The Savior a Mechanic Could Love

A Certain Mechanic

            My Dad was an automobile mechanic—and a very good one at that. Religion, however, was not his thing. When I wrote him to explain why I was going to become a preacher, he told my cousin that he buried the letter under a rock.

            Why was my Dad like that? You don’t just wake up one day hating religion. Eventually I discovered some answers. First, he was raised in a hyper-strict religious environment; ignorance led to a very harsh, terrifying view of God. As a child my father saw God as an unloving tyrant, eager to send him to hell!

            In addition to this uninviting picture of God, my father grew to feel that Christians were a bunch of hypocrites—especially preachers! After learning this, I felt lucky he didn’t bury me under a rock.

            Obviously all people who claim to be Christians are not fakes. Nevertheless, we all know such “Christians” do exist. A hardened man close to the bottom of the social ladder tends, however, to have a finely tuned “hypocrite detector.” This is one reason I believe Jesus garnered so much attention from common people. They were tired of their hypocritical religious leaders.

            Very surprisingly, the story of my Dad and religion took a very unexpected turn. As time went by, I sent my Dad some books about the Bible. My Dad loved to read. He actually read them and made some positive comments about seeing God in a different light, but then he died. At his funeral, Mr. Shea, the only preacher my father ever respected, called me aside. I was shocked to learn that sometime before he died my Dad asked Mr. Shea to immerse him for the remission of his sins!

            My Dad never “went public.” Nobody but God and Mr. Shea knew about his most improbable religious moment. I wish Daddy had seen more of the real deal. Jesus was the kind of man even a certain poor, uneducated mechanic could love.

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TO FEAR OR NOT TO FEAR

I Picked Up Snakes

I was the kid in the neighborhood they looked for when a snake was found. The kids in the “hood” knew I would pick one up; all they had to do was do the finding. For whatever reason, I just picked them up. Fortunately, I got over that before one of them got me.

Looking back, I wonder, “What was I thinking”? I suppose a case could be made for my just not having any better sense. I did manage to do more than my share of less than smart things back in the day. I think, however, I have figured it out. The reason I grabbed the snakes up was because I didn’t really think there was anything to be afraid of.

In a spiritual sense, I think this curious fearlessness of mine can go two very different ways. First, we need to learn the things in life we truly need to fear. Scripture tells us some things are to be avoided at all costs (Matt. 5:29-30). Sin is not a game; it has a bite.

On the other hand, we must be courageous in living for Jesus (Jn. 16:33). Even death should not intimidate us when we stand for what is right (Matt. 10:28). A timid Christianity is no Christianity at all (II Tim. 1:7). The Serpent of old fears the day when God will crush him under our feet (Gen. 3:15; Rom. 16:20).

The Devil would back us off in fear. He will offer many ways for us to rationalize ourselves out of a courageous stand. At such times, the little children have it right, let us “run right over him!”

JESUS, REVELATION and DANIEL

REVELATION 13, 17, and DANIEL 7

•          Revelation thirteen continues the presentation of the main players in the    drama of Revelation by introducing both the Roman Empire and those who promote emperor worship.

•          The sea beast represents the Roman Empire (vv. 1-10).

•          John mentions the beast and then a leopard, a bear, and a lion (vv. 1-2).

•          Daniel had a similar vision, but in reverse order (Dan. 7:3-7).

•          Daniel saw the succession of world empires from Babylon to Persia to Greece to Rome.

•          John saw Rome first, and then the three preceding empires whose strength Rome had absorbed.

•          Daniel saw from Babylon forward to Rome; John saw from Rome backward to Babylon.

•          The sea beast, Rome, had ten horns and seven heads (v.1).

•          Note that Satan was described as a dragon that looked just like the sea beast we have just identified as Rome (12:3).

•          Satan is the force behind Rome—the ten horns represent kings that will join with Rome to defeat the church (17:12); the seven heads represent both the    hills on which Rome was built and key Roman emperors (17:9-10).

•          Particular attention is given to one of the heads, emperors, which seemed to have been killed, yet lived again—a false or counterfeit resurrection (vv. 3-9).

•          The symbolism here draws from what is called the Nero Redivivus Myth—a popular myth that developed in Rome after Nero’s death to the effect that Nero was alive and living with Rome’s enemies the Parthians. Further, it was said by the Romans that Domitian, due to similar shocking behavior, was bloody Nero back from the dead.

•          Therefore, I see the supposed resurrected head as being Domitian as he revived and expanded the persecutions of Nero.

•          In connection with this coming fierce persecution of the church, the saints are given a solemn warning (vv. 9-10).

•          Captivity and punishment are not to be resisted by force of arms (v. 10; cf. Jer. 15:2; 43:11; Matt. 26:52).

•          Next is the land beast, representing those who enforce emperor worship (vv. 1-17).

•          The power of the emperor is behind this beast (vv. 11-12).

•          They seem to have power, but it is a deception (vv. 13-14).

•          It is Domitian they serve (v. 14).

•          They killed those who did not worship Domitian (v. 15).

•          They give a sign to those who comply with emperor worship that allows them to buy and sell; those who refuse are cut off from such activities (vv. 16-17).

•          The number of the dreaded emperor who brings such persecution is 666 (v. 18).

•          Letters had numerical values in ancient times.

•          A coin minted in the first century had the inscription NRON KSR, the Hebrew spelling of Nero Caesar—N=50, R=200, O=6, N=50, K=100, S=60, R=200, for a total of 666.

•          John was a Jew and many of the early converts to the church in Asia were Jews who were well versed in such apocalyptic matters.

•          Domitian is pictured as Nero come back to life—the interpretation of 666 as Nero seems too appropriate for it to be mere coincidence.

•          Revelation seventeen symbolically supplies more information as to the character and identity of the enemy.

•          Rome is here likened to a Great Harlot, corrupter of kings/kingdoms, drunk with the blood of the martyrs, and reigning over a vast empire (vv. 2, 6, 15, 18).

•          She is the archetypical “scarlet woman” (v. 3).

•          She had grown rich through her abominations (v. 4).

•          In fact, she was the “mother of all abominations” (v. 5).

•          She was the primary force behind the murder of the martyrs (v. 7).

•          She represents an immoral sense of prideful greed that drove the Roman Empire.

•          The beast itself is the Satan-empowered Roman Empire.

•          Directing this empire would be one particular emperor who was as one who had come back from the dead (vv. 8-11).

•          The seven heads of the beast represent the seven hills upon which the city of Rome was built as well as seven kings or emperors that ruled over Rome—and a dreaded eighth that was as though one of the seven had come back     from the dead (vv. 9-11).

•          Here, as in 13:18, the reader is told to be especially wise in the interpretation.

•          In 13:18 there was the number 666 that we identified as adding up to Nero.

•          Here in 17:9-11, we are looking for a particular emperor—the emperor of the persecution.

•          Beginning with Augustus, the first actual emperor of Rome, the first eleven emperors are:

Augustus              31 BC – AD 14

Tiberius                14 – 37

Gaius (Caligula)  37 – 41

Claudius                41 – 54

Nero                       54 – 68

Galba                      68 – 69

Otho                        69

Vitilius                    69

Vespasian              69 -79

Titus                        79 – 81

Domitian                81- 96

•          As you will recall, in chapter thirteen where we found the other symbolism in need of special attention, there was a tie in with Daniel chapter seven.

•          Here we will also find a link to Daniel seven.

•          As in chapter thirteen, Revelation will be looking back through history, Daniel chapter seven, however, looked ahead through time (cf. Dan. 7:3-6; Rev. 13:1-2).

•          Daniel, in dealing with the same persecution as Revelation, saw ten emperors and then an eleventh—the persecutor (Dan. 7:7-8, 20-24).

•          John, on the other hand, saw seven emperors and then an eight—the persecutor (Rev. 17:10-11).

•          But Daniel, looking forward, saw that three of the kings were removed, which would leave seven and an eighth, just like John saw in Revelation seventeen.

•          History records that Domitian was in Rome through a civil war that saw Galba, Otho, and Vitilius all briefly rise up only to fall before they could gain control of the empire.

•          Domitian was actually proclaimed emperor at that time in the place of his      father Vespasian who was laying siege to Jerusalem, accompanied by Titus, Dometian’s older brother. Vespasian returned to Rome immediately to take   his place as emperor.

•          So the book of Revelation has discounted the three emperors that were removed and looks at the five (Augustus—Nero), the one who was emperor     at the writing of Revelation (Vespasian), the one who would come, but only   reign for a short time (Titus), and then the eighth (Domitian) who was like one of the seven (Nero) come back from the dead.

•          History and the Bible fit perfectly in a very intricate revelation of truth!

•          Therefore, I believe that the Book of Revelation was written in the latter part of Vespasian’s reign, about 78 or 79, just before Titus would come to rule for a short time, thus, just about four years before the persecutor, Domitian, would reign.

•          The ten horns are ten client kings within the Roman Empire—kings allowed to reign as long as they would be subject to Rome. Their hatred against Rome will eventually be part of Rome’s undoing (vv. 12, 16-17).

•          The cause of Christ will prevail (v. 14).

•          Rome ruled over vast numbers of people, but she was no match for the Lord  (vv. 15-17).

•          The Harlot, the malevolent spirit that characterized Rome, was ruler over earthly kings, but not over the King of kings (vv. 18, 14).

PRIDE KILLS

JESUS AND HUMILITY

         God intends for Christians to be humble, “… do nothing through faction or vainglory” (Philippians 2:3a).  With this in mind, revealing questions are in order. Are we attempting to do anything to show our superiority of intellect or for the sake of recognition? Are we doing things with the ambition to exalt self by showing we have more talent than others? Is there a minister, elder, deacon or bible school teacher who ever pridefully seeks to “show what they’ve got”? Do we find ourselves preferring secular accomplishments over how well we can serve God and others? Do we serve to glorify God or to keep some of that glory for ourselves?

         What can we do to help prevent inappropriate motives and actions? As we serve God, we need to be sure we are doing a large number of our deeds in private rather than in public (cf. Matt. 6:1-18). If everyone knows about almost every work we are doing for God, we probably have a problem with pride. Are we driven to air our good works?

         No matter what our position, we should first see ourselves as servants of Christ and of others. We must remember that all our talents, intellect, even our existence are things we owe to God—leaving no room for pride. Recognizing we are sinners and that we will never be saved on the basis merit, we should be humble, “… each counting others better than himself” (Phil. 2:3b).

         Good things such as secular accomplishments, Christian service, and an increase in our knowledge of the word can all lead to pride. Jesus, however, shows us the way. Paul said Jesus was God, thus equal with God. Jesus chose not to retain His prerogatives (Phil. 2:6-7). Though He had the right to everything, He gave it all up to share our lowly condition (Phil. 2:8).

         The example of Jesus shows that humility results in the highest kind of exaltation. Jesus was the best illustration of His own teaching “He that humbles himself shall be exalted” (Luke 14:11, 18:14).

JESUS AND CHILDREN

The Tulip Poplar

A Lesson Learned in Youth

The day was a scorcher; my hometown isn’t called “Hot-lanta” without reason. Rickey Jones, no relation, was wedged a few branches up in a large tulip poplar. “Edwin,” he said groggily, “I don’t ever want to grow up.” “What are you talking about,” I said in my own midday stupor?

Then Rickey said one of the most profound things I’ve ever heard. “Because when people grow up they act stupid.” I carefully collected myself in the face of such weighty thinking. It hit me for the first time with the full force of this profound reality. The grownups I knew had evidently gone through some sort of change when they stopped being children.

My peers in the just-before-teen range were different. It wasn’t just about our not knowing as much or how we lacked in life skills, there was something more significant. We were still holding on to something special.

This was one of those life-changing moments! I made a promise to myself in classic Peter Pan style, “I’m not going to grow up.”

I know some of you who know me are snickering and thinking, “That’s one promise he kept.” I’ll admit adult ways are sometimes not my favorite things. I still believe Rickey made good sense.

LEADERSHIP IN THE JESUS’ STYLE

The Jesus Style of Leadership

Matthew 20:20-28

             There are few lessons Jesus taught that are of greater practical importance to His cause than His teaching about leadership. Leadership is without doubt vital to the success of God’s people. From the Old Covenant prophets (Jer. 3:15; 23:1-2), to Christ in His earthly ministry (Matt. 9:36-38), to the Church Age (Acts 20:28), serious attention is given to those who lead the people of God.

            Of all the passages that deal with leadership, perhaps the one that best captures the essence of the subject is Matthew 20:20-28. The context, the teaching, and the example of Christ all combine in these few verses to portray the heart of Christ-like leadership.

            The context of the passage finds James and John jockeying for position in the soon-to-come Messianic kingdom. They even got their mother involved in the maneuvering! Jesus made it very plain; however, that the kind of leadership they coveted was not suitable for His kingdom. What they wanted was the style practiced by the rulers of this world. Jesus wanted otherwise.

            Jesus’ admonition in these verses adds additional power to His rebuke of James and John. Earthly rulers are the ones who exploit their authority over others. Secular powerbrokers major on issuing commands that reflect their selfish, personal wishes. Jesus says that the self-centered, authoritarian way of the world is totally unacceptable among His people!

            Additionally, and most powerfully, the personal example of Jesus left no room for misunderstanding. Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve. Greatness for the Christ came in the form of humble service. As Jesus saw it, being great meant being a slave. Therefore, those our Lord regards highest are those who become as slaves to others. If Jesus, God’s sinless Son, could be a servant-leader, how can we refuse to do otherwise?

            All too often, however, our models for leadership come from corporate America. The boardroom with its closed doors and political style of maneuvering has wielded more influence among us than we might care to admit. Jesus, in forming the church, created a spiritual family (Matt. 12:46-50; I Cor. 12:12, 14, 20). We have sometimes invented a military-like chain of command or corporate matrix. Therefore, personalized, servant leadership in a family setting is, at times, replaced by a detached, cloistered group of decision makers.

            Even well intending men can all too easily find themselves molded by the world rather than being transformed by the Christ (Rom. 12:1-2). Projects become more important than people, points of an agenda get more attention than the needs of the flock, and schedules interfere with immediate shepherding needs. Such a situation can also bring about a strong temptation to serve for the personal pride of holding a position rather than to humbly serve the cause of Jesus.

            The cure is found in the Jesus Model. Unlike the many secular based rivals, it is the only one that insures that kingdom business will be properly addressed. The rule exercised by God’s leaders has nothing whatsoever to do with personal preferences and everything to do with the mind of Christ (I Cor. 10:16). Servant/slave leadership destroys convenience, pride, prejudice, and politics as prime movers and establishes sacrifice, humility, fairness, and biblical principles to rule in the church. Indeed, only the Christ-given model can ever succeed in a spiritual kingdom. As with all things, let us look to God rather than to the world as our example for acceptable, productive leadership. Remember, brothers and sisters, among us the Christ rules!

TEACHING LIKE JESUS, PART FIVE

JESUS TAUGHT TO CULTIVATE A RELATIONSHIP

OF LOVE BETWEEN HIMSELF AND HIS DISCIPLES

                        Depending on whether you use a KJV or NKJV as your basic study text or you use a translation based on an eclectic Greek text such as the ASV or NASB, you will get the principle first in either John 14:15 or John 14:23.  Either way, the key to success in the teaching process, viewed as a whole, is easy to grasp, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”

                        In the church, we often fret and fuss over failures and unsuccessful ventures.  We wonder what to do? We try different programs and methods that only frustrate us.  We have long lists of “things” to try, but these things seem to give only fleeting results at best.  What is missing?

                        The answer is simple – we fail due to a lack of love.  That doesn’t mean there is a total lack of love, just that there is an insufficient amount necessary for the challenge at hand.  This principle has gigantic implications that should forever change the way we commonly teach.  If we really want to be successful, we need to first focus on growing in our love for Jesus.  To the extent that we love Him, we serve Him and serve Him well.

                        A conversation between Jesus and Simon Peter in John 21:15-19 is instructive at this point.  Prior to Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion, Jesus had told Peter he would deny Him, which, as we know, Peter said he would not do (Mk. 14:27-31; Lk. 22:31-34).  The conversation at the end of John’s gospel draws from that previous exchange between Peter and Christ.

                        In the passage from John, there is an interesting twist in the Greek text.  The back and forth between Jesus and Simon employs the word “love” six times, three by Jesus, three by Simon.  It goes like this:  Do you love Me?  Yes, I love You.  Do you love Me?  Yes, I love You.  Do you love Me?  Yes, I love You.  The curious feature, unrevealed in our English Bibles, is that “love” is not always translated from the same Greek word.  In order of appearance from the Greek text, it goes like this:  First exchange – agapao/phileo; second exchange – agapao/phileo; third exchange – phileo/phileo.

                        Two principal views are advanced to explain this peculiarity.  Some feel it is merely a stylistic characteristic common to John. He often uses two different words to mean the same thing.  The other main line of interpretation believes there is more to be made of the words chosen than just John’s writing style. I side with the latter.

                        While it is true John does, at times, use words with double meanings and either meaning can fit, or use different words to mean the same thing – this looks different to me.  The a/b, a/b, b/b rhythm is unbalanced, it is not uniform.  Those who read the gospel in Greek would have readily noticed the obvious difference at the point of the third exchange.

                        Here’s what I make of it.  Remember the pre-crucifixion conversation where Peter pledged not to deny the Lord, only to deny Him three times. The later conversation in John seems to draw a direct connection as Jesus asks Peter for a threefold affirmation.  Additionally, although agapao and phileo can be used interchangeably, and John does this on occasion (cf. Jn. 3:35 and 5:20; 11:5 and 11:36), the words possess a degree contrast. Unlike the common view that phileo is purely emotional and agape involves only dogged determination, the differences are not always so stark (note I Cor. 13:4-8a where agapao is shown to have quite a bit of emotional content).

                        Although the two words have overlap, there is also the possibility of contrast.  Phileo may have a stronger emotional emphasis; it does not have as strong a mental toughness as agapao might express.  The point of the Holy Spirit using the different words, I believe, was Simon’s need for both a stronger and a different sort of love.

                        Jesus deals with Peter’s need in a very realistic and helpful manner, though the process is a difficult one for Simon.  First, Jesus gives him a reality check so He and Simon can move forward in keeping with the realistic nature of their relationship.  In short, Simon did not have as strong a love as he had previously professed.  In order to grow, Simon needed to begin where he was in his commitment to Jesus.  The third exchange in John 21:15-17 highlights this reality check.

                        In the third question and answer phase of the conversation, Peter is not, as I understand it, upset because Jesus asks him a third time if he loves Him.  In other words, the number of times the question was asked is not the issue.  I am convinced the matter striking Simon in the third exchange is that Jesus questions if Peter actually possessed phileo love.  Thus, I believe Peter’s third response finds him smarting because Jesus now asks him if he truly does have even the lower level of love represented by the word phileo.

                        Peter’s third response virtually cries out, “You know all things; you know I don’t have the agapao level of love I professed, but you do know I have phileo love for you.” At this sobering moment, I believe a needed reality was achieved!

                        Yes, Peter had a strong love for Jesus. I believe he would have died for Him without hesitation, if he could have done it his way (cf. Jn. 18:10). Phileo, however, has its limitations. Agapao has an expression exceeding that of phileo; agapao can act when everything else, including phileo, gives up and runs away. Peter needed growth in his love for Jesus. He would later experience that growth in his love (Jn. 21:18), but it needed additional development. Jesus was willing to take Peter where he was and move on to better days. He is willing and eager to do the same with us.

                        My point is this, if we are going to move forward with our Christ-likeness, we must have a sufficiently strong love – otherwise our progress will be slowed.  Therefore, Jesus developed relationships with people so their love for Him could increase the quality of both their character and their service.  We should honor this vital factor and give a strong priority to cultivating an ever-growing love for Jesus in ourselves and in those we teach.

                        How will we do this?  Remember how we previously observed there was a message in how God determined that the four Gospels would fill about 50% of the New Testament. A light bulb of discovery should be turning on at this point. Jesus living among us in the flesh is without doubt the most pointed focus of the New Testament. This “in the flesh” view of the Christ is fundamental to all that follows in the church (cf. Jn. 1:14, 18; 14:8-9).

                        We have at times heard among that Acts 2 and the beginning of the church is the “hub” of the Bible.  It may be “a” hub, but it is not “the” hub.  Jesus, the builder, founder, and anchor of all that pertains to the church is the undisputed, unrivaled, unchallenged “hub” of the Bible. Our love and loyalty to Jesus is what establishes our love and loyalty to His church, not the other way around.

                        I have considerable passion for this point, but you can easily see the reason for the passion.  All loves are secondary to our love for God. In the Christian Age, this love focuses on the Christ (cf. Jn.16:13-16).

                        Therefore, let’s reflect on a pivotal passage in the Epistles to reinforce even further the critical nature of our point about loving Jesus.  Our text is II Corinthians 5:14-15, “For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died, and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their ¬¬¬¬behalf (NASB).”  The point is hard to miss isn’t it?

                        Now, back to our point relating to extremely high percentage of New Covenant content taken up by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  Here we see Jesus in action in the best object lesson God could ever give – God in the flesh (Jn. 2:14; 14:7-9).  We get a sense of who God is and what that means for our life in this incarnated opportunity that surpasses all other learning experiences.

                        As we see Jesus in action, if we have any ability at all to appreciate and love God, this will arrest our hearts.  His courage, compassion, brilliance, commitment, devotion, energy, ingenuity, wisdom, zeal and love make Him the Man among men.  Jesus is unlike any person who has ever lived.  If we cannot love Him, how could we ever love anything?  We will be drawn to Him in shameless adoration, unless selfishness and pride are allowed to rule (cf. Lk. 7:36-50).

                        Moreover, the clincher is this; this God/Man died for us!  While we were sinners, He died for us (Rom. 5:6-8)!  He is the greatest gift of love that ever could be given (Jn. 12:32-33)!

                        The Gospels are indeed foundational.  Some have shortchanged this truth; others have distorted it to undermine the presence of the mind of Christ in the Epistles. The fact, however, remains — the Gospels are fundamental.  Apart from the Christ presented in the Gospels, there is no reason to move any further with the New Covenant.  Because of Jesus, however, there is every reason to grow in our love and our service to the Christ.

                        Yes, to grow in love for Jesus is truly the key.  Even as a devoted mother would suffer great injury, even death, without thinking of abandoning her child, so a devoted love for Jesus will not think of abandoning Him!  Much more than not abandoning Him, however, we will imitate Him without embarrassment, even as a child imitates a beloved parent.

                        Teaching begins with love; the love Jesus has for us and the love we have for Him. Apart from the motivation of love, we will fail.  The lesson is unavoidable; we need to employ as a first priority the development of relationships of love between Jesus and all of humanity. Our teaching must seek this high standard.

SUMMATION AND CONCLUSION

                        JESUS is preeminent. The “Jesus First” principle of always looking first to Him is non-negotiable. His character was the basis for His success as a teacher. From His God-like nature He successfully employed a variety of real-world discovery methods to engage the true searchers in a great adventure of personal growth. As the greatest, most giving person who ever lived, He draws us to love Him with a love exceeding all others. With the love of Christ in our hearts we are motivated to serve Him with the best we possess. As we teach, let us remember these things. May we use our knowledge to grow in the Lord and help others to do likewise.