Category Archives: jesus is my hero

The Peoples Plot In Vain

Why Jesus is My Hero #20 of 52

Raging Bull

As a Christian, it’s easy to feel as though you’re part of the ridiculed minority. It doesn’t require much ingenuity to mock the gospel, and many people love to make the most of the opportunity.

This has always been the experience of Christians. It started with the crucifixion of Jesus himself, and his early disciples didn’t have it any better in the book of Acts. But those early Christians had a confidence that enabled them to keep speaking openly about Jesus even when it landed them in prison. An early episode in the book of Acts, in chapter 4:25-26, shows them quoting from Psalm 2:

“Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?

The kings of the earth set themselves,

and the rulers take counsel together,

against the Lord and against his anointed, saying,

‘Let us burst their bonds apart

and cast away their cords from us.'”

Jesus is the Lord’s “Anointed one” – the Messiah, God’s king. And people hate that – they hate the fact that he has the right to tell them how to act and how to think. It goes completely against the grain of our society – “nobody tells me what to do!” And so they killed Jesus, and they arrested his disciples, and still today they persecute Christians who dare to call people to follow Him.

But what is God’s response?

“He who sits in the heavens laughs;

the Lord holds them in derision.

Then he will speak to them in his wrath,

and terrify them in his fury, saying,

‘As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.'”

The very thought of a puny human attempting to defy God’s authority is enough to have him chortling – a deep belly laugh. Do they honestly think they can get away with it? God gets on with his business undeterred: he will see his King enthroned on Zion, his holy hill. Nothing can stand in his way – certainly not a tiny creature like a human being.

The disciples in Acts knew as much: when they quote this Psalm, they speak of how the very act of defiance by the people, the crucifixion of Jesus by “Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel” – the very act of trying to get rid of Jesus for good was in fact the thing “that God’s hand and God’s plan had predestined to take place”. In trying to defy God, all they managed to do was to bring his purposes to fruition. They fell right into his hands.

No wonder God laughs. His purposes will always stand, his King Jesus will be seen by all as Lord and Judge one day, and no amount of raging and plotting by the peoples of earth can stop him. That’s why Jesus is my hero.

Christ Who Is Your Life

Why Jesus is My Hero #19 of 52

Friday marked the end of two fantastic years studying on the Cornhill Training Course, meaning lots of fond farewells. Naturally, the “what has been your highlight?” question got asked more than a few times over the course of the evening. One of my friends reminded me of a great lecture by David Jackman directing us towards five little words in Colossians chapter 3:

“When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:4)

“Christ who is your life”. It’s a great truth. It reminds us that life is really nothing to do with us and everything to do with Jesus. He is our life. He’s the one who is great; he’s the one who is righteous in God’s sight; he’s the one whose performance really counts; he’s the one whose glory we’re seeking; he’s the one who it was all created through and for. It’s Christ who is our life.

It’s hugely liberating. It allows us to embrace the weakness of the flesh, as my friend put it. It allows us to own our imperfection, and admit to it, rather than trying to deny it and pretend we’re better than we really are. That’s really been the whole purpose behind this “Why Jesus is My Hero” series – to make much of Christ and less of myself.

So next time you feel the need to justify yourself when somebody accuses you of wrongdoing – next time you feel yourself agitated that somebody else in the room is getting all the attention and you’re not – next time you’re beginning to think and act as though it’s all about you, remember that it’s really not. It’s Christ who is your life – Jesus is the one it’s all for. And be set free from the tyranny of trying to make yourself seem important.

Christ is my life. That’s why he’s my hero.

Covered

Why Jesus is My Hero #18 of 52

No, the title of this post doesn’t refer to an awful attempt at a free magazine from this week’s episode of the UK Apprentice. I’m referring to the fact that the Christian’s confidence in life isn’t built upon our own ability to improve and do better and impress God, but on being completely covered by Jesus’ righteousness – on the knowledge that through faith in Christ, when God looks at us, he doesn’t see our shoddy attempts with all our failings and weakness, instead he sees the perfect obedience and loving perfection of Jesus. We’re covered. Technically it’s what’s referred to as “imputed righteousness” – Jesus’ righteousness is transferred to our spiritual bank account.

One tiny example of this that I’m loving this week is thinking about Jesus’ prayer life. I’m utterly hopeless at praying – in fact, I’m utterly hopeless these days at anything that involves sitting down and concentrating for more than about 30 seconds. I just physically can’t do it – my mind is all over the place, anywhere except on God. Yet Jesus was famous for going off for all night prayer sessions, committing his life into God’s hands and seeking his wisdom for important decisions like choosing the twelve disciples.

It’s awesome to know that against my heavenly scorecard is that kind of perfectly committed prayer life. It’s also yet another reason why it’s so awesome that Jesus prays for us – to know that he’s perfectly dedicated in his prayers on our behalf, never distracted or giving up because he’s bored.

That’s why Jesus is my hero – I certainly need one!

Sovereignty and Procrastination

Why Jesus is My Hero #17 of 52

In his classic book Desiring God, John Piper includes this quote from Jonathan Edwards: “Absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God.” It’s a sentiment I couldn’t agree with more – it’s what gets me out of bed in the mornings, knowing that no matter what’s going on, even when the world is crashing down around my ears, God is in control and he is working all things for the good of those who love him.

The idea of sovereignty at one level means that God is always able to bring his will to pass – nothing can stop him accomplishing what he has purposed. If he’s said he’ll work all things for good, then he will – he cannot be thwarted in bringing his will to realisation. Isaiah 46 says this:

“Remember this and stand firm,

recall it to mind, you transgressors,

remember the former things of old;

for I am God, and there is no other;

I am God, and there is none like me,

declaring the end from the beginning

and from ancient times things not yet done,

saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,

and I will accomplish all my purpose,’

calling a bird of prey from the east,

the man of my counsel from a far country.

I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass;

I have purposed, and I will do it.”

It’s an awesome vision of the mighty God. I love it.

But it’s been really brought home to me this week how transcendently different from me this is. I am decidedly not God. Sadly, for me, the mere act of willing something to be cannot bring it to pass. Even the simple desire of wanting to put my all into one final talk for my last preaching practice opportunity at college proved beyond my powers to enact. I had a real motivational crisis – not doubt partly because of being a bit ill.

But it taught me a valuable lesson: I’m utterly dependent on God. I cannot and must not take pride in the things I do and achieve – because it’s only by God’s grace that any of it happens. He is the sovereign God whose will always comes to pass. I’m just a puny human whose will sometimes comes to pass, at least to some extent, not always precisely to the full degree of how I’d hoped it to work out.

All of this got me thinking about that moment in the garden of Gethsemane where Jesus said to his Father: “not my will, but yours”. Isn’t that an incredible moment? I can’t even quite get my head around what that means. As God, Jesus is pretty proficient at getting his will enacted. All he has to do is rebuke the storm and it calms itself in an instant. All he has to do is say the word, and the dead man Lazarus rises from his tomb. And yet here he choses to forgo his own will and submit it to the Father’s. Once again, the Father’s will comes to pass – he is proved Sovereign once more. And yet I see something truly beautiful in that act of submission by the Son.

That’s why Jesus is my hero.

Why It’s Such Good News to Have Jesus Praying For Us

Why Jesus is My Hero #16 of 52

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel like a total failure as a Christian. My love for God seems so cold; my actions seem a million miles from how I know God would want me to be living; I care so little for other people and ultimately only seem interested in seeking my own comfort. Why on earth would God let me into his New Creation, and how am I going to keep going as a Christian until I get there?

Well, there’s a million different ways that the Bible gives us hope to keep trusting that God can get us there, but one in particular that has really encouraged me recently comes from Hebrews 7:23-25:

“The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but [Jesus] holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues for ever. Consequently, he is able to save to the the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.”

Jesus isn’t just lounging about by the Father’s side in heaven drinking pina colladas – he’s busy praying for us. Have you ever thought about that? Jesus prays for us! There really couldn’t anyone better for the job: Jesus never skips a day; he never gets tired or bored; he never oversleeps and decides to skip his quiet time because he doesn’t want to miss the bus. And he doesn’t need help from an iPhone app like PrayerMate to help him remember us – as great an app as it may be!

But best yet, nothing can stand in the way of his praying for us – not even death. You might have a real friend somewhere or an elderly relative who is faithfully praying away for you day by day – and what an encouragement it can be when that’s the case – but even they can’t pray for you forever. But Jesus has already conquered death – he’s risen from the dead never to die again – and so he always lives to make intercession for us. What an amazing reassurance!

Day by day Jesus stands before the Father in heaven and reminds him that he died for us. “Forgive Andy, Father – remember how I died for him. Forgive Sarah, too. And Jeremy.” Left to our own devices we might wonder how on earth we can hope to persevere until the end. But if we lift our eyes to this heavenly reality, we can have real assurance – who could possibly be a better advocate than Jesus Christ? That’s why Jesus is my hero. Hurrah!

The Search for the Serpent Crusher

Why Jesus is My Hero #15 of 52

Why is the Bible So Full of Boring Genealogies?

Have you ever wondered why there are so many genealogies in the Bible? They just seem to boring – why were the authors of the Bible so interested in who begat who? It’s these kinds of things that give rise to responses like this scene from the Monty Python film “The Meaning of Life”:

Why are these genealogies there? Well, I can’t answer that question in the general case – you have to read each one on its own terms. But I know that more often than not, there’s nothing boring about them once you begin to get into the mindset of the people writing them. One of the best talks I ever heard was on the genealogy in Genesis 5:

“When Adam had lived for 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth. The days of Adam after he fathered Seth were 800 years; and he had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days that Adam lived were 930 years, and he died.

When Seth had lived for 105 years, he fathered Enosh. Seth lived after he fathered Enosh for 807 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Seth were 912 years, and he died.

When Enosh had lived for 90 years, he fathered Kenan. Enosh lived after he fathered Kenan for 815 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Enosh were 905 years, and he died…”

…and so the list goes on. In all we’re given eleven generations of mankind in this same formulaic structure. BOR-ING! Except it’s really not. When you get into the story, it turns out it’s absolutely riveting stuff – it’s edge of your seat material.

You see, God made a promise back in Genesis 3:15:

The Lord God said to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

We’re living after the fall. Adam & Eve have rebelled against God’s command and eaten of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They’ve suffered the consequences by being banished from the garden, and now we’re seeing God’s first promise coming to fulfilment: “in the day you eat of it you shall surely die.” You cannot read the genealogy on chapter 5 without noticing the tragic refrain coming over and over again: “and he died.” It’s miserable reading – just as God said would be the case, by disobeying God, Adam & Eve have brought death into the world, and it’s utterly unnatural.

But we also have the promise of 3:15 ringing in our ears – the hope of an offspring who will do battle with the serpent. It’s only a vague and ambiguous hope, but at this point in the story it’s the only hope we have! So when we read in chapter 5 that Adam and Eve have a son, Seth, it’s a very exciting moment! But then he dies. It’s not going to be him after all. Well maybe it will be his son, Enosh? But no, he dies too. Well what about Kenan? Dead. Mahalalel? Dead. Jared? Dead. Each time our hopes are raised, only to be dashed again. The pattern is only broken with Enoch who “walked with God, and he was not, for God took him” – somehow Enoch escapes death. But he doesn’t remain to bruise the serpent’s head, and our search for the saviour continues.

Things seem pretty hopeful when Noah shows up – he’s described as the most righteous man of his generation, and as a result is rescued from the flood when the rest of mankind perishes. Yet even he turns out to be a disappoint, when we find him drunk in his vineyard a few chapters later. The search for the serpent crusher carries on, and by the time we reach the end of the Old Testament it would be easy to think that God had forgotten that obscure promise he made all those years ago.

It makes for thrilling reading then we finally meet the person of Jesus Christ at the start of Matthew’s gospel, and he goes head to head with Satan in the wilderness. Where Adam & Eve failed to obey God’s word and ate the fruit, Jesus resists Satan’s temptation and clings to God’s promises, trusting in his word when every instinct must have been telling him to listen to the Devil’s lies and eat. Finally the serpent crusher is here – and on the cross we see that promise fulfilled: they each destroy the other, as Jesus is nailed to a cross and killed, and Satan’s mortal power is swallowed up as the penalty for sin is paid once and for all. Only, thankfully, that’s not the end of the story, as Jesus is raised to life on the third day, triumphing over evil forever. That’s why Jesus is my hero, and why I’m persuaded that there’s nothing boring about a Biblical genealogy.

King Of All, Slave Of All

Why Jesus is My Hero #14 of 52

The Experience of Human Leadership

Royal_Balcony.jpg

What’s your experience of those in power? Here in the UK we love to moan and complain about our political leaders, but by and large we have reason to be tremendously thankful for the kind of leadership we enjoy. But that’s not the case in many parts of the world. For many people, their experience of government is of corruption and of power-hungry dictators abusing their position for their own ends. A longing for something better is what’s driven so many in the Arab world of late to risk their lives in protest against oppressive regimes. Figures like Mubarak in Egypt and Colonel Gaddafi in Libya – history is rife with examples of people who’ve used their positions of influence to line their pockets and inflate their egos. Even in places where the government is democratically elected and accountable to the people, our leaders generally profit from the experience – just think of Tony Blair and the enormous consulting fees he now commands.

A Different Kind of Ruler

In Mark 10:35-45, Jesus speaks about his leadership style, and the contrast is stark. It’s clear right from the start of the passage that we are to think of Jesus as a ruler. Two of his disciples, James and John, approach him in v35 with a request:

“Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.. Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”

They know that Jesus will one day be seated in glory as God’s king over the universe – he’s the ultimate ruler. And naturally, they want to make the most of their connection with him, and get some cushy cabinet positions in the new regime. When the other ten disciples find out that they’ve missed the boat in v41, they’re indignant that James and John beat them to it, and Jesus uses it as an opportunity to teach them all a lesson about what leadership looks like in his kingdom. He tells us what we already know about earthly kings, and then shows how the value system of heaven is completely different – have a look at v42:

“You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.”

The King Who Came To Serve

Greatness in God’s economy is completely backwards – the one with the highest honour is the one who is the lowest of the low, the one who has to clean the communal toilets just inside the pearly gates. The places of honour are reserved for those who make themselves slave of all – the very bottom of the heap. And beneath all of them, down on his hands and knees scrubbing away, is Jesus himself. Check out v45:

“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus is God’s King – that’s what the Son of Man means according to the Old Testament – all the disciples know he’s going to be enthroned in glory in the New Creation, and yet this king came to earth to serve. He’s the one who will ultimately be shown to be slave of all – the lowest of the low – who as a result is crowned with the greatest honour of all. He didn’t come driving an enormous limo with attendants feeding him grapes and fanning him to keep him cool; he lived in poverty and relative obscurity before ultimately giving his life to die on a cross.

Giving His Life as a Ransom For Many

But how is his death on the cross an act of service? Isn’t it just a tragic waste of life? Well, Jesus insists that his death had a purpose, and here he explains what that purpose was: he gave his life as a ransom for many. A “ransom” is a term from the slave market – it’s a price paid to free someone from slavery. The most famous ransom in the Old Testament is when God “ransomed” Israel from their slavery in Egypt and set them free to be their own independent nation again – it’s described in those terms again and again throughout the Bible, as a ransom. Jesus says his death will have that same effect: he will give his life to ransom many from slavery. Only the slavery he’s talking about isn’t physical slavery like the Israelites suffered in Egypt. He’s talking about our slavery to sin – the way that we’re held prisoners in bondage to our sin and its consequences. Earlier in Mark’s gospel Jesus has spoken of the blackness of the human heart and how it constantly pumps out selfishness and greed and evil desires like sewage. Even when we try to do right we find that we can’t, and besides, it’s far too late for us to change – even if we could stop disobeying God and start living perfectly the way he intended right now, we’d still have a mountain of debt we couldn’t possibly hope to pay – God would still be rightly angry at the way we’ve treated him. We are slaves to our sin and there’s nothing we can do about it.

But wonderfully, Jesus tells us here that by his death he can ransom us from sin – his death sets us free to live for God the way we were designed. He died the death that we deserved; he took all of God’s just anger at our sin upon himself; he paid our debt for us upon the cross. We have been ransomed from our slavery to sin. We are free.

An Invitation

But notice the qualification – he died for many, not all. An invitation has been extended to you, Jesus wants to serve you. But you need to accept that ransom on your behalf – you need to commit your life into Jesus’ hands. Don’t expect it to be a shortcut to glory and riches in this life – after all, to follow Jesus is to walk in his footsteps, a path of suffering and service of others – but make sure you accept this offer whilst it’s still open to you. One day Jesus will be seen to be crowned with glory and honour in God’s kingdom, and the recent celebrations on the streets of Egypt will be as nothing compared to the party on that day.

The Boss

Why Jesus is my Hero #13 of 52

easter_tomb-800x600.jpg

Over the Easter weekend I’ve been reading Matthew’s account of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. I must confess that I often fall into the trap of feeling a little underwhelmed on Easter Sunday: I tend to be all about Good Friday. Good Friday is when we remember the cross; Good Friday is when we remember that Jesus died the death that we deserved, taking the punishment that was our due upon himself so that we could be set free; Good Friday is where God’s justice was satisfied so that I can be sure of a “not guilty” verdict when I stand before the judgement seat of God. Need I spell out why I find all that pretty exciting?

But Easter Sunday… Sometimes I make the mistake of thinking of Easter Sunday as a mere epilogue to what was achieved on Good Friday. I roll out the resurrection in apologetics situations as evidence of Jesus’ identity, and I guess it’s nice that the story of Good Friday has a happy ending because the poor man on the cross didn’t stay dead and what have you, but as absurd as it sounds, I don’t often really think in terms of anything being achieved on Easter Sunday.

Well in that respect I couldn’t be further from the gospel writers and the rest of the early church. What a rebuke it was to me to read Matthew 28 this morning, and hear these words from the lips of the risen Jesus:

“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go 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.'” (Matthew 28:18-20)

So yes, it was on Good Friday that the price for my sin was paid in full, but without Easter Sunday that becomes a mere transaction as cold and remote as the body that would still be lying in that garden tomb in the rock. It sounds kind of obvious when you spell it out, but without Easter Sunday Jesus would still be dead! Maybe I fail to get excited by Easter Sunday because in my heart of hearts I live as though he may as well be – I fail to believe his promise that “I will be with you always, to the end of the age.” Jesus lives! He is risen! He stands before the throne of God making intercession for those who trust in him, pleading our case before the Ancient of Days, and through his gift of the Holy Spirit he is with us still today so that we are not left alone as orphans.

It’s Easter Sunday which shows that Jesus was victorious over sin and Satan – death could not hold him because he defeated sin once and for all. And with Satan defeated, he was able to declare that “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Jesus is now lifted above every power and authority, he rules as king over every nation and tribe and tongue. Because of Easter Sunday there is now nothing outside of his dominion. He deserves allegiance from every creature in existence, whether on earth or in heaven. He is the boss. And that’s why the mission that he gives to his disciples makes such perfect sense: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations”. Because he’s the boss of all the world – all authority has been given to him – of course they’re to go and call all the world to follow him. The Christian message isn’t just about Good Friday and a great offer of free forgiveness for you to take or leave as you see fit – it’s also about Easter Sunday and a risen and ascended King who deserves and demands your allegiance. To stand against Jesus now isn’t just to miss out on a wonderful opportunity, it’s to set yourself up as a rebel force in defiance of your rightful ruler.

Jesus is the boss of everything and everyone. That’s why he’s my hero.

Why We Need to Be Born Again

Why Jesus is My Hero #12 of 52

Do you ever have days when you wonder if you’re good enough to get into heaven? You look at your
life, and all you see is your apathy and spiritual half-heartedness. You know you don’t love God
nearly as much as you ought and you love your neighbour even less than that. Compared to some of
the heroes of the faith that you find in the pages of scripture, your life looks like one big compromise.

Where exactly does God draw the line? You know he’s merciful, so surely he’ll be willing to overlook
some of your flaws – after all, he knows that you’re only human, doesn’t he? To find out, it’ll be
instructive for us to look at the entry exam for a character called Nicodemus in John chapter 3. If
anybody was going to get let into heaven, you’d expect it to be Nicodemus. He’s a leading Pharisee –
a religious group utterly committed to radical holiness in all areas of life; he’s described as “a
ruler of the Jews” – an important man who is clearly respected by many; he’s polite and clearly
recognises something special in Jesus. His spiritual credentials look seriously impressive – if
anybody was going to pass the test and get into heaven, it would surely be Nicodemus.

Yet Jesus’ first words to him are these: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he
cannot see the kingdom of God.” The image of being ‘born again’ has become a bit overfamiliar to us
so it’d be easy for us to miss the impact these words would have had on Nicodemus, but it’s a bit
like Jesus saying “your chances of getting into heaven are so far gone that you’d need to have
lived a different life – you need to start again from scratch if you want to see heaven”. You’ve
missed your chance, Nicodemus – you’ve stuffed up. You’ve blown it, you’ve failed the test. In fact,
Jesus goes further: Nicodemus was never really in the race to start with. “That which is born of the
flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Nicodemus is made of entirely the
wrong kind of stuff to get into heaven – he’s “fleshly”. It’s a bit like if I wanted to be King of
England, I’d need to be born again into an entirely different family. The Geerses are never going
to be monarchy, because we’re not in the royal line. I’d have to have lived an entirely different
life, be born again, if I wanted to be King. Only people born of the Spirit can get into heaven,
and that rules out all of us born into Adam’s sinful race. And if Nicodemus can’t enter the kingdom of
heaven then there’s no hope for any of us. No amount of human effort and trying harder and seeking
to “be a good person” can fix the fact that we’re fleshly people and not Spirit people. I prove that
fact every day by my failure to be a good person – by the fact that despite my good intentions I
simply cannot fix my innature predisposition towards doing the stuff God hates.

So what hope is there for any of us? Thankfully, Jesus doesn’t end his conversation with Nicodemus
hanging there – he goes on to describe God’s wonderful plan of salvation for sinful people, with
these words:

“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that
whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15)

He’s making an allusion to Numbers 21:4-9. The people of Israel had rebelled against God in the
wilderness, and so in an act of judgement he sent poisonous snakes amongst them. But in his mercy,
God also provided a means of salvation: he instructed Moses to make a bronze statue of a snake and
put it on a pole and lift it up; all the Israelites had to do was look at this snake, trusting in
God’s solution, and they’d be protected against the snake bites.

Jesus says he himself will be like that bronze snake: he will be ‘lifted up’, and though we are
under God’s judgement and barred from seeing his kingdom, all we need to do is look to Jesus and
believe in him, trusting God’s solution for our sin, and we can be forgiven and receive eternal
life. What is this ‘lifting up’ that Jesus will experience? Well, it is both his exultation – that
he will be honoured in the sight of all who believe in him, as we look away from ourselves and our
sinfulness and instead look to him – and his humiliation, as he is nailed to a cruel wooden cross
and left to die, naked and bruised for all to see.

As long as Nicodemus thought it was all about him and his good works and his religious credentials,
he could never see the kingdom of God. But for all who are prepared to forsake their efforts to
earn their way into heaven, for all who are willing to recognise that they can contribute nothing
to their salvation except their need for it, and who will look to Jesus and place their hopes for
eternal life upon his shoulders, there is the hope of being born again by the Spirit and
receiving the free gift of life in God’s kingdom. That’s why Jesus is my hero.

Jesus the Pre-Eminent One

Why Jesus is My Hero #11 of 52

Podium

The aim of this “Why Jesus is My Hero” series has been to make a big deal about Jesus, to help me think more about him and less about myself. It’s hard to imagine a Bible passage which does that better than Colossians 1:15-20. According to the apostle Paul, Jesus is kind of a big deal:

“He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities- all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”

Basically, when it comes to life, the universe and everything, it’s all about Jesus! It was made by him, it was made for him, and everything that happens takes place to make him look good. It’s God’s intention that he should be pre-eminent – that is, that he should be seen to be front and centre, that nobody should be thought more significant than him. Everything that we have comes from him: he sustains the universe moment by moment and prevents it from flying apart, and it’s only because of him that we can have the least hope of a restored relationship with God. The hope of eternal life is ours only because he went before us and rose from the dead himself.

But above all, he was far, far more than just a mere man. In him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell – that’s a LOT of fullness. Where we are flawed and weak and fail to honour God in the way that we should, he is perfect and flawless and mighty and, above all, holy. For sinful man to stand in the presence of God would mean instant death for us, yet all the fullness of God can dwell in Jesus because he is the righteous one.

This is reality. Jesus is the pre-eminent one, whether we recognise it or not. So it’s such a tragedy when we ignore him or think of him just as a means to an end. “Thanks for dying for me, Jesus! Now I’ll just get on with my life, see you later!” So often I live as a “functional unitarian” – I’m not sure you could tell that I believe in the Trinity just by observing my actions or even by hearing my prayers. Jesus is so small in my thinking compared to this vision of him here in Colossians. That’s why it’s my prayer that I would begin to make much of Jesus, just as the Bible does. He is absolutely the most important man in the universe. That’s why Jesus is my hero.

Who Do You Fear?

Why Jesus is My Hero #10 of 52

As I sat down to try and decide which Bible passage to blog about this week, I thought it was about time I did another Old Testament passage. What sprang to mind was Nehemiah 6:1-19, since I’ve recently had to preach on it, but I realised how similar it was to the previous Old Testament passage I used, in “The King Who Fears God“, since Nehemiah 6 is also about the importance of the fear of God. But if the fear of God is such a common theme in the Old Testament, then who am I to differ?

Fear is something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently, partly with the assistance of the excellent book “Running Scared” by Ed Welch. It’s so easy to be controlled by fear – indeed, we live in a scary world, and sometimes that fear is well justified. Fear of what people will think about us; fear of what people might do to us; fear of what the future will hold; fear of how we’ll have enough money to get by; fear of what will happen to our family; fear of what will happen if this thing I’m working on isn’t as good as I want it to be; fear of what I’ll do wrong next.

Nehemiah lived in a time when fear was well justified too. He’d just returned from exile in Babylon to oversee the other Jewish people who had returned to Jerusalem to help rebuild the city walls, destroyed decades earlier by King Nebuchadnezzar’s invading army. The people of Judah were a laughing stock amongst the surrounding nations – they were a tiny remnant of the people they’d once been, they were intensely vulnerable should anybody wish to attack them, and it must have been so hard for Nehemiah and his countrymen to persevere instead of being crippled by fear. The enemies of God are represented in the book of Nehemiah by Sanballat and Tobiah and Geshem the Arab. They’ve tried to stop the rebuilding effort earlier in the book through intimidation tactics, but under Nehemiah’s able leadership the people of Jerusalem rose to the challenge and struggled on. As we reach Chapter 6, the miserable threesome try a different tactic: they’ve realised that in order to halt the building work, they’re going to have to take out Nehemiah. As long as he’s around to keep the people focussed, they’re always going to struggle. But if they can disable Nehemiah then the building effort is sure to fall to pieces. So they try to kidnap him and they try to discredit his name with a false rumour. Their goal is the same in each case: “They all wanted to frighten us, thinking, ‘Their hand will drop from the work, and it will not be done.'” (Nehemiah 6:9) But each time they are thwarted.

Finally, they try one more thing: they try to intimidate Nehemiah to the point where he sins against God to protect himself. If they can’t discredit his name through a false rumour, maybe they can generate a rumour with some actual merit to it. So they hire an inside man to tell Nehemiah that his life is in danger, and to encourage him to seek safe-haven inside the temple. This is Nehemiah’s reponse:

“‘Should such a man as I run away? And what man such as I could go into the temple and live? I will not go in.’ And I understood and saw that God had not sent him, but he had pronounced the prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. For this purpose he was hired, that I should be afraid and act in this way and sin, and so they could give me a bad name in order to taunt me.” (Nehemiah 6:11-13)

It’s not exactly clear why, but Nehemiah sees that for him to hide inside the temple would be a grave sin against God. It’s possible he’s referring to the inner sanctum of the temple, the Holy of Holies, where only the priests were allowed to enter. It’s also conceivable that having worked as cup-bearer to the King of Babylon, Nehemiah may have been made a eunuch, making it a sin to enter anywhere into the temple grounds. But whatever the reason, Nehemiah recognises it as a sin, and rather than fearing Tobiah and Sanballat, he makes a choice to fear God instead. His fear of what man might do to him was driven out by a greater fear of what God might do to him.

The result is striking: a great reversal takes place, as the people persevere to complete the rebuilding of the city walls, and it becomes their enemy’s turn to fear: “And when all our enemies heard of it, all the nations around us were afraid and fell greatly in their own esteem, for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God.” (Nehemiah 6:16)

It’s a great object lesson in the importance of fearing God instead of man. As Jesus told his disciples: “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” But fear isn’t always entirely rational, and so often we find ourselves intensely afraid of those who could kill the body (or our reputation, or our job prospects, or whatever it might be). The great encouragement of Nehemiah 6 to me was the way that it points us to Jesus: God’s enemies knew that they couldn’t stop the people building the city walls until they took out their leader, and his resolute devotion to fearing God meant that ultimately they failed. Likewise for us, all kinds of enemies, both physical and spiritual, might wish to assail us, but as long as our leader, Jesus, stands firm on our behalf, ultimately they will not prevail. We need look no further than his forty days of temptation in the wilderness, remembered by many at this time of lent, to see in Jesus the perfect fear of God that we so desperately need. It doesn’t mean that bad things won’t happen – according to Jesus, our enemies do have the power to kill the body, and for some of our brothers and sisters around the world, refusing to sin against God may well cost them their very lives – but ultimately we can trust God to preserve our souls to eternal life, so long as Jesus stands to make intercession for me before the throne of heaven.

That’s why Jesus is my hero, and why I need not be afraid any longer.

Why We Can Know That God Exists

Why Jesus is my Hero #9 of 52

Life in a Closed World

Imagine that you’d lived your whole life inside a well-lit room without windows. There’s a door in one wall, but it has remained locked your entire life, and there appears to be no key to it. Your whole experience has been lived out inside this room. From time to time you speculate about what’s outside the room – is there even an outside? A storybook you used to enjoy talked about these things called ‘trees’ and the ‘sky’, and they sound great – but you have no idea if they really exist or if it’s just fantasy. And what on earth do they really look like? All you have is a kind of cartoon representation of them. Are there other people outside the room? How many? What are they like? These are important questions, but whatever answers you can come up with are mere speculation – you simply cannot see beyond the four walls of the room in which you live.

In many ways that’s a fair picture of our musings about the divine. We live within this physical world of what we can see and touch, and though we might speculate about a spiritual world beyond, our inability to see it means we can never really be certain. As long as that door remains locked, agnosticism about life ‘outside the room’ is the perfectly logical state of mind – any claims I might make about “knowing the truth” is sheer arrogance.

Why Agnosticism Is No Longer a Tenable Position

But now imagine somebody bursts through the door – a man who has seen the outside world and lived in it his whole life, and who knows exactly what’s out there. That totally transforms things, doesn’t it? You might still have plenty of questions about this man’s trustworthiness – is he telling you the truth? Is he a reliable witness to the world outside? But now the debate is centred on this man and his character – the possibility for knowledge now exists in a way that it never did before. If the man could prove that he came from outside – if he brought with him a bunch of flowers, say – then to refuse to believe him and to sit down on the floor in a huff and never discover the wonders of the outside world, well that would be a real tragedy, wouldn’t it?

The Apostle Paul claimed that we have had just such an eye-opening opportunity in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Previously it made perfect sense to be uncertain about the existence of God and exactly what he’s like – we could make guesses but we could never be certain. But Paul says that in Jesus, God has broken into his world, he’s become visible and taken on flesh and blood. He’s told us what’s “outside the room”, what God is like. And he invites us to come and know him for ourselves. He puts it like this:

“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31, emphasis mine)

Why Christianity Is Easy to Disprove

As far as I’m aware, Christianity is the only religion in the world that can be easily disproved: all you have to do – all the authorities at the time of Jesus would have had to have done – would be to find Jesus’ body, and we can all pack our bags and go home. Christianity is rooted in a falsifiable historical event – the resurrection of a man from the dead. That’s something that either did happen or did not happen. And if it did – well then that changes everything. It means we can know the truth for certain – we can know that God exist.

Some people would dismiss all this talk as complete nonsense – obviously people don’t rise from the dead, so to say it’s a “historical event” that really happened makes me a loon. But that’s a logical fallacy. Of course dead people usually stay dead. Of course it would be absolutely extraordinary if even one man in the entire history of the world failed to stay dead. But in the highly unlikely event that Jesus did rise from the dead, then we have to revise our understanding of the world: maybe there is life beyond death after all.

There are still plenty of important questions to be asked, like did he rise from the dead? Even if he did, can we trust what he tells us about God – is this man Jesus a reliable witness? But the debate is now centered around the person of Jesus, it’s no longer mere speculation in the abstract. To refuse to engage with the question of Jesus’ identity now would be desperately tragic.

The Urgency of the Question

And it’s a particularly important and urgent question to investigate, because of what Paul tells us: God has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed. There’s a day of judgement coming, and how we’ve responded to Jesus is going to be top of the agenda. Don’t stick your head in the sand and pretend we can never know whether God exists. If Jesus is who he says he is then we absolutely can.

Jesus is the man who shows us that God exists, and that’s why he’s my hero.

Way More Than An Angel

Why Jesus is my Hero #8 of 52

Just how special is Jesus? Was he just a man – a good teacher, an all round nice guy, someone with some pretty smart things to say? Was he something more than that – a kind of heavenly being, some form of angel sent from God to show us the way? The model of the “ideal man”, but still something less than God himself? Was he content to be thought of as an ordinary human being before some of his early followers came along and hijacked the discussion and made him out to be God himself in human form?

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You come across those kinds of different ideas about Jesus all the time – whether from atheists or from Jehovah’s Witnesses or wherever it might be. I think my normal reaction would be to turn to the New Testament and show some of the ways in which Jesus himself spoke about his identity, or where Paul speaks of him in divine terms. But chewing over the first chapter of Hebrews recently I was struck by the slightly surprising approach the author takes: to turn to the Old Testament and see how God speaks about his Messiah. As he does so, he shows us that Jesus is far more than just a man, far more even than some kind of super-angel – he is “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” – the creator of the Universe himself.

It’s another round of Bible Top-Trumps as the author of Hebrews takes us back to a number of Old Testament passages that clearly speak of the coming Messiah and plays him off against the angels – and he wins every time. He is addressed as God’s unique and only-begotten “Son” – something that is never applied to the angels. All the angels are told to worship him. So far so good – but I guess he could still be some kind of angel himself, just one who is vastly superior to all the others. But then it starts going really off the scales:

“But of the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, is for ever and ever, the sceptre of uprightness is the sceptre of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions'” (Hebrews 1:8, emphasis mine)

He is addressed by God as God. And then in the next one, we’re told he is the creator of the universe:

“You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain” (Hebrews 1:10-11)

As someone who grew up in a Christian home, I sometimes take it a bit for granted thinking of Jesus in divine terms. But I imagine that for a Jewish audience, some of this stuff would be mind-blowing and almost blasphemous when they first heard it. But there it all is, in the Old Testament scriptures, in black and white. God refers to his Messiah as though he is also somehow God himself. This is no last minute addition, a bolt-on that Jesus himself would have been horrified by, had he known. This is central to Jesus’ understanding of his own identity and mission.

The implications of all this for the author of Hebrews is clear:

“Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” (Hebrews 2:1)

Angels in the Bible are pretty scary creatures that strike fear into the hearts of all who meet them. How much more should we therefore stand in awe of the Lord Jesus – the exact imprint of God’s nature! Jewish tradition held that the Old Testament covenant was delivered to Moses on the top of mount Sinai by angels, and so the author of Hebrews uses his comparison of Jesus with the angels as a way of saying that the New Testament covenant must be even more glorious, and even more worthy of our attention and obedience. It’s no trifling matter to hear the gospel message and then ignore it.

Jesus is God in human form – the Creator of the Universe come down to earth. That’s why he is my hero, and why he really deserves my love, my devotion and my utmost attention and obedience.

Subduing The Forces of Chaos and Evil

Why Jesus is My Hero #7 of 52

The Perfect Storm

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Imagine the scene: you’re on a little fishing boat out on the middle of the sea. Only it’s not a tranquil afternoon pleasure cruise – you’re caught in the midst of a violent storm. The thick clouds in the sky above are pelting you with rain so heavy that you’re drenched to your very skin. The boat is lurching violently from side to side as the waves crash against it, and it’s quickly filling up as water pours over the sides. You hope against hope that it’s merely passing by and that the storm will subside before it utterly sinks you, but then you notice that the hardened fisher men who own the boat – men with plenty of experience of violent storms who know how to tell when they’re in danger – well they’re utterly terrified and yelling about how we’re all going to perish. Now you know you’re in trouble.

As you claw your way towards them to check if perhaps you misheard them against the raging winds, you notice an unusual scene. Despite the chaos all around you, there’s a man sleeping peacefully upon a cushion. When the fishermen wake him, he seems annoyed that they’ve disturbed his nap for no good reason – as though he’s completely oblivious to the danger he’s in. The fishermen are pointing him towards the water pouring over the sides, which he finally seems to acknowledge with disinterest. And then, with a little yawn, the man turns towards the raging sea and says to it, “Peace! Be still!”

At once, in an instant, the rocking of the boat stops, the clouds part, and the sea becomes flat like a mill pond. The man turns to the fisherman and says, “Why are you so afraid? Have you no faith?”

How would you expect the fishermen to respond? This man has just rescued them from the most fearsome storm they’ve ever experienced, merely with a word. He’s rebuked the raging wind like it was a naughty puppy, only for it to retreat with its tail between its legs.

Well, those events really happened, and one of those fishermen recounted their response for his friend Mark to write down for us:

“They were filled with great fear and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?'” (Mark 4:35-41)

If they were afraid before, whilst in the middle of the storm, that’s nothing to how afraid they were now, to witness this man whose very words had the power to rebuke the utter chaos of the seas.

Taming The Hulk

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It doesn’t get much better when they land. They moor their boat near a graveyard, and are immediately greeted by a man who has his home amongst the tombs. The locals were terrified of him – all night long they could hear him howling like a zombie as he cut himself with stones. They’d tried subduing him and binding him in chains, but he seemed to possess super-human strength, and broke his bonds in pieces as if they were made of string.

The man seems to recognise Jesus, and at once he runs towards him and bows his head low before him, begging for mercy. He claims to be possessed by an army of demons – they call themselves Legion – and everything the disciples’ eyes and ears tell them support the veracity of his unusual claim.

Having witnessed Jesus calming the storm, the disciples no doubt wondered what fireworks they were about to see. Jesus speaks directly to the demons and commands them to come out of the man, giving them permission to enter a herd of pigs nearby. Everybody watches in amazement as two thousand pigs suddenly rush down the steep bank and over the cliffs into the sea below, demonstrating the incredible destructive potential of this legion of demons.

Once more, how do you suppose the locals responded? When they see the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, they are afraid. They recognise in Jesus a power greater than two thousand demons, and they shoo him away, desperately seeking to get as much distance between him and them as they can. This man Jesus has a power over the forces of evil that is truly terrifying if you’re not sure he’s on your side.

A Power Not To Be Trifled With

The wonderful news of the rest of Mark’s gospel is that this fearsome man, Jesus, is willing to be on the side of all those who will trust in him. He came to earth to defeat the forces of chaos and evil, to usher in the Kingdom of God in which Satan’s power is bound up and brought to an end, and all this through the ransom he paid by his death on the cross. That’s why Jesus is my hero – he has a power unlike no other man, and yet he wields it for the good of those who love him.

The Man Who Made Me Rich

Why Jesus Is My Hero #6 of 52

Seeing Wealth With Spiritual Eyes

Money, money, money. Money makes the world go round. We measure people by their wealth- by their car or by their phone. If we have money we fear losing it; if we don’t have it we dream of how life would be different if only we could get our hands on some. We live as though our happiness depends upon having money, and preferably lots of it.

So I’ve been challenged recently by some surprising words of the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians. The life of an apostle was hardly a shortcut to wealth – Paul suffered constant opposition, he was shipwrecked, he was beaten and stoned and on several occasions came within an inch of his life. And yet he writes this:

“We are treated as…having nothing, yet possessing everything” (2 Corinthians 6:10)

To look at him, Paul had absolutely nothing – not a penny to his name. Yet with the eyes of faith, Paul recognised that he possessed everything that mattered – spiritually speaking, he was rich beyond his wildest dreams. He had a relationship with God through Jesus Christ – a treasure far more tangible and lasting than any iPad.

Through the book of 2 Corinthians, Paul invites us to look at the world through spiritual eyes. To live by faith and not by sight – seeing things as they really are. We often think of the “spiritual” as being somehow less tangible, more airy fairy. But Paul tells us what nonsense that is – this world is a fleeting fancy in comparison with the eternal realities that Paul invites us to consider.

It’s into this context, then, that Paul speaks this beautiful gospel summary:

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)

Our Poverty

The first thing I noticed when reading this verse the other day was the implicit assumption that without Jesus we are poor. So what does Paul mean by that? Compared to him (and a lot of people in the world today) I’m incredibly wealthy, if he’s just thinking about my bank balance and the quality of my life. Well, with our gospel spectacles on, he’s clearly talking about our spiritual state. Earlier on he talks about those without Christ as being “blind” and “perishing”: the god of this world has blinded our minds, to keep us from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. Naturally we’re cut off from God by our sin – we want nothing to do with him, preferring to invent our own version of God or rejecting him entirely. We’re unable to recognise the good in him, we have no spiritual sight. Without Christ, we are spiritually bankrupt.

His Wealth

By contrast, Paul says that Jesus was rich. Jesus lived in perfect relationship with his Father since all eternity, standing in his presence, unblemished by any hint of sin. Spiritually speaking he had it all.

He Became Poor

The glory of Jesus Christ in this verse is that completely of his free grace he chose not to stand on his rights, but for our sake he gave it all up and became poor. He took on flesh, and lived in poverty – being born in a mangy stable. He didn’t come to a wealthy family, being born the son of an earthly king. Instead, his earthly father was a humble carpenter. But more than that, he became spiritually poor. On the cross he was cut off from God, suffering his wrath in our place. Paul puts it like this:

“For our sake, he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

On the cross, Jesus was spiritually bankrupt in our place. The full extent of God’s wrath was poured out upon him, just as we deserved.

We Can Become Rich

The wonderful truth is that as a result of Jesus’ willingness to go to the cross for us, we can be restored to a right relationship with God. We can “become the righteousness of God” – treated as though we were perfect like Jesus. He became poor so that we through his poverty might become rich. I can enjoy an eternity with God, without deserving it in the least.

Having nothing I possess everything. I am rich beyond my wildest dreams. That’s why Jesus is my hero.

The Man in Whom Heaven and Earth Meet

Why Jesus is My Hero #5 of 52

HEAVEN

When life throws you yet another curve ball and everything seems to be going wrong, even the strongest faith can be tested, wondering if God can really be out there and in control. Something within us longs to know for certain – if only we were able to reach out and touch him, to have a tangible experience of his presence, like Adam & Eve as they walked with God in the garden of Eden and spoke with him.

But, of course, things aren’t as they were back then. Adam & Eve may have spoken with God but they certainly didn’t listen, and their act of rebellion – the very pattern of sin that we repeat for ourselves in our own lives day after day – caused a rift between God and man that could not easily be repaired. Sin introduced a seemingly impenetrable barrier between heaven and earth – humanity was kicked out of the garden and the Cherubim was placed by the entrance with his flaming sword to make sure they could never get back in.

It’s a moment of earth-shattering significance, then, when that great chasm between heaven and earth is bridged at a particular point in space-time in the holy of holies at the heart of the temple in Jerusalem. God is present in the midst of his people – tangibly present, though it proves to be highly dangerous for such sinful people. The Cherubim still symbolically guards the way, his image embroidered into the curtain to warn people against entering uninvited. But then once again humanity’s endemic rebellion proves to be their undoing, and God’s glory departs as the temple is destroyed and the people of Judah are carted off into exile. The bridge between heaven and earth is broken down.

Enter the stage, then, Jesus of Nazareth. Early on in John’s gospel he delivers this cryptic statement:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:51)

It’s a reference back to Jacob’s ladder – the patriarch’s dream about the gates of heaven, where angels ascend and descend on Bethel: “the house of God”. Jesus is making a startling claim which he repeats numerous times throughout his life: he himself is the true temple – heaven and earth meet once again in his body. His disciples could literally reach out and touch God – experience God in a tangible way.

So when we’re doubting if God is really there, when we’re wondering what he’s really like, we can turn to the eye witness accounts of the life of Jesus and encounter the one in whom heaven and earth meet – the answer to all our doubts. That’s why Jesus is my hero.

The One Who Succeeds Where Others Fail

Why Jesus is My Hero #4 of 52

We all know that sinking feeling of an opportunity missed. I’m not much of a sports fan, but I ended up watching a bit of the Six Nations rugby yesterday – in sports you’re forever getting your hopes up as you see someone making a break from the opposing players, your heart is in your mouth with anticipation as they run towards the line, you’re convinced they’re going to make it, and then AGH! they’ve lost the ball and all yours hopes are dashed.

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They Bible is full of moments where God’s people have an opportunity to do something amazing, and our sense of anticipation makes us read on with baited breath to see what’s going to happen. Then time and time again we find ourselves disappointed. Yet the fact that it keeps on happening somehow never seems to dampen our expectations that this time they’re going to get it right. From the very first moments of Genesis we find Adam & Eve facing such an opportunity – they’re living in the Garden of Eden in relationship with God, walking with him and enjoying all his good gifts. It’s paradise – surely these are a people with an amazing future ahead of them. But only a few verses later we find ourselves bitterly disappointed as Adam fails to obey the command God gave him and he eats of the fruit that Eve offers him. He could have been the ruler of the world as God’s ambassador, and yet he chose to throw it all in in a vain attempt to be god himself.

History repeats itself in the book of Numbers, as Israel are on the verge of entering the promised land – it’s the moment where it feels like we’re about to get back to Eden. God’s people back into God’s place, in relationship with God. And once more our hopes are dashed as they chose to disobey God and doubt his goodness, and as a result they’re forced to wander in the wilderness for forty years until that generation has completely died out.

What wonderful breath of fresh air it is then when we reach Luke chapter 4. Luke sets us up for two simultaneous rounds of Bible Top Trumps: his genealogy at the end of Chapter 3 names Jesus as “the son of Adam, the son of God”, so Jesus is presented both as a second Adam and as a second Israel (rather than necessarily being a reference to his divinity, the language of “the son of God” can also be used as a reference to the nation of Israel, God’s “firstborn son”). As the Spirit leads him out into the wilderness to be tempted, Jesus is about to face the same test that Adam faced in the garden of Eden and that Israel faced on the edge of the promised land. Will he manage to succeed where they failed, or will he be just another disappointment in a long line of disappointments?

As Luke narrates Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, it’s thrilling to see this character responding to the Devil’s seductive offers. Just as the serpent offered Adam & Eve the chance to be independent of God, knowing and deciding good and evil for themselves instead of having to listen to God’s commands, so Satan offers Jesus the authority and glory of the nations, if he’ll only worship him. And yet, at exactly the point where Adam & Eve failed the test, Jesus stands firm: where Adam & Eve doubt God’s word (“on the day you eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall surely die”) Jesus believes God’s word (“It is written, ‘you shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve'”). At exactly the point where Israel doubted God’s provision, complaining about their lack of food and water in the wilderness, Jesus trusts in God’s goodness, knowing that “man shall not live by bread alone”.

Where humanity stubbornly and sinfully rejects God’s word, Jesus is the one man who consistently obeyed his Father’s voice. That’s why we need a hero like him – our new representative, our second Adam.

The King Who Fears God – Why Jesus is My Hero #3 of 52

Human beings love to be lead. We may treat our politicians with contempt, but it’s only because we desperately want someone with backbone to take charge and say “I’m here now, it’s all going to be ok”. Yet human leadership always seems to fall short. I only need to say the word “Obama” and you’ll know what I mean.

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The Old Testament is full of ‘shadows’ that hint at the shape that the coming Messiah will take, and few are as crucial as that of The King. Like a game of Top Trumps, the Bible encourages us to examine these human figures and compare them to God’s heavenly king, Jesus, and see how they stack up. As we do so, we see more and more clearly just how awesome Jesus is. So in today’s round of “Bible Top Trumps” we’re going to be pitting Jesus against Israel’s first king: Saul. Our chosen stat is going to be the fear of God.

I have a bit of a soft spot for Saul because he’s sort of the anti-hero of my Old Testament adventure game, Ebenezer. When he was appointed king, everybody was so full of high hopes, including us as readers. The people were under threat from all kinds of external enemies and feeling desperately vulnerable. Saul’s name literally means “asked for”: they urgently wanted God to provide a king for them, and it seems clear that Saul is God’s provision. Before the prophet Samuel first lays eyes on him, he is told by God that “Tomorrow about this time I will send to you a man from the land of Benjamin, and you shall anoint him to be prince over my people Israel. He shall save my people from the hand of the Philistines” (1 Samuel 9:16). And initially things seem to go well: anointed by the Spirit of God, Saul leads the Israelites to victory against the Ammonites and against the Philistines.

But in no time at all things take a nosedive. However physically impressive and strong in battle he may be, Saul turns out to be weak in the fear of God. When God has commanded him to go one way, his fear of man kicks in and overrides. Take the incident in 1 Samuel 15. God has commanded him to devote to destruction the Amalekites and all their livestock, in judgement for their opposition to God and his people several hundred years earlier during their wanderings in the wilderness. When Samuel shows up after the battle, Saul bounds up to him and proudly announces: “I have performed the commandment of the Lord.” In a moment of black humour comes Samuel’s unforgettable reply: “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears and the lowing of the oxen that I hear?”

It turns out that Saul has not performed the commandment of the Lord at all. Despite being clearly told not to spare any of the livestock, Saul is persuaded by the people to save the best of the sheep and the oxen. It’s okay though, he’s got a really godly excuse: “the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen to sacrifice to the Lord”. How he expected to get away with it is mind boggling – it’s not like it’s that easy to hide flocks and flocks of sheep! The explanation for his behaviour comes a few verses later in v24:

“I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice.” (1 Samuel 15:24)

Samuel has to remind him who he is: “Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel?” (v17) He’s the king! He’s supposed to be leading the people in godliness and in the fear of the Lord, and yet here is is, desperately afraid of their opinion, desperately craving their recognition and approval. Instead of leading them, the people are leading him. The result is catastrophic.

What a joy then, when one thousand years later Jesus shows up and demonstrates his perfect fear of God. Time after time he refuses to bow to pressure from those around him who want to shut him up and rid Jerusalem of his teaching. The night before his crucifixion, at a moment when he had every reason to fear what man could do to him, he chose instead to perform the commandment of the Lord and walk willingly to his death. “Father, not my will, but yours.” In a game of Bible Top Trumps he absolutely wipes the floor with Saul in the fear of God. For fearful people like me, having a King like that is something that makes me very happy indeed.

Overflowing Fullness – Why Jesus is My Hero #2 of 52

Red and White

So how are those new year’s resolutions coming along then? It’s now the end of January, and if you’re anything like me, you’ve probably long since forgotten that you even made any. We’re often so full of good intentions, and sometimes we even manage to put a few of them into practice, but eventually we always run into our own limitations – resolutions fizzle out, our energy ebbs away, we discover the limits of our own abilities. We’re finite creatures and ultimately, however much we might try and deny it, we’re fundamentally needy: we’re unable to be all that we want to be and we’re dependent upon grace from outside ourselves.

That’s why I love one of the big themes of John’s gospel: Jesus’ fullness. We are empty and needy, but Jesus is the one who is full within himself, and he longs to share that fullness with us. John 1:16 puts it like this: “from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”

This fullness of Jesus is beautifully illustrated in John chapter 2 at the wedding in Cana. The bridegroom is at risk of being seriously embarrassed: his need and his finiteness is brought to the fore when he runs out of wine, a serious faux pas at a Jewish wedding at that time. Jesus’ mum throws him in the deep end and gets him to help out, and so reluctantly he tells the servants to fill six stone water jars with water, which he promptly transforms into wine of outstanding quality – so good that the master of the feast can’t help but comment on it. This is no Chateaux Le Plonk. And how much does Jesus make of the stuff? Well, we’re told that each of these jars holds between 20 and 30 gallons, and there are six of them. Let’s call that 25 gallons each, or about 680 litres. That’s 900 bottles of wine!!! And people think of Jesus as a party pooper!

It’s an absurd volume of wine, and I think the picture is abundantly clear, isn’t it? Life with Jesus is one of overflowing grace. Ludicrous fullness that can hardly be contained. It’s a little picture of what heaven will be like – a glorious banquet, a place of abundance where sin and death and sadness and emptiness is no more. Listen to these words from the prophet Isaiah:

“On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,
of rich food full or marrow, of aged wine well refined.
And he will swallow up on this mountain
the covering that is cast over all peoples,
the veil that is spread over all nations.
He will swallow up death for ever” (Isaiah 25:6-8)

Jesus gives out of his fullness: “from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” And so my emptiness and my neediness and my finite limitations are irrelevant. In fact, recognising them is a positive thing, since they serve to make me all the more ready to receive what Jesus has to offer. It’s wonderful news for needy people like me, and that’s why Jesus is my hero.

I’m no hero – Why Jesus is My Hero #1 of 52

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I admit it: I want to be a hero. I love the sense of smug self-satisfaction I get after successfully leaping out of bed before 7am. I love anything that marks me apart from the rest of humanity and helps me feel like I might be special after all.

The trouble is, in lots of ways, I’m pretty mediocre. I’m downright average. In fact, in some departments I’m full on sub-standard – just ask my physiotherapist about my weak knees! One of the things that going to university in Cambridge does to you is that it quickly shatters any illusions you may have had about being exceptionally clever or talented – every day you’re bumping into people a hundred times smarter than you, and they almost certainly play the piano like a pro too. God makes each one of us differently with a unique set of gifts, and the simple fact is that some of us get a fuller measure than others. We may be equal in dignity, but that doesn’t mean we all stand the same chance of being hired by NASA to help send a rocket ship to Mars.

One of my common responses to my own limitations is to seek to live vicariously through other exceptional individuals. I think that’s what lies behind my choice of blog subscriptions: many belong to obscure software developers toiling away in unglamorous roles, but boy do they get stuff done. These guys know how to code! And maybe they’re hot on the accordion too just for kicks. I’m almost certain that’s why I follow Apple’s every move with such baited breath: it’s pure and simple hero worship, basking in the glory of geniuses who consistently manage to design things people want to own.

Thing is, my desire to be a hero brings me into conflict with the God who made me. I want his job, wanting people to worship me and recognise how special I am. There’s only room enough in this universe for one Supreme Being, and that makes me God’s enemy. That’s why this week I’m loving Romans 5:8-10:

“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us… while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son”

It turns out I’m not a hero, I’m a sinner. But it also turns out that I don’t need to be a hero to find value and worth – Jesus is a hero in my place. Without doing anything to deserve it or earn it, whilst I was still God’s enemy, Jesus died to rescue me. I don’t need to stress about not being a hero, or try desperately to prove to myself that I am – he’s already accepted me by dying for me. No striving necessary, only simple, humble trust.

That’s why I’m starting to write this new series of blog posts, 52 reasons why Jesus is my hero: to help myself recognise just how much of a hero Jesus really is, and to try to turn my gaze away from myself.