the right hand of God.”  This marks it as a place of both authority and intimacy.  It is a place of authority in that there Christ is “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this age, but also in the one to come” (Eph. 2:21; cf. Col. 1:16; 2:15).  There God the Father has “put all things in subjection under His feet” and it is there that He “gave Him as head over all things to the church” (Eph. 2:22; cf. Col. 1:18).  Yes, Peter tells us that Jesus “is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him” (1 Pet. 3:22).  This is the very place Christ took His seat after “having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time” (Heb. 10:12).  It is also a place of intimacy for there Christ takes up the care and concern of His own, presenting those needs to the father in ongoing intercession (Rom. 8:34; 1 Tim. 2:5; Heb. 7:25; 1 John 2:1-2).

This, then, becomes the great quest of the believer – to realize that which God has give to him in Christ.

The Reality-altering Resurrection!

” Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:3-5)

Thirty years removed from the reality-altering events of the cross and empty tomb, Peter was still gripped by the living Christ!

Five dimensions of reality are never the same after meeting the risen Christ.

1. The resurrected Christ offers us UNLIMITED MERCY.

“According to his great mercy …” (v.3a)

2. The resurrected Christ offers us UNENDING LIFE.

“He has caused us to be born again …” (v.3b)

3. The resurrected Christ offers us UNDYING HOPE.

We are born again “to a living hope.” (v.3c)

4. The resurrected Christ offers us UNDIMINISHED INHERITANCE.

We are born again “… to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (v.4)

5. The resurrected Christ offers us UNFAILING SECURITY.

We are those “who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (v.5)

Peter could never escape the wonder of the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ.   This new life, this higher life, this resurreciton life, this life–the very life of Jesus’ Himself–had become to him a relationship of unlimited mercy, unending life, undying hope, undiminished inheritance, and unfailing security.

May you find the same as you repose your soul in repentant faith upon the crucified, risen Lord Jesus Christ!

Obstacles to Understanding the Cross (Part 3)

Assumptions and arrogance, as we have seen, are two of the reasons people miss the meaning of the cross.

We come now to Jesus’ third predication of His death.

“They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him.” (Mark 10:32)

Take note: Jesus was ahead of them.  Wasn’t He always?  He was way ahead of them, in more ways than one.  He was headed for the cross.  They thought they are headed to Jerusalem for a royal coronation party.  Jesus, in fact, was leading them on a death march!

They were amazed.  They were fearful.  There was just so much they did not understand.

“‘We are going up to Jerusalem,’ he said, ‘and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.'” (vv.33-34)

This is Jesus’ third prediction of His death.  How will the disciples respond this time?  Will they finally comprehend?

“Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘we want you to do for us whatever we ask.’  ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ he asked.  They replied, ‘Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.'” (vv.35-37)

This time it was ambition that blinded their eyes to the meaning of the cross.

The Bible speaks quite clearly of “sloth” as sin and it soundly condemns the sluggard.  Yet it also announces the danger of unbridled ambition.  When is ambition a godly initiative and when is it self-advancing pride?  The cross is what makes the difference, for the cross separates “self” from ambition.  The cross spawns initiative for Christ and other’s sake, but holds back when it comes to selfish ambition.

Notice Jesus’ prescription for sinful ambition …

“‘You don’t know what you are asking,’ Jesus said. ‘Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?’  ‘We can,’ they answered. Jesus said to them, ‘You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.’  When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John.  Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.'” (vv.38-45)

What does the divine prescription for ambition require?  Suffering and service — the daily, practical outworking of taking up our cross and following Jesus.

Samuel Logan Brengle was a young man of extreme ambition.  He came from a family line filled with preachers.  At college he took up oratory and began to win prizes in the field, and relished being before people and moving them with nothing but his words.  He began to be consumed with overwhelming ambition to be a preacher.  Through his years of preparatory studies, however, God began to break his ambition as he contemplated the cross of Christ.  On one occasion he heard William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, speak and was deeply moved.  Soon he was faced with a very difficult decision: accept the call to pastor a large, prestigious church or travel to London where he would enter the ranks of the Salvation Army and begin training as a cadet.  He chose the Salvation Army and was soon off.  When he arrived, Booth told him, “You’ve been your own captain too long.”  In order to instill a servant’s heart into this young man his first assignment was to clean and polish the boots of the other trainees.  He later confessed he grumbled: “Have I followed my own fancy across the Atlantic in order to black boots?”  But then he pictured Jesus bending over dirty feet of unlearned fisherman.  He whispered a prayer, “Lord, you washed their feet; I will black their boots.”

What do you see when you look at the cross?

A religious symbol?  A piece of jewelry?  The means of your complete salvation?  A call to discipleship?

Again I ask: what do you see when you look at the cross?

What does the cross threaten in your life?

Are you willing to trust the Christ who died there as your only means of salvation?

Are you willing to trust the Christ who died there?  Are you willing to take up your cross, put to death your assumptions, arrogance, and ambition and follow Him no matter what?

Hmmm …

Maundy Thursday.  April Fool’s Day.

What a strange juxtaposition!

I guess it only underscores the point of it all: “the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor. 1:18)

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