The Israelites were commanded in Exodus 20:13 not to “kill” (KJV), or, as it says more precisely in the NIV and ESV, “You shall not murder.” The Hebrew word here is רָצַח (rāṣǎḥ), which means to take the life of another so as to cause their death. It can refer to accidental murder, manslaughter, premeditated murder, or governmental execution. The point of the law is to ensure that no Israelite—acting on his own—would decide that he had the right to take someone else’s life.
No penalties or qualifications are attached to the sixth commandment, but the issue is addressed more fully in cognate laws beyond the Decalogue (Exodus 21:12-14; Numbers 35:16-24, 30-34; Deuteronomy 19:4-7, 11-13). These laws call for the death penalty for first-degree murder (i.e., intentional homicide, or murder with malice aforethought), and lesser penalties when the murder was determined to be accidental or unintentional.
Such a person could flee to a city of refuge—thus protecting him from revenge killings by the families of the fallen—until the death of the high priest; then he could go free. On the other hand, if a man is convicted of intentional homicide, his punishment is unequivocal: he is to face the death penalty, and no ransom is to be accepted as a substitute (Numbers 35:31-32). This ruling harkens back to Genesis 9:6: “Whoever sheds the blood of a man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God was man made.”
Together these laws indicate that it was absolutely forbidden in Israel to plan someone’s death and then carry it out. To do so was to forfeit one’s own life. The reason for the ultimate penalty in this case is that human beings are made in the image of God. To murder a person with malice aforethought is tantamount to killing God in effigy. That’s why God’s people are to regard human life as sacred.
Clearly, the God who issued these laws views every human being—rich or poor, slave or free, male or female, Israelite or non-Israelite—as having supreme value. He loves and cherishes every human being. He does not want any person to murder another person. Indeed, every human being is so valuable to God that there is no conceivable payment that could adequately compensate for the murder of one of them. Thankfully, God takes motives and intentions into account. Accidents happen, even accidental murder, and those cases receive lesser penalties.
Now, murder goes much deeper than deliberate acts of terminating someone’s life. Jesus said in Matthew 5:21-22, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.” By that definition, most people have committed murder. Was Jesus just using “preacher’s hyperbole” to make a point, or was he wanting his followers to take a new look at where murder really begins? Unjustified anger, he says, is murder begun. All, then, need divine grace.
Quite significantly, Moses committed murder. King David arranged a murder. And Saul—before he became Paul—encouraged murder. Yet all received forgiveness from God and ministries beyond their misconduct. That’s because there is one payment in this world that’s enough to compensate for lost human life—the blood of Jesus Christ, which was shed for us on the cross for us. With the death of this high priest, sinners can be released by faith in him. “The vilest offender who truly believes, that moment from Jesus a pardon receives.”
A Chinese man once traveled across the United States for six months. When asked what impressed him most about America, he answered, “The way parents obey their children.” That, of course, is exactly backwards, but in many homes today, parents are not in charge. Their children rule the roost, and that’s a problem. Societal chaos is often the result, and we’re seeing this very dynamic play out across our nation today. Children should be taught to honor parents, just as the fifth commandment insists.
And yet, while all that is true, this command from God is not primarily directed toward young children. That’s an application of the command, as Paul teaches in Ephesians 6:1-3, but the fifth commandment is addressed primarily to adults, as are all of the Ten Commandments. That’s clearly the case, for example, with the fourth commandment, which prohibits making one’s sons or daughters work on the Sabbath. The same is true for the seventh commandment about adultery. Such regulations can only apply to adults.
Like so many other laws in the Mosaic corpus, this command serves to protect those who are disadvantaged in society. The social reality in the ancient Near East was that aging parents became less and less “useful” to their children as they grew older. As a result, they tended to become less valued by their adult children. Aging parents would gradually need more and more help because of physical weakness, mental challenges, increased sickness, loss of physical abilities, drops in income, etc. The fifth commandment calls for such individuals to be helped. In fact, the word honor can mean:
providing financial support for a person
showing a person respect; treating a person with dignity
verbally expressing one’s respect or esteem for a person
elevating a person to a position of respect and admiration
In short, God wanted Israel to be a good place for people to grow old. The same is true today in Christ’s church: God’s people are to honor and cherish their family. But what about those cases where a parent is extremely difficult or even wicked—an abuser, a physically agressive alcoholic, or an emotionally absent parent? How can God expect his children to honor such a parent? This message seeks to offer some guidance on thorny questions like these.
In the end, Jesus died obeying the fifth commandment. From the cross he said to his mother, who was standing next to the Apostle John, “Dear woman, here is your son,” and to John he said, “Here is your mother” (John 19:26-27). At the very end, he tended to family obligations as well as his own personal calling, seeing to the care of his mother after he’s gone. Quite significantly, Jesus died bringing people into new relationships at the cross. John is Jesus’ substitute with respect to family caring. Jesus is John’s substitute with respect to sin bearing. Do you know Christ by faith as your sin-bearing substitute?
On September 21, 1956, a test pilot by the name of Tommy Attridge shot himself out of the sky. It was a classic case of two objects trying to occupy the same space at the same time—one being his Grumman F11F-1 Tiger jet, and the other being a gaggle of his own bullets. Attridge was test-firing his 20mm cannons while flying at the speed of Mach 1.
At one point he entered a shallow dive, and at 13,000 feet he pulled the trigger on his guns for a 4-second burst. He fired again for a few seconds to empty the belts. Eleven seconds later, at 7,000 feet, he caught up to his own bullets and was struck by them. He had overtaken and then passed through his own gunfire! The plane crash landed into some trees, but Attridge was able to escape, relatively unharmed. It was the aerospace equivalent of a tiger biting its own tail.
What a great metaphor for workaholics who are so driven they can never take a break. They never slow down, never go on vacation, and never take time to smell the roses. Despite all the time-saving devices in our modern world, they still don’t have time to get everything done they want to accomplish. So, they fly through life at Mach 1 with their hair on fire. But there’s a price to be paid for moving through life too fast—namely, physical exhaustion, mental weariness, emotional distress, spiritual disillusionment, or good old-fashioned burnout.
Thankfully, God understands the human need to rest and re-charge. In fact, the fourth commandment teaches us that God’s people are to rest in peace before they die. Quite significantly, the Sabbath law is the longest commandment of the ten, and it’s the most unique. It took Israel out of sync with the heavenly bodies, out of sync the Egyptian workweek, and out of sync with the entire known world. It was simultaneously oriented toward God, others, and oneself. In that sense, it aligns with Jesus’s teaching that the greatest command is to love God with all one’s heart and one’s neighbor as oneself.
Most surprisingly, the Sabbath was a “mini suspension of the curse.” Keeping it meant not having to sweat from the brow or handle thorns from a cursed earth. Implementing it is to experience God’s grace in the midst of life’s fallenness. No wonder Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). Like Father, like Son. God wants his people to have a safe landing. In this life and the next.
God named himself, and because he did, his name is beautiful, precious, revelatory, and perfect. He calls himself “Yahweh”—from the Hebrew verb “to be.” It means that God is self-existent, full of life, and eternal. He owes his existence to no one, and no one exists apart from him. Because of the utter sacredness of his name,” God was sometimes referred to simply as “the Name” (e.g., Deuteronomy 12:4-6, 11; Isaiah 30:27, etc.).
What God forbids in the Third Commandment is not the use of his name but the misuse of is name: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who takes his name in vain” (Exodus 20:7). Just as people would not want their own name dragged through the mud, so God doesn’t want his name dragged through the mud, either. But the stakes are higher with him because his name signifies much more than the audible syllables by which he is called. God’s name represents:
His being and person (e.g., Isaiah 24:15; Psalm 20:1, 75:1)
His nature and character (e.g., Proverbs 18:10; Isaiah 30:27-28)
His teaching and ways (e.g., Psalm 22:22; Micah 4:5)
To take God’s name “in vain” means to use it lightly, flippantly, callously, or carelessly. It means to swear falsely using his name, which was a recurring problem in Israel (e.g., Leviticus 19:12, Psalm 24:3-4, Jeremiah 5:2, etc.). The entire judicial system in the ancient world depended upon truthful testimony; there were no lie detectors, DNA samples, videotapes, etc.
So, it was common to hear expressions in temple courtrooms such as: “May Marduk (or Dagon, or Baal, or Chemosh, etc.) strike me dead if I my testimony is not truthful.” Because of the austere legal setting, and a heightened sense divine retaliation, those swearing falsely would often lose their nerve and back away from their claims. Judges could reasonably conclude, then, that the unwavering party likely was telling the truth.
It is clear from this command that God does not want to be associated with his people’s falsehoods in any way. Nor does he wish to be misrepresented by those who claim to belong to him (through false teaching, false prophecy, false divination, etc.). He wants his people to create for him a good reputation in both their local communities and around the world. In short, God’s people are to revere God’s name and character.
Therefore, God’s people today should be very reluctant to use phrases such as, “God told me…” or—even worse—“God told me to tell you….” If such statements are not completely accurate, they are violations of the Third Commandment. Indeed, believers should never be held hostage by such claims when directed at them, even when spoken by other well-meaning believers. Simply ignore them and refuse to be on the receiving end of their power play.
Quite significantly, the expression “the Name” is sometimes used as another name for “Jesus” in the New Testament (e.g., Acts 5:40-42; Romans 10:9-13, quoting Joel 2:32; etc.), thus illustrating the Apostles’ belief in the deity of Christ—at whose name every tongue will one day confess that “Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:11).
God made human beings in his own image, and we’ve been trying to return the favor ever since. But to make God in our image is to diminish his nature. How so? To concretize the living God into an inanimate object is to render him lifeless. But God is self-existent, eternal, and supreme; he lives, loves, rescues, and speaks—something idols can never do. Any attempt to concretize God’s identity, then, yields a distorted conception of who he really is. In short, an idol is a lie about God.
Hence the need for the second commandment: “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below” (Exodus 20:4). God wants his people to reverently accept who he has revealed himself to be. After all, if anyone has a right to define his own identity, it’s the creator of the universe. Moreover, Israel had been rescued from Egypt by the creator, Yahweh. To serve other gods, then, was not only disloyalty to God, it was to reverse the exodus and go back to bondage.
It is important to remember that gods and goddesses in the ancient world could be carried, controlled, coddled, and manipulated. But the true and living God cannot and will not be controlled by his people. He is sovereign over them, and no earthly religious practice can alter that fact. As G. K. Chesterton rightly noted, “Idolatry is when you worship what you should use, and use what you should worship.” For Israel, then, worship of the one true and living God was never to be directed toward a material object that could be handled. The second commandment wasn’t a prohibition against all artwork per se (cf. Exodus 31:2-5), it was a prohibition against trying to represent God by anything found in his creation.
It is also important to remember that Ezekiel 14:7 refers to “idols of the heart.” Moreover, Colossians 3:5 calls “greed” idolatry. So, the second commandment goes way beyond the issue of worshiping wood, stone, or metal statues. It encompasses putting anything ahead of God in terms of value or importance. As Tim Keller writes, “Idolatry is making a good thing an ultimate thing.” Therefore, we need to ask ourselves, “Where in my life have I made good things ultimate things (e.g., my children, my career, my possessions, my hobbies, my reputation, etc.)?” Even today, God’s people must accept no substitutes for God.
The good news is that God can save us from our own private idolatries. Rather than remaking God into our image, we can be remade into his image through faith in his Son Jesus Christ. After all, Jesus is “the image of the invisible God”; indeed, “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Colossians 1:15–20).
After God reminds his people that he graciously rescued them out of Egypt (Exodus 20:1-2), he begins the Ten Commandments in earnest: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). The Hebrew literally says, “…no other gods before my face.” That is, “You shall have no other gods except me.” For the Israelites to worship any other god would be a form of covenant disloyalty. No other god saved them out of Egypt. No other god loved them and entered into a covenant with them. So, why would they worship any other deity?
Moreover, Yahweh is supreme: “See now that I myself am He! There is no god besides me” (Deuteronomy 32:39). Or again: “I am the Lord, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God” (Isaiah 45:5). By his very nature, then, God deserves the exclusive devotion of his people. There was no need for the Israelites to be unkind to the worshippers of other nations, or the adherents of other religions, but there was every reason for them not to participate in their worship. That would be a form of spiritual unfaithfulness to the God who had saved them.
Unfortunately, Egypt was one of the most polytheistic countries in the ancient Near East, worshiping over 1,400 different gods and goddesses in their temples, shrines, and homes. Having lived and labored in Egypt for more than 400 years, the Israelites were influenced by their surrounding culture. They found it difficult to let go of the false gods they picked up along the way. God said to them, “Each of you, get rid of the vile images you have set your eyes on, and do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt. I am the Lord your God. But they rebelled against me and would not listen to me; they did not get rid of the vile images they had set their eyes on, nor did they forsake the idols of Egypt” (Ezekiel 20:7-8).
Despite cultural pressures, God wants—and deserves—to have preeminence in his people’s lives. He finds it revolting to have competition from substitutes, whether from the things he created or the vain imaginations of human beings. Those things are not ultimate. So, the first commandment is not given because God is narcissistic but because he wants his people to live in sync with reality. Yahweh is supreme in the universe! Therefore, worshiping any other God besides him is not only disloyalty but a form of insanity.
The same is true today. God allows the existence of alternatives in our lives, but he wants us to choose the best. Nothing else should be king in our lives, whether our job, our peers, our desires, our denomination, our theology, or even our families. As Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24). God’s people are to worship God alone. Who or what is first in your life?
Note: Many people—including believers—have trouble reciting all Ten Commandments in order. The beginning of this message provides a silly acronym to help us recall them.
The Ten Commandments do not begin with God saying, “Thou shalt not…” but “I…brought you out.” The preamble of the Decalogue thus indicates that grace was demonstrated before obedience was demanded. Grammatically speaking, the ten great imperatives are preceded by one great indicative: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Exodus 20:2). The giving of the law at Sinai, then, was a climactic moment of divine grace in the history of the world.
Still, God wanted not only to rescue his people from their oppression under Pharaoh, he wanted to realign them to his ways after their captivity in a polytheistic land. Their theology needed to be overhauled. It’s one thing for God to get Israel out of Egypt; it’s another thing for God to get Egypt out of Israel. The Ten Commandments were God’s initial strategy for doing so. But law keeping was never a means of “getting saved,” even in the Old Testament. God did the saving himself by his own power and grace. Indeed, God rescues his people before he regulates them.
The New Testament letters follow a similar pattern. Paul typically starts out by saying, “Here’s what God has freely done for us in Christ; now, here’s what our salvation looks like when we live it out in our daily lives. So, God’s law never presents itself as a means of salvation but a mark of salvation. In Moses’s day, the obedience called for in the Decalogue represents the people’s grateful response of love and loyalty to God for the salvation they had freely received as a gift from him.
This message contains a helpful illustration of how believers can understand the complex relationship between the old and new covenants. The illustration underscores that customs may change, cultures may change, and even covenants may change, but the character of God never changes. He is who he is and always will be. In the end, Moses stood between God and the people as a flawed man—a prophet but not a Savior. Jesus, however, stands between God and the people as a flawless man—a prophet and a Savior. And that’s why lawbreakers today can be saved.
In C. S. Lewis’s Prince Caspian, Lucy and Aslan engage in an illuminating conversation. (Lucy is one of the Pevensie children, and Aslan, the lion, is the Christ figure in Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia.) Lucy hasn’t seen Aslan in quite a long time, and when she finally does, she says with surprise, “Aslan, you’re bigger.” The lion replies, “That is because you are older, little one.” Lucy asks, “Not because you are?” Aslan says, “I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”
Believers around the world today would do well to keep growing spiritually, and in the process, find God bigger than they had ever dreamed. He still wants to do more through us than we ever could have imagined (Ephesians 3:20). For that to happen, the church of Jesus Christ must see God as completely majestic. We must also need to see ourselves as majestic, too—in him. No more of this self-condemnation, this negativity toward ourselves! No more excuses as to why we can’t be used mightily of God to do great things in our town in our time!
No, in Psalm 8, David invites believers, first, to marvel at the glory of God. Why? Because God’s name is majestic in all the earth (1, 9); he uses the weak things of this world to defeat his enemies (2); he has created this vast universe and everything in it (3); and he truly cares for the seemingly insignificant human beings he has made (4). Indeed, God is utterly majestic.
But David in Psalm 8 also invites believers to marvel at the glory of humanity, too. Why? Because God made human beings a little lower than himself (5a); he crowned human beings with glory and honor (5b); and he gave human beings authority over his creation (6-8). People are majestic, too! Created in God’s image, human beings have a lofty status in this universe.
John Piper has said, “You cannot worship and glorify the majesty of God while treating his supreme creation with contempt. You cannot starve the aged human and glorify the majesty of God. You cannot gas the Jewish human and glorify the majesty of God. You cannot lynch the black human and glorify the majesty of God. You cannot dismember the unborn human and glorify the majesty of God. You cannot treat the mixing of human races like a pestilence and glorify the majesty of God.” Amen. Human beings are majestic because they bear the image of the majestic God.
Yet, given the brokenness we find in this world—and in ourselves—there’s something about v. 5a that seems overstated (“You made humans a little lower God”), and something about v. 6b that seems incomplete (“You put everything under humanity’s feet”). That’s why the New Testament comes back to Psalm 8 a handful of times—all in the context of Jesus Christ and his mission restore the world and make all things new. So, in the entire sweep of redemptive history, Psalm 8 invites us also to marvel at the glory of Christ.
Why? Because, in fulfilling (or “completing the vision of”) Psalm 8, Jesus has used the weak things of this world to defeat his enemies (Matthew 21:14-16); he has tasted death for everyone (Hebrews 2:6-9); he has conquered the death Adam unleashed by his sin (1 Corinthians 15:22-27a); and he has been made the head over all things for the church (Ephesians 1:22). Most surprisingly, he has crushed the head of the serpent, and he wants to do the same through us (Romans 16:20). In short, Psalm 8 is saying to believers today: Elevate your view of God, yourself, and your mission with Christ. May it ever be so in this New Year and beyond.
God has landed! Right in a manger. Right on top of cow spit and barnyard bacteria. Jesus came a long way to save us. Two thousand years ago, the eternal Son of God stepped across the stars of the universe to become a zygote in the womb of the Virgin Mary. And then he was born as one of us. “Manhood and deity in perfect harmony—the Man who is God,” wrote Graham Kendrick.
Christmas, then, is the ultimate display of meekness and majesty in one person. “Glory to God in the highest,” was the angelic response. They easily could have said, “Glory to God in lowest,” too. God is with us now in the person of Jesus Christ. On earth. Magi from the east were among the first to welcome him. Following the natal star, they set out on a journey to find the newborn king.
It was more than curiosity that drew this caravan of dignitaries and polymaths to Jesus. It was God himself. They saw him at work in the sky—speaking their language—and they wanted to go meet with him. Indeed, this passage shows us that God speaks in a variety of ways because he has something important to say. Matthew 2:1-11 reminds us that God makes himself known to us:
generally through creation. (1-2)
specifically through revelation. (3-6)
graciously through intervention. (7-10)
supremely through incarnation. (11a)
Are we listening? The Magi were listening, and that’s why they traveled hundreds of miles across the desert to go see the Christ. They were men of wisdom and learning. They were into math, medicine, astronomy, and human nature. Some of them were superstitious. We get our word “magic” from their title. Call them “wizards” if you like. It was basically the cast of Harry Potter who came to see Jesus. Mark it well: Gentiles (non-Jews) were among the first to welcome and worship the Christ, indicating that God means for Jesus to be the Savior for the whole world!
If the Magi teach us anything, it’s that it’s never enough for us to just be amazed at the wonders of God; we have to set out on the journey and follow him. Our calling is not just to stand in awe of creation but to get to know the Creator. That’s why God’s revelation of himself in Christ demands a response of faith in Christ.He is worthy of our treasure and our trust. Indeed, he wants everyone to come and worship his Son. He wants you to worship his Son. Even if you’re a wizard.
This interactive Christmas Day devotional is followed by a reading of The Tale of Three Trees, a wonderful story for children of all ages.
Headlines are notoriously difficult to write. Even news editors who’ve been in the business for decades can struggle with the task. When you write a headline, you have to summarize the story in a few words, and do so in a way that hooks people and makes them want to keep reading. You have to be clear, concise, and captivating. You have to be journalistically accurate and grammatically correct. You have to be somewhat clever without being overly cute or trite. Above all, you have to be careful that you never communicate an unintended meaning—an oversight that, in the end, can make you look silly as a writer.
After looking at a few bad (and humorous!) headlines, this Christmas Eve message looks at a headline God doesn’t want anybody in the world to miss: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). That’s the message of Christmas, and it’s front-page stuff. It’s a banner story. It’s the best headline ever. It’s clear, concise, and captivating. It’s theologically accurate and doctrinally correct. And it’s still as exciting and relevant as when it was first hot off the press. It certainly was for Paul, who gives us an abbreviated testimony here. He gives us the scoop on himself.
Paul used to be a terrorist. He was the Osama bin Laden of his day. But the headline of Christmas radically changed his life. He writes in sheer wonder at the grace of God that was lavished on him despite his past: “I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:16). He’s saying, “Folks, I’m Exhibit A of the grace of God. I deserved judgment; but in Christ I received mercy. I deserved punishment; but in Christ I received pardon. I deserved condemnation; but in Christ I received salvation. Essentially, Paul is saying, “If Christ can save someone like me, then he can save anyone!”
That’s the best headline ever. It doesn’t matter who you are. It doesn’t matter where you’ve been. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done. Christmas is for you, too—as long as you recognize you need a Savior. Indeed, Paul reminds us here that Jesus came to save us and show us that no one is beyond the grace of God. No wonder he ends his brief testimony with a doxology, a burst of praise: “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen” (1 Timothy 1:17). Christmas made him thankful.
How about you? Are you grateful for Christmas—the birth of the Savior? The old Christmas carol puts it so well: “Where meek souls will receive him still the dear Christ enters in.” So, do what Paul says here in this passage: “Believe on him and receive eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:16).
The overarching theme of Advent is the coming of Jesus Christ, both in the manger of Bethlehem at his first coming, and in the clouds of glory at his second coming. That’s why the traditional lectionary readings of the season can feel joltingly at odds with our quaint Christmastime expectations. As one devotional writer puts it, “Rather than holly and candlelight, we read of end-times horrors. Instead of rejoicing angels, we begin with a prophet calling loudly for repentance. These passages shock us out of our cozy mindset to remind us that Jesus is the Mighty God.”
Indeed, the Savior whose birth we are preparing to celebrate is the very Son of Man who will one day return at the end of the age in power and great glory. In his famous Olivet Discourse, Jesus reminds his people he will come to earth again one day (Matthew 24:36-41). It will be a secret day—because only the Father knows when it will take place (v. 36). It will be a surprising day—because everything in life will be unfolding as it usually does (vv. 37-39). It will be a separating day—because some will be taken, and some will be left (vv. 40-41).
Jesus then instructs his followers on how to stay prepared for his return (Matthew 24:42-44). They are to be watchful—as a person deeply longing to reconnect with a loved one (v. 42). They are to be diligent—as homeowners working to protect what is most valuable to them (v. 43). They are to be ready—as a servant who would be unashamed by his master’s surprise return (v. 44). In short, God’s people don’t just wait for Christ’s return, they prepare for it. That’s because the child in the manger is actually the Mighty God whose kingdom will never end.
The most prominent image for the church in the New Testament is “the Body of Christ.” There are about 15 references to it from Matthew to Revelation. The image implies that believers are to be, do, and say what Christ would be, do, and say if he were physically with us today. For three and a half decades, Jesus lived on this planet as the Son of God—deity in human flesh. In his earthly body, he went around preaching the good news of the kingdom of God, loving and serving those for whom he came.
• With his eyes he saw the physical and spiritual needs around him.
• With his ears he heard the cries of the hurting and the oppressed.
• With his heart he felt compassion toward those who needed the grace of God.
• With his feet he went to their side to be with them.
• With his hands he touched them, fed them, and healed them.
• With his voice he spoke God’s word to them
In time he died on Calvary’s cross for the sins of the world. He was buried in an unused tomb, and on the third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and is now seated at the Father’s right hand.
On the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit—the Spirit of Christ—came back to earth indwell his people and constitute his church. So, while God came to the world in Jesus in a body 2,000 years ago, he now comes to the world in his new body, the church.
• We are the eyes of Jesus on earth.
• We are the ears of Jesus on earth.
• We are the heart of Jesus on earth.
• We are the feet of Jesus on earth.
• We are the hands of Jesus on earth.
• We are the voice of Jesus on earth.
Believers are the means through which Christ expresses himself and ministers to the world today. In short, the church of Christ is the body of Christ on earth. How in the world could we ever fulfill such a task? We start by staying connected to the head of the body—Jesus Christ himself, and finding our divinely appointed place in his body.
Well, apparently there is crying in baseball, contrary to Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own. Like every other Phillies fan around the globe this past Sunday night, I watched Game 5 of the National League Championship Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and the San Diego Padres. As you may have heard by now, the Phillies won that game 4–3, and in the process, they also won the pennant. I may have gotten a little choked up during the post-game celebration. Raise your hand if you did, too. Be honest.
Now, I realize baseball is not everybody’s cup of tea, so this post is a personal reflection that goes beyond the world of sports. It’s more about those occasional flashes of joy that make our journeys sparkle once in a while, and for which we can be both happy and grateful. It’s about “high hopes” and learning how to wait patiently until those hopes are realized. (Thank you, Harry Kalas). Until a few weeks ago, it had been over a decade since the Phillies were involved in any postseason play. Now we’re in it to win it.
Sunday night: The Phillies had just surrendered a one-run lead in the seventh inning to put themselves on the brink of having to go back to California for the rest of the series. Nobody wanted to play Game 6 on Monday night at Petco Park. Not only would that squander our home field advantage, but it would also drag us right into the crosshairs of the Padres’ best pitchers. So, “the Phitins” wanted to clinch a World Series berth right here. Right now. This inning. Easier said than done.
Standout catcher J. T. Realmuto started the bottom of the eighth with a single to left field against right-hander Robert Suarez. That turned out to be huge, given what was about to unfold. The tying run was now on base, and the go-ahead run was coming to the plate. But who would be the next man stepping into the batter’s box? None other than our star cleanup hitter and likely Hall-of-Famer, Bryce Harper.
Everyone was thinking the same thing. A two-run bomb would put us back in the lead and on the verge of clinching. Harper certainly has the guns to do it (even to the opposite field), not to mention the drive, the talent, and the history to do so—but how much magic can we expect from one player? He had already done so much for the team in the postseason, along with Kyle Schwarber, Rhys Hoskins, Zach Wheeler, and several others. But #3 lives for moments like these, and this was his moment.
Harper showed good discipline at the plate, laying off Suarez’s bread-and-butter pitch out of the zone. He then threw a 2-2 sinker toward the outer half of the plate. The location was good from a pitcher’s perspective, but somehow—with his trademark “violent swing”—Harper muscled the ball over the outfield wall and into the left-center-field seats for a two-run shot to take the lead. If you didn’t get to see it, take a look:
Fans at Citizens Bank Park went ballistic. Viewers at home went ballistic. I went ballistic. It was storybook stuff to be sure, and no one could have written a better script. It’s what every little boy dreams about from the time he can swing a whiffle ball bat. This dramatic video clip will be shown for decades to come.
It was another milestone in the history of the club—a team I’ve been cheering for since I was a little boy. That’s why I got choked up Sunday night. Not just because we held on in the top of the ninth to win the game, but because it brought back some truly precious memories. The last time we won the World Series was in 2008 against the Tampa Bay Rays. Before that it was in 1980 against the Kansas City Royals. Before that, it was—well, there was no before that.
The Phillies have won the World Series only two times since becoming an MLB team in 1883. Back then they were known as the Quakers. They became the Phillies later in 1890. For most of those 139 years, it’s been phrustrating to be a phan. I’ve often said that the Phillies are always good enough to give you hope but bad enough to break your heart. That’s been the story for most of my life, with a few notable exceptions.
Why then do I keep cheering for them? Three words—family, friends, and memories. My dad took me to Veterans Stadium for the first time when I was about six or seven years old. It’s a memory that finds deep lodging in my heart, even to this day.
I remember holding my father’s hand walking out from under the shadowy concourse into the bright, shining seating area. The sun sprayed the radiant green AstroTurf with a brilliance that illuminated a perfectly manicured ball field, dazzling this little rookie into silence. I was in awe at the sight of it. And the sounds of it. And the smells of it. It somehow felt like I belonged there. At that moment I fell in love with baseball in general and the Phillies in particular. I’ve been a “Phanatic” ever since.
I also remember my dad getting me a dish of vanilla ice cream poured into in a little red plastic Phillies helmet—my very first baseball souvenir (and one that may still be boxed away somewhere in my attic). We also got hot dogs, French fries, and Cracker Jacks that day, purchased from the vendors walking up and down the aisles hawking their treats. Dad was happy, and I was over the moon. I didn’t understand the game very well back then, but the Phillies won, and that resulted in a lot of loud cheering—something I had never experienced before at that level of intensity.
My family, friends, and I went to many more games over the years, and we got many more souvenirs. Of course, we watched more games on TV than we attended in person, but we always wanted to know how our Phillies were doing. We could catch the nightly news, or read the box scores and standings in the paper the next day if we missed a game on TV. (I had to share the tube with my dad since he was a Yankees fan. Obviously, I’m adopted.) My heroes back then were Mike Schmidt, Larry Bowa, Dave Cash, Pete Rose, Steve Carlton, Bob Boone (who autographed a baseball of mine), Greg Luzinski, Gary Maddox, and Bake McBride.
I got to watch the second World Series victory in 2008 on the big screen with my church family. Several parishioners still remember the final out of that game—a strikeout by closer Brad Lidge—and they wrote us messages this week recalling that wonderful time of fellowship and celebration. Some of the kids were even at church in their pajamas that night.
Oddly enough, the Christian message is another good reason to stay with the Phillies through all their peaks and valleys. As Jesus sticks with those of us who keep striking out spiritually until we become more healthy, stable, and productive, so I can stick with the Phillies through tick and thin, regardless of their winning percentage. The theological word for that is “grace.” We all desperately need it, so we should all be willing to give it.
Having become a baseball junkie early on, I tried out for our middle school team and made the roster. By the start of my second year, I had worked myself into a starting position in the infield, and I loved every minute of it. Game days were always the best days, even when we lost. There’s nothing like going home tired, sweaty, and dirty after a game, knowing you did everything you could to help your team win. If you fielded well and got a hit or two, so much the better.
As life would have it, I was better at swimming than baseball, so that’s where I put my athletic energies in the years to come. I made it to the NCAA Division 1 Nationals, twice, and it wound up paying a big chunk of my college tuition, so that was the right call. But deep down, baseball was always my favorite sport. There’s just something about the game that captivated me as a little boy, and it’s never let go. Over time I learned that every pitch has a strategy, and every strategy has a counterstrategy. So, the issue is always one of anticipation and execution. Good teams do both well.
Back to this past Sunday. Right after preaching the morning service at our church, I came home and lost my voice. Laryngitis set in a few hours before the game, so, I couldn’t even yell for my team during that amazing come-from-behind, pennant-clinching victory. But I sure did grunt and snortle like a muffled rhinoceros a few times.
Then there were the silent but exuberant gesticulations of this little boy in a man suit whenever the Phillies put runs on the board. Sonya now knows how Michal felt when David danced before the Lord (cf. 2 Samuel 6:14–20), though I didn’t actually do anything that could remotely be called dancing. I just lumbered around the living room like a drunk baboon looking for a lamppost to lean on. (I’ll blame it on the meds I was taking.) In the end, though, myriad expressions of delight found ways to ooze out of my body from other portals besides my pie hole.
What will happen in the 2022 World Series? I have no idea, and I make no predictions. Houston has a great team, and I have a personal no-trash-talk policy. Athletes at this level are so good, any team can beat any other team on any given day. It’s just a matter of who’s clicking and who’s finding their groove in the moment. I never expected the Phillies to get this far, and I suspect very few other people did, too. So, even if they come up short at the end of this round, I’ll still be proud of them.
In the end, the best of our sports heroes are just human. They have good days and bad days. They have moments of great accomplishment and moments of great disappointment. They have seasons of good health and seasons of nagging injuries. They have big dreams and big hopes, just like the rest of us. Let’s let them be human and have some fun together, regardless of the outcome.
One dream I’ve had for a long time is to see the Phillies play in a World Series game—in Philadelphia, the city of my birth. I am blessed beyond measure to share with you that this longstanding dream will finally come true.
As of now, it looks like I’ll be going to Game 3 (Monday, October 31) or Game 4 (Tuesday, November 1). Look for me on TV. I’ll be wearing red and white. And if I get my voice back, I’ll be cheering as loud as everybody else, too.
I plan to buy myself a little red plastic Phillies cap filled with vanilla ice cream (yes, they still sell them!), and I’ll think of my dad while I’m eating it. I’ll no doubt revel in the magical atmosphere again, just like I did my first trip to the ballpark. Just like I did on Opening Day this year, which was another first for me. Yes, I was there when Kyle Schwarber started the season off with a first-at-bat home run, something now known as a “Schwarbomb.”
And, like everybody else, I’ll be waving my red “rally towel” for the Phillies, grateful beyond measure that my father introduced me to this wonderful sport all those years ago. While I’m there, I’ll be keeping the seat warm for little Samuel. Maybe someday day he’ll want some ice cream in a red helmet, too.
In John 8 we read the famous story of the woman caught in the act of adultery—a story so famous that even those who know little about the Bible know that one. They even quote it sometimes because it contains one of the best zingers of all time. Jesus said, “Let he among you who is without sin cast the first stone.” With that, the would-be executioners drop their stones and leave, oldest to the youngest.
Jesus—the only person in history who by that criteria had the moral authority to execute the woman—chose not to do so. Instead, he allowed himself to be executed for her when he went to the cross on her behalf. He took her place, and ours, as well. No wonder the hymn writer said, “Amazing pity, grace unknown, and love beyond degree.” Quite significantly, the last thing Jesus said to the woman in this encounter was, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” Jesus says the same thing to people today, “Go and sin no more.”
Unfortunately, many believers take that statement to be a suggestion rather than a command. They regard it as helpful advice rather than holy admonition, which is dangerous. Perhaps we think to ourselves, “Grace is so amazing, once I receive it, nothing else matters. God will keep loving me, forgiving me, and regarding me as his child.” Whatever truth there may be to such notions, that’s not how the child of God thinks! The Christian life is not a moral free-for-all. Jesus was tortured and executed for sin; that’s why we no longer play around with it. Jesus still says to the rescued child of God, “Go and sin no more.”
Could it be, then, that some believers have misunderstood grace? Could it be we’ve forgotten that “belief behaves”? Grace is not only God’s unmerited favor toward his people, it is also a power from God that enables them to live a godly life. The Apostle Paul writes, “For the grace of God that brings salvation…teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age” (Titus 2:11-12). So, grace is not some coupon we can cash in to sin at a reduced rate of consequences.
Having expounded upon the grace of God in Christ, Paul anticipates an important question in Romans 6:1-2: “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” Or again, Jude 1:4 says, “[It is] godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality.” That’s a truth modern evangelicals need to hear. It was certainly a truth the believers in Corinth needed to hear. Like many people today, they understood the grace of God to be little more than fire insurance from hell.
That’s why their church was in chaos, marked by envy, strife, factions, worldliness, irreverence, and in some cases, outright immorality. So, Paul turns up the heat on them in this passage, giving them important lessons from Israel’s checkered spiritual history. He reminds them of a truth believers need to embrace today as well: The grace of God in Christ is not a license for immorality, but our motivation for holy living.Fortunately, God always provides a way out of the spiritual traps that can so easily ensnare us.
Everyone loves a happy ending. Most of our fairy tales begin with, “Once upon a time,” and they end with, “And they lived happily ever after.” That’s the way they’re written because that’s the way we want them. That’s the way we like them. Some would say that that’s the way we need them. In The Wizard of Oz, for example, Dorothy finally makes it home, where she’s longed to be from the very beginning. In Beauty and the Beast, the prince is restored, and the curse on the castle is finally lifted. In It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey learns it was better for his town that he lived instead of jumping off a bridge. In Willy Wonka, Charlie Bucket inherits the entire chocolate factory for passing a test and returning the Everlasting Gobstopper.
Now, it’s certainly true that when it comes to life and literature, the good guys don’t always win, the hero doesn’t always get the girl, the man in rags doesn’t always make it to riches, and the wrongs endured aren’t always righted. In such cases, the audience is left with unanswered questions, moral ambiguities, a sense of disappointment, or perhaps even the anger that comes with unfinished justice. People generally aren’t inspired by a miserable ending. That’s because it conveys a lack of rhyme or reason to the universe—a sense that there’s no benevolent sovereign authority overseeing life as it unfolds before us. We’re just doomed creatures with bumper stickers announcing, “Excrement Happens,” and we think, “Hopefully it won’t happen to us.” But that seems horribly unsatisfying. Even depressing.
Research indicates that given a choice between happy endings or sad endings, we tend to choose the happy ending by a 10 to 1 margin. Even if we have to re-write the author’s original conclusion, as in Pretty Woman, we’ll get our happy ending. Human beings crave it. Job craved it. Fortunately for Job, he eventually got it. He had to wait for it, and he had to be divinely prepared for it, but he eventually got it. In spades. All that he lost was restored to him two-fold.
For many people, if the happy ending takes too long, they simply settle for the happy hour. They anesthetize the pain of life, never really facing up to it or being completely honest about it. But Job did face up to it. And he was honest about it. In the end, after his painful ordeal, Job gets his happy ending. That tells us the God who knows his people’s suffering will someday end his people’s suffering.
This message explores how the end of suffering commences with our restoration to God, continues with our reconciliation to others, and culminates in our reversal of painful circumstances forever. The Apostle James wrote, “As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy” (James 5:11). That’s why there’s a happy ending for God’s people—precisely to demonstrate that the Lord is full of compassion and mercy, even if we have to wait for it to fully realize it.