Archive for September, 2011

“Change your life. God’s kingdom is here.” John and his message were authorized by Isaiah’s prophecy: “Thunder in the desert! Prepare for God’s arrival! Make the road smooth and straight!” Matthew 3:2-3; The Message Bible

John the Baptist indeed had a powerful ministry. As we read, it wasn’t from the amount of people the prophet drew, or the clothing he wore, or even the meals the man ate—though maybe a little strikingly unconventional. One could even conclude his demonstrative fervency of passion with which how he spoke was not the foundation for the effectiveness in which he garnered his massive attention. What drew the crowds was John’s message, the impassioned prospect of societal transformation—“Change your life, God’s kingdom is here!”

In the harsh Roman controlled culture and environment of ancient Palestine, the hope of a new kingdom resonated in the ears of every oppressed believing soul. As John spoke of an alternative dominion, “God’s kingdom is here,” he arrested the interest of every individual crying out for true hope and change. His voice was the “thunder in the desert,” a true rumbling for spiritual revolution. And in coming to him the crowds found confidence and solace from the drudgery of their everyday despotic existence.

As John spoke of this unconventional objective, he also drew the attention of those supposing the present conditions were more than suitable and just fine. The Message Bible continues:

… John realized that a lot of Pharisees and Sadducees were showing up…

Why were these so-called spiritual leaders coming? In their thinking their perfect universe needed no transformation or alterations. What a deception these religious soothsayers had perpetrated upon themselves! Who warned them to flee the wrath to come—no one! To these higher thinkers, the pristine cosmos cautioned of no impending doom or wrath. They arrived to prevent a spiritual revolution from happening. These came to the desert to identify the conflict, and eventual do their best to destroy it—silence the cacophony.

So, there are two types of people responding to John’s thundering message: those needing hope and change, and those worried about hope and change. The prophet came as the rumbling voice of reason to the insanity round about. His refrain was a choice for conversion, which in turn challenged every ear that came to hear the chorus—“Change your life. God’s kingdom is here.” Isn’t that the true influence of a heaven-produced ministry? In our 21st century society, we hear people speaking much of hope and change, but is that their real desire? The English Standard Version presents verse two a little different than The Message Bible. It reads:

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

John’s message was, change—true change—comes through repentance. The serious marchers of hope and change begin with commitment to amending personal moral behaviors. Transformation finds its way into society though the individual hearts of people; everyday people like you and I. When the rich, famous and leaders of a culture transform, that’s all well and good. But true societal transformation happens when common people are tired of the way things are and begin with their own hearts to make a difference. John later asks these religious soothsayers, “What counts is your life. Is it green and blossoming?” He then answers, “…If it’s deadwood, it goes on the fire.¹ In simpler words, get rid of everything that is sucking the life out of you, those things, as noted in the great movie, Casablanca, that don’t amount to a hill-of-beans in this crazy world. The thunder in the desert says, make a choice for change—inward change.

J. Robert Hanson

¹ The Message Bible


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For Your Consideration

Matthew 1:19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”

Close your eyes for just one moment and imagine you’re in the sandals of Joseph the carpenter, son of Jacob—a descendent of a long line of blood royalty. No doubt throughout your youth days, the proud lineage of the noble ancestry of king David was forever reiterated upon your impressionable consciousness. Your whole life you’ve lived in a small northern Palestinian district called Galilee, specifically the town of Nazareth. Technically, your inheritance of promise lay in the southern region—Judah to be precise, not within this present northern Israeli tribe of Zebulun! But, the days of hoping for your recovered land has long since gone and passed.

From a child you’ve diligently studied your faith, believing every Law of Moses lest one of the glorious promises should fail and you fall short. Isolated from the more prestigious southern brethren of Palestine, you lead a life full of duty and order. The synagogue the center, the family functioning around that stable edifice, day-in and day-out is spent as a struggle for existence in a land full of unsympathetic foreign occupiers. You hold that one dream, a reverie every noble and faithful nationalist is entitled to—the aspiration of marrying and finding a place in society. This is the one opportunity to reinvent your own future through a godly progeny, thus leaving your mark on humankind by creating an honorable legacy.

Having seen this little picture of Joseph’s life, go ahead and open eyes. The reality is, in the middle of this anticipated bright future comes an enormous dark cloud. His sweet young virgin bride, Mary the betrothed, has confessed to being found with child (stories of angelic visitations notwithstanding). Shocked and disturbed, Joseph, naturally realizes this can only mean one thing, the inevitable truth—the woman is an unfaithful adulterer! How pretentious to believe anything else.

Our 21st century society is filled with the same realities of infidelity. Generally the great reply, after the hurt sinks in, is anger, vengeance, and retribution—immediate reactions with impulsive behaviors to a terrible scenario. Naturally, the focus is on the one who who has been wronged. For Mary “the transgressor,” according to the Law of Moses, this meant speedy termination of life, or excommunication for sure if she were more fortunate. And who would blame Joseph for such a vindictive response?

But these are not actions belonging to this future caretaker of the Lamb of God. Instead of zealous indignation we read that Joseph, unwilling to put Mary to shame, considered these things. He thought about what to do! Joseph didn’t fly off the handle in rage; instead, he mused upon the situation—and was rewarded for his righteous carefulness. In the Greek language, the idea of the word considered is “to consider deeply.” It means the subject needs to revolve around in the mind, over-and-over, until the perfect resolution is discovered. This type of decision process takes time, pressing the mind into areas not willing to be confronted—even hurtful depths. Our immediate, “I hate you forever for hurting me” generation’s reaction does not practice this type of discipline. And because Joseph was willing to consider options rather than reacting, God honored him with the custodial care of the coming Messiah. It was while he was in the middle of considerations that an angel of the Lord appeared and revealed the plan of God. How much would have been missed if Joseph had not been a just man willing to think things through, not for himself, but mostly for the betterment of the “offender,” Mary—he was unwilling to put her to shame!

So, before reacting to life’s dark clouds, for your consideration—the life of Joseph!

J. Robert Hanson

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1 Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.

According to Vine’s Dictionary, the Greek the word used for “seeking,” is the idea of longing and desiring something. The Apostle Matthew, in his gospel, uses the same Greek word when quoting the Lord’s “Sermon on the Mount.” He records Jesus saying:

Matthew 6:33 NAS “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

Jesus is calling man to seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness with an intense desire and longing. Making anxieties and worries secondary, seeking first God’s kingdom is the context into which Matthew 6:33 fits. The same thing applies in Colossians. Seeking “things above” is the point of longing, desire, and prioritizing. Developing a passion for heavenly things takes perspective; a focus of the One seated at the right hand of God makes that fervor possible. Still more interesting is the fact that Paul presents the verb in the present tense. Kenneth Wuest translates verse 1:

“In view of the fact, therefore, that you were raised with Christ, the things above be constantly seeking, where Christ is, on the right hand of God, seated.”

The idea is to never stop seeking things above. This is a life-long, character-altering pursuit. We don’t just quit because we don’t feel “it” anymore. The design of Paul’s imperative is to keep us constantly seeking the things found at the position where Christ is located. Then, letting this new perspective influence how we behave and look at life.

Let me see if I can simplify this a bit. Just as Jesus was raised physically from the dead to new life, so are we now raised spiritually in Him—that’s the product of identification with Christ! And this foundational truth is our new spiritual position to live in, everyday. All who believe in Christ are raised with Him! It’s now imperative that you continue seeking the things located at the place where He is. This makes us heavenly perspective people.

Sadly, not all folks who receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior decide to seek heaven on a consistent basis. The longing and desire for God wanes, and prioritizing His kingdom and righteousness become secondary. Before we become distressed and wonder whether or not we are personal betrayers as Judas Iscariot, let me mention that the Lord is very much aware of this and is not giving up with us just because we were not the perfect imprinted of a ready-made spiritual life! The Lord tells others to seek first His kingdom because He is aware that the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Paul is conveying to the Colossians the importance of seeking things above because he is aware just how fast we’re capable of forgetting what Christ has done!

Seeking heaven is a life-long dedication and process. There is only one incident in the bible that speaks of an individual so ready, so perfect, that God took him—Enoch. His walk with God was so singular that he was wanted right away. For us, it may not be so automatic. Seeking heaven, in the sense mentioned by Paul, must be cultivated, tended, and guarded. Carelessness and apathy are the enemies of longing and desire.

That’s why Paul gives the imperative to seek heaven. That great biblical scholar of the 17th century, John Lightfoot said, “you must not only seek heaven, you must think heaven.”

J. Robert Hanson

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