Interview on Church Planter Podcast

Earlier this week I was blessed with the opportunity to be interviewed for the Church Planter Podcast.  The podcast and Church Planter Magazine are both excellent resources for church planters and have articles and interviews from many on the cutting edge of church planting.  Peyton and Pete have a heart for equipping serial planters through both of these avenues as well as the New Breed Church Planting network.

In this interview we discuss my work with Living Bread Ministries and why church planting among the global poor must be central to all of our efforts to minister among the poor. Regardless of the need, spiritual or physical, a thriving local church is central to the answer.

 

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the interview.

 

Church Zero

I recently finished reading Church Zero written by my friend Peyton Jones.  Peyton is a seasoned church planter who has ministered in Wales and is currently planting a church in Long Beach, CA.  He offers very practical insights into the role of the “apostle” in planting churches.

Watch the video below and if interested pick up a copy of Church Zero.  You won’t regret it.

 

 

Wrestling with God Interview

Below is an interview I did with Scott Blair from Grapplers Church.  We discuss church planting, missions, discipleship, getting punched in the face, and much more.  I hope you find it helpful as you seek to serve King Jesus.

To learn more check out Living Bread Ministries.

 

Serving God by Serving Man

I am a very self-centered person.  I desire my own comfort and happiness.  Quite often I will go to any length to accomplish something that I want for myself.  I will endure hardship and overcome great obstacles when it benefits me.  I am always willing to serve myself.  Yet, when it comes to helping someone else, I am not always willing to work as hard to be inconvenienced.  We all have a self problem.

This may shock you, but when we serve self we are actually serving Satan.  There is a cosmic battle underway between almighty God and his enemy, Satan.  In the Scriptures we see two adversarial kingdoms.  We can either align ourselves with Christ and his Kingdom, or Satan and the World.  Satan is indeed the ruler of the kingdom of the world as seen in Eph 2:2 where, in reference to the world system he is referred to as the “prince of the power of the air.”

When we love the world and thus it’s ruler we are in opposition to God and his kingdom and therefore, make ourselves enemies of God.

You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4)

If loving the world makes us an enemy of God then it is important that we understand what loving the world is.  Look at how the Apostle John describes love of the world.

15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15-17)

John describes love of the world as simply the love of self and it is a testimony to the fact that the love of God and his kingdom are absent in a person’s life.

Our self-love reveals that we reject the Lord’s kingdom and have aligned ourselves with the rule of his enemy.  Just a few examples from scripture are needed to make this point.  Jesus says:

23 “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? (Luke 9:23-25)

Jesus makes it clear that an unwillingness to deny self is synonymous with man’s desire to cling to the kingdom of the world.  This is futile because the one who seeks to preserve his life in the world, will ultimately lose it when Christ establishes his kingdom in its fullness.  The one who loves himself loves the world, but the one who denies himself loves the Lord and his kingdom.

Earlier I mentioned Ephesians 2.  In this passage Paul likewise equates love of self with love of the world.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Eph 2:1-3)

Prior to being reconciled to God each of us were actively following the course of the world in submission to its ruler.  We lived in and pursed the kingdom of the world with the result that we lived in the passions of our flesh carrying out the desires of the body and mind.  We were lovers of self!  As a result we were children of wrath; enemies of God.

In Romans 12, Paul urges followers of Christ to no longer be conformed to the world but to be transformed by the renewing of their minds.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)

What does this non-conformity to the world look like?  It’s simply the denial of self as an act of worship to God.  By deduction we conclude that the love of self is the result of conformity with the world.  Loving self communicates alignment with the world, while the act of self-denial communicates that the believer has been transformed and changed his allegiance to the kingdom of God.

It is clear that when we practice the love of self we are aligning ourselves with the kingdom of the world and serving Satan.  It is equally true that when we deny self and love others we are aligning ourselves with the kingdom of God and serving God.  This can also be illustrated with a few examples from scripture.

In Mark 10 Jesus gives a very clear example of serving God by serving man.  While the disciples were fighting for prominent positions in the kingdom of God, Jesus pointed to his own humble service to man as the model of kingdom life.

35 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”… 41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. 42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:35-37, 41-45)

Having just heard Jesus foretell his death, James and John could only ask the Lord to guarantee them the most prominent spots in his coming kingdom.  The other ten disciples are infuriated by this not because John and James asked, but because they asked first!

In rebuke, Jesus points out how the kingdom of the world operates; it’s rulers lord over those they lead.  This is not the case in the kingdom of God.  To the contrary the leaders in Christ’s kingdom humbly serve those they lead.  They become their slaves.  This principle is illustrated in that the incarnate Son of God came not to be served but to serve and his service is defined by the cross.

By serving man Christ was also serving God.  His atoning death on the cross was service to man in that it allowed us to be reconciled to God.  However, it was also service to God because it was the Father’s will for Christ to die in our place as a ransom.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief;…. (Isaiah 53:10)

This is a great kingdom principle.  Christ’s service to man in obedience to the will of God demonstrated his love for the Father.  He served the Father by serving man.

Love of God and love of neighbor are so interconnected that they cannot be separated.  When asked what was the greatest single commandment in the Law Jesus refused to give only one.  Instead he forever connected service to man and service to God.

37 “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt 22:37-40)

The Law and Prophets were summed up in love for God and love for neighbor.  You simply cannot love God without loving your neighbor; nor can you serve God without serving your neighbor.

The Apostle John likewise connects love for neighbor with love for God.  This is seen in his First Epistle.

By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. (1 John 5:2)

In other words we love our neighbor when we love God.  Like Jesus, John joins love of God and love of neighbor together in such a way that they cannot be separated and he defines love by the self-denial of the cross.

16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:16-18)

The motivation of our self-denying love for one another is that Jesus denied himself and laid down his life for us.

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (1 John 4:9-11)

Likewise, the Father sacrificially demonstrated his love for us by sending his son to die for our sins.  Again, the self-denying love of God seen in the gospel is our motivation to love God and our neighbor.

It is clear that for Jesus and John the love of God is directly connected to our love for our neighbor.  It is equally true that love is defined as the sacrificial denial of self.  Thus, for the Christian, we serve God when we align ourselves with his kingdom by denying self and sacrificially serving our neighbor in obedience to the commands of God.

This is of course a problem for all of us, because as we have already seen, we have a self problem.  Paul described every one of us when he was writing to Timothy.

For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power… (2 Timothy 3:2-5)

Paul could easily have been referring to me in this passage.  I am guilty as charged, we all are!  What’s the answer?  Work harder?  Be nicer?  We can’t do that; we love ourselves too much!  The solution has already been discussed.

It’s the self-denying love of Christ that transforms us from serving self and Satan to serving others and God.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. (Romans 6:3-8)

In the gospel, when we repent of our sin and place our faith in Christ we identify with his death.  Our old self is crucified with Christ and a new self is raised with him to walk in a new way; a way that is transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Our new life, like the life of Christ, is marked by self-denial and service to God that is fleshed out in humble service to man.

Serving God: Bringing Hope to the Lost

The gospel is indeed a message of hope for the lost.  The message that a sinner like me not only can be cleansed of unrighteousness, but declared righteous by God is almost unbelievable.  Even more so when we realize that this is possible only by grace through faith as I place my trust in the work of Christ on the cross.  The reality that I will spend eternity with God is truly a glorious truth.  However, the gospel has far greater implications beyond my future in heaven.  There are cosmic implications of the atonement of Christ that bring hope for today to all who believe.

In light of this I would like to take a brief but comprehensive look at the cosmic implications of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  I believe that by understanding the full scope of the gospel we can bring hope to anyone regardless of their current circumstances.  We can bring real hope of transformation today and for eternity.

Before we can fully grasp the scope of the fall of man into sin we must understand God’s original intent for mankind.  This is seen in the creation account of Genesis 1.

26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

In the commission of Genesis 1:26-28 God reveals his purpose for creating mankind.  Certainly, we should understand the image of God to refer to mankind’s relational attributes, our creative and volitional abilities, and as the root of every human being’s dignity.   These are all true, but there is much more significance to this passage.

The idea of image bearer is very significant.  In the culture of the ancient near east, kings would erect statues bearing their image throughout their kingdoms.  These statues would demonstrate to the people that the king’s reign extended to that region.  The image of the king reminded the people of whose authority they were under.  As the kingdom expanded, more images would be erected.

By creating man in his image, God was commissioning them to mediate his reign on earth.  This is understood in light of God giving Adam and Eve dominion over the earth and everything on it.  God was the creator and sovereign King, but mankind was to be his vice-regents ruling on his behalf.  In this sense, Adam and Eve were kings.  As they obeyed the commission to “multiply and fill the earth” they would carry God’s image and thus establish his reign over the earth.

God placed Adam initially in the Garden of Eden (Gen 2:8) which he had planted.  He commanded Adam to cultivate the garden (Gen 2:15) and he gave him Eve to assist him.  Their role in the garden is also extremely important to understand.  The garden was the place where God’s presence dwelt on earth.

Before the fall, mankind dwelt in the presence of God in the garden.  The command to cultivate the garden carries with it the understanding that Adam and Eve would expand the borders of the garden until it covered the entire earth.  The result being that the presence of God would extend over the earth.  In this sense, they were also priests.

In light of this we can better understand God’s original intention for humanity.  Adam and Eve were priest kings.  Their role was to mediate God’s sovereign rule over his creation and to expand his presence over all the earth.  God did not need them to do this, but rather entrusted them with the glorious privilege of participating with him in the created order.  This was the purpose of mankind.

Sadly, Adam and Eve did not exercise dominion for very long.  Adam demonstrated his mediation of God’s reign in that God allowed him to name all of the animals (Gen 2:19-20).  However, we see that Adam and Eve fail to fulfill their mandate.  Rather than mediating the rule of God over creation, they commit an act of treason and betray God.

They allow God’s enemy to enter the garden that they were commissioned to protect.  The serpent, Satan, begins to plant doubt in the mind of Eve and pander to her love of self.  He twists God’s words in an attempt to deceive her (Gen 3:1).  When Eve corrects him and states God’s actual command, the serpent calls God a liar (Gen 3:2-4).

The serpent says that if they eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they will not die, but that they will become like God “knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:5).  Immediately Eve was enticed in her flesh to eat the fruit.  It’s clear that it was her love of self that led to her sin.  She saw that the tree was “good for food” and would satisfy her hunger.  It was a “delight to look at” which increased her desire of it.  Ultimately, she desired to be wise like God and believed the fruit would exalt her (Gen 3:6).

Eve, just like each of us, succumbed to the tyranny of self-love and self-gratification.  Adam likewise desired the fruit and freely ate of it when Eve offered it (Gen 3:6).  The couple that God entrusted to rule the earth on his behalf betrayed him and as a result surrendered their dominion to God’s enemy.  Through deception and mankind’s love of self, Satan was able to gain a stronghold on creation.

There were several significant results of mankind’s betrayal of God and alignment with his enemy.  First, their eyes were opened and they realized they were naked and became ashamed (Gen 3:7).  They attempted to cover their shame by sewing leaves together for clothing, however this was useless.  When God came walking in the garden they hid from him, because of their shame.  The couple that God had created to fulfill the role of priest by extending his presence throughout the earth was hiding from the very presence of God (Gen 3:8-10).

Next, we see several curses are placed by God on his creation as a result of mankind’s sin.  The serpent is cursed and enmity is placed between Satan and humanity (Gen 3:14-15).  Thus, as a result of Adam and Eve’s disobedience mankind is now caught in the middle of a cosmic battle between God and Satan.  While this battle is cosmic it is worked out in the lives of mankind.  Thus, those who were intended to rule now find themselves under constant assault by Satan and his cohorts.  Satan desires to destroy them and wipeout the remnant of God’s image in creation.

In the midst of this curse however, there is hope.  God tells Eve that her offspring will ultimately crush the head of the serpent.  The understanding here is that God will raise up a man who will destroy Satan and return mankind to his rightful position as priest king mediating God’s reign over the earth.  This word of hope is the first prophecy of Jesus Christ.

The next curse is placed upon the woman.  God increases her pain in child birth and brings enmity into her relationship with her husband (Gen 3:16).  The woman who before, had the privilege of filling the earth with God’s image bearers, now will endure much pain in the process.  Though she was created to rule alongside her husband now he will rule over her.

In this curse we see the root of so many problems in the world.  Problems in the home between husbands and wives stem from this curse.  The oppression and abuse of women is a result of this curse.  Indeed, this passage can be seen as affecting all human relationships and thus is the beginning of strife between man and his neighbor.  This plays out very quickly in the life of Cain and Abel (Gen 4:1-8).

As a result of Adam’s sin all of creation is cursed (Gen 3:17-19).  Adam was created to be a blessing to the creation to cultivate it and to benevolently mediate God’s reign over it.  Instead, his sin leads God to place a curse on the earth.  The cultivation of the earth which was to be a joy to Adam now becomes a hardship.  The ground is no longer as productive and Adam will constantly battle against thorns and thistles.

We don’t have to look far to see the multitudes of problems resulting from this curse.  Natural disasters like floods, tornados, and earthquakes wreak havoc on our world.  Droughts and the resulting famine and disease are the results of this curse. The world that was to be a beautiful garden filled with the presence of God is instead a planet struggling to provide for those originally commissioned to care for it.

Finally, to protect mankind from eating from the tree of life and thus living forever in his fallen sinful state, God forced Adam and Eve from the garden (Gen 3:22-24).  Though they were created to live in the garden in God’s presence they were forced out of the presence of God.  Cut off from God’s presence and the tree of life they would no longer live forever.  Just as God had said, they would surely die.

Thus, we see the magnitude of the scope of the fall.  Every aspect of life has been affected by Adam’s sin.  He surrendered his position of authority to Satan who is determined to eradicate God’s image from the earth.  Human relationships have been twisted and the love of self is mankind’s driving ambition.  The creation itself groans for redemption as it struggles under the weight of the curse, the exploitation of mankind, and the constant assault of the war that rages between God and Satan.  Indeed, the fall of mankind has had immense implications for all of God’s creation.

However, there is a glimmer of hope seen in Genesis 3:20-21.  Adam, in faith, named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all living (Gen 3:20).  This is a reference back to the prophecy in Gen 3:15 that the seed of the woman would crush the head of Satan.  After this, God clothes them with garments of skin (Gen 3:21).

There are two very important concepts for us to understand in this act.  First, in order to make the clothing, blood must have been shed.  In this we see the necessity of the shedding of blood to deal with sin.  Second, we see the restoration of fellowship with God.  The couple hid from God because they were ashamed of their nakedness, but God in his grace clothes them in order to restore fellowship with them.  Both of these realities point forward to the hope found in the cross.

As extensive as the results of the fall are, we have hope because of the gospel!  The atonement of Christ is equally extensive overcoming all of the results of the fall and sin.  The immediate result of Adam’s sin was that they lost innocence and became ashamed of their nakedness.  In Genesis God clothed them in fur to restore fellowship with them, but believers are clothed in Christ (Gal 3:27).  That is to say our shame has been removed by the blood of the cross and we have been given the righteousness of Christ.  No longer must we hide from the presence of God; we can now approach him with boldness because of Christ (Eph 3:12).

As a result of the fall there were several curses placed by God.  When he cursed the serpent he placed enmity between him and humanity.  As previously discussed, this explains the spiritual warfare that we all endure from Satan.  He is a lion who seeks to destroy mankind (1 Peter 5:8), but as prophesied in Gen 3:15 the Son of Man has crushed his head.

This is evidenced in the ministry of Jesus.  By casting out demons, Jesus was demonstrating that he was reestablishing the dominion that Adam lost.

28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. (Matt 12:28-29)

Christ clearly showed that he had defeated Satan by exercising authority over demons.  The death blow was dealt at the cross and though Christ was bruised, his ultimate victory was established by the resurrection.  Satan has been defeated.  He still attacks the church, but in Christ we know that we have the victory and we will reign with Christ for eternity.

The curse that was placed on Eve made the process of filling the earth with image bearers a painful one.  In Christ, this process takes on new meaning.  Mankind is dead in sin and the image of God is marred in us.  Thus, filling the earth with the image of God requires new birth (John 3:3).  Paul talks of our old self being baptized into the death of Christ and raised with him to “newness of life” (Romans 6:3-6).  In Ephesians he refers to this as removing the old self and putting on the new self which is created in the likeness, or image, of God (Eph 4:22-24).  In this way, filling the earth with image bearers has a spiritual significance because only those who have died and been raised with Christ participate in his kingdom as image bearers.

As a result of the curse on the woman, discord arises in the home and spreads throughout all human relationships.  Yet Christ overcomes this by the cross.  He lives a life of self-denial and considers others as more important than himself.  Our old self was crucified with Christ and freed from the tyranny of self-love.  His life becomes our model of humility (Phil 2:3-8) as we seek to love God with all that we are and love our neighbors as ourselves.  Thus in the kingdom of God, this curse is likewise overcome by the blood of Jesus.

Adam also was cursed as a result of sin.  He forfeited the dominion the Lord had given him and brought death and sin into the world.  The creation itself groans under the weight of this curse (Romans 8:19-22).  Christ, the last Adam, reestablished man’s role in mediating God’s reign over creation.

 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:17)

The citizens of the kingdom of God reign with Christ.  This reign has begun even now as Christ has been given all authority in heaven and on earth.  He mediates that reign through his body the church, by the power of the Holy Spirit, for the glory of the Father.

For sure the reign of Christ has not come in its fullness.  There is a now and not yet reality to the kingdom of God.  The kingdom has begun and we build for the kingdom now with the hope that Christ will return and establish his reign in its fullness and completely wipe away all of the effects of sin.

This is exactly what we see in the close of scripture in the new heaven and new earth and the new Jerusalem.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. (Rev 21:1-7)

By the blood of his cross the Lord Jesus ultimately overcomes the fall and the curse.  Because of his righteousness the stronghold of sin is broken and all things are made new.  As originally intended, mankind will mediate the reign of God over a restored creation and we dwell in the presence of God forever just as was intended in the Garden of Eden!  This is a message of hope for everyone!

The Magnificat

Why did Jesus come to earth?  What was the purpose of the incarnation?  Certainly, the incarnation of Christ was a complex event, having many effects that have rippled throughout history.  However, often we grasp at individual aspects of the result of Christ’s life, ministry, vicarious death, and resurrection.  In this case, the incarnation often becomes nothing more than a means to an end; Jesus had to be born so that he could die on the cross.  Christmas is the means to Easter.

In no way do I mean to diminish the cross, it indeed is the lynch pin that all of history swings on.  Without it we have no hope.  Rather, my point is to elevate the life and ministry of Christ, the incarnation, to its rightful place in our understanding of the Christian life.  Jesus was not randomly roaming around for 30 years waiting to die and performing a few miracles along the way simply to prove who he was.  The incarnation is much more significant than that.

To begin to fully grasp the significance of the incarnation it will be helpful to see what Mary, the mother of Jesus, understood it to mean.  This becomes abundantly clear in a passage of scripture referred to as The Magnificat (Luke 1:46-56).  However, the key to understanding this text comes a little earlier in the chapter.  In Luke 1:26-38 the angel Gabriel visits Mary and tells her that she will bear a son, but not just any son.  She will give birth to the Son of the Most High; the long anticipated heir to the throne of David.  As promised, his kingdom (reign) will be eternal (Luke 1:31-33).

To grasp the magnitude of this promise it is essential to understand the Old Testament concept of new exodus.  In the first exodus God delivered the Hebrew people from the bondage and oppression of the Egyptians.  Through this process the nation of Israel was birthed to be kings and priests mediating God’s reign on the earth (Exodus 19:4-6).  They were a corporate Adam whom God would work through to bring all of creation under his sovereign reign; as He originally intended (Gen 1:26-28).

Unfortunately, Israel continued in sin and, like Adam, was exiled from their Eden.  They were taken into captivity in Babylon, however the prophets spoke of a new exodus that would be more comprehensive than the first (Is. 35; 43:16-21; 51:9-11; 65:17-25).  God’s people would be delivered from captivity and would return to the Promised Land where the presence of God would dwell among them in the Temple.  Further, with this exodus the curse on creation would be lifted, death and disease would be defeated, and bondage in all its forms would be eradicated; including bondage to Satan and sin as well as physical and political oppression.

When God’s people were released from captivity and returned to the land, what they found was nothing like what the prophets had promised.  They found Jerusalem in ruins and faced great opposition in their efforts to rebuild the Temple and the city.  They also faced famine and as a result suffered greatly.  Furthermore, though they were in the land, they never possessed it like they once had.  As a result, they saw their return as only a partial fulfillment of the new exodus the prophets had promised.  Their return from exile was not complete and they longed for the fullness of the new exodus deliverance that would come when the son of David once again sat upon the throne in Jerusalem.

For hundreds of years Israel waited for their promised deliverance.  They suffered under political and demonic oppression.  They longed for the righteous reign of God to manifest itself in their lives.  This was especially true of the poor and needy who suffered worst of all.  It was in this context that Gabriel visits Mary.

When she heard that she would give birth to the Son of the Most High who would finally bring the fullness of the new exodus that had been prophesied, Mary could not help but rejoice.  This is exactly what we see in Luke 1:46-56.  Mary knew that God was intervening in history and that the new creation Israel had longed for was finally coming to be!  Christmas was about God’s kingdom invading earth and all things being made new (Is. 43:18-19).

Thus Mary begins her song of praise by reflecting on who God is, her Savior (vs. 46-47).  In light of what has been discussed above, God as Savior must be understood in a comprehensive way.  The salvation Mary envisions is the fullness of the new exodus; the restoration of creation, defeat of Satan and the overturning of his kingdom, deliverance from sin and death, and restoration of fellowship with God.  It is for this that she magnifies the Lord and rejoices will all of her being.

One of the key things to understand in this passage is that the kingdom of God turns the kingdom of the Satan (the world) upon its head. They are polar opposites of one another.  In reference to the kingdom, Jesus repeatedly makes it clear that in his kingdom the last will be first and the first will be last (Matt 19:16-30; 20:1-16, 20-28).   This is demonstrated by the King himself as he humbly serves humanity (2 Cor 8:9, Phil 2:5-8).  In Satan’s kingdom the powerful and the strong are exalted while the weak are oppressed.  Under the reign of Jesus the meek and humble reign with him while the mighty are brought low.  This reality is seen throughout Mary’s song of praise.

It is seen first in vs. 48 when Mary makes reference to her “humble estate.”  This term not only reflects the humility of her spirit, but it also reflects her social status.  She was not from an important family with power and prestige.  Quite the opposite, she was a poor peasant girl.  One might imagine the Son of the Most High would be born to a great family in a beautiful palace; not to a poor couple in a stable.

Mary never seeks to rob God of his glory.  She knows that the favored position she will hold is only because mighty God has chosen to bless her (vs. 49).  She will be called blessed forever because of the special blessing the Lord has given her.  It is sad that the blessing of God has been twisted and led to two differing false views of Mary.  The Catholic Church has misunderstood Mary’s role and venerated her to a position she never belonged.  The Protestant church, going to the other extreme, has marginalized her into oblivion so that she is only occasionally mentioned in a Christmas sermon.

In the second half of her song Mary switches focus from what God has done for her to what God has and will do for Israel.  She quotes or alludes to numerous Old Testament passages about God’s work for Israel.  However, the context of her praise is the in breaking of the kingdom of God into history, the fulfillment of the new exodus.  Though she speaks in past tense, quoting scripture, she is also prophesying in new exodus language about the coming kingdom of God.  Thus, we see in the remainder of the song not only what God has done, but what he will do.

Here we see how the kingdom of God turns the kingdom of Satan upside down.  God will show mercy on the meek that fear him (vs. 50).  He will bring down the proud and will humble the mighty, while exalting the humble (vs. 51-52).  The hungry will be filled with good things and the rich will be sent away empty (vs. 53) (Luke 16:19-31; 18:18-30).  This is what the kingdom of God looks like.  It is indeed good news for the poor (Luke 4:18; 14:12-24; 19:1-10).

To be sure there are spiritual aspects to these verses.  We are to be humble in spirit and hunger for God spiritually, but we dare not rob Mary’s praise of its full intent.  A proper understanding of new exodus and the kingdom of God will not allow it.  We want to spiritualize what she is saying and rob it of all physical/temporal implications because it makes us uncomfortable.  After all, we are the rich and powerful that may be humbled and sent away empty.  The kingdom of God turns the world upside down and it must likewise turn our worlds upside down as well.  We can’t marginalize Mary’s words; we must do the hard work of applying them to our lives today.

The kingdom that is coming through the birth of Jesus is the result of the promise that God made to Abraham and his offspring (vs. 54-55).  Through the sovereign reign of Jesus the Israel of God will be delivered and all the nations of the earth will be blessed.  This is the hope of the incarnation!  This is what Christmas means to Mary.  The kingdom is here like a mustard seed, but like leaven it will spread until the long awaited promise of new exodus is fully realized.

John the Baptist: His Message of Repentance

John proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 3:3b).  This message was preached with power in a way unlike the teachers of the day, and the common people flocked to hear it.  They were instructed to bear fruit in keeping with repentance.  What exactly was this message of repentance?  What did the fruit of repentance look like?  John preached this message in order to prepare the hearts of the people for the coming of the Messiah.  Likewise, better understanding his message of repentance will serve to prepare our hearts for the message of the gospel.

John came on the scene like many of the Old Testament prophets before him; preaching in the wilderness (Matt 3:1).  His message was twofold.  First, he called for the people to repent because the kingdom of heaven was at hand (Matt 3:2).  This was a reference to the impending public ministry of Christ.  God had entered into history to redeem fallen creation and establish the reign of Christ; in heaven and on earth (Matt 28:18).  If fallen men would enter into this kingdom they would need to repent and submit to the reign of its king.

This is further explained in Luke, where John is said to proclaim a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 3:3).  The people were not ready for the coming of the Messiah because their hearts were evil.  They were marred by sin.  In recognition of this, they needed to turn from their sin, and turn to God for his gracious forgiveness.  The physical baptism he performed was a picture of the cleansing their repentance brought.

John’s arrival on the scene proclaiming this message was the fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3-5 (Matt 3:3, Mark, 1:2-3, Luke 3:4-6).  It was customary during this time, for great preparations to be made when a king would visit an area.  They would go to great lengths to smooth the highways, and make the king’s route as direct as possible.[1]  John’s message, likewise, prepared the way for the coming king, by preparing the hearts of the people to receive his message.

With their repentant hearts prepared for the gospel message Jesus would proclaim: “all flesh would see the salvation of God” (ESV).  This does not mean everyone would be saved, but that all who respond in repentance and faith, both Jews and Gentiles, will be saved.  Only Luke includes this portion of the text from Isaiah and it serves to reveal his missionary heart for all peoples.

John must have seemed radical, to borrow one of our current buzz words, as he lived in the wilderness.  His appearance was strange and reminiscent of Elijah (2 Kings 1:8), he wore a garment of camel’s hair with a leather belt (Matt 3:4, Mark 1:6).  The bold preaching of John was very effective, and people from all around the Jordan river, as well as, Jerusalem and Judea were going out to be baptized and confess their sins (Matt 3:5-6, Mark 1:5).

Among the people coming to be baptized were many Pharisees and Sadducees (Matt 3:7a).  John confronts them by calling them a “brood of vipers” (Matt 3:7b, Luke 3:7 ESV).  His response indicates that their motives for baptism were impure.  We might speculate that they either were coming to find some incriminating evidence against John, just as they would later do with Jesus.  It could have been that they were just following the crowds, or were looking to maintain, or even elevate their religious reputations.  In any case John’s harsh words remind us of Jesus dealings with them as well.

John commands them to demonstrate their sincerity of heart by bearing fruit in keeping with repentance (Matt 3:8, Luke 8a).  He knows they are consumed with religious pride in their ethnicity, with Abraham as their ancestor, so he immediately addresses this (Matt 3:9, Luke 3:8b); simply having Abraham as their father is not sufficient to please God.  If that were enough, God could raise up children of Abraham from the stones; indeed he created Adam from the dust.  Ethnicity is not enough, as demonstrated with Ishmael and Esau (Romans 9: 8-13).

Returning to his command to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (ESV), he says that judgment is coming for those whose lack of fruit demonstrates the true nature of their hearts.  Not only will fruitless trees be cut down and thrown into the fire (Matt 3:10, Luke 3:9), but even the roots will be destroyed.  This is a picture of complete destruction.

John’s condemnation of the religious leaders is so shocking, the crowd responds by asking “What then shall we do?” (Luke 3:10).  If the religious leaders were at risk of being cast into the fire, what hope did the common people have?  John’s response is not a legalistic formula for earning forgiveness, but very practical examples of the fruit of true repentance in the life of the believer.

His response to the crowd is that true repentance will result in the sharing of personal possessions to meet the physical needs of others.  He does not simply suggest this, but rather commands it as the necessary fruit of true repentance: “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” (Luke 3:11 ESV)  For John, the fruit of repentance and the corresponding right relationship with God is the outworking of the second great commandment (Matt 22:37-40).  This type of lifestyle is the mark of life in the kingdom of heaven he previously referred to.

The tax collectors also came asking what fruit they should bear as evidence of their repentant hearts (Luke 3:12).  John responds that they should collect no more than they were authorized to collect (Luke 3:13).  Tax collectors were infamously corrupt, and profited from collecting excessive amounts beyond the actual taxes.  While the tax system was corrupt and broken, John did not call for its overthrow, but for the redeemed to transform it by operating under the principles of the kingdom of heaven.

In the same manner, soldiers came to him asking what repentance should look like in their lives (Luke 3:14a).  John commands them not to extort money and to be content with their wages (Luke 3:14b).  Their common practice of extortion via threats, and false accusations was fueled by a sinful lack of contentment.  These soldiers’ covetous hearts led to the oppression of the weak for their own gain.  True repentance will deal with this root of covetousness, and thus the behavior of extortion, and oppression.  In this section, Luke captures what the repentance, John proclaimed, will look like practically as it yields its fruit in the lives of God’s people.

John’s ministry grew in prominence to the extent the people began asking if he were the Messiah (Luke 3:15).  Even the priests and Levites from Jerusalem came asking if he were the one (John 1:19).  John, having no desire to rob the Lord of his glory, was very quick to explain that there was one coming who was greater than he was (Matt 3:11a, Mark 1:7, Luke 3:16a, John 1:26-27).  Further revealing John’s reverence for Jesus, he stated in John 3:28-30, that he rejoiced at the coming of Christ, and that it was necessary for his ministry to decrease while the Lord’s must increase.

John points to their baptisms to illustrate the superiority of Jesus to himself (Matt 3:11b, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16b).  Jesus’ baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire is purifying for all who receive it.  However, John’s baptism with water is only symbolic of this greater baptism by Jesus.

The analogy of the wheat and the chaff speaks to the redemption, and ultimate judgment that Jesus brings (Matt 3:12, Luke 3:17).  Those who respond to John’s message of repentance and receive the one to come will be gathered together for eternal life.  However, those who refuse John’s message of repentance of sin, and faith in the one to come will be judged by Jesus and cast into eternal fire.

John came to prepare the way for the Lord and this required repentance from the people.  To understand the message of the Messiah, the people needed to understand their own sinfulness, and moreover, they needed to be broken and repentant over it.  When we think of sin we do not often think of greed, covetousness, and love of self, but these were areas John specifically addressed.  The church in the West would do well to consider how these sins flesh themselves out in our daily lives.  We too are in desperate need of repentance in these areas.

For John, brokenness over sin was not simply a spiritual thing.  If genuine, it would yield fruit in the life of the person repenting.  He did not describe this fruit in vague terms, but very clearly explained what the fruit of a repentant heart looked like.  Does repentance over sin, and faith in Christ, lead us to share sacrificially with others who are in need?  Does it compel us to love our neighbor as ourselves, and to treat everyone justly?  If not, then we may be in danger of being cast into the fire like fruitless trees or worthless chaff.


[1] W. MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. A. Farstad, ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995).  Logos Bible Software 4 (accessed November 23, 2011).