Tag Archives: the Messiah

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Gaps

 

Cognitive dissonance, the study of psychology tells us, is the internal tension that results when our experience doesn’t match our professed beliefs and values. It is that sense of unease when we encounter something that contradicts what we have held to be true. We often experience this tension in the course of academic training as we learn new ideas. Or we can be jolted as we meet new people with vastly different backgrounds and cultures from our own.

But perhaps dissonance is felt most acutely when it occurs in the realm of faith commitments and expectations. Why is it that even when the right thing is done, the good action taken, nothing appears to change in my life or circumstances? If suffering is merely an illusion, why do so many people experience so much pain? How is it that marriage can be so difficult and yet God’s ideal for relationships? How is it that prayer seemingly goes unanswered even in the face of faithful and persistent prayers? How do I reconcile personal and global suffering with a view of a good and benevolent Divinity governing the world?

Some, to be sure, might claim to have never experienced (or noticed) cognitive dissonance as a reality in their own lives. There are always quick explanations offered for those who don’t find it quite as easy to reconcile the gaps between beliefs and experience: We have drifted away from our moral center. We have not studied enough, or prayed enough. We have not understood right teaching. Perhaps there are times when all of these explanations may be true.

But is it always so easy to explain dissonance away? I asked this question anew when I looked at the questions raised by John the Baptist as presented in the New Testament. John the Baptist was the cousin of Jesus of Nazareth. Like Jesus, he had an extraordinary beginning, having been born to parents beyond child-bearing years. The last of the great, Hebraic prophets, the gospels portray John with all the intensity and moral outrage of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, or Malachi. John was fearless in his proclamation issuing the call of repentance to sinners and the religious leaders alike. He even baptized Jesus in preparation for his own itinerant ministry. He was resolute in his stand against immorality and hypocrisy. He understood his unique and limited role in preparation for the Messiah. Even as his own disciples came undone and complained that the crowds who once clamored to see him were now flocking to Jesus, John stood clear in his calling: “You yourselves bear me witness, that I have said, ‘I am not the Messiah,’ but ‘I have been sent before him’” (John 3:26-28).

Yet knowing all of this background creates a dramatic contrast when we hear John speak after he is imprisoned by Herod. His resolve was shaken. Both Matthew and Luke’s gospels record his own experience with dissonance: “Now when John in prison heard of the works of Jesus, he sent word by his disciples, and said to him, ‘Are you the expected one, or shall we look for someone else?’”(2) His question belies the ‘gap’ between the reality he envisioned and his current reality in a cold prison cell. If Jesus is the Messiah, John must have wondered, why am I sitting in this jail? The Messiah John proclaimed would “thoroughly clear his threshing floor” and “burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:12). The Messiah was coming to rid Israel—and indeed the world—of evil. Yet in John’s day to day existence in his lonely prison cell, evil had won the day. “Are you the expected one, or shall we look for someone else?”

John’s dissonance is not unlike the gaps between belief and experience. Yet perhaps, according to author Scott Cairns, “[These also] can become illuminating moments in which we see our lives in the context of a terrifying, abysmal emptiness, moments when all of our comfortable assumptions are shown to be false, or misleading, or at least incomplete.”(1) Surely, John thought, the Messiah would free him from prison, bring justice, and bind up all the wicked like chaff to be burned. Yet, what was expected was not experienced. John experienced the terrifying and abysmal emptiness that came in a Jesus who was free from his expectations and of his own assumptions.

Jesus acknowledged that his ministry would be disruptive, and even be misunderstood. In responding to John’s doubts, Jesus said, “Blessed is the one who keeps from stumbling over me” (Matthew 11:6). Like John before us, those who seek to follow Jesus often stumble over him. The gaps between what we believe and what we experience create fissures in faith into which many fall. Yet, as Cairns suggests, might mining those gaps uncover the treasure of encountering Jesus in new ways? Might mining the gaps we experience hold the treasure of new insight and the beauty of a more faithful devotion if we are willing to let go of “comfortable assumptions” and cherished expectations? If so, then might all the faithful dig deep and find that what is precious and most valuable is often found in the fissures of dissonance.

 

Margaret Manning Shull is a member of the speaking and writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Bellingham, Washington.

 

(1) Scott Cairns, The End of Suffering (Brewster MA: Paraclete Press, 2009), 8.

(2) Matthew 11:3; Luke 7:20.

 

John MacArthur – Searching for Truth (Bartholomew)

 

The twelve apostles included “Bartholomew [Nathanael]” (Matt. 10:3).

God knows your heart and will honor your search for truth.

Despite Nathanael’s prejudice, Jesus knew he was an honest, sincere, Jewish believer in whom there was no religious hypocrisy or deceit (John 1:47). He truly sought after God and looked forward to the Messiah’s coming.

Most of the Jewish people of Jesus’ day believed that every circumcised descendent of Abraham was a true Jew and a beneficiary of the Abrahamic covenant. But in Romans 2:28–29 Paul explains that salvation is an issue of the heart, not of national origin: “He is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart.” Nathanael was such a man.

He was shocked when Jesus described him as “an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile” (John 1:47) because they had never met before. He was equally shocked when Jesus said He saw him under a fig tree because Jesus was nowhere near that tree. Nathanael immediately realized that Jesus was omniscient—He knew everything! That’s why he exclaimed, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel” (v. 49). He had found the Messiah for whom he had searched so long!

The Lord’s mention of the fig tree is significant. In that region, fig trees were commonly used as a source of shade and outdoor shelter. Many of the houses in Palestine had only one room, so fig trees became a place to be alone for prayer and meditation on the Scriptures. Quite possibly Nathanael was under the fig tree searching the Scriptures and communing with God when Jesus saw his open heart and his desire to find the Messiah. Jesus personally answered Nathanael’s prayer.

When Jesus looks into your heart, does He see a true believer in whom there is no hypocrisy? Nathanael wasn’t perfect, but he loved God and was a diligent student of the Word. The Lord did great things through him. I pray that is true of you as well.

Suggestions for Prayer

  • Ask the Spirit to reveal and deal with any hypocrisy you might be harboring.
  • Ask God to increase your desire and capacity to know and love Him.

For Further Study

Memorize Romans 12:1–2 as a defense against hypocrisy.

Our Daily Bread – God’s Clocks Keep Perfect Time

 

 

 

Read: Luke 2:36-40
Bible in a Year: Joshua 19-21; Luke 2:25-52

 

She . . . spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem. —Luke 2:38

I visit two elderly women from time to time. One has no financial worries, is fit for her age, and lives in her own home. But she can always find something negative to say. The other is crippled with arthritis and rather forgetful. She lives in simple accommodations, and keeps a reminder pad so she won’t forget her appointments. But to every visitor to her tiny apartment, her first comment is always the same: “God is so good to me.” Handing her the reminder pad on my last visit, I noticed that she had written the day before “Out to lunch tomorrow! Wonderful! Another happy day.”

Anna was a prophetess at the time of Jesus’ birth, and her circumstances were hard (Luke 2:36-37). Widowed early and possibly childless, she may have felt purposeless and destitute. But her focus was on God and serving Him. She was yearning for the Messiah, but in the meantime she was busy about God’s business—praying, fasting, and teaching others all that she had learned from Him.

Finally the day arrived when she—now in her eighties—saw the infant Messiah in his young mother’s arms. All her patient waiting was worthwhile. Her heart sang with joy as she praised God and then passed the glad news on to others. —Marion Stroud

Lord, I don’t want to be a complainer anymore. I want to be a person who overflows with thankfulness for others and for You. May I accept whatever You give me in Your time. Show me how to start today.

It’s hard to see both God’s plan and our part. But their intersection is the best place to be.

INSIGHT: Two people in Scripture are specifically mentioned as seeing and recognizing Jesus as the Messiah when He was an infant. Both Simeon and Anna, faithful servants of God, were blessed with seeing the “Consolation of Israel” (Luke 2:25) and “redemption in Jerusalem” (v. 38). Luke records Simeon meeting the infant Jesus in 2:25-35 and Anna in verses 36-38. Anna was of great age (v. 36) and Simeon was most likely elderly as well (v. 26). Often in Scripture the passing of time plays an important role, showing that God is faithful to His promises. Simeon and Anna both waited faithfully for the Messiah and were rewarded by seeing Jesus before they died.

John MacArthur – Searching for Truth

John MacArthur

The twelve apostles included “Bartholomew [Nathanael]” (Matt. 10:3).

Despite Nathanael’s prejudice, Jesus knew he was an honest, sincere, Jewish believer in whom there was no religious hypocrisy or deceit (John 1:47). He truly sought after God and looked forward to the Messiah’s coming.

Most of the Jewish people of Jesus’ day believed that every circumcised descendent of Abraham was a true Jew and a beneficiary of the Abrahamic covenant. But in Romans 2:28–29 Paul explains that salvation is an issue of the heart, not of national origin: “He is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart.” Nathanael was such a man.

He was shocked when Jesus described him as “an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile” (John 1:47) because they had never met before. He was equally shocked when Jesus said He saw him under a fig tree because Jesus was nowhere near that tree. Nathanael immediately realized that Jesus was omniscient—He knew everything! That’s why he exclaimed, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel” (v. 49). He had found the Messiah for whom he had searched so long!

The Lord’s mention of the fig tree is significant. In that region, fig trees were commonly used as a source of shade and outdoor shelter. Many of the houses in Palestine had only one room, so fig trees became a place to be alone for prayer and meditation on the Scriptures. Quite possibly Nathanael was under the fig tree searching the Scriptures and communing with God when Jesus saw his open heart and his desire to find the Messiah. Jesus personally answered Nathanael’s prayer.

When Jesus looks into your heart, does He see a true believer in whom there is no hypocrisy? Nathanael wasn’t perfect, but he loved God and was a diligent student of the Word. The Lord did great things through him. I pray that is true of you as well.

Suggestions for Prayer:

•             Ask the Spirit to reveal and deal with any hypocrisy you might be harboring.

•             Ask God to increase your desire and capacity to know and love Him.

For Further Study: Memorize Romans 12:1–2 as a defense against hypocrisy.

 

 

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Why Suffering?

Ravi Z

One of my favorite scenes from the story of Christ’s birth is of the far-seeing elderly Simeon reaching for the child in Mary’s arms, content now to die for having seen the Messiah with his own eyes. His words to Mary, more eerie than most mothers could graciously accept, always seemed a cryptic little side note from a strange and saintly old man. But the prophecy never struck me as a pivotal introduction to Luke’s overarching motif of suffering throughout his telling of the story of Christ. Says Simeon:

“This child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed.”(1)

Starting with Simeon, theologian Roy Harrisville draws out a side of Luke that surprised my reading of Luke’s Gospel and passion narrative—if only the surprise of seeing plainly something I’d never noticed.(2) Again and again Luke points out the necessity of Jesus’s suffering, long before he is approaching the cross. I was nonetheless left with a plaguing question perhaps less for Harrisville than for God—or Jesus along the road to Emmaus. Why was it necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into glory, as he tells the men as they walk toward Emmaus? Why was Christ’s suffering a matter of “divine necessity”?

Luke has long struck me as one of the more fascinating narrators of the life and death of Jesus, including details at a story level that make for more nuanced intrigue. “Day after day I was with you in the temple and you did not seize me,” says Jesus at his trial. “But all this has taken place, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled,” he explains in Matthew and similarly in Mark, “But let the scriptures be fulfilled.” Yet Luke’s recollection of the scene is much less formulaic. Jesus replies with a far more layered vision of all that is at work. “But this is your hour, and the power of darkness,” hinting that there is another hour and the power of something else at hand.(3) Luke repeatedly includes hints of these disparate visions at work, blind and brute ignorance beside cryptic insight like Simeon’s, a contrast seen quite literally in the very criminals on either side of Jesus on the cross.

All of this I have cherished in the evangelist’s telling. And I can now see, as Harrisville notes, that Luke’s relentless pointing to the necessity of Christ’s suffering indeed lies at the heart of this dramatic narration; I can see that Luke describes the life of Jesus as the way of the suffering Christ, and the passion of the cross as the necessary event which marks the approaching kingdom. But why? Beyond the need to encourage suffering readers, beyond the musts of scripture, why was it necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things? If Luke’s telling is indeed a motif of human ignorance alongside that of the divine necessity, I am thankful for the grace that is shown on the side of unknowing. And I am thankful that Jesus went willingly toward suffering for our own sakes even though we might not fully understand it.

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

(1) Luke 2:34-35.

(2) Roy Harrisville, Fracture: The Cross as Irreconcilable in the Language and Thought of the Biblical Writers (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2006).

(3) Parallel texts found in Matthew 26:56, Mark 14:49b, and Luke 22:53b.

 

Charles Stanley – Jesus Christ, Our Messiah

Charles Stanley

Luke 4:16-21

Jesus didn’t go around flaunting His power or greatness. Since He had come to do the Father’s will (John 6:38), redeeming the lost was His priority and purpose. However, the Lord didn’t hide His identity from the world either. When necessary, Jesus clearly identified Himself as the Messiah.

One of Jesus’ most beautiful sermons was given to an audience of one—a woman drawing water from a Samaritan well. After listening to Jesus’ teaching on living water and His prophecies of a change in the way people worshipped God, the woman mentioned the promised Messiah. The Lord replied, “I who speak to you am He” (John 4:26). Her response was to gather as many townsfolk as she could find to listen to this man who knew her life story and offered love and redemption anyway.

When the time came for Jesus to reveal His identity to the priests and religious leaders, He did so by reading the prophecy of Isaiah 61 and then claiming to be its fulfillment (Luke 4:18-21). He announced that He was the One who would preach the gospel to the poor, release the captives, and give sight to the blind. He didn’t use the word “Messiah,” nor did He have to. All Israel knew that Isaiah’s words applied to God’s “Anointed One.”

Some modern thinkers would like to marginalize Jesus as simply a good man with a message of love. But He was the first to proclaim Himself as more than that. He is the virgin-born Son of God, who came to bear the sins of mankind and die on the cross. He is the Messiah.