Reflections on the Glorious & Terrifying Lordship of Jesus

This past Sunday was Easter and I preached a message called “The History of Redemption.” The sermon was 25 minutes of only Scripture, telling the story of the Bible from beginning to end. It was a powerful day for our church, but for me it was a powerful few months of memorizing and internalizing the Scriptures.

I’ve been reflecting on all of this and want to share some truths that keep gripping me.

1. Jesus claims to be Lord of all.

Though the culture and world would have us believe that faith and religion are merely private matters, Jesus claims to be Lord over all things. Some verses from the sermon:

  • All things came into being through him. (John 1:3)
  • God…has in these last days spoken to us through his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things and through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of his glory and the exact representation of his image and he upholds all things by the word of his power. (Hebrews 1:2-3)
  • I am the way and the truth and the life. Nobody comes to the Father except through me. (John 1:14)
  • And the government shall be upon his shoulder. And he shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)
  • On his robe and on his thigh a name was written, “King of kings and Lord of lords.” (Revelation 19:16)

These are staggering claims. They do not represent a Jesus who merely takes the wheel of your private life and infuses it with a bit more meaning or hope. Rather, they represent the one who rules over the universe that he spoke into existence with absolute power.

2. Without Christ, people are evil and hostile to God.

Since our first parents plunged the world into sin, we are all sick with the disease of sin. We sin by nature and we sin by choice. Two illustrations that accompanied the sermon (from Chris Koelle) depict this masterfully.

First, we see the idea that our very DNA is tainted by sin, broken and covered in thorns. This means that we are all “born this way” and it is no excuse.

For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it in hope. And the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Romans 8:20; Genesis 6:5)
For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it in hope. And the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Romans 8:20; Genesis 6:5)

Then, while depicting the downward spiral of Israel away from God, we see an image of people sacrificing their children to the gods of Canaan. But look closely into the fire. Do you see how this practice continues today?

They even sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons. They poured out innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters. (Psalm 106:37-38)
They even sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons. They poured out innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters. (Psalm 106:37-38)

This kind of evil demands a response and, amazingly, God patiently offers kindness to sinners who deserve only wrath.

3. Jesus offers scandalous grace to people who repeatedly dishonor him.

I often say that there aren’t good guys and bad guys, there are bad guys and Jesus. This is evident throughout the story of Scripture. We do wicked, dishonorable things, continually exchanging the truth about God for a lie and worshipping and serving the creature rather than the Creator (Romans 1:25). Despite this, Jesus offers amazing grace:

  • But he was wounded for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities. Upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and by his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray. We have turned aside–every one–to his own way and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:5-6)
  • But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even while we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ. By grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:4-5)
  • For while we were still helpless, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly. (Romans 5:6)
  • All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:18)
  • And he said… “I will give to him who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost. He who overcomes will inherit these things and I will be his God and he shall be my son.” (Revelation 21:6-7)

This grace is real and powerful. It can change lives and bless communities. But it is a limited-time offer. You get one life to accept this grace and joyfully bow the knee to King Jesus. Either he took the sword for you or you will take the sword.

4. The Bible threatens terrifying things to those who will not acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus.

Because we think about faith in mostly private terms, when people reject it we often think something like, “Oh well. Too bad. They’re not going to be very fulfilled until they find Jesus.” Which is true. But much more is at stake. Consider these verses from the sermon:

  • But if that wicked servant thinks to himself, “My master is delayed,” and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, then the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know and will cut him into pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 24:48-51)
  • From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. (Revelation 19:15)
  • They will make war on the Lamb and the Lamb will conquer them… (Revelation 17:14)
  • And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:15)

Get the picture? This is not little Jesus, meek and mild, passively sitting on the sidelines. Rather, this is the Lord of all history who has poured himself out for sinners–who continue to reject his authority or his grace–promising to rule the world of evil by destroying all who will not joyfully come under his Lordship.

You don’t have to like it. You don’t even have to believe it.

But it’s the way the world really is.

5. Christians will suffer greatly and be disliked by the world.

Somehow it continues to shock Christians that we are hated, mistreated, and misrepresented. But this sermon reminds me of these powerful words of Jesus:

  • You will be hated by all because of me but the one who endures to the end will be saved. A disciple is not greater than his teacher nor a slave than his master. And do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul. Rather, fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:22, 24, 28)
  • Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. And blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on account of me. Rejoice and be glad for your reward is great in heaven. (Matthew 5:10-12)

I desperately want to connect with a culture that is far from God and needs his grace. I want to communicate in ways that are understandable. But I also must realize that many simply will not receive the message. They will hate it and belittle it. They will mock it. The days are coming (and are now here around the world) when they will arrest and fine those who will not capitulate to the winds of cultural “progress.” Buckle up. It’s going to be a tough ride.

Want proof? The man who put “The History of Redemption” together, Ronnie Smith, was murdered as a missionary in Libya in December 2013. I think God was preparing him and his family for the suffering they would face, and his widow boldly shared the gospel to the world as a result.

6. Jesus is on the right side of history.

We repeatedly hear that Christians are “on the wrong side of history.” The Bible is regressive and backwards, not appropriately adapting to fit our enlightened, scientific, modern culture.

I walk away from this sermon thinking, “No. Jesus is on the right side of history. He made the world. He sustains the world. And he is coming to renew the world. He will conquer evil, make war on those who oppose him, and make all things new. By his undeserved grace, he has brought me to himself. If I’m with him, I’m on the right side of history because history belongs to him.”

You can view the sermon, with the illustrations, here.

Why Matt Walsh’s Blog is Bad for the Soul

matt walshI cringe when I see friends post and share links to Matt Walsh’s blog. Not because I’ve never posted cringe-worthy stuff — I’ve done plenty, even recently. But I cringe because I think Matt Walsh’s writing is usually bad for the soul.

And I’m concerned that he may not be having a good effect on people I love and respect.

If you’re not familiar with Matt Walsh, he’s a young, conservative, religious blogger whose specialty is 1,200+ word diatribes about social issues. He’s kind of a young, male, religious version of Ann Coulter.

While Walsh is articulate and makes a number of points I agree with, here are three reasons why I believe the overall effect of his work is soul-shrinking.

1. Walsh’s writing lacks the fruit of the Spirit, especially love.

With the possible exception of faithfulness, the majority of Walsh’s writing lacks the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

In particular, Walsh’s tone rarely reflects the supreme Christian virtue of love. Now, he would likely disagree and say that it’s loving to point out error, and I agree that it is (which is why I’m writing this). But it’s unloving to point out error in a way that is unloving.

It’s a bit like the street-preacher I witnessed in college who–when challenged by a gay activist about love–shouted, “I do love you, you miserable wretch!”

Consider these Biblical passages and ask whether love matters:

And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:2 ESV)

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35 ESV)

The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. (1 Timothy 1:5 ESV)

For a Christian to imbibe and celebrate arguments that reflect truth but almost completely lack grace runs contrary to the goal of spiritual growth (love) and the model of Jesus (John 1:14).

[Note: I’m not saying that Walsh lacks the fruit of the Spirit in his personal life–I don’t know him. I’m only discussing the tone of his writing.]

UPDATE: One reader wondered if I could cite any specific examples. Here’s one: In a recent post titled, “Police officers aren’t the ones destroying the black community,” Walsh criticized somebody as “a ridiculous fool,” “a liar,” and “a lunatic” with “an enormous dose of idiocy.” This name-calling is mean-spirited and harsh.

2. Walsh’s specialty is making a point rather than a difference.

Andy Stanley was the first person I heard say, “It’s always easier to make a point than it is to make a difference.”

Christians are invited to make a difference in this world. We are adopted by the Father, justified by the Son and indwelled by the Holy Spirit. We are loved with excessive, scandalous, prodigal grace. This propels us to offer our lives as living sacrifices to God, living in ways that are transformed by him rather than conformed to the world. Through love, service and relationship we have an opportunity to make a difference.

Or we can just make a point.

Matt Walsh is all about making a point. And, often, his point is a good one.

My concern is that in an increasingly divided ideological world — where we can always find somebody to listen to who we agree with — Christians will follow Matt Walsh’s lead, thinking that as long as they said the right thing they were faithful, even though little difference is made.

Rather than Walsh’s model, we should follow the Apostle Paul’s instruction:

Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:23-26 ESV)

Note that this doesn’t mean criticism (“correcting opponents”) is bad itself. It means that correcting opponents in a quarrelsome, unkind way is a problem.

3. Walsh’s blog confirms all the suspicions skeptics have toward Christians.

In his book, unChristian, David Kinnaman lists the assumptions that many non-Christian people have about Christians that–according to them–make Christianity less desirable:

  • Christians are hypocritical
  • Christians don’t have meaningful relationships with non-Christians
  • Christians are antihomosexual
  • Christians are sheltered from the world
  • Christians are too political
  • Christians are too judgmental

Whether Christians agree about these perceptions, they exist. And Matt Walsh’s tone plays right into every one.

As one thoughtful reviewer suggested, image-management isn’t really the primary goal Christians should have. No matter how faithfully we follow Jesus, we will always be misunderstood and misrepresented.

Nonetheless, Christians should know that publicly sharing Walsh’s posts will likely decrease, rather than increase, the effectiveness of their witness. If you have skeptical friends who follow you online (like I do), sharing articles that lack love and make a point instead of a difference will not help influence friends the way you might think.

Conclusion

Adults will read and share what they want. I have no interest in policing the media that people consume, like and promote. But as a pastor who wants to see Christians grow in their love and make a greater difference in a skeptical world, I’m concerned that reading Matt Walsh will be counter-productive.

Agree? Disagree? I’d love to hear your thoughts.