We often think that God is angry or exasperated with us. In our minds we imagine him a gray-bearded, toga-wearing, lightning-bolt wielding deity bent on dispensing cosmic justice through divine wrath. Is this the picture of God that you see when you worship, pray, or even sin?

Jesus-Replaces-WebWhat we imagine when we think about God is important. The image of God we construct in our minds is vital for determining what kind of relationship we have with him. Whether we have a relationship with God founded on love or terror, grace or law, depends in large part on the picture of God we live with in our inner being.

So what does God look like? Is he a baptized Zeus, full of righteous anger and quick to dispense divine punishment? Or does he look like someone else?

In Colossians 1:15, Paul quotes an ancient hymn, the first line of which is this: The Son is the image of the invisible God. The hymn, of course, is about Jesus, and it boldly proclaims that Jesus is the image of God. When we imagine what God is like, therefore, the picture that ought to come to our minds is Jesus.

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kingdom of Jesus

In recent years, millions of people have been violently displaced from their homes and forced to live as refugees in foreign lands. These poor souls have endured catastrophic suffering and loss, and they have little or no hope of returning to a normal life in their homeland. All that they had is lost or destroyed. Many of them are victims of tyrants and warmongers bent on controlling land and resources to enhance their own empires and kingdoms.

kingdom of JesusDarkness is a tyrant that has made refugees of us all. Our native land is Eden, where our first ancestors experienced perfect communion with God. This is the life for which we were created, but that we have since lost due to the sway of sin in our hearts and the power of the dark forces of evil which wage constant war against both God and us. We are homeless and wandering, living in the ambivalence of being both victims of the dark tyrant and complicit in our own expulsion from Eden.

But God has seen our plight, and he has acted on our behalf. Colossians 1:13 says that “he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.” The dark tyrant has been overthrown, and now we may enter a new kingdom – the kingdom of Jesus. In Christ we are granted far more than refugee status; we are made heirs of his kingdom! Jesus has not given us simple food and shelter; he has given us a crown and a throne. Imagine a refugee, broken and desperate, taken from a camp and made a member of Congress. This is the audacity of King Jesus, that he would take sinners like us, made refugees of Eden by the joint effort of the dark tyrant and our own weak hearts, and make us kings and queens of his kingdom through the means of his own death and resurrection, whereby we are redeemed from the dominion of darkness and all of our sins are forgiven!

One of the most incredible passages of Scripture, and one to which I return often, is Revelation 21. It is the story of the consummation of redemption history, of the bride of Christ descending from heaven – walking down the aisle, as it were – for her marriage to the “Lamb who was slain.” The imagery is rich and profound, bursting with anticipation of the new creation, of the world made right, and of the end of the tyrannical reign of sin and death.

In verse 6, the unseen God shouts from his glorious throne, “Behold! I am making all things new!” A proclamation. A promise. God is making all things new. The mountains and rivers will be made new. Not different mountains and rivers; the same, but renewed. Purified. Cleansed.

The same is true for us. There will not be different people; there will be the same people, but we will be renewed, purified, cleansed, redeemed, comforted. This is what awaits us in Christ. But you don’t have to wait for it to happen all at once in heaven. This is what God is up to right now. God is making a new you, and he is doing it through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit today.

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Since our son Ezekiel passed away two and a half months ago, Breena and I have been often asked: How are you doing? The truth is, we’re doing well. This fact can be difficult for some to understand. After all, our 4 1/2 year old son died of a terrible disease that slowly destroyed his brain and his body for more than two years. How could we possibly be doing well after experiencing something like that?

IMG_0158The only answer we have to that question is that we’ve found a hope that transcends death. We’re doing well because we have hope that there is something, or someone, who is greater than death. This hope, which has buried itself deep within our hearts over the past two years, is rooted in Jesus and his resurrection from the dead. We believe that Jesus conquered death once and for all; not that he has yet eradicated it and our bodies will never die, but that he has risen again from the dead, thereby destroying the power of death. If Jesus rose again, then death isn’t final, at least not for those who follow Jesus.

Nothing else on earth offers this kind of hope. No other religion or ideology offers the kind of hope that Christianity does through the resurrection of Jesus. The cross and resurrection, the “true message of the Gospel,” gives humanity a hope that no other way of life can – a hope that strips death of its power to make us afraid and replaces it with a vision of an unimaginably glorious and good life beyond death. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15,

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This morning I preached a sermon at Grace on Matthew 12 called Sacred Cows. Jesus and his disciples were walking through a grainfield on the Sabbath, and because they were hungry, his disciples picked some heads of grain and ate them. The Pharisees, who enforced strict Sabbath-keeping laws, were incensed by their irreverence for the Sabbath, which had become the theological symbol of Moses’ law and the litmus test for Jewish faithfulness. The Sabbath had become a sacred cow for the Pharisees, and Jesus and his disciples were, in a sense, kicking the cow. He responded to their outcry with a bold claim: The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath. 

We all have sacred cows, the things that have become primary identity markers, or litmus tests of faithfulness. It could be any number of things, including politics, our family, an ideology, or even the Bible. But when Jesus declared himself Lord of the Sabbath, he made the powerful statement that he is greater than all of our sacred cows. He is the Lord of all of our sacred identity markers and theological litmus tests. When any of these things come into conflict with him – as they did through the hunger of his disciples in that grainfield – we must choose him. We cannot serve two masters; we cannot serve both God and Sabbath.

If you’ve been holding onto something the way the Pharisees held onto the Sabbath, it’s time to let go. You’re crushing it under the weight of your expectations and demands. What the Pharisees should have done, and what we need to do, is to remind ourselves of this truth and live in it daily: Jesus is greater than. Because when you get that right, Jesus can do to the Bible, and to your family, and to your politics what he did to the Sabbath – he can redeem it from a dead list of dos and don’ts and transform it into something that breathes life into your spirit, sustains your soul, and brings healing and freedom to your whole being.

 

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