white lifted cross against a black background

In Christ Alone

The 11 disciples traveled to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had directed them. When they saw Him, they worshiped, but some doubted. Then Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:16 – 20

This should be the basis of every Christian’s faith, conduct, and attitudes — that Jesus Christ has all authority in our lives. This is our foundation and our goal. We should build on Christ alone, and we should be striving to live like Christ alone. Everything we say, do, study, or meditate on should go through the filter of Christ; is it drawing me closer to Him, or is it pushing Him aside?

When we put Christ foremost in our faith, all other labels fall away. Too often we become like the Christians of 1 Corinthians 1, allowing worldly loyalties and causes to come between us and Christ, us and one another. This should never be. We are not the Christian Right; we are not the Christian Left. We are not defined by political allegiances, ecumenical creeds, secular identities, or celebrity preachers. We are Christ’s alone, and we cannot supplant Him with any other influences or alliances.

Christ Through His Apostles

So what does this mean for the words of the apostles? Do we reject the writings of Peter, Paul, and His other disciples because they are not the actual words of Christ? John 16:5–15 records Jesus promising His apostles the Spirit of truth who would guide them in truth, declare what is to come, and glorify Christ. I believe this is what Paul is talking about in Galatians 1:11–12 when he says:

Now I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel preached by me is not based on human thought. For I did not receive it from a human source and I was not taught it, but it came by a revelation from Jesus Christ.

That revelation comes through the Spirit that Christ promised His apostles. Paul and the other apostolic authors wrote by the authority of Christ; they give us all truth as promised through that Spirit. Believing the words of the apostles is believing the words of Christ. They are inseparable. Accepting the words of the apostles is accepting Christ; rejecting them rejects Christ.

Christ Through Other Christians

What about others like Max Lucado, Franklin Graham, or even Martin Luther? John has this to say about how we should view the words of others, and I include myself in this:

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to determine if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit who confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God. But every spirit who does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist; you have heard that he is coming, and he is already in the world now.

You are from God, little children, and you have conquered them, because the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world. Therefore what they say is from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Anyone who knows God listens to us; anyone who is not from God does not listen to us. From this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of deception.

1 John 4:1–6

When someone else proclaims to speak for Christ, do their words and conduct line up with what we see in Jesus Christ? If they harmonize with Christ and His apostles, then they are worth listening to. If they contradict Christ in any way, then they are not of Him. Paul has a sterner warning in Galatians 1:8–9, going so far as to say that any angel from Heaven that contradicts Christ should be rejected.

And I expect you to hold me to that same standard. My goal here is to write about things that will help Christians get closer to Christ and non-Christians discover Christ. If my foundation is in anything but Christ alone, then my words are empty.

Putting Your Faith In Christ Alone

All of this requires study and self-examination. James 1:22 – 25 compares studying Christ’s law to looking into a mirror. We should be able to see ourselves in the words of Christ and His apostles. We should be able to see where we are growing, where we struggle, what we accept, and what we reject. Putting our faith in Christ alone requires that we look into that mirror with self-honesty and then change accordingly. We should always be changing to be more like Him, to do what He wants of us, to share Him with others. Being in Christ alone means we sacrifice self to submit entirely to Him, and we expel anything from our lives that make us put our hope and faith elsewhere.

My faith is in Christ alone. He is my light, my strength, my song. Won’t you let Him be the same for you?

Photo by Orkhan Farmanli on Unsplash

“In Christ Alone,” song written by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend

Betrayed By a Kiss

Brian Zahnd: Betrayed By a Kiss

What was Judas trying to do and why did he betray Jesus with a kiss? Was Judas trying to force Jesus’ hand — trying to push him out of his Sermon on the Mount ethics of enemy-love? Was Judas was trying to force Jesus to resort to violence and start the war for Jewish independence? I think so. The reason Judas greeted Jesus with the customary kiss (which was also a covert sign), is that Judas didn’t so much want to betray Jesus as he wanted manipulate Jesus. Judas wanted to manipulate Jesus into launching a violent revolution. Judas wanted to remain a part of the inner-circle of disciples following a now violent Jesus. Judas acted like he was still a faithful disciple, because Judas wanted to be a faithful disciple — but only on his own terms. Judas didn’t want to betray Jesus, he wanted to control Jesus. Judas wanted Jesus to be Messiah in a certain way: Violent.

So what does it mean to betray Jesus with a kiss? It means trying to manipulate Jesus to our way of thinking. It means trying to control Jesus for our own agenda. When we try to get Jesus to step outside of his own ethics of enemy-love in order to fight our battles, wage our wars, and kill our enemies, we have betrayed Jesus. Of course we do it while claiming to love Jesus as our Lord and Savior. In other words, we betray Jesus…with a kiss.

I meant to link to this weeks ago. While I confess that brother Zahnd makes a couple of educated suppositions in this article, I think he nails what made it so hard for so many first century Jews to accept Jesus as Savior. They were looking for something else. Too often, we also try to cast God in our own image while claiming piety and devotion. We cannot let our own interests, opinions, or fears make us try to mold Jesus into something other than what He is. When we do so, we betray Him.

Sell Your Cloak to Buy a Sword

Radically Christian: Luke 22:36 Re-Examined: Sell Your Cloak to Buy a Sword

As soon as they finished the discussion about the swords, they went to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed and where a group of armed soldiers came to arrest Him. When the apostles saw that Jesus was about to be arrested, they asked, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” (vs 49). Without waiting for an answer, an apostle drew a sword and blood was spilled.

The servant of the high priest had his ear cut off and he was standing there bleeding. Jesus intervened, saying, “‘No more of this!‘ And he touched his ear and healed him” (vs. 51). Read those words of Jesus again, “No more of this.” No more fighting. No more bloodshed. In Matthew’s account, Jesus makes a more general statement, “All who take the sword will perish by the sword”(Matthew 26:52).

Then Jesus asked the leaders of the Jews an important question, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs?” (vs. 52). In other words, you’ve come out here with weapons as if I was some sort of violent criminal.

The swords had served their purpose. For those who chose to see Jesus as a criminal leader, a couple of swords amongst twelve men was enough for them to say, “See! He’s a criminal.” But those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, know Jesus was not a man of violence nor a criminal. He was the One healing the pain caused by violence, saying, “No more of this.”

This is a challenging passage, but it’s pretty clear in the context that Jesus is not condoning violence in any way. To use this passage to justify violence ignores the context entirely.

The Word Became Flesh

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo - The_Nativity: Painting depicting Mary, Joseph, and the newborn Jesus

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. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

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 bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.'”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

John 1:1 – 18

Oftentimes, we speak of Jesus birth and life on this world as if they are secondary to His death and resurrection. There’s no question that Jesus’s death and resurrection is the culmination of everything the Old Testament prophets looked forward to, and it opened the way to salvation for all. I John 2:2 calls Jesus the propitiation for our sins; Hebrews 9:12 says that Jesus entered the most holy place by means of His own sacrifice; and Jesus Himself says, addressing the mob that came to capture Him in the Garden, “All this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled,” in Matthew 26:56.

There’s no question in my mind that Jesus’s crucifixion was intentional, divinely planned, and the dawn of a new covenant between God and His creation. But He could not die as one of us without first living among us, and that life teaches us much about who God is and who we should be. His life demonstrates to us what it is to be Christian. I Peter 1:16 states that we should be holy as our God is holy. Jesus’s life exemplifies what that means. He gives us the template after which we should pattern our own lives. His death gives us hope, and His life gives us purpose.

Philippians 2:5 – 8 illustrates this fact beautifully:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

We serve a Savior who humbled Himself to live a human life. We have a God who became a servant. We have a Messiah who suffered as we do; who faced temptations as we do; who felt the same joys and sorrows we feel. In doing so, He showed us what it means to be Christ-like in our own lives. As Hebrews 4:14 – 15 says, we have a High Priest who can sympathize with our challenges and our weaknesses, which allows us to approach His throne with confidence in our times of need.

While many of us recognize that December 25 was almost certainly not Jesus’s birthday and that the only event we’re commanded to memorialize is His death, may we never minimize the importance of His birth and life simply to counter popular culture.

Jesus could not have died had He not first lived among us. For that, He had to be born as Immanuel — God With Us. He had to fulfill prophecy that He would be born to a virgin, to the tribe of Judah, in the town of Bethlehem. May we live to glorify our Savior by taking hope in His birth, honoring and finding purpose in His life, and then living for the hope His death provides us. May we always glorify, honor, and magnify the Word that became flesh.

Laying Down Our Swords

verrière de la Passion du Christ. Saint-Pierre tranchant l'oreille de Malchus. Illustrates Peter drawing his sword in the garden.

Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”

John 18:10 – 11

And when those who were around Him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him.

Luke 22:49 – 51

And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?”

Matthew 26:51 – 54

Two Swords and the Apostles

Every gospel gives account that one of the apostles, identified as Peter in the gospel of John, attacks with a sword one of those who comes to seize Jesus. Each account save one also records Jesus rebuking Peter for his actions, and two record Jesus healing Peter’s victim. Here, Peter is fulfilling his promise from Matthew 26:35, expressing his willingness to die beside Jesus; but the problem is that Peter isn’t really willing to die for Christ here. He’s willing to kill, which is something far different.

In Luke 22:35 – 38, Jesus tells his apostles that a time will come where they will want to gather supplies, collect their savings, and arm themselves. He says this in contrast to how they had previously gone to evangelize Jesus with no defenses or supplies. At that time, they trusted in Jesus. Here, He foretells that they will lose their trust in Him and again trust in the things of this world. This would come true that very night.

After Jesus says these things to them, the apostles point out two swords, to which Jesus replies, “It is enough,” or, “That’s enough!” depending on translation. There are a lot of takes on what Jesus means here; whether He approves of them taking the swords, or He says it sarcastically since two swords would clearly not be enough for all of them, or it is an expression that the matter is closed. I lean toward the latter, for it seems that this is yet another occasion where Jesus is trying to show them something deeper about events to come, and they just don’t get it.

The Sword in the Garden

However Jesus meant this final phrase before departing for the garden, at least one of those swords come along, carried by Peter. Peter carries the sword; unsheathes the sword; uses the sword; and Jesus rebukes him for it. John and Luke record very short reprimands, basically telling Peter to stand down and let Jesus fulfill prophecy. Matthew contains a longer rebuke, with Jesus telling Peter that those who live by the sword shall also die by it, and that He is more than capable of calling down legions of angels to defend Him if He really needed it.

The second century theologian Tertullian had this to say about the account:

For albeit soldiers had come unto John, and had received the formula of their rule; albeit, likewise, a centurion had believed; still the Lord afterward, in disarming Peter, unbelted every soldier. No dress is lawful among us, if assigned to any unlawful action.

Tertullian asserts (rightly, I believe) that Jesus’s words to Peter affect us all; that, like Peter, we are also to lay down violence as a tool and choose a different way. Peter brought a sword into the garden so that Jesus could teach him, and us through him, what it is to reject violence as a method of defending Christ or His kingdom.

But the Conquest of Canaan…

How do we reconcile this with the bloodshed of the Old Testament? God established Israel by force; He defended Israel by force; and, when necessary, He punished Israel by force. David, a man after God’s own heart, slew numerous enemies (yet, according to I Chronicles 28:3, David would not build the temple because of the blood on his hands). So how does God defending His kingdom by physical violence in the Old Testament translate to the new kingdom of the church being nonviolent in nature?

Several months ago, I wrote about the different laws contained in the Bible, how each is separate and distinct, and how keeping a statement or command in the context of the covenant in which it was given is important to harmonizing and understanding God’s word. Without rehashing that whole post here, I believe the differences between the Old Testament and New are intentional, and they show us a better way.

Hebrews 8:3 – 7 says this about the transition from old to new:

Every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. Now if He were on earth, He would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.” But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant He mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.

The Hebrew writer calls the Old Covenant a “shadow of the heavenly things.” It’s not the reality; it’s a representation of reality. Christ is the reality, and He brings us a better way. He oversees a kingdom, not defined by geopolitical borders, ethnicity, or economics; rather His kingdom is a boundless spiritual kingdom. That means our warfare is not physical but instead spiritual.

Take Up a Spiritual Sword

Paul explains our conflict this way in Ephesians 6:12:

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

He goes from here to describe the armor and defenses of God, and one of these defenses is indeed a sword. He calls it the Sword of the Spirit, which he defines as God’s word. That is our defense in our spiritual battles; that is where we place our trust rather than in physical weapons and strength. This is the lesson the apostles had a hard time comprehending, and this is where Peter failed in the garden. He trusted more in his sword than he did in God’s plan.

We need to learn the lesson of Peter. Christ’s church is not here to wage wars against other peoples. It is not here to be a superpower. It is not here to conquer lands. Instead, we are to wage war against sin and the death it brings; we are lifted up when we humble ourselves; and we conquer hearts and minds with the sword of truth. We do not take prisoners. Rather, we convert souls. As God’s people, we need to stop giving in to the allure of physical power and the violence it brings. Instead, we should lay down our swords and completely give our trust over to the Prince of Peace.

Yes, we should be willing to die for Christ, but we should never be willing to kill. The only death a Christian should be responsible for is death to self so that Christ can live in us.

You Are Special

We’ve all had people in our lives who we know care about us. They have helped us become who we are. They want us to do well in our lives, and they’ve had gone out of their way to be a positive force in our lives. Can you think of someone like that in your own life? Who makes you feel that you are special to them? Just take a few seconds, and think on that person right now.

What a wonderful feeling to know that someone out there loves and cherishes you, that someone always wants what’s best for you. Thinking about this, take a look at John 10:1-5.

Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.

Have you ever thought about how special you are to our Shepherd? He wants to protect you, to guide you. He knows you by name. Of the roughly seven billion people on our world, Jesus knows you individually. He cares about you as an individual. Just as we all have people in our lives who take a vested interest in our health and happiness, we have a Savior who is personally vested in each and every one of us.

He calls us to Him. He calls us by name. He cares about us, and we are special to Him. Let’s then live our lives in such a way that others know He is special to us.