What Are We Waiting For?


One of the wisest Christian men I have ever known was my uncle Manuel. He once told me, “When God repeats Himself in the Bible, He means for you to pay special attention!” I have never forgotten this, and always try to see where God “repeats Himself.” One of the best examples of this is the Great Commission. The Great Commission is so important, Jesus gave it to us five times – Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:45-47; John 20:21; Acts 1:8. The Great Commission identifies our place in God’s plan: making Christ known to the nations.

            The apostles in Acts 1:8 could not fulfill the Great Commission right away; they had to wait on the promise of the Holy Spirit. Jesus had promised that the Holy Spirit would empower the apostles to be witness in John 16:13-14: “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you.” Again in John 15:26-27:  “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning” (ESV). Once the apostles received the power (dunamis) of the Holy Spirit, they will be witnesses (martus) for Him according to the three-phase plan He has given them.
            We, however, do not have to wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit for He is already present with believers. There is nothing withholding us from fulfilling the Great Commission in obedience to Jesus’ commands. There is no excuse for following the example of the servant in Luke 19:11-27 who buried his responsibility; we are to invest the Gospel with our neighbors and the nations that God might gain an increase. Today, we need only to become willing, useful, and obedient. We are called to sow the Gospel and reap the souls of men.
Although the apostles had to wait for the Holy Spirit, they obeyed what they could of Jesus commands; they went to Jerusalem to wait for empowerment through the Holy Spirit. Once He arrived, they followed the plan Jesus laid out in Acts 1:8: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (ESV).  His plan is still practical and possible today; we begin with Jerusalem (local, our home), then spread out to Judea and Samaria (regional, national), and then onward to the end of the earth (international). Did you know:
  • there are 1.365 billion people who have no access to the Gospel?
  • of the 6,800 various languages, 5,900 have no written Bible?
  • 86% of the world’s Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists do not know a Christian?
  • for more information visit joshuaproject.net or unreachedpeoplegroups.org
Every church has a responsibility to fulfill this command in some way. We should evangelize our local communities personally, volunteer for short-term mission trips, be open to God’s call to long-term missions, and give regularly to missionaries and missionary groups. What are we waiting for? 

The Reward for Endurance 2 Timothy 2:1-13



Do you know anyone who has left the ministry? I recently read a statistic that said 1800 pastors leave the ministry every month. One major reason for this is discouragement. Many of us have even been discouraged to the point that we have thought about quitting. Some of the greatest leaders in the Bible have been at this point. In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, there are several indications that Timothy is discouraged and experiencing what we call “ministry burnout” (1:6-8, 13-14, 2:1). Paul on the other hand, is near the end of his life of ministry. He is writing from his second Roman imprisonment (A.D. 67) and is facing death at the hand of Emperor Nero (4:6-8). It is in this context that Paul, as Timothy’s mentor, sends his final words of encouragement to the young pastor. In 2:1-13, Paul charges Timothy to endure in the ministry.
            After exhorting Timothy to be strong and to train new teachers in the church (vs. 1-2), Paul gives Timothy three models for ministry (vs. 3-7). The first model is the soldier’s purpose. Soldiers possess a singular commitment to the battle or assignment at hand. The minister of the Gospel must also be solely committed to his purpose. The second model is the athlete’s principle. No matter how well-trained or talented the athlete is, he must play by the rules or be disqualified. Like an athlete, the minister must not “take shortcuts” or disobey God’s rules if he is to succeed. The last model is the farmer’s productivity. Through hard work and commitment, the farmer is able to eventually enjoy the yield of his crops. All of these models show long-term, serious commitment to a cause. Paul wanted Timothy to meditate on these truths (vs. 7) because this is the type of commitment required in the ministry.
            Paul then gives Timothy the ultimate motivation for ministry: making Christ known to others (vs. 8-10). He provides his sufferings as an example to Timothy of endurance for the sake of preaching Christ. While writing this letter, Paul was in a cold prison cell (4:13), in chains (2:9), expecting execution (4:6), and abandoned by his close friends (1:15; 4:9-12, 16). Paul was motivated to endure this intense suffering in order to bring others to salvation in Christ (vs. 10).  The minister of the Gospel can never justify giving up because of Romans 10:14, “how shall they hear without a preacher?”
            Paul then gives Timothy a glorious motto for ministry (vs. 11-13). This saying includes four promises concerning our commitment to Christ. First, those who have crucified themselves with Christ (Gal. 5:24) will also live with Christ in heaven. Paul is speaking here of the spiritual death of the old nature at salvation.  Second, true believers who endure suffering for Christ will reign with him in his kingdom (Matt. 19:27-28). Our earthly sufferings cannot compare to the heavenly glory awaiting us (Romans 8:18). Third, false believers who eventually deny Christ will be denied by Christ. Finally, Christ is faithful even when we are not. Christ’s love and mercy remains extended even in our weakest moments. These are comforting words for a struggling servant.
            Ministry is a hard road; we know this up front. Jesus calls us to take up a cross, not an easy chair. In addition to the difficult nature of Christian service, Satan and his minions are hard at work to discourage and immobilize Christian workers. Following the wisdom of Jesus, we should “count the cost” of serving Christ and then; obey the models of ministry, remember the motivation of ministry, and rejoice in the motto of ministry. Ministry is a marathon, not a sprint, so “let us run with endurance the race that lies before us” (Hebrews 12:2). 
This post was originally published in the Baptist & Reflector, February 20, 2013.

The Practice of Godliness Titus 3:1-9



 Imagine a black cat in a field covered with snow, a diamond against black cloth, or the light from your cell phone in a dark room. Now imagine that black cat in a dark alley, that diamond in a pile of broken glass, and your cell phone on a sunny day. All of those things can either be highly prominent or nearly invisible depending on their surroundings. The proper contrast gives visibility to the most common things. The same is true of the Christian life. In a dark and dirty culture, it is extremely important that Christians “shine as lights in the world” by displaying godliness (Philippians 2:15). This is true in our culture and it was true in ancient Crete where Titus was a pastor. Titus was left on the Mediterranean island of Crete to lead the church that had been birthed there through Paul’s ministry (1:5), just as Timothy had been left to continue the work at Ephesus (1 Tim. 1:3). The Cretians had been described as liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” (Titus 1:12). As a result of this stereotype, it was vitally important that the Cretian Christians live godly lives in order to effectively evangelize their neighbors. In Paul’s letter to Titus, he instructs the young pastor to teach the Cretians to live in contrast to their culture (3:1-9).
            Paul identifies three specific attitudes necessary to a lifestyle of godliness (vs. 1-2). He begins with the proper Christian attitude toward authority. Christians are to be submissive and obedient to rulers. This doesn’t mean we always agree with them or condone sinful decisions, but that we trust God to judge those who lead and we trust His election of authority (Romans 13:1-7). Second, we are to be “ready for every good work.” This implies eagerness and action that is contrasted with the Cretian stereotype, “lazy gluttons” (1:12). Christians are to be productive and industrious, especially where ministry is involved. Finally, we maintain good personal relationships by avoiding malicious gossip and fighting and instead showing kindness and gentleness to everyone (vs. 2).
            Paul then affirms that godliness is the result of God’s grace toward us (vs. 3-7). After instructing us to show kindness and gentleness to others, Paul reminds us that we once lived a lifestyle of sin and grieved God as others now grieve us. In spite of our sins, Christ “appeared” (vs. 4, Heb. 9:26) to extend mercy and forgiveness to us through his vicarious death on the cross. Our salvation is completely a work of grace through which we are washed, reborn, and made new by the Holy Spirit (vs. 5). On the basis of Christ’s death for us, we are justified, or declared righteous, and become heirs with Christ of all that is his (vs. 7). If God has shown us this measure of grace, we ought to extend that grace to others through a lifestyle of godliness.
            Although godliness is commanded of Christians, we ought to joyfully pursue it because of its benefits. Rather than engage in unproductive religious activity such as debates and arguments (vs. 9), we should put into practice what we already know and live the truth we believe. Godliness strengthens our Christian testimony, enhances our relationships, and reflects God’s grace to others. Like exercise to the human body, godliness strengthens our spiritual life, and it also yields eternal reward in heaven (1 Timothy 4:7-8).  The congregation at Crete needed to live in contrast to the culture with which they were identified. This is true of the church today. Our transformed lives are the greatest apologetic we possess. We need to couple our outspoken witness with an outstanding walk in order to win our world for Christ.

This post was originally published in the Baptist & Reflector, February 12, 2013.

The Character of Leadership 1 Timothy 3:1-15



WANTED: Christian leaders and teachers! Must have church membership and a pulse! Does this sound familiar? Too often in ministry we find ourselves shorthanded when it comes to responsible leaders. We have positions to fill and not enough qualified leaders to fill them. As a result, we enlist unqualified volunteers hoping for the best and then we find ourselves disappointed. Timothy was a young pastor at Ephesus who probably faced this same ministry challenge. His mentor, the apostle Paul, gave him some key characteristics to look for in potential leaders in 1 Timothy 3:1-15. Paul deals specifically with pastors and deacons in this passage, but these qualifications are a must for anyone in Christian leadership. These characteristics deal with three areas of a leader’s life: his character, competence, and creed.
A leader’s character must be “blameless” and “respectable” (vs. 2, 8). A leader must take every measure to protect his integrity and never give away influence. The reason for this is to avoid falling into “disgrace” and “a snare of the devil” (vs. 7). We lose influence when we lose integrity. How many leaders have been destroyed because a scandal destroyed their influence? Paul warns of some common character flaws that endanger our integrity: sexual sin, self-indulgence, greed, anger, and hypocrisy (vs. 2-8). Nearly all leadership failings stem from these character flaws. Many may disagree with our theology, but a true leader will never give others a valid reason to question his integrity or ethics.
A Christian leader must also be a competent leader who is “sensible” (vs. 2). Someone who is sensible has their priorities straight, is disciplined, and is serious about their responsibility. An unorganized, unprepared person who is flippant about their duties does not need to be given spiritual responsibilities. A Christian leader must be “able to teach.” It is not enough to know God’s Word personally; we must be able to communicate it to others so they understand it. Some aspects of competent leadership must be developed over time, such as the ability to wield leadership with humility (vs. 6). This is why young Christians should not be placed in leadership roles immediately (vs. 6, 10). We must follow before we can lead. One great indicator of leadership competence for an adult is the status in their home. An irresponsible spouse or parent will make an irresponsible leader (vs. 4, 5, 12). Individuals who don’t display competence in secular matters won’t be competent with spiritual matters either (Luke 16:10, 11).
A leader must be committed to some type of creed; in our case that creed is the Bible. Christian leaders must hold “the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience” (vs. 9). What is the mystery of faith? “[God] was manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory” (vs. 16). If a leader cannot affirm the doctrines of Christianity, he is certainly not eligible for Christian leadership. Leaders in a local church should be familiar with the church’s doctrinal statement to insure clear communication on what type of teaching is expected. We cannot compromise our convictions especially where leadership is concerned.
I recently heard a Christian speaker say that we recruit 95% of our problems. Perhaps this is true. It is not enough to simply desire to be a leader (vs. 1), but one must possess godly leadership abilities and ethics. Paul gave this list of leadership qualities to help the church identify those ready to lead and to help leaders to stay on track (vs. 15). We need to intentionally develop these traits in others in order to raise up capable leaders in our churches. If we discard this vital checklist from our leader training and enlisting process, we are ignoring the God of order and inviting chaos into our midst.
This post was originally published in the Baptist & Reflector, February 5, 2013.

The Truth of the Gospel: 1 Timothy 1:1-20


We live in an age where the truth of the Gospel is constantly challenged. The exclusive nature of the Gospel and the righteous commands of God make our message unpalatable to most. As a result, a more agreeable alternative to biblical Christianity is often sought. This is nothing new. Paul constantly countered the arguments of false teachers during his ministry. Timothy was a young pastor who Paul had placed at Ephesus to lead the church and to deal with problems emerging there (vs. 3). In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he charges him to teach the truth and prevent false teachings from invading the church.
Paul says many at Ephesus had turned from the truth to empty debates brought on by false teaching (vs. 5-7). These individuals wanted to become teachers of the law like Jewish rabbis, but didn’t even understand what they claim to believe. Their teaching consisted of myths and genealogies loosely based on elements of Judaism (vs. 3, 4). The end result was a legalistic heresy that offered salvation by works. While the law serves a legitimate purpose in the New Testament, it is not a means of salvation. We are saved by God’s grace, not our works (Ephesians 2:8, 9). Paul tells Timothy to guard against this teaching because it is powerless to transform lives or produce genuine faith (vs. 4, 6).
Unlike the empty message of the false teachers, the Gospel of Jesus Christ has life-changing power. Paul is an example of radical Christian conversion. He had been a “blasphemer, a persecutor, and an arrogant man.” His life prior to Christ was committed to defending Judaism and destroying Christianity (Philippians 3:4-6), but God had chosen him to be a minister of the Gospel (Acts 9:15). Paul’s conversion perfectly demonstrates the authentic change that takes place through salvation, “he is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17) Jesus extends mercy to the worst of sinners and transforms them into trophies of God’s grace. In verse fifteen, Paul encapsulates the mission of Christ in a short statement, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” The integrity of the Gospel is eternally important because it is only through Jesus that we can be saved and transformed (Acts 4:12).
Paul illustrates and explains the “shipwreck” of apostasy with the story of two Christian teachers who fell into heresy: Hymenaeus and Alexander. Paul says the cause of their error was their abandonment of “faith and a good conscience” (vs. 19). They began as superficially convincing Christians, but ended up with a doubting heart and a dirty conscience. They failed to believe the Gospel and they failed to obey the Gospel. Rather than change their lives to align with the truth, they modified the message to fit their lives. The result was poisonous and they were excommunicated in order to preserve the unity and integrity of the church (vs. 20). Paul uses this tragic example to demonstrate that faith and a good conscience are indispensable traits for the Christian.
There are opponents to the Gospel who would do away with it entirely. Then, there are those who would like to take the more agreeable points of Christianity, but leave out the more controversial elements. The problem with that approach is that a partial Gospel is a powerless Gospel. From the garden of Eden to the garden tomb; from creation ex nihilo to the consummation of the age, there is not one element of the Gospel that is dispensable. This is why we must “earnestly contend for the faith” (Jude 3) and “fight the good fight” in the face of opposition and false teachers (vs. 18). We must disregard the sinister suggestions of the slithering serpent, and echo the words Jesus prayed only hours before his crucifixion, “Thy word is truth” (John 17:17). 
This post was originally published in the Baptist & Reflector, January 29, 2013.

What Can a Christian Learn From a Crook?


            Luke 16:1-8 contains what is perhaps one of the strangest parables Jesus ever gave, the parable of the dishonest manager. Jesus uses this story about a man who steals from his employer to teach us something about the kingdom of God and our responsibilities.

           The man was a hired steward, or manager, and his job was to manage his employer’s estate and finances. His employer received an accusation that he was “wasting” his assets. The employer then calls the manager in and orders him to give a final accounting of his work before he fires him. The manager knows he has been caught and exposure like this would ruin his reputation to the point that no one would hire him, so he seizes a small window of opportunity to save his own skin. He calls in everyone who owes his employer money, and he cuts them a sweet deal. He cuts the first man’s debt in half, and gives another man a twenty percent reduction! His motive is to get on the good side of his master’s debtors so they will hire him when he is fired. This is shrewd thinking. Dishonest, but shrewd. Then the unexpected happens, his employer finds out what he has done and commends him. Why would he praise the man who is stealing from him? The master realized that even though his manager was dishonest, he was a shrewd businessman and he would be better off having him working for him than for a competitor.

         The man didn’t repent of his dishonesty; he actually added more dishonesty to it. He wasn’t sorry for his sin, he was sorry he got caught. Why would Jesus use this despicable man as an example to his followers? He tells us why in verse 8, “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” Jesus says that the world works harder and smarter in the business realm than the church does in the kingdom of God. While this dishonest manager is a poor moral example, he possesses some exemplary traits as a manager. We as managers of God’s assets ought to perk up and take notice.

  • He was prudent

He had discretion that helped him use situations for good. Where most would have panicked, he saw a bad situation as a small window of opportunity. “The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it.” (Proverbs 27:12). We need to use godly wisdom and discretion to act productively in difficult situations.

  • He was progressive

Rather than pining over past failures, he cut his losses and moved forward. Many people are immobilized by their past failures and even successes to the point that they never move onward from today. Paul was progressive for Christ, “Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14).

  • He was proactive

He acted in advance of problems. He didn’t wait until he was on the street to wonder what he was going to do, he acted in advance. Much of what we do in ministry is a knee-jerk reaction to problems. Rather than being proactive, we wait until there is an emergency and we spend all our time putting out small fires. 

  • He was purposeful

Rather than leave his future to chance, he acted “on purpose” to secure income for tomorrow. He had a goal – future financial security – and he acted in ways to meet that goal. Paul was purposeful in his evangelism strategy (Romans 15:20-21). If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.

  • He was a planner

When he was caught in a bad situation, he immediately began thinking of how he could act today in order to better himself tomorrow. He maintained his composure and developed a practical (though dishonest) plan for the future. “The plans of the diligent certainly lead to profit, but anyone who is reckless certainly becomes poor.” (Proverbs 21:5). We see a great deal of godly planning in the Scriptures. Jesus even gave us a plan for evangelism (Acts 1:8). To fail to plan is to plan to fail.

          The employer did not praise his manager because he was honest, trustworthy, or responsible. He praised him because he was shrewd. He had practical business sense and discretion which were valuable qualities in the business world. Jesus used this example to show us that the world is better at their business than we are at ours. If there’s a dollar to be made, people bring their best to the table; but when there are eternal souls in the balance, we settle for mediocrity. This manager used all of his savvy and abilities to secure his future, what are we doing to secure the future of the Kingdom of God? We are God’s managers (1 Corinthians 4:1, 2), let’s not be outdone by those who only manage earthly assets. 

Jesus Our Shepherd


           Have you ever considered the significance of the different titles for Jesus? There are many names by which Jesus is identified. He is called King and Priest, Lion and Lamb, Lord and Servant to name a few. Many of these titles even seem to conflict with each other. How can a powerful, majestic lion also be a meek and vulnerable lamb? How can a sovereign king also be a suffering servant? These titles do not contradict each other, but rather give us a complete picture of who Jesus was and is. In the Gospel of John, Jesus identifies himself with seven different “I am” statements, with each one providing a different truth about who Jesus is to us and what he does for us (6:35; 8:12; 10:9; 11; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1). In this passage we find two of these “I am” statements. Jesus tells us that he is the door and he is the good shepherd. These two titles give us a complete view of our Shepherd’s care for us. 

             Jesus says that he is “the door of the sheep.” Contrasted with the “thieves and robbers” who desire to kill the sheep (vs. 10), Jesus offers abundant life to them. This abundant life is identified by three specific blessings in verse nine. The first blessing provided by the door is entrance into the fold. The only way to be in the fold, is to enter by Jesus, “…I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). The second blessing of the door is security. The sheep that enters by the door “will be saved.” Our salvation is not dependent on our performance, but on His protection. The third blessing provided by the door is provision. The sheep “will go in and out and find pasture.” Not only are the sheep safe and secure, but the sheep are satisfied. Jesus is our provider as well as our protector.

            Jesus also says that he is “the good shepherd.” Notice Jesus is not an ordinary shepherd; he is the “good” shepherd. As the good shepherd, Jesus shows his personal care for us. We see this first in the sacrifice of the shepherd. Jesus is the only shepherd who gives his life for the sheep (Heb. 13:20). Unlike the hireling who abandons the sheep at the first sign of danger (vs. 12), Jesus died for us that we might have the abundant life mentioned in verse eleven. Also we see the personal care of Jesus in the fellowship of the shepherd. Jesus said “I know my sheep, and am known by My own.” We have a personal relationship with our Shepherd that is unique and intimate (1 John 1:3). Finally, we see the personal care of Jesus in the leadership of the shepherd. Jesus said he would bring other sheep into this fold and all would be under the leadership of one shepherd (vs. 16). This refers to the salvation of the Gentiles and their inclusion in the Kingdom (Ephesians 2:11-22). The good shepherd leads his sheep with his voice and his example (vs. 3-5). 

            The “thieves and robbers” Jesus mentioned did not care for the well-being of the sheep, but rather had selfish motives and desired to steal and slaughter the sheep. The “hireling” cared for the sheep as long as it was in his best interests to do so, but when the wolves appeared he disappeared because he had no personal connection with the sheep. Jesus used these titles to describe the false teachers and religious leaders of his day. Jesus stands in bright contrast to them. He gave his very life for our salvation. He is our Sovereign, our Savior, and our Shepherd. 
This post was originally published in the Baptist & Reflector, December 24, 2012.

Yahweh Our Righteousness


            In the midst of his trials, Job asked a question that ought to resonate within the heart of every individual, “…how can a man be righteous before God?” (Job 9:2). Job was a godly man and had defended himself against the false accusations of his friends, but he knew that his righteousness was nothing compared to the righteousness of God. All of our works and morality may be impressive when compared to other fallen men and women, but cannot begin to meet the standards of Yahweh our God. The good news, however, is that God doesn’t simply leave us in our fallen, guilty state. The same God who demands righteousness also provides righteousness through Jesus Christ.
Romans 3:21-22 teaches us that God revealed His righteousness in Jesus Christ. Jesus displayed this perfect righteousness by fulfilling the Law and the Prophets. Jesus fulfilled the moral demands of the Law with His sinless life, He fulfilled the judicial demands of the Law by his sacrificial death, and He fulfilled the ceremonial demands of the Law by his supreme nature; Jesus is the high priest, the perfect sacrifice, and the true temple. Where men had failed to keep God’s Law, Jesus prevailed and now provides His righteousness for us. No wonder the Messiah is called “Yahweh our Righteousness” (Jer. 23:5-6); He is our God and our Savior!
            In Romans 3:22-23 we discover that anyone can receive this gift of righteousness and everyone needs it, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” No matter how clean our lives may appear to other people, each and every one of us has “missed the mark” of God’s righteousness. Like the Babylonian ruler, Belshazzar, we “have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting” (Dan. 6:27). Paul had a shining record according to the law prior to his conversion, but he recognized that he was spiritually and eternally bankrupt without the righteousness that Christ gives (Philippians 3:4-9). No person is so good that he doesn’t need Christ, and none is so wicked that he can’t receive Him.
Perhaps the most wonderful thing about the gift of righteousness to sinners is the way it is provided. Jesus is the possessor of righteousness and He is the provider of righteousness, but He is also the propitiation for our sins. The fact that Jesus is our propitiation means that He is the means through which we are forgiven. Salvation and righteousness did not come without a cost; in order for us to receive His righteousness, Christ had to receive the punishment for our sins. “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). There could be no justification for us without the sinless sacrifice of Jesus in our place.
In our busy, task-oriented society we are often evaluated by other people for our works and productivity, but we need to remember that while God rewards us for our performance, He accepts us based on the righteousness of Jesus Christ alone. Many of the Israelites rejected Christ because they were depending on a works-based righteousness which is totally incapable of justifying us before God (Rom. 10:1-4). In contrast, Abraham, the father of the Israelites was justified by his faith and not by works (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:3). Although we are called to live in obedience to God’s commands, we find righteousness and salvation through faith in Christ, not by the incomplete, fallen works that we have to offer. 
This post was originally published in the Baptist & Reflector, December 11, 2012.

Immanuel, the Carpenter’s Son


   Have you ever considered the Christmas story from Joseph’s perspective? In Matthew 1:18-25, we see the nativity story through Joseph’s eyes. Although Jesus is Immanuel, “God with us,” he is also the “man of sorrows” and this passage unites both of those truths perfectly. Isaiah said Jesus would be rejected by men (Isa. 53:3), and here he is even rejected by Joseph at first. Like many of us, Joseph’s first response was to reject Jesus but this soon changed as Joseph realized that Jesus was his Immanuel. 
Joseph had to first confront the reality of Jesus. Imagine the shock Joseph must have experienced when he first received the news that Mary was with child.  Mary had just returned from visiting her cousin, Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-56), and her pregnancy is now obvious. Joseph’s initial response was to divorce Mary privately and move on with his life. Joseph and Mary were betrothed and while the couple did not live together or have marital relations during this time; a divorce was required to break the betrothal. Joseph’s decision was legal and merciful – he was trying to do the right thing while showing kindness to Mary. He was caught between law and love, conviction and compassion.

With the aid of an angelic messenger, Joseph then considered the identity of Jesus. God knew that Joseph was struggling with his circumstances and he sent an angel in a dream to help him understand who Jesus was. The angel informs Joseph of two things concerning Jesus – his natures and his names. Jesus has two natures. He is fully God and fully man. Colossians 2:9 says, “For the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily in Christ.” The virgin birth allowed the divine nature and the human nature to unite in Jesus. Jesus also has two names given in these verses: Jesus and Immanuel. The name “Jesus” reveals his humanity. “Jesus” is the Greek translation of the Hebrew name “Joshua” and means “Yahweh is salvation.” This is reinforced by verse 21, “…call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.” The name “Immanuel” reveals his divinity.  Immanuel comes from the prophecy of the virgin birth in Isaiah 7:14 and means “God with us.” There was a new name given for God. Not only is His name Yahweh, Adonai, or Elohim, but now His name is Jesus.
After Joseph awoke from his dream, he connected his life with Jesus. Joseph couldn’t respond properly before because he didn’t have all the facts. Now that he knows who Jesus is, he responds by giving his life to him. He linked his life to Jesus. He chose to repent of his decision to divorce Mary and dedicate his life to the baby she was expecting.  He gave Jesus his name.  He gave Jesus a home.  Joseph taught Jesus a trade (Mark 6:3). Joseph connected his life completely with Jesus. This is exactly what Jesus calls us to do; deny ourselves and link our lives with His by bearing our cross and following Him (Matthew 16:24). Like Joseph, our first response to Jesus is to reject him and move on with our lives because His person and teachings go against our fallen, self-centered nature. This Christmas, let us respond as Joseph ultimately did and connect our lives with Jesus our Immanuel.

 This post was originally published in the Baptist & Reflector, December 18, 2012.