The One Sentence That Says It All

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There is one sentence in the Bible that sums up what Jesus taught about more than anything else. This one sentence sheds light on who Jesus saw himself to be and what he saw himself accomplishing.

However, many of us in the church today would not even be able to identify what this one sentence actually is or where to find it in the Bible. Many followers of Jesus fail to even know the one sentence that sums up Jesus’ main teaching. That’s like being a baseball player but not knowing that the main objective of the game is to score runs and get outs.

We need to rediscover this one sentence so that we can respond to Jesus and what he taught appropriately and also share the message of Jesus and who he really is accurately.

The Forerunner

Now, to better understand the main message of Jesus and how he viewed his own ministry, we need to look at the life and message of an important man who preceded him. John the Baptist was a bold prophet with a dynamic message, and people were responding to him and his message.

John declared that the people of Israel had failed to live up to their responsibility of being the holy nation of God. Therefore, God was getting ready to judge the people of Israel. So John the Baptist was warning the people to confess their sin and wholeheartedly turn back to God if they wanted to be saved from what he described as “the wrath to come”.

This was a very dynamic message that demanded a response from everyone who heard it, and Matthew sums up this dynamic message in this one sentence found in 3:2, “Repent, for the kingdom of God has arrived.”

This was the message that started a new religious movement in the region. But another key aspect of John’s message was that he taught constantly about Someone Greater that was about to come along after him who was going to take this message to the next level. That Someone Greater was of course, Jesus himself.

John the Baptist was the forerunner who prepared the way for what Jesus was going to do and actually fulfill himself. And the moment Jesus begins his ministry, guess what his main message was? In 4:17, Matthew begins his account of Jesus ministry with these words:

“And from that time on, Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of God has arrived.”

The one sentence that sums up what Jesus taught more than anything else is that one verse, “Repent, for the kingdom of God has arrived.”

When you think of Jesus and his teaching and his way of life, you have to think about his announcement of the kingdom or you’re missing who he saw himself to be and what he saw himself accomplishing. Jesus mentions the kingdom of God over fifty times in the gospel of Matthew alone. Matthew and Mark sum up Jesus’ entire message in one sentence, “Repent for the kingdom of God has arrived.” And in Luke’s gospel, Jesus says, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.”

So let’s rediscover this sentence by looking at the two big words in it — kingdom and repent.

What exactly is the kingdom of God?

One of the first things that we need to understand about the kingdom of God is that it is not primarily a place. It is not a place where we go when we die or a place that is going to finally come to earth at the end of history or a place that we are supposed to set up here on earth. It is not primarily a place but rather a realm or the reality of living under the rule and reign of Jesus as the King.

And so, to put that another way, entering into the kingdom of God is not about going somewhere, waiting on something or building something; it is about realizing something and reorganizing your entire life according to that something. It is about realizing that Jesus is the King over all of creation right now as we speak ruling on behalf of God and then reorganizing your entire life according to that reality. That is what it means to enter and belong to the kingdom of God.

This idea of reorganizing your entire life helps us to understand the other big word in Jesus’ main message which is repent.

What does it mean to repent?

To repent means to turn away from living life like you want to live it and to turn back to God asking for forgiveness and then focusing on living in a relationship of trusting obedience to him. It means to turn away from trying to define good and evil for yourself and to turn to Jesus and let him be the one who defines good and evil for you. It means to acknowledge and embrace Jesus as the King of the world.

Now, how do you know when you’ve truly repented?

Well, John the Baptist tells us in 3:8 when he tells the religious leaders to, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” You see, it’s NOT about praying a special prayer or going through a special class at church. You will know that you have truly repented because you will bear fruit in your life that lines up with true repentance. You will embrace a new way of life and a new way of seeing the world based on the life and teachings of Jesus. The evidence that you have truly repented and now belong to the kingdom of God is not a past prayer but rather present fruit. You will be transformed and experience a new life that is empowered by the Holy Spirit and that resembles the life of Jesus himself.

And this empowering that takes place in our lives is one of the most remarkable aspects of submitting and serving Jesus as the King. He declares that we must repent and reorganize our entire lives under his authority, but he didn’t make this demand from a distant throne in heaven. Jesus made this demand while dwelling among us and serving us through the most selfless life of love ever lived. A selfless life that endured the ultimate sacrifice so that we could be forgiven of our sin and restored back into a right relationship with our Creator. Jesus is the good King like no other king in history who is worthy of your total allegiance. This is a King who will transform your life if you would simply turn to him and live for him.

“Repent for the kingdom of God has arrived.”

We need to rediscover this one sentence so that we can respond to Jesus and what he taught appropriately and also share the message of Jesus and who he really is accurately.

Being a good person, belonging to a church, believing the Bible or simply praying a prayer is not sufficient to save us from the eternal consequences of our sin. We must truly repent. We must turn away from living life like we want to live it and turn back to God asking for forgiveness and now focusing on living in a relationship of trusting obedience towards him. We must realize that Jesus is King over all of creation right now as we speak ruling on behalf of God and then reorganize our entire life according to that reality.

Searching for Jesus

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There is a dangerous trap that many people can fall into as their knowledge of the Bible increases. This trap is subtle because it slowly turns a good thing — like a strong desire to study and know the Scriptures — into something that can harden our heart and blind our eyes to what God is doing right in front of us. Right knowledge does not always lead to the right response. You can know precisely what God has said and yet still fail to see what he is doing.

Therefore, we would be wise to check ourselves and make sure that we are not currently caught in this trap or even walking towards it. This was a trap that seemed to plague most of the religious establishment in first century Jerusalem, and it is something that we see in the stories of Jesus’ birth.

In Matthew 2, we are told about things that took place in the first few years of Jesus’ life, and we are given three different responses to the announcement of his birth. In looking at these three different responses, we can see how Matthew demonstrates that right knowledge does not always lead to the right response.

The Curious Caravan

The first response is the most popular which is the response of the wise men from the east. This caravan of ancient Near-Eastern astrologers had discerned from the stars that a great new king had been born in the land of Judea. Most of the ancient world viewed astrology from the east as a superior source of understanding and knowledge, and so these great “scientists” of the ancient world traveled over eight-hundred miles to the city of Jerusalem looking for this new king. But much like the science of our own day, their knowledge had pointed them in the right direction, but it wasn’t quite enough to get them where they wanted to go. The stars had guided them towards Jesus; but it was the Scriptures that actually got them to Jesus.

The Paranoid King

The second response that Matthew records is the easiest to understand which is the response of Herod the king. Herod was a puppet king who was given power over Judea by the higher Roman authority. He enjoyed his elite position in the Roman empire and was notorious for violently suppressing any potential opposition to his position and power. He was troubled by the wise men’s inquiry about a new king that had been born in the region, and so he calls together a religious counsel meeting to find out exactly where the promised Messiah of ancient prophecy was supposed to be born. Like many people today, the prospect of Jesus as a King was a clear threat to the life that he preferred to live, and so his reaction was to go on the offensive and do whatever he had to do in order to get rid of this threat.

The Religious Establishment

The last response that we see is the response of the scribes and priests. And this is the response that is the most interesting to me personally. These are the Bible experts who study and teach the Scriptures for a living. These scribes and priests were brought together and asked by the king of Judea where the Messiah was supposed to be born because there were some foreign astrologers in town who believed that the Jewish Messiah had recently been born nearby. These scribes and priests quote Scripture and tell the king that the that the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem, but then they do nothing else!

So the foreign astrologers are told the prophesied location of the Messiah, and they immediately begin to head in that direction searching for Jesus. The town of Bethlehem is only six miles away, and yet the scribes and priests make no effort to investigate what these foreigners have just traveled over eight-hundred miles to see! This is the irony that Matthew wants us to see: These men with a wealth of Biblical knowledge were still blind to what God was doing right in front of them.

So let’s learn the lesson that Matthew teaches us in these stories. Right knowledge does not always lead to the right response. You can know precisely what God has said and yet still fail to see what he is doing. May we possess a strong desire to study the Scriptures, but let’s make sure we are supplementing that desire with a humble heart that never stops searching for Jesus.

The Genesis of Jesus

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As we have entered into the 2019 baseball season, I am excited and thankful for another season of being able to serve as the chaplain for the Atlanta Braves and being able to help players learn a new way of life and a new way of thinking about the world based on the life and teachings of Jesus. This season’s Baseball Chapel teaching schedule has us teaching weekly messages from the gospel of Matthew which is a careful arranged collection of stories that reveal Matthew’s understanding of who Jesus is and what he came to accomplish.

Matthew introduces us to Jesus by beginning his gospel with these words, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ” (“The book of the genesis of Jesus Christ” in the original Greek). And although many of us skim through or just skip over genealogies in the Bible, this is actually a very intentional phrase used by Matthew that would have definitely raised the antennas of his original Jewish audience.

This phrase is meant to remind us of a very similar phrase that is used eleven times in the book of Genesis. It is the phrase, “These are the generations of _____.” This phrase is used in Genesis as a title and a link that connects what is about to happen next in the story with what just came before it. Another way that you might interpret this phrase is, “Here is a fuller development of the story of ____.”

This clues us in on what Matthew is doing by introducing his readers to Jesus through this genealogy. By echoing the language of Genesis and by listing the particular names that he mentions, Matthew is portraying the birth of Jesus as a new genesis, and he is linking Jesus to the storyline of the Old Testament (OT).

Matthew wants to show us how the life of Jesus is the continuation and the fulfillment of the story of God and Israel that had preceded him. Matthew wants to show his readers how Jesus is the Son of Abraham through whom all the nations on earth will be blessed, how Jesus is the promised King from the royal lineage of King David, how Jesus is the new authoritative teacher that is greater than Moses, and how Jesus is none other than God himself, dwelling among his people and coming to rescue them.

This echoes the hope expressed by Israel’s OT prophets during a time in their history when it seemed like all hope was lost. They believed that God could be trusted to fulfill the promises that had not been fulfilled yet because a day was coming in the future when God would come to be with his people and finally fulfill all of those promises himself.

And so even though genealogies are not the most exciting part of the Bible, let’s set our minds on what Matthew is doing when he uses one to introduce Jesus. This genealogy is Matthew’s way of demonstrating that Jesus didn’t just burst into history out of nowhere. He was born out of the OT story, and he was the one who came to carry that story forward to its intended destination.

In his own unique way, Matthew is showing us how the genesis of Jesus was the moment in history when the Creator stepped into his creation in order to rescue it and to initiate the new beginning of his new creation project.

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As I’ve spent time thinking over the new series that we are doing for players this Spring Training, I find myself trying to take the time to examine my own life so I can figure out different ways that I need to better practice what I’m teaching in each study. It’s the inevitable conflict of those who teach others the truths of God — I can discover and deliver those truths, and yet if I’m not disciplined and discerning, I can easily find myself not fully responding to them in my own life.

I make the case in our first study that God’s plan for creation is that it would be run by obedient humans who would rule over the creation on his behalf. And despite human defiance and our own foolish decisions to try and rule the world our own way by defining good and evil for ourselves, God has never given up on that plan.

The Bible teaches us that Jesus is the obedient human who has retaken the throne at the right-hand of the Creator and who now rules over the creation on his behalf. He has rescued humans from the consequences of our rebellion, and he has restored us back into being creatures made in the image of God.

This means that Jesus restores us into being able to once again fulfill our very special vocation and calling to be real-life expressions of God’s authority over the creation and that we can now join Jesus in ruling over the world on his behalf as his special representatives.

This is a profound truth that ought to help us rediscover the dignity of what it means to be a human being, and an incredible privilege that we would be foolish to not embrace with everything that we got.

And so, over the last few weeks, I have been contemplating what this means for my own life. What does this actually look like for me right now in my day-to-day routine and life?

Here’s a few self-suggestions that I have come up with for now:

Be the Household Leader

First, I need to be a leader over my household and make every effort to make my environment a place of order, beauty, peace and goodness. And I don’t think it does us any good to over-spiritualize this. Being a leader who rules over my environment on behalf of God requires teaching my children about who God is and what he has done for us, but I think it also includes things like cleaning the clutter in our house and keeping hurtful language and imagery off our screens.

I need to create the kind of atmosphere in my home that reflects the order, beauty, peace and goodness of God.

Be a Humble Learner

Next, I need to be a humble learner when it comes to things like social justice, racial reconciliation, climate change, green energy and anything else that promotes care for the environment and serious concern for the flourishing of every human individual. This doesn’t mean that I must agree with every position or not hold any convictions of my own, but I do need to make sure that I’m not so influenced by my own ideological preferences that I feel like I have things figured out.

I need to be quick to listen, concentrated in my thought and slow to speak so that my words will be used to promote any good that God wants in his world and not wasted on what could very well be my own definition of good and evil.

Be a Servant to All

And lastly (for now), I need to diligently pray like Jesus taught us to pray and ask that God’s will be done here on earth as it is in heaven.

This profound truth that we have been restored by Jesus to the vocation of ruling the world on behalf of God as his special representatives ought to open up my mind in new ways about what it means to pray in this way. And it means that I need to realize that part of this request is accepting the responsibility that I am asking God to use me however he wants to accomplish his will here on earth as it is in heaven.

I need to walk around throughout my day aware that I am representing God at all times to all people and stay ready for any opportunity that he may present before me to speak and act on his behalf. And I need to never forget that Jesus demonstrated and taught that we are to rule with him by becoming servants to everyone. I must consider the lives of others as more significant than my own and that includes the life of my enemies and those who might harm me if they could (let that sink in). Ruling with Jesus requires taking up a cross like him, and not a sword like the “rulers” of this world.

And so, as you enter into this next season, realize that through the work of Christ, you have been restored back into being creatures made in the image of God. You are now a special representative of the Creator and therefore responsible to bring order and goodness and peace to your circle of influence on his behalf. To wrap this up with some imagery from the story of Adam, lets all embrace this incredible privilege and calling and make every effort to take care of the gardens that God has placed us in.

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