Subscribe to the Gospel Reformation blog by Email

Jesus

Is It True That Grass Is Green And The Sky Is Blue?

What is truth?

That was the question Pilate (I believe rhetorically) asked Jesus on the morning he was crucified. While Pilate was trying to ascertain guilt enough to warrant a death sentence, Jesus said, “Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate answered with a question of his own, a question philosophers had been asking long before this day of Jesus’ trial — and people have been asking in every generation since. “What is truth?”

Is 2+2=4 true? Is it true that grass is green and the sky is blue? Is it true that I sound like Dr. Seuss, even though I’m not trying to?

The truth is, yes 2+2=4 — every time, in every culture, everywhere, on every day of the week. That truth is objectively true based on fixed laws of math; there is never a situation where you will not get 4 if you add 2 plus 2. And the green grass and blue sky? Yes, sometimes, and no, not really. Grass is green, unless it’s dead — then it’s brown. And it’s true the sky looks blue because we see blue light from the sun scattered through our atmosphere most of the time, but at dawn and dusk we see more red and orange light — so technically the sky doesn’t have a color because it depends on the time of day, light, and angle of viewing the sun. Our statement then, the grass is green and the sky is blue, is true upon conditions. It can be true, but it can also be not true. Head spinning yet?

One more. “There is no such thing as absolute truth — truth that’s true for everyone all the time.” Is that true? Of course not; in order for that statement to be true, it must be true for everyone all the time! No such thing as absolute truth? It sounds absurd, but people assert it, and as far as doubting truth goes, many believe seventeenth century French philosopher René Descartes to be the founding father.

Personal truth as the only truth, has inevitably grown out of Descartes’ foundational proposition cogito ergo sum, “I think, therefore I am.” After all, that’s the only truth any person can be 100% sure of—his own existence. Right? Stay with me for one more minute. Because if that’s the case and I can’t be absolutely certain that anything else is objectively true, it follows that I am the maker of my own reality and the only truth for me is what I perceive to be real based on my experiences.

But do you see the problem? The wrong I Am is at the foundation.

Truth is a person; Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6).

When Moses asked God his name, God answered, “I Am” (Exodus 3:14). He is the only one who measures truth by his very existence, because he is Truth. And when we start the search for truth with ourselves instead of its author, we end up with nonsense like, “what’s true for you doesn’t have to be true for me.” There’s a fundamental misunderstanding of what truth is, but why wouldn't there be for people who don’t know Jesus? Truth is a person; Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6), and “Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37). When we don't recognize Jesus as the truth, everything else becomes distorted.

Pilate wondered, “What is truth,” with Truth standing right in front of him (John 18:38). The answer to his question, the thing he was after, was right in front of his face — and he missed it. Today, let’s not miss it. Look into the face of Jesus and find the Truth.

Pilate wondered, “What is truth,” with Truth standing right in front of him — and he missed it. Look into the face of Jesus and don’t miss the Truth!

 

REFLECTION

What kind of problems are created if everyone is able to define their own “truth”?

What “truths” have you created, that need to be measured against what Jesus said or taught?

For further reflection, read John 8:31-38. How can/does the truth set you free?

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.

Thankfulness Is Not Natural -- But Christians Are Supernatural

Put on a new self.

The idea of universal truth has come under attack in our culture. It’s a serious debate, whether something can be 100% true all the time. But we know universal truth exists, and it can be proved by this one simple experiment: serve a slice of chocolate cake to two siblings, giving one a (possibly even unnoticeably) bigger slice than the other, then sit back and watch what happens.

“That’s not fair. His piece is bigger than mine!”

This is who we are in our natural selves. Sin makes us selfish. Sin makes us ungrateful.

Every time. Without fail. Universally true for every piece of cake ever distributed to a child under the age of ten. If you're a parent, you can recall this scene happening a thousand different ways with your own children. If you don't have kids, just know that your parents could recall this scene happening a thousand different ways with you. And no parent’s “You should be thankful for what you got” response has ever sunk in and caused a child to not feel slighted by the smaller piece of cake.

This is who we are in our natural selves. Sin makes us selfish. Sin makes us ungrateful. But Christians are called to the super-natural. Gratefulness is not natural to the sinful heart; it can’t simply be conjured up because someone tells us to be thankful. But Someone does tell us—commands us—to be thankful, and now every Christian has a duty to live a life of gratitude.

In Colossians 3, the apostle Paul exhorts believers in Christ to put on a new self, a self that is not natural, not like the world, and not like the old self we were before coming to Jesus (3:5-14). His encouragement is grounded in our union with Christ. (3:1-3)

Since we’ve been empowered to live not according to our own nature, but Christ’s, Paul exhorts us to thankfulness as a mark of the new self.

Union with Christ not only gives us the what to be thankful for — it also gives us the power to live that way. Being united to Christ actually empowers us to be thankful, to live a life that reflects Jesus’ own nature and attitudes. And since we’ve been empowered to live not according to our own nature, but Christ’s, Paul exhorts us to thankfulness as a mark of the new self. In verses 15-17, there are three references to thankfulness.

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:15-17)

Like love, thankfulness is both something we feel and something we do. With the power of the Holy Spirit, it is something that can (and should!) become a distinguishing characteristic of God’s people. Gratefulness is not natural, therefore it doesn't come easy—but it is commanded. And it’s what sets Christians apart from the world. Believer, you are different because you have put on a new self, a self united with Christ, and you are not bound by the natural; no matter the circumstances, you have been empowered to live a supernatural life of thankfulness!

 

REFLECTION

Is a life of thankfulness realistic, especially with all of life’s trials and adversities?

Paul’s exhortation to the life of gratitude is grounded in our union with Christ. Why is it important to understand thankfulness springs from our position in Christ, not life’s circumstances?

Is your life marked by thankfulness? Does your new self look more like Christ or your old self?

For further reflection, read Colossians 3:1-17.

What The Bible's Shortest Verse Can Teach Us About Grief

Jesus wept. (John 11:35)

The Bible is full of comfort for the hurt and grieving, and it speaks to our grief in a hundred different ways. For some, their comfort is in the nature of God as a loving father. For others, comfort is found in a familiar passage like Psalm 23, a chapter on the Lord as a shepherd tenderly caring for and protecting his sheep. For their comfort, some lean on a sturdy confidence in God’s providence, while others in God’s promises such as Romans 8:28, that all things work together for good for those who Love God and are called according to his purpose.

While there is certainly much comfort found in all those places and more, when it comes to offering hope to the hurting, there are two powerful words in the Bible that are often overlooked. Tucked away in the miraculous story of Lazarus’s resurrection, John 11:35—the Bible’s shortest verse, but perhaps one of the longest on implication—stands ready to flood our souls with truth about the Lord’s sympathy and compassion: “Jesus wept.”

Lazarus had been dead for four days. His sisters, Mary and Martha, both greeted Jesus with the same mixture of emotions, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” They believed Jesus could have healed him, but they despaired that he was too late. Many of the Jews had come to console them, and they mourned with Mary and Martha. And as Jesus looked on their sadness, as he watched them grieve the most intense loss we feel in this life—the death of a loved one—he was “deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.” As they went to the tomb where Lazarus was laid, Jesus wept. (John 11:17-35)

Sometimes Jesus has an odd way of giving us what he knows we need. But in the meantime, Jesus simply wept with this friends.

The son of God. The second person of the Trinity. “The radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3), in whom “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:19). This Jesus, who knew how it all would turn out, still wept with his friends. Jesus knew Lazarus would be resurrected. He knew that sheer joy and celebration were just around the corner. In fact, he stayed away an extra two days when he heard Lazarus was ill, so that the disciples, Mary and Martha, and the onlooking Jews would see the glory of God and believe (John 11:5-6, 14-15, 40). Jesus loved this family and knew that witnessing Lazarus’s resurrection would deepen their faith more than seeing him healed. Sometimes Jesus has an odd way of giving us what he knows we need. But in the meantime, Jesus simply wept with this friends.

It’s an incredible comfort to know Jesus sympathizes with our pain, that he’s compassionate and meets us in our grief. It’s no small thing to read that Jesus wept with these people he loved. He knows death is not eternal. He knows resurrection is coming. He knows life and glory are just around the corner, but in the moment, suffering and death and tremendous grief were real — and Jesus mourned their effect. 

In Jesus’ tears we see how he loved Lazarus (John 11:36). His example teaches us there’s a way to mourn while staying confident in God. In Jesus we see what it looks like to not grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). And as Jesus mourns the sadness of death before he resurrects Lazarus, so we mourn the reality of suffering and death before the final Resurrection, when Jesus will “wipe away every tear from [our] eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

 

REFLECTION

Have you ever heard it said that intense grief indicates a lack of faith? How does Jesus’ reaction to Lazarus’s death indicate otherwise?

Jesus didn't go to Lazarus immediately when he heard he was sick, which led to Mary and Martha’s suffering when he died. What comfort can be gained by observing Jesus’ reason for this (that they would see the glory of God and believe)?

When you’ve experienced grief (maybe that’s right now), what comforts you? Is there any hope in knowing Jesus sympathizes, cares, and mourns with you even though he knows how he’ll use this to deepen your faith?

For further reflection, read 2 Corinthians 1:3-7.

The Church Is Full Of Messed Up People -- And We Should Love It

Have you ever wondered if the perfect church is out there?

Maybe you’ve tried a few different ones looking for it. Like a beautiful mythical creature, somewhere hides this unicorn church that always does everything right, believes everything right, and all the people are friendly, holy, and happy. Maybe you think you’ve found it. If you think you have, just wait; you simply haven't been there long enough — like more than five minutes.

Because the truth is, there is no perfect church. The church is a people. And as long as people sin, people make a mess of things — including the gathering together of the body of Christ. Some churches are better at loving and serving people. Some are better at putting together a well-ordered worship service. Some are better at singing or preaching or serving their community — but no church is perfect because people are not perfect.

The poster-child for messed-up churches is the church in Corinth. Reading though the Apostle Paul’s two letters to the Corinthians reveals that their church was riddled with division, sexual immorality, lawsuits against each other, idolatry, false teaching, and all kinds of sin.

And yet, in 1 Corinthians 1:2 Paul describes the church as “those sanctified in Christ Jesus.” Despite all their sin and every vile thing they were doing, Paul addressed them as a people made holy—set apart—in Christ. He affirmed that as the church, they were “called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus.” They were saints, too, along with the Galatians, the Colossians, and even the Philippians, Paul’s favorite church. The Corinthian church, with all its problems, was identified with all other believers in the Lord, and in no way was it seen as inferior or second-rate because of the many issues in the church. Paul rebuked them for many of the things they were doing, and he had strong words for them — but he also boasted about them (2 Cor 9:2) and wrote to them, “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls” (2 Cor 12:15). 

As far as the east is from the west, the Corinthians were from the perfect church — but they were saints. They were sanctified in Christ, and Paul loved them dearly. Today the Church (and every local church that comprises it) is no different. Division. Immorality. False teaching. Idolatry. No church is perfect. In fact, most churches are just plain messed up — and still, we should love it.

And while often the church is not pretty either, still we’re encouraged to love our brothers and sisters through their mess because Jesus loves the church.

We don't love the sin. We don't love the heartache and the strife and the brokenness. But we love the church. Because the church is a people. We love the church because Jesus loves the church. He died for the church and one day he’ll return for the church. It’s a great mystery but the church is the body of Christ, so don't ever believe anyone if they tell you they love Jesus, but not the church. If you think that’s possible, try it out sometime. Tell someone close to you that you love them as a person, but you don't love their body. See what kind of response you get. Hint: it won’t be pretty.

And while often the church is not pretty either, still we’re encouraged to love our brothers and sisters through their mess because Jesus loves the church. He gave himself up for her (Eph 5:25). Paul loved the church, and if he could have great pride even in the church at Corinth (2 Cor 7:4), we can have pride in the Church as well, flawed and imperfect as it may be. So stop looking for a perfect church. Let’s look at a perfect Christ, roll up our sleeves, and love the imperfect church.

 

REFLECTION

Why do we lament and stress about messiness in our churches? We know everyone sins—including ourselves. Why are we surprised by it?

The sin of the Corinthian church is well-documented. Considering all their sin, how can Paul speak so highly of them at times?

What comfort is there in reading of Paul’s affection for such a messed up church as the one in Corinth? What comfort is there in Paul’s calling them sanctified, and saints together with other believers?

What is one practical way to “love the church”? (Remember, church is a people.)

For further reflection, read 1 Corinthians 1:1-9.