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: 1fi). 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!

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, 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.

Coming again

If you want to find a Biblical subject about which there is widespread misinformation and uncertainty, the topic of the Last Day would fit that description. But it doesn’t need to be. In reality, it’s quite simple, and, for those who believe in Jesus, it’s chock-full of good news.

Think about Jesus’ ascension. Jesus had led the disciples up onto the Mt. of Olives, he’d lifted up his nail-marked hands and blessed them. As he was blessing them, he powerfully ascended up into the sky, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

Then we read, “Suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.'” (Acts 1:10-11 NIV)

What’s going to happen on the Last Day? Very simply, Jesus will come back! Come back how? The same way he left–with his hands upraised in blessing, with the nail marks clearly visible. Does that sound like something to fear, or something to eagerly expect? Obviously, the latter! At least, for those who believe in Jesus it’s something to which to look forward.

The Bible gives us a few more details: there will be the voice of the archangel and the trumpet-call of God will be heard. All those who have died before the Last Day will be raised up, their bodies and souls will be rejoined, and their bodies will be made glorious. Those who are alive when Jesus returns won’t die – their bodies will simply be changed. The believers will be gathered to be with Jesus, and the unbelievers will be sent to suffer eternally in hell, separated from God. And all of it will take place so quickly that we’ll hardly know it’s happened until it’s done.

When will this take place? God tells us that Jesus will return suddenly, like a thief in the night. Could it happen today? Absolutely. Could the world last another 100 years? Yep. Could Jesus wait millions of years before he returns? Sure.

But what you know for sure is that when he returns, it will be great. After all, it’s JESUS who’s returning! The nail marks on his hands will still be there. He loves you, loves you so much that he was willing to die for you, to pay for your sins. If he loved you enough to die for you, will he also love you enough to take you to be with him in heaven? Absolutely!

So we pray the prayer which is found at the end of the Bible: “Jesus says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” (Revelation 22:20 NIV)

(For more on the Last Day, read Matthew 24-25, 1Corinthians 15, 1Thessalonians 4:13 – 5:11. For some neat pictures of heaven, read Revelation 5, 7, 21-22.)

Ascended into heaven

Why are class reunions fun? Certainly part of it is seeing people whom you haven’t seen for a while–and seeing how they’ve changed! Without fail there’s a person or two whom you don’t recognize, because they just don’t look the way they used to look. It’s true–we tend to remember people the way they looked the last time we saw them.

So what’s the last “sight” that the disciples saw of Jesus? It happened like this.

After Jesus rose from his grave, he spent some time with his disciples, but not a lot. He would appear, teach and talk for a while, and then he’d allow them to “be on their own” for several days. This happened for forty days.

When those 40 days were over, Jesus took the disciples to the Mount of Olives just outside of Jerusalem. There “he lifted up his hands and blessed them.” What would the disciples see on those hands? Why, of course–the nail marks from the crucifixion.

Then while he was blessing them “he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.” Can you imagine? All of a sudden he just goes up into the sky! What power!

And notice, the account doesn’t say that he eventually got so far away that they couldn’t see him. Rather, the cloud covered him, so that–even though they could no longer see him with their eyes–he was still there.

Now remember–this was the last time the disciples would see Jesus, so this was the sight which would stick with them. Do you think it would help them?

Well, think of all the truths of which Jesus reminded them. By ascending up into the sky, Jesus reminded them that he’s all-powerful, that he rules all things. The hands up, in blessing, reminded them that he is watching out for their good! He will always have their best interests in mind. The fact that the cloud covered him reminded them that he really was with them, always. And don’t forget the nail marks, the proof that the disciples’ sins were forgiven! Because of that, that they’d spend an eternity with Jesus in heaven. Do you think that all this would have helped the disciples as they faced the days ahead? Without doubt! And certainly that “sight” of Jesus lifts our spirits too.

But there’s one more point about Jesus’ ascension, a point which we’d hate to miss … that he is coming again!

Suffered for all

One time Jesus took three of his disciples to the top of a mountain. We read, “There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. . . . A bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!’ When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. ‘Get up,’ he said. ‘Don’t be afraid.’ As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, ‘Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.'” (Matthew 17:2-9 NIV selections)

Wait a minute! Did you get that last part, the part about “rising from the dead”?!? Can you imagine how the disciples must have scratched their heads at that? They’d just seen Jesus’ glory, his power! How could one who was SOOO powerful … die?! Who could cause it to happen?!

Finally, only one person could really control it–Jesus himself. And that’s exactly what Jesus did. When the time was right, Jesus went to Jerusalem. He entered Jerusalem on Sunday, in a very public way. On Thursday of that week, Jesus celebrated the Passover (check out Exodus 12-13) with his disciples and told them that one of them would betray him, another would deny him. Then he took them out to a garden called Gethsemane.

While Jesus was there with his disciples, Judas, who had been one of Jesus’ twelve disciples, led a large band of soldiers to the Garden. Jesus asked them for whom they were looking, and when they responded that they were looking for him, Jesus said, “I am he.” As he said this the whole band of soldiers were knocked flat on their backs! (John 18:1ff)

They scrambled to their feet. Then Peter, another of Jesus’ twelve disciples, grabbed a sword and cut off the ear of one of the high priest’s servant. Jesus rebuked Peter, then touched the man’s ear and healed it. (Luke 22:50ff)

What would all these things have said to the people? They would have said, or at least SHOULD have said, “Hey–this Jesus–he’s not just an ordinary human being; he’s much more than that!”

But what is even more amazing is what we read at the end: “Then the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus. They bound him …” (John 18:12) Why could they do that? Why could they bind him?

Only because he allowed it. It could happen–it DID happen–only because Jesus allowed it to happen.

Do we begin to see the depth of Jesus’ love for us? Just think–he, the all-powerful one–he was willing to allow himself to be taken captive, to be bound. That’s how much he loves us…loves you!

 

Rose from the dead

Picture this. A friend of yours says, “I’m going to die. Then, on the 3rd day, I’m going to rise from the dead.” How would you react? I think I’d have a really hard time not bursting out laughing!

But how would you react if your friend DID it?! Would you be surprised? Of course! Would you understand it completely? Probably not right away. And … the next time your friend made a promise to you, do you think you’d listen? Absolutely!

The above scenario? That’s what Jesus did. He told his disciples on several occasions that he would die, and that he’d then rise. That’s exactly what happened.

Here’s how. After Jesus died–at 3:00 p.m. on Friday–several of his followers hastily buried him in a tomb cut out of the rock, like a cave. A stone was rolled in front of the entrance. The burial was hasty because the Sabbath Day began Friday at sundown–the Jews would not allow themselves to work on the Sabbath. The religious leaders remembered Jesus’ promise that he’d rise. Of course, they didn’t believe it, but they thought that the disciples might steal his body and claim he had risen. So, they asked Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, for permission to seal the tomb and post a guard. Pilate agreed.

Early Sunday morning an earthquake shook the whole area. An angel rolled the stone away from the front of the tomb, revealing that the tomb was empty. The grave clothes were still there, folded nicely. During that day, Jesus appeared several times to different groups of his followers, assuring them that he had risen, just as he’d promised.

During the next 40 days, Jesus appeared more than a dozen times after his resurrection, sometimes to individuals, sometimes to small groups, sometimes to his group of disciples, and one time he appeared before 500 people! He wanted people to know that he really had risen.

But so what? What does it mean? For the answer, listen to what the apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:17, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” If Jesus didn’t rise, then his work was useless. If Jesus didn’t come out of the grave, you and I are stuck–stuck in our sins, with no way out. You and I would stand before God as guilty, to be condemned eternally.

But what if Christ HAS risen from the dead? What would that mean? That would mean that we’re no longer “in our sins.” That would mean we’re forgiven! That would mean that we stand before God as innocent!Christ HAS been raised! He did come out of the grave! That is God’s ULTIMATE proof to you that you’re forgiven, and by faith in the risen Christ you have a new life now and the sure hope of heaven forever!

Died for all

Jesus had allowed himself to be taken captive; he was led to a middle-of-the-night trial before the Jewish religious leaders. The charge? That Jesus claimed to be the Son of God. Jesus’ answer? “Yes, it is as you say.” (Matthew 26:64) The “charge” was true! And certainly all the miracles Jesus had done gave plenty of proof of it.

Unfortunately, the religious leaders–in general–had rejected Jesus. So instead of eagerly welcoming Jesus as the promised Savior, they saw him as a threat and wanted to get rid of him. So the religious leaders condemned Jesus; they said he was worthy of death. Why? Because he claimed to be the Son of God! How ironic!

Since Judea was then under the domination of the Romans, the Jews didn’t have the right to execute people. Instead, they had to take Jesus to Pontius Pilate, the Roman official in charge of Judea. The religious leaders accused Jesus of insurrection, of claiming to be a king. The Roman government official wasn’t going to care if Jesus claimed to be the Son of God so they came up with a charge he would care about! Pilate recognized the charge was bogus, but bent to the pressure; he ordered that Jesus be crucified.

Through it all, Jesus never argued, never “pleaded his case”. He didn’t want to be set free. Instead, he was willing to die. Why? Because “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). The only way our sins could be paid for was if Jesus were to die. So instead of fighting the false charge, Jesus bowed to God’s will to bear the punishment of the world’s sin.

So he was nailed to the cross, crucified between two thieves. During his time on the cross–9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.–Jesus made seven statements, each giving us a look into God’s heart. From noon until 3:00 p.m. darkness covered the world; Jesus was suffering the punishment which we deserved. When the time was exactly right, when the bill for our sins had been paid in full, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23:46) Then he died.

When Jesus died, there was an earthquake, a number of believers rose from the dead, and most importantly, the curtain in the temple was torn into two. That curtain had symbolically separated us sinful humans from the holy God. Because the full payment for sin had been made, the curtain was no longer necessary, so God tore that curtain down. We now stand at one with God, our sins paid for in full.

But can you imagine? The best was yet to come!

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 I 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!

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. 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!

Served the people

“Okay, so you did it once. That could be a fluke; do it again!” That’s reasonable. When a scientist does a study which makes a significant find, we immediately 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!”