Promised beforehand

“Don’t take my word for it—check it out!” With the important things in life, that’s the approach we take, isn’t it? When we buy a home, we don’t just take the owner’s word that the house is in good shape; instead, we have the home inspected. There’s too much at stake, so we check it out!

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could “inspect” Christianity, if you could check out Jesus to see if he’s the “real deal?”

We have that opportunity, because hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth, God made a bunch of promises about Jesus. Now we can make an inspection—does Jesus match up? Does He “check out?” There are more than 50 such promises—here is a sample:

  • Promise: The Savior would be from the bloodline of Abraham (Genesis 12:2-3), Isaac (Genesis 21:12), and David (Jeremiah 23:5). Reality: Jesus’ lineage included each (cf. Matthew 1 and Luke 3).
  • Promise: The Savior would be severely punished and pierced through (Isaiah 53:5). Reality: Jesus was whipped, then crucified (Matthew 27:26).
  • Promise: The Savior would ride a donkey (Zechariah 9:9). Reality: When Jesus entered Jerusalem in a formal, final way, he rode a donkey (Matthew 21:1-9).

Interestingly, a number of promises concerned things over which Jesus had “no control.” For example, it was promised that he would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), and he was (Luke 2:1). Again, it was promised that Jesus’ garments would be divided up along with a casting of lots (Psalm 22:18), and the soldiers who crucified him did just that (John 19:23-24). Could Jesus have controlled the actions of the soldiers? Not from a human perspective. So even in things Jesus “couldn’t control,” we see fulfillment after fulfillment.

Peter Stoner takes us into the science of probabilities, picking out just eight promises: “We find that the chance that any man might have…fulfilled all eight prophecies is 1 in 1017.” Stoner then illustrates: “Take 1017″ [100,000,000,000,000,000] silver dollars and lay them on the face of Texas. They will cover all of the state two feet deep. Now, mark one of these silver dollars and stir up the whole mass thoroughly, all over the state. Blindfold a man and tell him that he can travel as far as he wishes, but he must pick up one silver dollar and say that this is the right one. What chance would he have of getting the right one? Just the same chance that the prophets would have had of writing these eight prophecies and having them all come true in one man” (Josh McDowell, “Evidence that Demands a Verdict” Here’s Life Publishers Inc. 1979, p167).

All of which leads us to conclude what? Either, Jesus is THE most unbelievable, incredible coincidence ever. Or, much more plausibly, this Jesus—he’s the real deal. After all, he checks out!

Conceived by the Holy Spirit

What would the “ultimate boss” be like? We probably want a person who had worked our job, so the boss would understand us. We’d want a boss who had a heart for his/her employees. We’d want a boss who was smart. And, of course, we’d want our boss to carry some clout, to get things done.

What would the “ultimate Savior” be like? Wouldn’t many of those same thoughts apply? We’d like him to understand us, we’d like him to have a heart for us, we’d like him to be smart, we’d like him to have clout.

Okay, who’s smarter than God? Who has more clout than God? Wouldn’t it be great if our Savior was truly God?

Sure!

Well guess what? Here we find another promise fulfilled. In Isaiah 7:14 God says, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” (“Immanuel” is a Hebrew word meaning, “God is with us.”)

The fulfillment is found in Luke chapter 1, when the angel Gabriel comes to Mary: “Do not be afraid, Mary, …You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.”

Mary’s perplexed: “How will this be … since I am a virgin?”

Gabriel answers: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.”

There’s another person in the mix—Joseph, the man who was engaged to Mary. When Mary shows up pregnant—and Joseph knows he’s not the father—Joseph reached what seemed to be the logical conclusion: Mary had slept with another man. So he determined to quietly end their relationship. God then sent an angel to him, saying, “Joseph, … do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

Then God adds an explanatory note: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us” (Matthew 1).

Who is Jesus? He’s the “Son of God,” he’s “God with us.” That means he’s REALLY smart, and he has all the clout which you and I could possibly want or need. Most importantly, he has the ability to do what we needed him to do—to save us from our sins. He can do that because he’s God! Smart! All-powerful!

But what about those other qualities we’d mentioned, like being one of us, and having a heart for his people? Does Jesus have those qualities, too? Keep reading!

The Way

How do you get to heaven?

Are there many roads? Do they all lead to the same place?

Or are you just crossing your fingers, hoping you’re on the right one?

Jesus says there is only one road to heaven. “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

How arrogant! Arrogant?

You have a friend. Your friend asks you for directions to your home. Road construction has closed the normal routes. There is only one road which will bring your visitor to your house.

Is it arrogance to share the one open path with the one you love? You give your friend directions to the one open road because you don’t want your friend to be frustrated, confused, or lost.

Jesus doesn’t want you to be frustrated, confused, or lost. He doesn’t want you to live your life driving down a dead-end road. He doesn’t want you to live imagining that your good actions will be enough to earn life forever. God expects perfection, not a good try. Working hard to earn heaven by human action earns hell.

Jesus doesn’t want you to be frustrated, confused, or lost. He doesn’t want you to live imagining that anything calling itself “god” really is God. Any religion which denies that Jesus is true God is a false religion. It may be a road. The road leads not to heaven, but to hell.

Jesus loves you. He doesn’t want you to live imagining that all spiritual roads lead to the same place.

Only one road leads to heaven.

Arrogance? No. The ultimate in love. If there is only one way, we need to know it.

Jesus is the only way. Why? Because he is the only one who died to pay for your disobedience. Without Jesus, you will stand before God guilty. Without Jesus, you will stand before God afraid. Without Jesus, you will stand before God deserving punishment.

Covered by Jesus’ blood, you will stand before God innocent. Covered by Jesus’ blood, you will stand before God at peace. Covered by Jesus’ blood, you will stand before God certain of eternal reward.

Without Jesus’ blood, the road is a dead-end.

Through Jesus’ blood, the road leads straight to heaven.

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Truth

Politics and religion. You just don’t talk about those things. With politics one can understand that perspective. It’s hard to know who’s telling the truth. So many have a reason to twist the truth.

With religion the devil wants you to think the same. That it’s so hard to know who’s telling the truth, because so many have a reason to twist the truth.

Have you wondered, “Maybe no one can ever know what is true?”

Or maybe you’ve become so frustrated with your search for truth in religion—all the different denominations—that you’ve concluded, “Well, maybe they’re pretty much the same, so it doesn’t matter.”

They’re not the same. And it does matter.

But still, how do you know what is true?

Jesus stood accused by powerful enemies of crimes he did not commit. Jesus stood before Pilate, a Roman governor. Jesus’ enemies said, “He claims to be a king,” suggesting that Jesus had designs on Caesar’s throne.

Pilate asks, “Are you a king?” Jesus answers, “My kingdom is not of this world.” Pilate says, “You are a king then!” Jesus answers, “You are right, [. . . and] everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

You might imagine Pilate thinking, “That’s the problem, right there. You want me to listen to you, and your enemies want me to listen to them. How do I know who’s right?”

Frustration.

“What is truth?” Pilate asks.

Sometimes when we hear lies spoken to us again and again, we begin to wonder if there is anything true. We feel lost. We drift. We become afraid.

Frustrated. Like Pilate. He concluded, “Maybe no one can ever know what is true.”

Rejoice. Pilate’s frustration did not make Jesus’ words less true. Pilate’s frustration did not make the lies of Jesus’ enemies more true.

My friends, there is truth. Jesus’ words are always true.

It’s easy to become frustrated when so many lies are being passed off as truth. You need not be Pilate. You need not throw up your hands and permit lies to convince you that there is no such thing as truth.

There is truth. Listen to Jesus: “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

Light of Our Lives

Light is certainly one of the most precious things in our world. Without it, we can’t do much of anything. The most simple tasks become all but impossible when darkness envelopes us instead of light.

A lack of light can also strike fear into our hearts and be quite dangerous. If you have ever tried navigating your way through complete darkness, you know this to be true. When you can’t even see your hand two inches in front of your face, it is impossible to walk with purpose and confidence. That is what life is like without Jesus.

Without Jesus there is no purpose in life. Every reason our world produces for our existence comes up empty in the end. Without the light of Jesus, we would be forced to stumble our way through life, bumping into blessings without knowing where they come from; and tripping over trials and problems. As we stumble we would always have the terrifying understanding that death could be right around the corner.

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

Jesus is the Light that illuminates our lives. He gives us hope and purpose. He came to remove the darkness of sin by shedding his blood and scatter the shadow of death by rising from the grave. Since our sins have been paid for by his blood, we have the sure confidence that every one of our sins has been removed—even the ones that weigh us down with the most guilt. Since he rose from the grave we have the rock-solid guarantee that death is not the end for us. By faith in him, we too will rise with him to live eternally.

With Jesus lighting up our lives we can live with confidence and purpose. The confidence comes from knowing that nothing can change the fact that our sins have been washed away by his blood, and our eternal life guaranteed by his resurrection. Our purpose now is to live every moment to his glory. We strive to make the best use of all the gifts he has given us and do everything we can to share Jesus with others, so they too may walk in his light.

Love

All power is mine. May I wash your feet, please?

Not what you’d expect from the richest, most famous, most powerful person in existence.

“All power is mine. May I wash your feet, please?”

That’s servant work. We expect the wealthy and influential to hire “little” people to wash cars, mow lawns, scrub bathrooms.

Yet the most powerful, Jesus, offers to wash feet. We shake our heads in confusion. What a waste!

Unless, of course, serving others is the ultimate honor.

Our human nature would disagree. We aim high, grasp for power, seek influence so that others can serve us. How can I get ahead? How can you help me? Our eyes so naturally see others as opportunities to exploit.

Our human nature is selfish. It thinks first about me. Though God says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind.” Though God says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Selfish. God punishes selfish people. Forever.

We rightly are afraid.

To the disobedient who recognize the justice of divine punishment, the Lord invites, “Watch Jesus washing the feet of his friends.”

Why did Jesus, most powerful, so humble himself? He did this in our place. We do not perfectly love our neighbor. We deserve eternal pain. God loved us and sent his son Jesus to love perfectly in our place.

To see Jesus washing the feet of his friends is to know that he did this as our substitute. Jesus, the Creator of heaven and earth, washes dirty toes and then tells us that as many as are baptized in the name of Jesus have been clothed in the perfect life of Jesus. You get credit for his perfect love.

Jesus didn’t stop with foot washing. Later in the week, he gave up his own life for his friends, you and me. He suffered the eternal hell we deserved. God put our sin on Jesus and treated him like he should have treated us, so that in Jesus we are washed clean of all disobedience and made perfect in God’s eyes.

What love!

Why should a great God love sinners like us? I don’t know, but he did. The greatest served the least.

This is now your privilege. Serving others is the greatest honor that exists.

Let us love, as he loved us.

May I wash your feet, please?

Born of a virgin

“If you could pick the ultimate boss, what would that person be like?” We’d want our boss to be smart, to have clout. Additionally, we’d like our boss to be “one of us,” to have worked the job we have so that he/she could understand our particular challenges. Certainly we’d want a boss who “had a heart” for the employees, so that our best interests would be served.

Then we had suggested: “Wouldn’t we want our Savior to have similar qualities?” Of course! Since Jesus is truly God, we know that he’s smart, incredibly so. And talk about clout, wow!

But what about those other qualities—being one of us, having a heart for us—does Jesus have those qualities? Well he would … if he’s one of us. If he’s a human being, like us, then he would completely understand us; he would understand our challenges, stresses, hopes, fears, dreams, and goals. All of that would be true … if Jesus is a real human being.

Listen! “While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son” (Luke 2:6-7). Jesus was BORN! Like you were born, like I was born—he was born. Which means what? It means that Jesus is a REAL human being—like you, like me. And that’s great! Since Jesus is a real human being, he understands what it’s like to be human. He understands what it’s like to get hungry and thirsty, to get tired and stressed. He understands what it’s like to have friends turn against you, to lose loved ones, etc. He understands, because as a human being, he has experienced all these things!

But remember, Jesus is also true God, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary. So put those two thoughts—that Jesus is both true man and true God—together. Since Jesus is truly human, he understands us. He has a heart for us because he’s one of us. But since Jesus is God, he can DO things for us! And since he’s God, he’s “really smart,” so the things he does will be the things which make sense for us. In Jesus we find exactly what we need—a Savior who is truly man, but also truly God. As a human being, he understands us. He “gets it.” But as true God, he can do something about it! Most importantly, he can do what we really need—he can save us from our sins!

Grew up in Nazareth

The Bible tells us about Jesus’ miraculous conception and his birth in Bethlehem. We’re told that afterwards, because of threats to Jesus’ life, Mary and Joseph had to take Jesus to Egypt for a time, then later the family returned to the land of Israel. (cf. Matthew 2) Surprisingly, the Bible is silent about the rest of Jesus’ growing years—except for one incident when Jesus was 12-years old. His parents traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover (one of three important religious festivals devout Jews were required to observe each year). Jesus—and many others—traveled with them. After the Passover they began the journey home.

Unknown to them, Jesus had remained in Jerusalem, where he was spending the time in the temple, learning. When his parents discovered he was missing, they rushed back to Jerusalem, anxiously searching for him. When they found him, Jesus, he gently reminded them that he wasn’t just an ordinary 12-year-old. He was also the Son of God: “Why were you searching for me? … Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49).

But then comes the amazing part. He heads back to their home town, Nazareth, and we’re told that Jesus “was obedient to them” (Luke 2:51). Imagine! The true God, the all-powerful one, the wise one, gave obedience to human parents!?! He listened to—and obeyed—human beings! They should have been obeying him! Yet he obeyed them! WHY? Why would the true God give obedience to human parents?!?

Here’s why—it’s what we needed him to do. You see, God’s standard to enter heaven is perfection. God doesn’t say, “Do the best you can,” God doesn’t say, “Try hard, I’ll overlook the rest.” God does say, “Be perfect … as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

Perfect? Yes, perfect. That’s God’s demand. And no matter how hard we try, you and I don’t match up. So what did we need? We needed a Savior who could live a human life. Because Jesus was human he could live a human life; because he was God he could live that life perfectly, and live it in your place. In other words, because Jesus is true man and true God, the life he lived has been credited to you.

So as we watch Jesus obeying his parents, he’s not just doing that for himself; he’s doing that in your place. As we see him showing perfect love for his fellow humans, he’s not just doing that for himself—he’s doing that in your place. We couldn’t do it—he did it! The results? Now God can look at you and me who believe in him and say, “You’re perfect! You’re holy!” No, not because you were or are, but because Jesus lived a perfect life—in your place—and God has graciously credited that to your account.

Jesus DID it! For me! For you!

Begins his ministry

What if Thomas Edison had invented the light bulb and then had not told anyone about it? How foolish that would have been! Great things need to be shared!

The greatest “thing” this world has ever received is God’s gift of a Savior—and God wanted people to know it. So, when Jesus was thirty years old, he began to make himself known in a public, attention-getting manner, so all could share the benefits!

It started when Jesus went to John the Baptist. John was ministering at the Jordan River when Jesus arrived. John baptized Jesus, and as he did, God the Father spoke from heaven, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love” (Matthew 3:17). At the same time God the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove. This was the Father’s and Holy Spirit’s way of officially, dramatically pointing to Jesus and saying, “This is the one. This is the Savior.”

Then Jesus began to gather a group of followers. But how were they to know that he was really the true God, that he really was the Savior? Jesus would have to make it known to them, with words and actions. He did it by doing things which only God can do. He performed real miracles.

His first miracle took place at a wedding in a town called Cana. Weddings were major events, sometimes lasting for days, and the host family was expected to provide everything for their guests, sometimes even changes of clothing! Unfortunately, this wedding was running out of wine—what an embarrassment! That’s when Jesus stepped in. He told the servants to fill six large jars with water (each held 20-30 gallons). Then, Jesus ordered them to draw some out and take it to the person who was overseeing the banquet. When he tasted it, the water had been changed into wine! Not only so, but the master of the banquet called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine … but you have saved the best till now” (John 2:10).

What a powerful effect this first miracle had on Jesus’ disciples! How did this affect those people whom Jesus had called to follow Him? We’re told that “His disciples put their faith in him” (John 2:11). Wouldn’t you have done so as well? But maybe we wonder—was this a one-time thing? A fluke? Keep reading!

Served the people

“Okay, so you did it once. That could be a fluke; do it again!” That’s reasonable. When scientists do a study which makes a significant find, immediately they want to re-do it, to make sure that it wasn’t a fluke. If we find the same thing consistently, then we say, “This isn’t a fluke, it’s a fact.”

Perhaps we’d wonder if Jesus’ first miracle—changing water into wine—was a fluke. So, Jesus did MANY miracles. For example, one time a group of 5,000 men, plus women and children, gathered to hear him. As evening came, Jesus told the disciples that they should feed the crowd. The disciples were stunned; how could they feed so many? They found one boy who had five loaves of bread and two small fish. What they considered a loaf of bread we would now consider a tortilla. It was about the size of a bagel! From that, Jesus fed the whole multitude! Then, a few months later, he fed another crowd of 4,000-plus. And we’re just scratching the surface. Jesus cured blindness, deafness, leprosy. He drove out demons, calmed storms. And perhaps most impressive, Jesus raised several people from the dead. Wow. This is no fluke! But we would fall short if we didn’t explore why Jesus did these things.

One time Jesus was teaching in a house when some men brought their paralyzed friend to Jesus. Because of the crowd they couldn’t get to Jesus, so they climbed up on the roof, made an opening, and lowered their friend through it. Jesus’ first words were, “Son, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5 NIV).

The religious leaders were angered: “He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:7 NIV). Jesus then asked, “Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’?” (Mark 2:9 NIV). For a “normal” human being both would be impossible. But for God? Well, he could do both. So, if Jesus could heal the paralytic, that would prove that he could also forgive his sins. And that’s exactly the point Jesus makes: “‘But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins . . . .’ He said to the paralytic, ‘I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.’ He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all” (Mark 2:10-12 NIV). Jesus healed him; therefore, Jesus could also forgive him.

And there we see the ultimate point of Jesus’ miracles. Each of those miracles said, Look at me! I have the ability and the authority to DO what you NEED! I have the ability and authority to FORGIVE you, to declare you innocent!” And as we look at all those miracles? We’re led to conclude, “This is no fluke! It’s a fact!”