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Becoming Like The Holy Spirit -- By Pointing To Jesus

"It is to your advantage that I go away..."

Can you imagine the disciples’ thoughts as Jesus spoke these words? How could it be to their advantage for him to go away? For a couple of years now they’d seen a man do the impossible. Heal the sick, walk on water, even raise people from the dead. He spoke like no one else ever had. This man, Jesus, claimed to be divine—and he had the miracles to prove it. 

What could possibly be gained if Jesus was not with them? His followers needed him to establish a new kingdom, to overthrow Rome and restore Israel. They needed him to teach them about the law and the prophets, to continue unfolding the Torah in ways that revealed its true intent. They needed him to be with them; he was their teacher, their rabbi, their Messiah.

Jesus did what was best for his people.

So why did Jesus have to go away? Because it was to their advantage — and ours. Jesus did what was best for his people. Bodily remaining with some of his followers would have been great, we can be sure. But sending the Helper so his ministry could continue in all of his followers everywhere, was best.

By going away, the Son would send the Holy Spirit to declare the truth about the world. That without believing in Jesus, the guilt of sin remains. That Jesus was righteous because he ascended back to the Father. That the ruler of this world is judged, his reign temporary, and one day sin’s power will have no hold on us. The Holy Spirit came to be a guide for all believers, to lead God’s people into truth, and to glorify Jesus by declaring what belongs to him. (John 16:8-14)

Maybe it’s almost appropriate that the Holy Spirit is often overlooked as the third person of the Trinity. Even while being divine himself, the ministry of the Holy Spirit is unique because it’s not about him—it’s about Jesus! The Holy Spirit’s ministry is to help us keep the commands of Jesus (John 14:15-17), to bring to remembrance the things Jesus taught (John 14:26), and to convict the world about its relationship to Jesus (John 16:8-11).

The ministry of the Holy Spirit is unique because it’s not about him—it’s about Jesus!

So why is it to our advantage that Jesus went away? Because he sent us another in his place to help us, comfort us, and point us back to him. And now Jesus can be present with all believers everywhere through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, who, in a sense, does what we all should do: glorify God by declaring the truth according to God’s word, and pointing to the work of Jesus

 

REFLECTION

Why is it important to note the Holy Spirit’s role of pointing away from himself, illuminating the word and work of Jesus instead? What happens if we begin to focus an unbalanced amount of attention on the work of the Spirit?

Are you seeking the help of the Helper to experience Jesus’ presence in your life? What could be different with more of the Spirit’s work of revealing Jesus to you?

 

For further reflection, read John 16:4-15.

Baptism: A One-Time Event And A Constant Reminder

Buried with Christ in death; raised to walk in newness of life.

Many of us have either had this familiar mantra spoken directly to us, or have been around church (especially Baptist churches) long enough to hear it spoken over others. But unfortunately, time and familiarity can erode the effect such a powerful truth can have on our hearts.

As children we’re wired to remember everything; our minds are like sponges that soak in every detail — but somewhere along the way that sponge begins to leak. The information begins to seep out, and all of a sudden one day we can’t remember what we ate for lunch the day before. (I had two chicken sandwiches, by the way, so I’m not quite there yet.)

That’s why God built reminders into our faith — so that our minds don’t grow dull with the memory of his work in our lives, and our affections never get bored of sensing his glory.

However, the good thing for all of us is that it’s not important to remember what you ate yesterday. But it is of utmost value to remember spiritual truths and realities, especially when they have personal and practical implications. And God knows that our minds easily forget. That’s why he’s built reminders into our faith — so that our minds don’t grow dull with the memory of his work in our lives, and our affections never get bored of sensing his glory.

Baptism is one such reminder, but how? Getting baptized is the first step of a Christian’s obedience. In the New Testament and much of the history of the church, baptism immediately followed (or even initially proclaimed) a new believer’s faith. But unlike communion, which is regularly practiced, baptism is a one-time event. So how is baptism given to us as a constant reminder of the truth of Romans 6:3-4? That all of us who have been baptized into Christ have been baptized into his death, and just as Jesus was raised from the dead, we too are raised to walk in newness of life.

In our own baptism we proclaim to everyone, “That’s happened to me!” There’s usually excitement and celebration and a shot of spiritual adrenaline that accompanies our baptism. But over time that energy fades. We always remember our own baptism, but many of us don't get excited about it anymore. It doesn’t have to be that way though.

More than a little has been preached and written and shared about getting baptized if you never have been. But Christian, when was the last time you were exhorted to celebrate others being baptized and let it call to your remembrance your own baptism and its significance? In regular practice, the baptism of others should call back to our minds the reality that each of us has also participated in that same death and resurrection, that same cleansing from our sin, and all the joy and excitement that come with it. As we look on we should reflect on our own faith, and let the initial gratitude and zeal for God come rushing back.

This is why my faith is not just about me and God, and your faith is not just about you and God. Faith is a personal thing, but it’s not meant to be private. I need to be reminded of the joy I felt the day I got baptized. We all do, and every time we witness a baptism let’s remember our own, join in the celebration, and be reminded that we were dead and now we’re alive!  

 

REFLECTION

What do you remember about your own baptism? When you think about it, does it energize you?

If the power of baptism is not in the water or the act of being dunked, but in the truth it represents — why is it so important for Christians to participate in the actual event of being baptized?

If you’ve never been baptized, what’s stopping you?

If you have, what aspect of your faith can you celebrate as you remember your own public profession? Freedom from sin? New life? Eternal security? Something else?

For further reflection, read Romans 6:1-14.

When A Yoke Is More Than A Farming Tool

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.  -Jesus

For years I've read these words and imagined two animals attached at the neck or shoulders by an apparatus--a yoke. I see them in a field, plowing or doing some hard work. In other words, I picture the header image above. And you do, too. Not because of the header image, but because that's what we've been taught--that Jesus's yoke is like this. That, just like these two animals, he wants us to yoke ourselves to him. That he wants our lives connected to his in such a way that he is the one working in us and through us. That we can't bear the heavy weight of the Law and sinlessness, but he can. This is widely how it's preached from the pulpit, printed in commentaries, and encouraged by devotionals.

And none of those applications are wrong, but what if they're... incomplete? What if there's another meaning of 'yoke' that gives a much richer, fuller significance to Jesus's words? What if we can have a deeper sense of Jesus's yoke by abandoning the agricultural image?

Remember, Jesus Was A Jewish Rabbi

Years ago, I heard someone teach a pretty hot take on the 'yoke' in this passage. It was one I'd never heard before, and it was profound! So profound, in fact, that I looked for it elsewhere--in books and commentaries, and online in the sermons of some of my favorite preachers. To my disappointment, I couldn't find anyone else teaching it. So I put it in the back of my mind, always remembering it, wanting it to be true, but resigning myself to thinking that, at best, it's an interesting thought. Last week as I began reading Andrew Murray's Abide in Christ, and meditating on the ideas of working, resting, and abiding--I recalled that teaching on yokes:

Rabbis during Jesus’ time selected students...who followed their rabbi in order to learn his interpretations of the Torah and to model his obedience to God’s law. A rabbi’s [disciples] were said to take on the “yoke of Torah,” which meant they committed themselves to obeying Torah as the rabbi interpreted and taught it. -Ray Vander Laan, “Life and Ministry of the Messiah: Study Guide”

To double-check this teaching that I needed to be true now more than ever (as it relates to abiding in Christ, and coming to him for rest), I reached out to a Jewish friend of mine at Chosen People Ministries. I simply emailed him and asked if a yoke is a rabbi's set of teachings about the Torah. "Yes, that is absolutely true!" But it's not only teachings and interpretations; it includes practices and behavior as well.

As the master of master teachers, Jesus certainly knew (perhaps even also intended) the farm analogy of a yoke--but remember, Jesus is a Jewish rabbi! We think about yokes as tools for work, but Jesus was speaking about rest. In other words, Rabbi Jesus has a way that he interprets and teaches the Torah. This rabbi has practices and behaviors that he wants us to model. This rabbi has a yoke--and it's easy! It's not like the yokes of the other rabbis. And if we'll take it and learn from him, we'll find rest. So what is Jesus's yoke? Reread his invitation without the oxen plowing the field: "Take my yoke (my teachings, interpretations, behaviors, and practices) upon you, and learn from me...and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." 

Love God, Love People

Jesus's yoke is not about working, but about resting. Abiding in him by faith. Learning from his teachings, following his example of loving and serving people. Jesus not only interpreted the Torah, but fulfilled it! And summed it up in one--the greatest--command: Love God, and love people.

"Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

That is Jesus's yoke! Love God, and love people. Forget the farm animals. Take that yoke upon yourself, and you will find rest.

Bullseye, Mr Tozer

I like books. I enjoy reading too, but that's not what I'm talking about. I like the books, themselves. I like books per se. So I have a lot of books, and they're organized by genre. History. Theology. Biography. Ministry. Commentary. Et cetera.

Then I have this half-shelf that I simply refer to as "favorites." These are not really my favorite books, but more like the ones I believe would be of great benefit for any... or every Christian to read. I recently finished reading The Pursuit of God by AW Tozer. It sits on that shelf of "favorites" -- and these are some of my favorite quotes. Enjoy.

There is today no lack of Bible teachers to set forth correctly the principles of the doctrines of Christ, but too many of these seem satisfied to teach the fundamentals of the faith year after year, strangely unaware that there is in their ministry no manifest Presence, nor anything unusual in their personal lives. (p.8)
The Bible is not an end in itself, but a means to bring men to an intimate and satisfying knowledge of God, that they may enter into Him, that they may delight in His Presence, may taste and know the inner sweetness of the very God Himself in the core and center of their hearts. (p.10)
We are often hindered from giving up our treasures to the Lord out of fear for their safety; this is especially true when those treasures are loved relatives and friends. But we need have no such fears. Out Lord came not to destroy but to save. Everything is safe which we commit to Him, and nothing is really safe which is not so committed. 
Our gifts and talents should also be turned over to Him. They should be recognized for what they are, God's loan to us, and should never be considered in any sense our own. We have no more right to claim credit for special abilities than for blue eyes or strong muscles. (p.28)
The greatest fact of the tabernacle was that Jehovah was there; a Presence was waiting within the veil. Similarly the Presence of God is the central fact of Christianity. At the heart of the Christian message is God Himself waiting for His redeemed children to push in to conscious awareness of His Presence. (p.37)
What God in His sovereignty may yet do on a world-scale I do not claim to know: but what He will do for the plain man or woman who seeks His face I believe I do know and can tell others. Let any man turn to God in earnest, let him begin to exercise himself unto godliness, let him seek to develop his powers of spiritual receptivity by trust and obedience and humility, and the results will exceed anything he may have hoped in his leaner and weaker days. (p.71)

*All quotes taken from this publication of The Pursuit of God:
Martino Fine Books (2009-11-12)
ISBN 10: 1578988519 / ISBN 13: 9781578988518

Don't Skip To The End This Christmas

Whether it's a book, a movie, or in the case of Christmas presents for little kids in the house, an instruction manual--we all are tempted to do the same thing: skip to the end. But when we give in to that ever-present temptation to cheat, it's never as satisfying as when we'd invested the time and arrived at the end the way in which we were intended. Not only do we rob its creator of the time and effort they put into producing the work, but we rob ourselves of the journey. For books and movies, that means we know the story, and all (or most of) our questions are answered. For instruction manuals, it means we have a toy that's properly built, works, and with minimal frustration, Daddy can get in bed at a decent hour on Christmas Eve.

But every Christmas--a holiday dedicated to the incarnation of God, the Word becoming flesh, the birth of the God-man--we do it. We skip straight to the end. We cheat. We rob God of the story he cared so much to write. And we rob ourselves of having our questions answered because we know the whole story. Maybe you've said it. I've probably said it.

"Jesus came to die." Well, yes and no.

It's become an incredible pet peeve of mine during the Christmas holidays. Here is a holiday dedicated to celebrating the birth of Christ. His birth, the beginning of his earthly life. And we barely have him out of his swaddling cloths before we're talking about his death. Did Jesus come to die? Yes, but what an incomplete statement! Had he only come to die, why not show up on Good Friday, get on the cross, and get on with it? Because he also came to live!

Here is a holiday dedicated to celebrating the birth of Christ. And we barely have him out of his swaddling cloths before we’re talking about his death.

There is no separating Jesus's perfectly obedient life from his sacrificial death. Had Jesus not lived a perfect life, obeying God down to every jot and tittle of the Law, he could not have died a death that would satisfy God's demand for holiness. In other words, Jesus came to live without sin, so that his death would achieve all that it's intended to--salvation, but also righteousness. The apostle Paul says it this way, "Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous." (Romans 5.18-19)

So this Christmas don't cheat yourself out of the rest of the story; without the middle part the ending doesn't make sense. Don't pass over the manger to get right to the cross. Stop and appreciate the miracle of incarnation. Wonder over what it means for the Word to become flesh. Read Luke 2.1-21, and reflect on the Christ child who was born, who would grow up, be tempted, get hungry, cry, laugh, hurt, and live--but live without sin. This Christmas celebrate Jesus's life and his active obedience. Jesus came to live; he came to obtain a righteousness that could be imputed to us when we had only sin to impute to him. (2 Corinthians 5.21)

So this Christmas don't skip straight to Good Friday. Celebrate his birth, life, and obedience on our behalf. Stop and celebrate Christmas!