Exalting Christ

“Christ first, that in all things He might have the pre-eminence – Motto for 1902.”

So reads a small framed panel we have in our entry hall, rescued years ago from an antiques store. Someone – who lives on only in memories and faded photographs and in this inscription – wanted a daily reminder of the supremacy of Jesus Christ.

The author of the book of Hebrews in the New Testament writes with a similar thought in mind. So Mike reminded us yesterday as he began a new series looking at this important letter.

Hebrews was written to encourage Christians in a time of trial – a time when the pressure and temptation to abandon their faith seemed almost overwhelming.

That may just make it the perfect medicine for Christians today in the face of the global Coronavirus pandemic and the associated fallout.

So, the author begins the letter by establishing the supremacy – the pre-eminence of Jesus Christ – for his audience.

But why not start with encouraging words like “God loves you and has a plan for your life” or something similar? Why talk about such ethereal things as the nature of Jesus Christ, and His power in creating and sustaining the universe?

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Do You Want to be Healed?

“Do you want to be healed?”, Jesus asked the paralysed man laying by the Pool of Bethesda in John 5:1-16. 

At first glance, it would seem to be a strange question to ask a man who has been paralysed for 38 years. “Are you blind? Can’t you see my condition? Of course I want to be healed!”

But the answer isn’t always thot obvious.

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Is He a Prophet or a Circus Performer?

John’s gospel was written with a very specific purpose in mind: “… so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” [John 20:31].

So, the selection of material that John reports seems to me to be an odd choice in achieving that purpose. We know from John’s own words – and from the other gospels – that Jesus was a miracle-worker without peer.

John himself wrote in the very last verse “… there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”

So why would he choose to report only seven miracles? And why would the first two miracles that he reports be ones performed out of sight of all but a tiny handful of people?

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Sowers and Reapers

Every culture has its celebrities – those who stand above the crowd for their abilities and success in their chosen field. They attract attention wherever they go, command respect, and often receive adoration bordering on worship.

In the movie world, there are any number of stars and directors who we would pay to see, and pay even more to have a photo taken with them. Tom Cruise, Marilyn Monroe, Quentin Tarantino, Clark Gable, Rose Byrne… the list goes on. 

Music, Art, Business, Sport – you name it, there will be celebrities for us to follow and to hang off their every word as if they spoke as gods.

It’s nothing new. The adoration of celebrities seems to be built into our human nature.

Even Christian culture is not immune to a fascination with celebrities. There are plenty of Christian musicians who qualify as celebrities – at least, in Christian circles they do.

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True Food

What’s your favourite food? If you were a prisoner on death row, what would you request for your final meal before execution?

Tough question. I have so many ‘favourites’ that it’s hard to decide which is #1. Corned beef with white sauce, mashed potato and veg, maybe. That would have to be in the Top Ten – maybe even Top Five.

Pumpkin soup with fresh bread rolls to dunk – mmm! A winter wonder. Or Meatloaf with BBQ sauce. Or Spaghetti Bolognese. All simple foods, but all some of my favourites.

What about fried Fritz with homemade tomato sauce, mash and veg? I love that! Takes me back to my childhood. If you have to ask what Fritz is, you betray your lack of ‘South Australianness.’

I sometimes joke that Roast Lamb is God’s favourite food. He seemed to consume a lot of it in the Bible. In fact, He insisted on it whenever someone wanted to approach Him in the Temple. Good choice, God. Roast Lamb and roast veg is hard to go past.

What was Jesus’ favourite food? Lamb with bread and wine was certainly up there. “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” [Luke 22:15].

But there was one food He desired even more…

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Stop the world! I want to get off!

“Stop the world! I want to get off!” This world is broken. And it gets more broken by the day. I sometimes wonder how any of us find the strength to carry on.

It’s almost enough for one to say, “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here!” That, according to Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy,’ is the inscription above the entrance to Hell. In this day and age, it might well be the inscription above the entrance into life on earth.

We all know who to blame for this brokenness, of course. We all know who is ‘Patient Zero’ in this tragedy.

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Worship in Spirit and Truth

When Jesus was walking the earth, going around doing good and performing signs and wonders, they said these miracles were not from God, and instead accused him of doing them by the power of the devil [see Matt 12:22-32].

I wonder if He wouldn’t have the opposite problem today; that signs and wonders are attributed to God that would seem more likely to be from the devil instead?

I raise this question because I have seen far too much go on in Christian worship services – and celebrated as evidence of the anointing of the Holy Spirit – that looks to me to be anything but Holy Spirit led.

Some would be quick to point the finger at me, warning that I am doing exactly what the Pharisees were doing in Jesus’ day. I’ll admit, that is a possibility. So I approach this carefully.

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True Worshippers

True worshippers, that’s who the Father seeks, according to Jesus.

So, does that mean the ones with good voices, or musical talent, or the most ‘spiritual,’ whatever that means? Is He seeking those who know good songs to sing to Him?

And does that mean worship is reserved for church on Sunday morning (after all, it is called a ‘worship service) when we gather to sing for 30 or 40 minutes? Of course, the more spiritual among us might do it privately during the week too, but surely the Father doesn’t expect that of all of us?

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True Worshippers

True worshippers, that’s who the Father seeks, according to Jesus.

So, does that mean the ones with good voices, or musical talent, or the most ‘spiritual,’ whatever that means? Is He seeking those who know good songs to sing to Him?

And does that mean worship is reserved for church on Sunday morning (after all, it is called a ‘worship service) when we gather to sing for 30 or 40 minutes? Of course, the more spiritual among us might do it privately during the week too, but surely the Father doesn’t expect that of all of us?

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Who is this man?

The more I study the story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, the more amazed I am at the way Jesus relates to, and connects with, people.

And the more obvious is the contrast between how He addresses the powerful and how He deals with the lowly.

For instance, in John 2 He enters the Temple and, outraged at the corruption and exploitation displayed, makes a whip, overturns the tables of the money changers, and drives the animals out of the Temple courts.

Another time, He was angry at the religious leaders for their hypocrisy and lack of compassion, and deliberately healed a man on the Sabbath in the synagogue, knowing full well that it would provoke them to plot His death [see Mk 3:1-6].

“You snakes, you brood of vipers,” He calls the scribes and Pharisees in Matt 23:33; “Snakes in the grass,” one translation puts it.

‘Gentle Jesus, meek and mild…’ Hmm, maybe not.

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