The Boldness of Knowing Jesus

The people of Jesus should know Jesus. That is the inescapable impression we get from reading the Book of Acts. We see it in the church’s boldness — that is, the church’s outspoken clarity about the identity and significance of Jesus.

This boldness actually hems up the entire story of Acts with its key appearances in Peter’s first sermon (Acts 2:29) and Paul’s concluding hospitality ministry (Acts 28:31), not to mention several mentions throughout the gospel’s advance (Acts 4:132931;9:27–2813:4614:318:262826:26). From start to finish, and everywhere in-between, we see that the life of the early church was consumed with Jesus. They knew him and were open about him. This is the boldness that characterized the church then and should characterize the church today. But how exactly?

Getting to the How

How do we live with this kind of clarity and outspokenness about Jesus? How do we live bold?

It has to do with knowing Jesus. I mean, really knowing Jesus, as if our lives depended on it. I think that’s what’s happening in the portrait we see from Acts. Back then, and here now, grasping the glory of Jesus isn’t an extracurricular activity to our discipleship, it is our discipleship. Who he is defines who we are. If we know anything, let us know him. For if we can convince our neighbors to vote like us, but we know not Jesus, we are just pushy religious people. And if we are well read, and understand the numerous pitfalls among the emerging millennial generation, and if our church has a podcast, so as to be heard, but we know not Jesus, we are nothing. Nothing. And the list could go on.

So then, let us know Jesus. Let us press on to know Jesus, theologically, biblically, personally.

What I hope to do in the rest of this post is sketch a vision for knowing Jesus like this, which implies two things I want to make clear. First, knowing Jesus like this is not the full experience of how I know him now. I have come to know Jesus (or rather be known by Jesus, Galatians 4:9), but I am not writing as an aged saint with decades of communion in my background. I am writing as a mere disciple with a vision — one who has tasted and seen Jesus’s goodness and who, by grace, has an appetite for more. So hear my words as aspiration and hope, not as experience and advice. I am writing as someone like you.

Second, this vision of living bold isn’t an over-romanticized view of the early church. The first-century Christians had their own troubles. And in fact, much of the theological truth we understand about Jesus today has come as the gold of yesterday’s doctrinal furnaces. This is not an exercise to “get back” so much as to step forward — to build upon the grace given to our forefathers in order to wait well now for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is vision. And every vision must navigate between the extremes of historical adulation and chronological snobbery. Only one has ever done it perfectly. We must live as faithfully as we know how for such a time as whenever it is. And an indispensable part of that in every generation of the church is to know Jesus. Here is a snapshot of what that might look like today.

To Know Jesus, Theologically

This is the nuts and bolts section. Jesus is God of God, Light of Light, True God of True God. He is “begotten, not made,” the early creed said. He is of the same essence as the Father. He is the second person of the triune God — the one God in Trinity and Trinity in unity, having neither persons blended nor essence divided. The person of the Father is distinct, the person of the Son another, and that of the Holy Spirit still another. But the divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one. Their glory is equal, their majesty coeternal. And it was through the Son — the uncreated, immeasurable, eternal Son — that all things were made. And it was him, who for us and our salvation, came down from heaven by the power of the Holy Spirit, became incarnate by the virgin Mary, and was made truly human. Fully God, fully man, one person with two natures — glorious hypostatic union. This is Jesus.

Do we know him like this? Over centuries, the church has pressed deep into biblical concepts to faithfully articulate the identity of Jesus and guard against error. Individuals and communities devoted their lives to this cause. Over against the encroaching tides of new thought-systems and complex philosophical cultures, orthodox doctrine has persevered. The truth has stood, and stands. And we should know it. The Athanasian Creed (from which much of the preceding paragraph borrows) claims that knowing Jesus theologically is a matter of life or death. To not keep the doctrine of the Trinity (including the doctrine of Christ) means you will “doubtless perish eternally.” Again, this is not extracurricular to the Christian life. This is the heart and center.

Practically, I think a good step in this direction is to memorize the Nicene Creed The idea is not that every Christian become a seminary-level expert on Christology. Rather, the hope is that we would be acquainted with the primary theological categories and have at least one creedal go-to. The Nicene is a good one.

To Know Jesus, Biblically

The triune God has revealed himself preeminently in Jesus Christ. And his testimony is the organizing principle of Scripture. We should know him there.

The Bible is the story of God’s glory and grace that stretches centuries and cultures and literary genres, all pointing to and holding up the definitive witness of Jesus — who is the Word of God made flesh (John 1:14), the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature (Hebrews 1:3), the Lamb who was slain before the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8), in whom all the fullness of deity is pleased to dwell (Colossians 2:9), who upholds the universe by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3).

Jesus reminded his disciples that everything written about him in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled (Luke 24:44–45). Peter said that God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets that his Christ would suffer (Acts 3:18). Paul said that the gospel mystery of Jesus was made known through the prophetic writings (Romans 16:25–27). From Genesis to Revelation, the Book is about Jesus. That’s the point in the Redeemer mentioned in Genesis 3 who would come to crush the serpent (Genesis 3:15). That’s why God promised Abraham that through his offspring all the peoples of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 12:1–3). That’s why he told Moses that there would be a prophet like him who would rise up in Israel and speak his word (Deuteronomy 18:15). That’s why God told David that he would have a son who would be enthroned as King forever (2 Samuel 7:16), a King to whom Solomon still looked and the prophets eagerly proclaimed.

The Redeemer, the Son, the Prophet, the King — he’s the one the whole world longed for. And then he came. Born in Bethlehem, in a stable, the promised one came. And he lived the perfect life, tempted in every way we’ve been tempted, yet he never sinned. He trusted his Father and was faithful to the end, to the point of death, even death on a cross. On a cross. A cross where he suffered in the place of sinners, where he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities. The cross of his condemnation brought us peace. The scene of his forsakenness became the grounds to our adoption. Jesus, by faith in him, reconciles us to the Father. Jesus makes us no longer enemies, but sons and daughters. No longer dead in Adam and destined for wrath. But now, because of Jesus, we are alive in him, alive to God, filled with his Spirit, and drawn into this very story of his glory.

Practically, this means we read the Bible. Jesus’s people are Bible-people. Let us read it through, and study it, and memorize it, and every time we open its pages breathe this prayer with our hearts: “Show us Christ.”

To Know Jesus, Personally

We want to know Jesus theologically and biblically because we know him personally, and in order to know him more personally. We can’t extract any of these perspectives if we’re to really know him, and especially not this one.

If we focus exclusively on the theological side, it could become all about not falling into error. If we focus exclusively on the biblical side, it could dwindle down to a cerebral exercise of one exegetical discovery after another for the sake of exegetical discovery. But if we know him personally, the uncreated Son is the one who saved us. The Suffering Servant is the one who suffered for my sins. The priest after the order of Melchizedek is the one who prays for me, who knows all of my failings and weaknesses and who never tires to plead for me. If we know him personally, he is not just the Jesus of theological categories, or the Jesus of canonical testimony, he is Jesus my Lord and my God. Jesus, our Savior.

Practically, this means we commune with him as we learn of him. It means we think about Jesus and we talk about Jesus. It means we love him.

This is the joy we have been saved to, that we know Jesus, and in knowing him, live in outspoken clarity about his identity and significance.


Why Boldness Matters Now

The Book of Acts profiles a people living bold.

The theme of boldness takes center-stage in Acts 4 with the story of Peter’s and John’s trial before the Sanhedrin. We learn that what astonishes the Jewish leaders pertains mainly to the apostles’ content, not their emotions. The bewildering reality at work in Peter’s and John’s testimony is what they say about Jesus.

These two fishermen had become messengers of God’s salvation, heralds for a new age in human history. They were now spokesmen of the risen and reigning Lord over all. So yes, they spoke with passion. But the point Luke drives home is not their style, but their substance. Not their homiletics, but their hermeneutics. It was all centered on Christ — how he is the One to whom the whole Old Testament points, how his work has changed the world forever.

The heart of Peter’s and John’s boldness was how they spoke clearly about the identity and significance of Jesus. The picture Luke gives us of the early Christian mission is that the church was not without words when it came to the question of their King. They knew Jesus — they saw him in the Scriptures, they understood his epoch-shifting wonder and its implications for everybody everywhere. They knew Jesus, and so should we.

Boldness for Today

Now maybe this sounds like the bar is set too high for us. Maybe this sounds like some kind of unrealistic expectation about lay-level theological education. Maybe. But my unshakable impression from reading our brother Luke is that he envisions the people of Jesus as a people who know Jesus. That the people of Jesus can see him in their Book. That the people of Jesus know what to say if someone were to ask, “About whom, I ask you, is the prophet talking about in the 53rd chapter of Isaiah?” (Acts 8:34–35). Luke has written a theological narrative for the church to drink up, and when we do, he’s convinced me that it means we imbibe this kind of boldness for our day — that we know whom we have believed amid a culture of confusion. In a word, the church should know Jesus.

This vision of Christian boldness — of speaking clearly about the identity and significance of Jesus — is increasingly relevant in the day in which we live. This is worth highlighting, and there are two reasons why. First, the pluralism around us means inevitable indoctrination. Second, the more we’re marginalized, the greater the risk is that what’s important will muffle what’s the most important.

The World Is Full of Ideas

A pluralistic world is like a raging river of clashing currents. The currents are the vast array of competing metanarratives, which as Richard Bauckham explains, is “an attempt to grasp the meaning and destiny of human history as a whole by telling a single story about it” (Bible and Mission, 4). The point is that, in our world, everybody’s got a story. Everybody lives by some story that tries to make sense of it all, whether cultural, religious, or ideological. There are several rushing currents in this river of our world, and they’re always leading somewhere.

Toss in this river the glut of communication channels around us, and it means that we can’t really do anything without stepping through those tumultuous waters. And if our steps are not intentional — if we don’t know where we want to go — we’ll just drift along with the strongest pull. The idea of not being pulled somewhere is impossible. “One’s life is moving in one direction or another, taking one kind of shape or another,” writes Kevin Vanhoozer in The Drama of Doctrine.

It is essential that we get clear on who Jesus is and what his work means for the world, as the Bible shows us. Bauckham points out that only the Bible “tells a story that in some sense encompasses all other human stories [and] draws them into the meaning that God’s story with the world gives them” (5). The truth of Jesus in God’s story must be our navigating force. If it’s not, we’ll simply be tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every other current’s pull. Vanhoozer says, “To the extent that we are always following some direction or other, our very lives are ‘indoctrinated.’ The only question is whether the doctrine that informs one’s life is governed by the Christian gospel or by some other story, some other script” (Drama, 105). We’re either bold about Jesus, or we’re adrift with no anchor.

Being Clear About Jesus, Mainly

Secondly, when tensions are high and Christians are marginalized, our witness can feel increasingly complex. Articulating the person and work of Jesus doesn’t appear to answer the questions that confront us the most. People don’t want to hear about Jesus, they want to hear what we think about the issues. The issues — that’s the temptation. If we’re not careful, our witness in the world will be shriveled down to just our stance on the next hot topic. That will become our focus. That will be the main conversation we have and the primary object of our energy.

Hear me clearly: there are deathly important questions in our world, and our conviction is indispensable. We need to say it. And then say it again. And at the same time, we need to remember that our mission in this world is not about a stance, but a message. We have deathly important things to say about marriage, but the most radical, controversial thing that we will ever say is “Jesus is Lord.” There is nothing more counter-cultural than telling the world that the crucified Messiah is raised and reigning, and that therefore now “God commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30).

The gospel of Jesus’s lordship is the best and wildest news anyone will ever hear. And it’s the most important thing we have to say. In fact, it’s because of his lordship that any other issue matters. Jesus is Lord, not the state, not you or me, and therefore his definitions are what really count. Whether we build our arguments from natural law or what have you, the Christian can only faithfully think and act when it’s in respect to Jesus’s reign. His reign and what it means for souls is what we should know best how to articulate. Say everything that is important, but be clear about Jesus, mainly.

So because ideas are everywhere out there and always pulling at us, and because high tensions want to trivialize our main message, we should be bold — that is, we should be very clear and outspoken about who Jesus is and what he has done.


Live Bold

To live Christianly in a culture of confusion is to live boldly.

There is some explaining to do here. On one hand, the above sentence is simple and agreeable at face-value. On the other hand, there’s a sense in which it will resonate with certain personalities while alienating others. Does our culture really need Christians to live bold? What does that even mean?

The answer hangs on our understanding of “bold.” And if we’d learn from the Book of Acts, the answer is yes — the call of Christian living is to live bold the way Luke shows us. It’s not so much because our culture needs it, but because “boldness” is an identity-shaping element of the church.

How’d They Do That?

It started when Peter and John said some annoying things in the Jerusalem of AD 30.

After Peter’s sermon in Acts 3, after healing a man at the temple, Luke tells us that the Jewish leaders were fed up with Peter and John “because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead” (Acts 4:2). The leaders didn’t like this for more than one reason. In one case, the Sadducees (who were part of the leadership) disputed the resurrection in general. But at the same time, and more significantly, the issue is what the “resurrection of the dead” signified for the history of the world. This was the real deal. This was what really disturbed the leaders, Sadducees and Pharisees alike. In essence, when Peter and John proclaimed “in Jesus the resurrection of the dead,” they were saying that the end-time blessings of the resurrection age had intruded the present age for the sake of everyone who believed in Jesus (Alan Thompson, The Acts of the Risen Lord Jesus, 79–81).

This is important to wrap our heads around. These end-time blessings of the resurrection age were the hope of Israel, as Paul calls them in Acts 28:20. These Jewish leaders knew all about them — about the pouring out of the Spirit and the triumph of God’s salvation and the defeat of his enemies. They had read Joel 2:28–32 and Isaiah 12:3–6 and Jeremiah 51:24. They understood what the resurrection age meant. And now these fishermen-turned-preachers were walking around “their” temple saying that this age had arrived in Jesus, the guy they killed. Peter and John were telling the Jewish people that Jesus had launched a new and long-awaited epoch in the history of humanity. This didn’t sit too well with “the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees” in Acts 4:1, nor with the whole Sanhedrin gathered in Acts 4:5–6.

But it gets worse.

Peter and John were arrested and escorted to stand trial before the same court that condemned Jesus. These were the “rulers and elders and scribes,” or we might say, the professionals of Old Testament interpretation in that day. So they asked Peter and John how they did what they did (Acts 4:7). How did Peter heal the man at the temple? Where did they get this teaching on the arrival of the resurrection age?

Astonishing Boldness

The profound answer to their questions is Jesus, which is precisely what Peter says. “Hear me loud and clear,” he explains, “Jesus is behind this work.” He speaks with meticulous care, Galilean accent and all, as he continues, “This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:11–12).

The response of the leaders reveals something crucial. Luke tells us that they took note of Peter and John’s “boldness” (Acts 4:13). The leaders saw their “boldness” and “perceived that they were uneducated, common men.” That last bit means that Peter and John weren’t trained in the rabbinical schools of their scribal accusers (David Peterson,Acts of the Apostles, 194). Peter and John were not skilled interpreters of Scripture. They didn’t travel down the long educational path to be groomed for Jewish leadership, and yet they had this “boldness.” How could they be both unschooled and so bold? This was absolutely astonishing to the leaders.

But why was it astonishing? It has everything to do with what “boldness” means. It’s more than a general confidence. It doesn’t mean zeal enough to holler. Peter and John’s “boldness” was in what they said about Jesus. Or more specifically, their boldness was in how they were so outspoken about the identity of Jesus in their use of the Old Testament. That is what is happening in Acts 4:11. Peter quotes Psalm 118:22 to tell the Jewish leaders about the world-transforming significance of Jesus. He says thatJesus is the “stone” rejected by the leaders who has now become the “cornerstone.” Indeed, a new day had dawned — a day that the Lᴏʀᴅ had made (Psalm 118:24) — all because of this Jesus who was crucified, dead, buried, who is now raised and ascended.

And this blew the minds of the Jewish leaders. How in the world do these untrained fisherman know how to read the Scriptures like this? How can they be so frank and open about who this Jesus is? So the Jewish leaders were astonished. Astonished, that is, until they recognized that Peter and John had been with Jesus (Acts 4:13).

Because Jesus Taught Them

So that explains it. Jesus had taught them how to read the Bible. Peter and John had been around Jesus, who, as we saw in Luke 24, said the whole thing was about him (Luke 24:44–48). Boldness, then, at least in this instance, is not red-faced passion or impenetrable extroversion. Rather, it has to do with speaking — which is not so much about how we speak, but in what we say about Jesus, even when we presume our hearers won’t be happy with it.

That’s how Peter and John disturbed the peace in Acts 4. Now, as modern readers, we could simply observe what’s happening here and move on. But I think there’s more.

Later in Acts 4, after Peter and John are released from Jewish custody, they gather with their friends for a prayer meeting (Acts 4:23). Luke actually gives us the insider glimpse of what they pray. It is more Old Testament interpretation centered on Jesus (Acts 4:24–27). And then, well, we see “boldness” again. These believers ask the Father “to grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness” (Acts 4:29). Then Luke shows us that God answers their prayer: “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31). Notice again that boldness has to do with speaking, and this time the whole church is getting in on it.

The Greek word behind “boldness” (parresia) shows up throughout the New Testament. It’s range of meaning includes courage or fearlessness, which is in mind in places likeHebrews 4:16. It also can mean outspokenness or frankness — “a use of speech that conceals nothing.” And interestingly, right along with the several verb-uses, each of the five occurrences of parresia in Acts is connected to speaking (Acts 2:294:132931;28:31). F. F. Bruce actually translates it “freedom of speech” in Acts 4:13 (The Book of Acts, 94–95). The two uses outside of chapter 4 are in Peter’s first sermon when he explains that Psalm 16 is about Jesus (Acts 2:29–30); and then in the very last verse of the Book of Acts that describes Paul’s ministry: “[He] welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28:30–31). So the two bookends to apostolic proclamation in Acts include “boldness,” which, if I might be so bold, means to be outspoken about the identity and significance of the Lord Jesus Christ.

And this is the “boldness” to which we’re called.

Christian in a Confusing Culture

Luke, the theologian-historian, is writing for us. He intends to answer big questions in the minds of his Christian audience, in part to assure us of the “continued outworking of God’s saving purposes” (Thompson, 19); and to form a “coherent theological perspective” that tells us who we are (Thiselton, “Hermeneutical Dynamics,” 13). While the book is historical, and therefore, mainly descriptive, it can take on a prescriptive function when Luke emphasizes things through repetition or key placements throughout the storyline — which is the case in how the apostles spoke so openly about Jesus.

Luke wants the church-for-all-time to imbibe this kind of boldness — to know Jesus and what his gospel work means for the world. To know Jesus and speak clearly about who he is. This is being Christian in a confusing culture. This is how we’re called to live.

Photo by Nick Laparra

Suffering Means Knowing Jesus More

Philippians 3:10–11,

that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

“God helps us prepare for suffering,” John Piper writes, “by teaching us and showing us that through suffering we are meant to go deeper in our relationship with Christ” (“Called to Suffer and Rejoice”). And that was the aim of Paul’s life—a deeper relationship with Jesus.

As we’ve seen in the previous verses, the apostle counted everything as loss, even his pristine religiousity, because of the surpassing worth of knowing his Savior. To gain Christ, to be found in him, to know him — these are all getting at the same reality. Simply put, Paul wanted more intimacy with Jesus. He wanted a closer walk, a deeper, more personal, more real relationship.

“Normal Christianity”

Therefore, he wanted to know Jesus and share in his sufferings. Suffering is, as the Bible shows us, part of the Christian life. Paul told Timothy that all who desire to live a godly life in Christ will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12). He wrote to the Romans, and in one of the mountain peaks of the New Testament, explained that being children of God and fellow heirs with Christ means we suffer with him, in order that we may also be glorified with him (Romans 8:17).

This is normal Christianity, as Piper explains.

What Paul is doing [in Philippians 3:7–11] is showing how the teaching of Jesus is to be lived out. For example, Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44). Becoming a Christian means discovering that Christ (the King) is a Treasure Chest of holy joy and writing “Loss” over everything else in the world in order to gain him. “He sold all that he had to buy that field.”

So loss — suffering — is part of the Christian life because we discover the surpassing worth of Jesus over everything else. Everything else is loss. And when these things are taken away we gain more of Jesus.

The Example of John G. Paton

Today, January 28, marks the anniversary of John G. Paton’s death in 1907. The Scottish missionary to the New Hebrides, a chain of islands in the South Pacific, was well acqauinted with loss. In 1858, shortly after leaving the ease of Europe for the hardships of the Hebrides, his wife and newborn child died. Over the next several years his life was characterized by loss and sickness, criticism from respected friends, dangers from the cannibalistic natives, and deep communion with Jesus.

As Philippians 3:10–11 ring true, we should not be surprised about Paton’s fascinating fellowship with God. He experienced loss, yes. But oh the gain! Against the background of so much affliction, Paton walked closer and closer with Jesus. He “shared in his sufferings.” In one particular story, he hid high in a tree as a band of natives hunted him. Shots from their muskets rang out along with their yells, all the while he quietly stayed put.

He tells about it in his autobiography,

Never, in all my sorrows, did my Lord draw nearer to me, and speak more soothingly in my soul, than when the moonlight flickered among those chestnut leaves, and the night air played on my throbbing brow, as I told all my heart to Jesus. Alone, yet not alone! If it be to glorify my God, I will not grudge to spend many nights alone in such a tree, to feel again my Savior’s spiritual presence, to enjoy his consoling fellowship. (Autobiography, 200)

To know Jesus! To know him more! Would that we, like Paton, and like Paul, experience the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord.

John Piper’s Biography of John G. Paton

Portrait by Drew Blom

Portrait by Drew Blom

John G. Paton believed in doing missions when dying is gain.

The 19th century Scottish missionary to the New Hebrides, a chain of islands in the South Pacific, was no stranger to suffering. Soon after he arrived to the islands in 1858, he buried both his wife and newborn child.

He had left the ease of Europe for the hardships of the Hebrides, and he would become well acquainted with pain.

Over the next several years his life was characterized by loss and sickness, criticism from respected friends, dangers from the cannibalistic natives, and deep communion with Jesus.

Perhaps it is his fellowship with God that is most fascinating. Against the background of so much affliction, Paton walked close to Jesus. In one particular story, he hid high in a tree as a band of natives hunted him. Shots from their muskets rang out along with their yells, all the while he quietly stayed put.

He tells about it in his autobiography,

Never, in all my sorrows, did my Lord draw nearer to me, and speak more soothingly in my soul, than when the moonlight flickered among those chestnut leaves, and the night air played on my throbbing brow, as I told all my heart to Jesus. Alone, yet not alone! If it be to glorify my God, I will not grudge to spend many nights alone in such a tree, to feel again my Savior’s spiritual presence, to enjoy his consoling fellowship. (Autobiography, 200)

Paton lived many years after that night in the tree. January 28 marks the anniversary of when he died in 1907 and met the Savior he knew so deeply. To help commemorate his life, Desiring God would like to highlight John Piper’s ebook biography of John G. Patonwith hopes that you find it inspiring, and even life-changing. Download the ebook for free as PDF, MOBI, or EPUB, and help us spread the word.

Thank you, God, for John G. Paton. Would that we learn from his life and so serve the gospel overseas, in our homes, and on our streets like dying is gain!


How Neighbors Help Us Realize Our Identity

“Who is my neighbor?”

An earnest lawyer asks Jesus this question in Luke 10:29. We soon learn it’s one of those conversations that’s padded out in advance. He asks a question to set up something he wants to say. He was earnest to “justify himself,” as Luke makes clear. And obviously, he was feeling pretty good about how it was going through verse 28. But then comes the curve ball.

Whatever this lawyer had in mind for the answer, it wasn’t the story Jesus told. And it’s not what we would expect either. Yes, we may all know the parable of the Good Samaritan, but it can be a little confusing. The “neighbor,” it would appear, is the man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho who was beaten and left for dead (Luke 10:30). The neighbor is the object, the one of whom the three other characters encounter. But in the end, Jesus says the Samaritan who helped his man “proved to be the neighbor” (Luke 12:36–37).

So here we are, along with the lawyer, trying to figure out whom we’re supposed to love, and Jesus turns the question around. Look at this man who acts in mercy. Stop asking, “Who is my neighbor?” There are deeper questions to ponder. As John Piper explains, “When we are done trying to establish, ‘Is this my neighbor?’ — the decisive issue of love remains: What kind of person am I?” (What Jesus Demands from the World, [Crossway, 2006], 264).

“Who are you?” — that’s the question.

Are we going to be like this Samaritan who gives help when help is needed? Or are we going to be caught up in questions about who we’re supposed to help, and when and where and how, and what if it will make me late for Sunday School?

What grounds the way we think about neighbors is actually our identity, not theirs. What matters first is who we are.

Grace for Standing and Action

In his book, Union with Christ, Todd Billings builds on Calvin’s teaching on the “double grace of justification and sanctification.” He explains that when we are made new in Christ we receive forgiveness of sins and Christ’s righteousness — we are saved from God’s wrath. And we also receive new life by the Spirit — we are saved to fellowship with God and love others.

This is a radical truth. In Christ we are given a right standing before God (justification), and we are propelled in love for God and others by the new power of his Spirit in us (sanctification).

This affects the way we see those around us. It’s not because they’ve become something different, but because we have. God’s justifying work for us and transforming work in us commissions a path of good works prepared beforehand “that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). On this path are real people with real lives full of real stories. And now when we encounter them, they are a divine call to us. They are an opportunity — a welcomed mandate — for us to be who we are in Christ.

Of course, we could make a thousand qualifiers. The Good Samaritan didn’t give his spare change to fill an empty whiskey bottle, and that’s not the best use of our resources either. But perhaps we should have some concern that we get lost in these qualifiers too often — about when help can hurt and who are the poor and what’s not the Great Commission. These are all important questions, and we do well to give them careful thought.

But while we think — and think we must — may we never lose sight that the central issue has to do with how the gospel miracle bears on our own souls. God has made us new creatures in Christ — righteous before him and empowered to love others for his sake.

Read the original post at Desiring God.


A Prayer for Peace

Father, we confess that our souls are often far from still. They are filled with sin, windy and volatile, tossing our emotions and our judgments back and forth, morphing into tornadoes that barrel down the streets of our lives with a vengeance to destroy, despising you and worshiping everything else.

And we confess, with our souls (as tumultuous as they are) that we lack the power to still them ourselves. This is what it means to be sinners. We were broken and without an inherent cure, separated from you, blind to our need, the storm of self wreaking its havoc.

And you would have been good to leave us here, destined for wrath.

But you didn’t.

In your rich mercy and great love, you have determined to make for yourself a people from among all nations to know you and love you. You promised that a Redeemer would come to make clean our dirty hearts and reconcile us to you.

And in the fullness of time he did come, Jesus Christ, your holy Son, for us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, he became incarnate by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary. He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, he suffered and was buried, and on the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures. He ascended to heaven and now reigns over his coming kingdom.

And at some point when we heard this word, the voice of Jesus invaded our lives and brought peace to our souls, calming our storms and extinguishing its cause. You have united us with Christ such that now you see us no other way apart from his blood and victory. This fact is our hope: you have made us yours, secure forever by your amazing love, now truly alive, gathered and sent because of the wonderful cross of Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.

Fuel for Mission: Remembering the Person Behind the Message

Speaking of mission[1], what we are commending or giving to these Cities and the nations is not ultimately a message, but the person Jesus Christ, and it’s not Jesus as a mere person, but Jesus as the King who reigns over all — Jesus in all of his supremacy and power and glory.

Let’s hear Jesus’ own words, Matthew 28:18–20, Matthew tells us that Jesus came and said to his eleven disciples, and to us:

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Be going therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

A Message, But Not Ultimately

The gospel of Jesus Christ is a message. It is news. It is the announcement that Paul makes clear in 1 Corinthians 15:3–4, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…”

This is a message and it’s a powerful message. It flips the wisdom of the world upside down that the word of the cross, an announcement, speaking about a historical event, voicing a reality — this is the way God has chosen to overcome the world. We say things and people’s lives are changed forever. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. That’s the way it happened for us, we heard something, we heard a word and the Spirit gave us eyes and made us new creations.

So the gospel is a message, but it’s not ultimately a message. It is not flat content. It is the declaration of a person, a real person who has done a real work in real space-time history to reconcile real people to a real God. It is not a cerebral exercise. It is a word that takes us off the page, a message that goes deeper than just hearing.

Peter tells us that “Jesus suffered, the righteousness for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18). Jesus suffered, Jesus the righteous one, the only Son of God, the eternal Word behind everything that exists, he suffered for the unrighteous. That is us. We who have rebelled against God and replaced him with other things, hoisting up the worship of ourselves and created stuff. We have rebelled against our creatureliness and scoffed at the one who made us. And Jesus suffered for us, which means all the wrath that we deserve for our sins, all the punishment we were headed towards, Jesus took all of it. Jesus took our sins upon himself as if they were his sins and he suffered for them in our place, absorbing the fury of God that was against us, so that we would be brought to God, that our relationship with our Creator would be reconciled. God our Father, Christ our Brother, the Spirit our DNA who testifies of this new relationship.

The Person, Jesus Christ

So do you see how this works? I have said words but you all know that it’s not really just words. Embedded in the good news of Jesus is the person Jesus who offers himself to you. So our telling others the gospel is really our introducing others to the Person, Jesus Christ.

And this is why Jesus said to “go make disciples,” not “go make consumers.” If we are just relaying information or just making noise then the neighbors we encounter have the right to click away or turn it off. Or maybe a more positive result, they sign up or download the app, either way this is a cultural distortion that smudges the truth of what we’re doing. Because when we speak the gospel, we are showing people Jesus — we are introducing them to the person, Jesus — and what you do with that, what you do with your encounter with Jesus, is life or death. If you deny the gospel, you reject a person.

And when you believe the gospel, you embrace a person. Christianity is not an email list, it’s not Liking a blog post through Facebook or checking off on some data. When you believe the message of the gospel you are bowing your life to the Lord Jesus Christ who is seated and reigning at the right hand of the Father and who will come again to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will never end.

Jesus — Last Adam and Son of Man

Here’s the counter-intuitive danger that I want to speak into: in our efforts to be practical and live out what we believe, we are actually running the risk of abstracting the very thing that we are exporting. Because we are on the ground running, and moving, and if we are not careful, then the person of Jesus who is behind all of this can be diminished in our minds as just a product we’re trying to spread.

But it’s not about a product, or a mere message, it’s about the person, Jesus. And here’s where we take the final step to say, it’s not even about Jesus as a mere person, but Jesus as the sovereign King over all. See the progression: it is a message, but not ultimately a message. It’s the person, Jesus. And yet it’s not Jesus as a mere person. It’s Jesus for who he truly is (and this is what the message is getting at).

And Jesus actually makes this clear in how he commissions us. Look back at Matthew 28. This first phrase in v. 18 is huge: All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

This is rooted back in the Old Testament and it’s a thread that runs throughout all of Scripture. We can call it “the drama of the Son.” It starts really with Adam being created in God’s image. In his genealogy in the gospel of Luke, Luke calls Adam the son of God (3:38). So there’s this idea that Adam is a son. And then after the fall, what is the promise that God makes to Adam and Eve? Genesis 3:15, the seed of a woman. A son. And so here the drama begins, we are looking for this son. Well Cain and Abel don’t work out. Then later comes along Noah, a righteous man, but doesn’t work out. So he has some sons. And then Shem has some sons. And then later Abraham, the one God chooses and blesses. And we’re not sure if he’s ever to going to have a son. Then later in Egypt, when the people of Israel were too great, what was Pharaoh’s strategy? It’s about the son. So this is developed and it runs through the entire Bible. You get to David and what was the promise to King David: it’s that he would have a son who would be king. Throughout the storyline of Scripture our vision for this son gets sharper so that you see this phrase in Psalm 8 and Ezekiel and Daniel, “son of man.”  And this phrase, the “son of man” is what epitomizes our hope in a son, going back to Adam and the original promise. And the profile of this son of man is filled out amazingly in Daniel 7.

Dan 7:13  “I saw in the night visions,
and behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed.

So this is the son of man we are looking for. The son of man who owns everything. And Jesus steps on the scene in the Gospels and what does he call himself more than anything else? The son of man. And if that’s not clear enough, in Matthew 28 he gets crystal clear and when he commissions his disciples and his church he prefaces the commission with who he is. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. You see it’s not merely a message, it about a person. But not only a person, it is the person who has all authority in heaven and on earth.

Adam was given the original commission to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth with image-bearers who reflect God’s glory. But that son failed. And here we have the true son of man, the better and last Adam, Jesus Christ, who takes the original commission to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth, and he says to his church “make disciples of all nations.” This is a commission that will not fail. The earth will be filled with the glory of God and the way Jesus completes this mission and advances his new-creational reign is by his Spirit filling his people who are sent forth to speak the message of the gospel, that’s not only a message, but is about him, the person, Jesus Christ, our Savior and our Lord, the hope of the world and King over all.

So the point is that we remember him. That we see him and all of his excellency and wonder and majesty. That we know that Jesus is the Who this is all about.

And then we wonder, who could not want to be on mission for a King like that?

For related reading, see Greg Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology.

[1] This devotional was originally delivered at the 2012 SpringOut Retreat of Bethlehem Baptist Church.

What Is the New Testament?

Greg Beale in A New Testament Biblical Theology (Baker, 2011) —

Jesus’ life, trials, death for sinners, and especially resurrection by the Spirit have launched the fulfillment of the eschatological already-not yet new-creational reign, bestowed by grace through faith and resulting in worldwide commission to the faithful to advance this new-creational reign and resulting in judgment for the unbelieving, unto the triune God’s glory. (163)

Believe, Sent, Speak, Heard, Believed, Sent…

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord, Paul tells us, will be saved (Romans 10:13).

This is good news.

And then comes the best possible question, and subsequent questions, that could be asked.

How then will they call of him in whom they have not believed? There’s not going to be a confession of the mouth if there’s not a believing of the heart. Okay, okay, next question. How are they going to believe in him of whom they have never heard? There’s not going to be any believing unless they hear about the one worthy of their faith.We’re tracking with him now. Another question: how are they to hear without someone preaching? There’s not going to be any hearing about Jesus unless someone tells about Jesus. Last question: And how are they going to preach unless they are sent? Those who tell others about Jesus have to go forth, leaving one spot and traveling to another.

So the good news of salvation to everyone who calls on Jesus is coupled with a glorious mandate: tell this good news to others. No Uncle Sam posters here. No long, skinny finger is pointing at you. This is a call more amazing than we can imagine.

There is good news! This is good news that’s meant to be told. And we’re the ones, you and me, us, we’re the ones who get to tell it.

Let us be sent. Let us go speak. Let them hear. Let them believe and call on Jesus. Then let them be sent. . . . This is how it works.

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