Jesus Christ and the Big Reveal

The Sixth Sense

The movie the Sixth Sense is about a psychologist, Malcolm Crowe, who is trying to help a boy who can see and talk to dead people. It is a standard supernatural thriller, but what makes the movie so powerful is that at the end it is revealed that Crowe has himself been dead the whole time.[1] It is a fantastically surprising ending to the movie and it makes you want to go back and watch again. When I first saw it, I also wanted to take others to the movie so I could see their faces when they figured it out. People’s eyes would get big and their jaws would drop as their mind would try to immediately reprocess the story in light of the stunning reveal.

In watching the movie again you could go back and see all the clues that were there earlier in the movie. Without knowing that Crowe was dead, they hadn’t meant anything to you. But in light of how the story ends, it all seems so perfectly obvious.

As you read the gospels do you get the sense that this is God’s great revealing? God comes to us in Jesus Christ and lives a fully human life in our midst. Jesus reveals God to us and even says, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”[2] As if this isn’t already too much for some to handle, Jesus then lives a life that people would never have expected the Messiah to live. Jesus would eventually do what no one ever saw coming, he submitted himself and suffered a criminal’s death on the cross. People, including his closest disciples, were distraught and in despair. Even though Christ had told them what was to come–what you might even call clues–they could not anticipate that God would come among them and then be crucified.

After three confusing days Jesus is raised. He comes and continues to teach his disciples and help them make sense of what had gone on. Jesus then sends us his Holy Spirit to open our eyes and lead us into all truth.

What Jesus did was so world-changing that the early church needed to look at all of life through new lenses. They needed to go back and reprocess their own story in light of the crucifixion and resurrection.

The story that had been handed down and preserved was what we call the Old Testament. So they went back to the beginning and studied it all seeing more clearly what God was doing because they could see by the light of Jesus Christ. The church began to see how everything pointed ahead to the one who would one day come and fulfill and the hopes and needs of the people.

Now that God had been made known in a greater way than ever before, now that the plans of God found their fulfillment in Jesus Christ, and now that the church was living by the power of the Holy Spirit, they had to go back. If what Jesus Christ said about himself were true, if he really did all he said he did, then Jesus must be there in all of Scripture. People like Paul and the author of Hebrews helped the church to connect the dots and see how the story of God had its climax in Jesus Christ. It isn’t a new story but a continuation and fulfillment of the same story–the story of creation, of Israel, of redemption and forgiveness. But it now makes more sense because of what Jesus has done.

The story continues, though. We continue to look back to Jesus’ works, live for him today, and we await the thrilling conclusion when he will one day return.


  1. I’m sure by now that anyone who has desired to see the Sixth Sense has done so already, so I don’t need to fear spoilers.  ↩

  2. John 14:8–10  ↩

Why does Jesus perform miracles for some, but not for others?

FeedingMultitudes_Bernardo
In Matthew 15 Jesus walks around the Sea of Galilee and then goes up a mountain to sit. But many people have been following him and they bring to Jesus those who were lame, blind, crippled, mute, and many more. Although it seems Jesus is looking for rest, he heals them. Then seeing that these people were hungry, having followed him for three days, Jesus performs another miracle feeding thousands with just a handful of bread and fish.

Surely these were miraculous signs. Yet in Matthew 16 the Pharisees and Sadducees go to Jesus and test him asking for Jesus to show them a sign from heaven. Jesus doesn’t seem to have problem performing great works among the people as he goes about his public ministry. But there is purpose behind his actions. Jesus isn’t in the habit of performing party tricks. He heals people who are sick and miraculously feed those who are hungry. Jesus’ power is displayed with purpose and when the religious rulers want to test him and have him do something for their own purposes, Jesus won’t go along with it. He instead tells them that they only sign that they will see is the sign of Jonah. They want a sign of power from heaven, but they will see a surprised when what they see is Jesus dying on the cross and then three days later showing true power over death itself.

In the gospels Jesus is not aimless. He doesn’t drift about seeing which way the wind will take him. He has a mission with clear objectives and appeasing the religious elites is not a part of it. Jesus cares more for those on the outside and actually warns his own about the damaging influence of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Jesus’ perfection covers our deepest flaws

Sermon on the mount

Last night I was talking with my wife about this week’s readings from Matthew. There are some truly challenging teachings that Jesus has in Matthew 5 and in the following chapters. One line is particularly difficult, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

I’ll speak for myself here and say that I don’t measure up.

So what do we make of such a a line? In the conversation I had, my wife looked at it a bit differently and was thinking about how else Jesus could’ve said that. What else was Jesus going to say? What else would Jesus desire for us?

That absolutely should be our aim. Thankfully, when we don’t measure up we have one who does. Jesus Christ fulfilled all the laws demands perfectly for us. His righteousness is all that we could ever need. Whenever we miss the mark we can find comfort knowing that when the Father looks at us we are found in his Son, Jesus Christ.

Even before the cross, pay attention to the suffering of Jesus

Jesus tempted in the desert.

Jesus tempted in the desert.

This last Sunday I preached on the topic of suffering, seeking to bring our attention to this simple point: We have a God who truly knows suffering himself.

This week we read the first half of Matthew and I’d ask that you pay close attention to the experiences of Jesus. What does he go through? What troubles does he face? What luxuries does he have? How is he tempted? What is he going through in order to accomplish his great work?

Jesus is the one who walked in our footsteps. Truly he walked the path that we should have walked–the path we deserved, the path up to the cross. Jesus came to earth and experienced all that we do and he did so in order to take our place. We now can know that our God is compassionate and he is not unaffected by suffering. God knows suffering in ways we can never understand and he did it all so we would not be left alone. Into this dark world Jesus brought us light and gives us hope.

Failure to Be a Blessing

jonah in the whale Verduner altarpiece
This week we are reading passages that are written in a time when Israel has now come to possess the land that God has promised to them. God was faithful to Joshua and led the people to the land that was flowing with milk and honey. He was fulfilling the promise he had made to Abraham. But the people fail to be a blessing to others and fail to live in the way they were called to. In Amos we read how Israel is oppressing the poor and weak, treating them much like they were treated when they were slaves in Egypt. In Jonah we see the lengths Jonah would go in order not to go to his enemy, instead preferring Nineveh’s destruction.

Then when we look in the New Testament in Matthew 23, Jesus is criticizing the leaders of the Jews who similarly are not living as a blessing to those around.

This last Sunday I preached on Jonah, looking closely at his reluctance to even be a possible blessing to his enemy. The good news is that we have one who willingly came to his own enemies and sacrificed himself for us.

If you’re interested in reading the sermon, you can find it here.

More on hypocrisy, aided by Blue Like Jazz

As I wrote on Matthew 23, I was reminded of a favorite section of the book Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. It doesn’t entirely fit the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees of Matthew 23, so it didn’t fit in with that post, but I wanted to share it.

His struggle with hypocrisy wasn’t a self-righteous boasting, but did have the flavor of not practicing what he preached, as seen in Matthew 23:3. He writes this as he was confronted with something like a crisis of faith:

“I don’t have any doubts about God or anything; it’s just me. I feel like I am constantly saying things I don’t mean. I tell people they should share their faith, but I don’t feel like sharing my faith. I tell people they should be in the Word, but I am only in the Word because I have to teach the Word. I said to a guy the other day, ‘God bless you.’ What does that mean? Then I started thinking about all the crap I say. All the clichés, all the parroted slogans. I have become an informercial for God, and I don’t even use the product.

As much as we can keep ourselves busy, busyness can hide time from honest, personal reflection. This is true within the church as well as it can provide plenty to occupy your time. These things can all be very good. But make sure that you slow down and make sure you are seeking out God himself, and not just the good things of God. Ritual and habit are not bad in and of themselves, but take time to think through our actions and the meaning behind them. As you approach the Bible, seek God in his Word for the joy of knowing him, not only to finish this reading plan.

I will say that there is a place for obedience, even when we “don’t feel like it.” God can use us regardless of our initial willingness (see Moses and all sorts of other characters from the Bible). That may be a critique of this book. Christianity is not always going to be some authentic expression of our deepest desires. Our deep desires are often sinful, and a life following Christ is hard as he warned us that we’ll have to pick up our cross to follow him.

But there is wisdom in this quote. We shouldn’t mistake learning about God with knowing God or giving instruction for others with personal discipleship.* For example, taking children to church is not the same thing as bringing them up in the faith. Writing a check for some ministry is not the same as serving people face-to-face. Researching the Bible for a class is not all that reading the Bible is about. These are not bad things, but we must make sure we do not let them become everything. We are invited not only to live a certain way or to know certain things, but to know God in Jesus Christ–to have a relationship.

Informercials can be really informative, but God wants disciples who follow him, and they can be transformative in this world.

*A problem it seemed the scribes and Pharisees had. Matthew 23

Woe to Hypocrisy

Jesus comes down hard on the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23. They are guilty of hypocrisy as “they preach, but do not practice.” They lay heavy burdens upon the people, yet they will hardly lift a finger. These leaders love to soak up all the attention that their positions bring, presenting themselves outwardly as righteous. But in their hearts they are sinful. As leaders they are blind guides who close the doors of the kingdom on people, and under their leadership people fall further from the truth.

One illustration Jesus uses works perfectly as an object lesson, one that I remember as a kid helping my mom get ready for a youth group session. Jesus says, “you clean the outside of the cup and plate, but inside they are full of reed and self-indulgence.” To recreate this, I went out in my backyard and was tasked to play in the dirt. A great task for a young boy. One cup was to be dirtied on the outside, but clean inside. The other was to look spotless externally, but filthy on the inside.

The trouble with the pharisees is that they work hard on the external appearances and do nothing in regards to their hearts. But Jesus has already taught that it is what comes from within that makes us clean (Matt 15:11). What is within them is unclean. If attention was paid to cleaning the inside, then the outside could truly be clean, as well. An even more severe description is then applied to these leaders. Jesus says that on the outside they appear freshly painted with new coats of clean, white paint. But this paint is only a thin facade that hides the fact that within is a tomb, full of bones and uncleanness. They are full of death, yet are tasked with helping the people live!

Their hypocrisy is the double standards that they apply and the two-faced life they live. They look one way, but act another. They instruct people to live in ways completely different from how they live themselves. They are hypocrites as they boast in themselves, yet they truly have nothing worthy of such boasting.

Certainly it is possible for Christians to be guilty of hypocrisy in just the same way. But Christians should not make claims about having attained righteousness on our own, nor having made ourselves completely void of sin. In a way we ought to know better than others just how sinful we really are. We then can’t boast in the ways the scribes and Pharisees do. We can only boast in Christ. Only he can make us clean. Only he can bring us to life, as though he were opening those tombs and giving life to dead bones. That’s what we boast in. Therefore it makes no sense to seek celebrity and fame for ourselves, looking for places of greater honor.

These woes are still warnings for us today. We should be on guard against such sinful tendencies we all have. We ought to preach and practice, humbly doing so with a gospel that is firmly rooted in the redeeming work of Jesus Christ, not our own. And as God does accomplish his transforming work within us, we can’t allow ourselves to be puffed up with pride. From start to finish it is God. Pride only interferes with that. Humility opens a person up to his work.

Humility also confronts hypocrisy as it is not afraid to let others see our weaknesses, since humility is not concerned with receiving praise. Rather in our weakness, humility knows that it is only God who is seen as strong.

As a Hen Gathers Her Brood

When I was on vacation after Christmas I went to church and heard a sermon that was on Matthew 23, with great focus on the image that comes at the end. Jesus laments for Jerusalem saying:

How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

The preacher referenced a mosaic that depicts this, so I wanted to track it down to share it with you. It is found at a church called Dominus Flevit, which means ‘the Lord has wept.’ It is located on the Mount of Olives, where Jesus wept over Jerusalem, and its architecture designed to resemble a tear drop.

It is humbling to think of the care Jesus has for us and how it extends even to those who reject him. He is brokenhearted over Jerusalem and only desires to protect and love its people.

Dominus Flevit Mosaic