This blog focuses on the quest to know and please God in a constantly increasing way. The upward journey never ends. My prayer is that this blog will reflect a heart that seeks God and that it will encourage others who share the same heart desire.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Seeing Jesus' Self-Control (Part 10)

"And while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously" (I Peter 2:23). Self-control proves most difficult to someone under pressure. When faced with intense challenges, a person who is normally controlled can suddenly give way to rage, outbursts, hysteria, unpredictability, or unwise behavior. Jesus faced immense pressure, yet He never exhibited any of these signs of having lost control.

The amazing thing is that Jesus refrained Himself in spite of His tremendous power. Often the only response that out-of-control humans can express is an emotional outburst or a feeble physical display. Jesus, on the other hand, could have changed any circumstance that He did not like and could have annihilated any person who provoked Him. At His arrest, He queried, "Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels?" (Matthew 26:53). In the face of many and varied situations, Jesus chose self-control.

Jesus delivered two demon-possessed men who were so "violent that no one could pass" near them (Matthew 8:28). When the townspeople saw this remarkable transformation, "they implored Him to leave their region" (8:34). Jesus acquiesced to this incomprehensible rejection.

Jesus had shown incredible miraculous power and dependable truthfulness. When He came to minister to a girl who had died, He stated, "The girl has not died, but is asleep," and the attending crowd "began laughing at Him" (Matthew 9:24). Instead of berating the crowd, Jesus quietly went about His business of raising the child.

Jesus had power that no man possessed. When He cast a demon out of a mute man, who thereby became able to speak, the amazed crowds exclaimed, "Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel" (Matthew 9:33). This undeniably divine action was criticized by the Pharisees, who averred, "He casts out demons by the ruler of the demons" (9:34). They attacked Jesus at the deepest level of His integrity and character, but He did not use His divine power to negate their claim by destroying them. (Jesus was also accused of actually being the ruler of the demons (Matthew 10:25) and of personally possessing a demon (John 8:49).)

These same religious leaders accused Jesus of various vices, calling Him "a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners" (Matthew 11:19). Their intent was to completely discredit Him as unworthy to follow or listen to. In spite of this attempt to undermine His influence and destroy His ability to minister, Jesus did not allow Himself to become involved in mud-slinging or interminable verbal sparring.

When Jesus came to His hometown to teach, His townspeople were incredulous. They refused to believe that He was anyone special, declared Him to be common, and "took offense at Him" (Matthew 13:57). Even though Jesus was unable to "do many miracles there" (13:58), He did not bring retribution for the painful rejection by those who should most readily have accepted Him.

The Pharisees were a continual scourge to Jesus and His ministry. Time and again they opposed Him, derided Him, and "were offended" at His words (Matthew 15:12). In the face of this incessant attack, Jesus restrained Himself, telling His disciples, "Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit" (15:14). Rather than responding in kind, Jesus simply left them to their own inevitable end.

As Jesus revealed His impending death to His disciples, incredibly "Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him," refusing to accept Jesus' words, even though they fulfilled prophecy (Matthew 16:22). Jesus limited His response to a verbal rebuke that focused on the error of Peter's mortal focus.

At the transfiguration, Jesus was displayed in His glory as at no other time in His earthly ministry. Peter, not knowing what to say, suggested building three altars, one of which would be for Jesus. The Father responded from heaven, decisively directing the attention to the Son. Jesus' only response to Peter's unintended slight was to comfort and encourage His disciples.

The most striking and illuminating display of self-control came when Jesus was unfairly tried, abused, and crucified. When the high priest challenged Him, "Jesus kept silent" (Matthew 26:63). Jesus' accusers "spat in His face and beat Him with their fists; and others slapped Him," but He did not respond (26:67). "While He was being accused by the chief priests and elders, He did not answer" (27:12). Pilate tried to get Jesus to offer up a defense, but Jesus "did not answer him with regard to even a single charge" (27:14). The vicious crowds "stripped Him, . . . and after twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, . . . and they knelt down before Him and mocked Him. . . . They spat on Him, and took the reed and began to beat Him on the head" (27:28-30). Jesus suffered quietly and without retribution. As Jesus hung on the cross, "those passing by were hurling abuse at Him," mocking Him, denying His deity, and belittling His power (27:39-43). Instead of using His divine power to free Himself or give the crowds what they deserved, Jesus freely suffered and willingly gave up His life.

Jesus received abuse in life and suffered a cruel death, not because He was powerless to avoid these maltreatments, but because He chose to keep Himself under control. He held Himself back from what He could have done in order to do what He was sent to do. No one else had to restrain Jesus; He voluntarily restrained His words and actions, demonstrating the ultimate example of self-control.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Seeing Jesus' Gentleness (Part 9)

"He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth" (Isaiah 53:7). If any man was treated harshly, Jesus was. In the midst of cruelty and abuse, however, Jesus did not respond in kind. Because of His gentleness, He did not destroy or revile His persecutors.

Many people in Jesus' life were not enemies, yet they still placed demands on Him. Thronging crowds constantly clamored for His attention. His own disciples often struggled and failed to comprehend. In these interactions as well, Jesus was not harsh. He showed tremendous patience and love, responding with gentleness to frustrations and pressures.

The fruit of the Spirit gentleness is sometimes translated meekness. The root of the word refers to someone who is mild, made possible because of implied humility. A gentle person is appropriately subdued, doesn't fight back, and doesn't frighten those who come to him for help. Rather, his character makes him inviting, approachable, reassuring, and unintimidating.

Isaiah 40:11 provides a wonderful illustration of the gentle Savior: "Like a shepherd He will tend His flock, in His arm He will gather the lambs and carry them in His bosom; He will gently lead the nursing ewes." The Gospels provide real-life examples of this gentle nature.

A woman with a hemorrhage did not intend to disturb Jesus as He made His way to help someone in need. She only wanted to touch His cloak. When Jesus perceived the subtle disturbance, He paused in His mission and gently spoke, "Daughter, take courage; your faith has made you well" (Matthew 9:22).

Jesus trained His disciples for service. He gave them instructions about what to do and how to deal with people. He warned them of the danger and opposition they would face. He did not stop, however, without giving them gentle encouragement regarding the obstacles. "Therefore do not fear them. . . . Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul" (Matthew 10:26-28).

Jesus was not detached or uncommunicative about His care for those He loved. He gently assured His followers of their value to Him. "Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows" (Matthew 10:29-31).

Jesus approached His disciples in the midst of a vicious storm, walking toward them on the raging sea. When He saw their fear, "immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, 'Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid'" (Matthew 14:27). Peter, with his impulsive and simple faith, wanted to walk to Jesus on the water. Jesus gently invited him, "Come!" and when Peter began to sink, "immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him" (14:29,31).

Three disciples watched the amazing transfiguration of Jesus, followed by a booming voice from heaven, "This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!" (Matthew 17:5). Understandably, the disciples fell to the ground terrified. Jesus gently "came to them and touched them and said, 'Get up, and do not be afraid'" (17:7).

Jesus was gentle with children. When the disciples wanted to chase them away, Jesus announced, "Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me"; then He laid His hands on the children (Matthew 19:14-15). In fact, Jesus was protective of those who would harm children. He warned, "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea" (Matthew 18:6).

After Jesus' death, His followers were grieving and distraught. The resurrected Jesus understood and responded gently to the emotional needs of His disciples. He said, "Do not be afraid; go and take word to My brethren to leave for Galilee, and there they will see Me" (Matthew 28:10). He personally comforted Mary Magdalene when she was overcome with grief (John 20:15-17). He also appeared to His fearful disciples and comforted them, arriving to announce, "Peace be with you" (John 20:19).

Jesus' gentleness is not always sensational in and of itself. Many other people might have also given similar gentle responses in the above situations. What is different about Jesus is that He did it consistently. It was an essential and unchanging part of His nature.

What makes Jesus' gentleness really remarkable is comparing His gentle responses with how He could have responded. He could have disregarded the woman who touched His cloak or spoken to her in irritation. He could have allowed His disciples to learn by experience, expecting them to develop thick skin when they faced opposition. In a tough, "manly" way, He could have simply kept quiet about His great love for His disciples. He could have rebuked the disciples in the ship for their fear and let them suffer the consequences of their choices. He could have laughed or scoffed at the three who were terrified at the transfiguration. He could have ignored the children or brushed them aside as pests. He could have dismissed emotion as a sign of weakness, causing Him to be awkward and aloof with those who grieved His death.

Actually, He couldn't have, because His divine nature was perfectly gentle. One can easily imagine, however, that other people would have displayed those alternative responses or far worse. The Savior was amazingly gentle, and He calls His followers to imitate His example, being gentle with those who oppose them, with those who are part of their daily lives, and with those they love.

"Remind them . . . to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men" (Titus 3:2).

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Seeing Jesus' Faithfulness (Part 8)

"For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps" (I Peter 2:21). Jesus provides believers with an example in many areas; one of those is His faithfulness through suffering. Jesus' life was marked by hatred and opposition, yet He continued steadfast through it all. Faithfulness is, first of all, a firm religious conviction and a reliance on the certainty of those beliefs. Faithfulness applied is a constancy in those beliefs and persuasions.

Jesus knew very well what He believed. His inner convictions formed the basis for everything He did and said. He was not, nor could He be, swayed from His beliefs. Neither could anything stop Him from faithfully living out the application of His mission and His teachings. In all things, Jesus was faithful.

Jesus was faithful to His followers. He assured them of His unwavering association with them and of the permanence of His presence. Nothing could make Jesus deny or forsake them. "Therefore everyone who confesses me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 10:32). "Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20).

Jesus was faithful to His Father's house. Jesus was determined that it should be used to draw men closer to God, rather than for human advantage. He acted decisively to protect the temple's purpose. "And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves. And He said to them, 'It is written, "My house shall be called a house of prayer"; but you are making it a robber's den'" (Matthew 21:12-13).

Jesus was faithful in the face of temptation. Matthew 4:3-11 relates the story of Satan's temptation of Jesus. "And the tempter came"; three times he proposed some type of trap for Jesus, endeavoring to make Him fail in His divine perfection. "But He answered and said, 'It is written'" as the answer for each test. Jesus knew God's Word and God's truth. This formed the solid bedrock from which He would not be swayed. After Jesus' unwavering devotion to what was true and right,  "the devil left Him."

Jesus was faithful when His life was threatened. He faced unjust trials, and was in situations where His very words could condemn Him. During one trial the high priest pointedly "said to Him, 'I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God.' Jesus said to him, 'You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of heaven'" (Matthew 26:63-64). In a subsequent trial Pilate "questioned Him, saying, 'Are You the King of the Jews?' And Jesus said to him, 'It is as you say'" (Matthew 27:11-12). Though Jesus knew that these unjust men could take His true words and use them as an excuse to execute Him, He did not back away from the truth, but firmly declared it.

Jesus was faithful in His ministry. "From that time Jesus began to preach and say, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand'" (Matthew 4:17). He knew that His mission was to draw sinners to God, and He boldly preached repentance. His message did not change and was not silenced when people rejected it nor when those who had seemed to accept it walked away. The gospels are filled with examples of Jesus' teaching and compassionate meeting of people's needs.

The climax of Jesus' faithfulness (which explains all the other aspects) is that Jesus was faithful to follow God's plan for Him. Jesus told His disciples, "I have food to eat that you do not know about. . . . My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work" (John 4:32,34). Jesus was always focused on God's priorities. Over and over again, Jesus declared that He was not on earth to do His own work. His sole purpose was to do the Father's will. "He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who is seeking the glory of the One who sent Him, He is true, and there is no unrighteousness in Him" (John 7:18). "But I do not seek My glory; there is One who seeks and judges" (John 8:50). "Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, 'Father, save Me from this hour'? But for this purpose I came to this hour" (John 12:27). "So Jesus said to Peter, 'Put the sword into the sheath; the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?'" (John 18:11).

Jesus remained faithful to His mission even in the darkest hours and at extreme personal pain. When He reached the end of His life, He was able to tell the Father, "I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do. . . . I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world. . . . For the words which You gave Me I have given to them" (John 17:4,6,8). There is no better example of faithfulness; Jesus gave His all to accurately and completely fulfill the work that had been entrusted to Him.

A wise believer will carefully consider these questions: Is my belief in God and His Word so strong that I will continue doing what He says in spite of the obstacles in my path? Will I be unwavering in following His plan? Will I be faithful?

"Continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them." (II Timothy 3:14)

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Seeing Jesus' Goodness (Part 7)

"But like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves in all your behavior" (I Peter 1:15). Holiness is nowhere more important than for deity. A god with incredible power and wisdom would be frightening if he were not also good. Goodness, as used in the fruit of the Spirit, refers to intrinsic virtue; it describes someone who by very nature is moral and upright, who naturally does the right thing. Jesus embodied that characteristic perfectly.

Jesus was virtuous in His relationship with the Father.
·         This is evidenced by the fact that the Father was pleased with Him. "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased" (Matthew 3:17).
·         Jesus was perfectly unified with the Father. "Even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You....Just as We are one." (John 17:21-22).
·         Jesus gave His devotion to God only. "For it is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only'" (Matthew 4:10).
·         Jesus was committed to the Father's will, even as a youth. "I can do nothing on My own initiative. . . . I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me" (John 5:30). "Did you not know that I had to be in My Father's house [affairs]?" (Luke 2:49).

Jesus showed His virtue by devotion to the truth.
·         He claimed truthfulness. "My testimony is true" (John 8:14).
·         He had an unwavering reputation for truth. "Teacher, we know that You are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any" (Matthew 22:16).
·         He regularly taught the truth. "Early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people were coming to Him; and He sat down and began to teach them" (John 8:2).
·         He responded to people's questions with truth. "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of heaven" (John 3:3). Also Matthew 18:2; 18:21; 19:4; 19:28; 24:4, among others.
·         He praised truth in others. "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 16:17).
·         He defended God's truth when it conflicted with man's traditions. "Have you not read what David did when he became hungry? . . . Or have you not read in the Law?" (Matthew 12:3,5).

Jesus practiced virtuous and godly habits.
·         Jesus sang. "After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives" (Matthew 26:30).
·         Jesus thanked God. "And He took the seven loaves and the fish; and giving thanks, He broke them" (Matthew 15:36).
·         Jesus was dependent on prayer. "After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray" (Matthew 14:23).
·         Jesus turned to prayer in times of anguish. He "said to His disciples, 'Sit here while I go over there and pray.' And He . . . began to be grieved and distressed. Then He said to them, 'My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.' And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed" (Matthew 26:36-39).

Jesus displayed virtue in His dealings with others.
·         Jesus was appreciative. "But Jesus, aware of this [indignation], said to them, 'Why do you bother the woman? For she has done a good deed to Me'" (Matthew 26:10).
·         Jesus trained others for service. "Jesus summoned His twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of sickness" (Matthew 10:1). The remainder of the chapter comprises "giving instructions to His twelve disciples" (11:1).
·         Jesus admonished others to do right. "Go, show yourself to the priest and present the offering that Moses commanded" (Matthew 8:4). "Go. From now on sin no more" (John 8:11).
·         Jesus prepared His followers for the future. "From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day" (Matthew 16:21). Also Matthew 17:22; 20:18; 24:2; 26:2, among others.
·         Jesus showed proper respect for government. "He said to them, 'Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's'" (Matthew 22:21). Regarding the tax collectors, He told Peter, "However, so that we do not offend them," he should take the coin supplied "and give it to them for you and Me" (Matthew 17:27).

Jesus valued virtue in others.
·         Jesus commended another servant of God. "Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John, 'What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? . . . A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and one who is more than a prophet." (Matthew 11:7,9).
·         Jesus acknowledged the strengths of others. "Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, and said of him, 'Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!'" (John 1:47).
·         Jesus recognized and praised the faith of others. "Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, 'Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven'" (Matthew 9:2). "Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel" (Matthew 8:10).

Jesus was perfectly virtuous, entirely holy, and incomparably good. He did everything that could be expected by man's morality; beyond that, He did everything that was expected by God's standards. "Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill" (Matthew 5:17).

Jesus' goodness should be very reassuring to His followers. While Christians cannot match Jesus in the perfection of His goodness, they should nevertheless strive toward His example. Their desire and effort should be toward being holy as the One who called them is holy.