Jesus' Life and Teaching: Jesus Returns to Heaven

, by Christopher D. Hudson

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” 

In his final act on earth as the resurrected, victorious Savior, Jesus tells his disciples to wait together in Jerusalem until God gives them the Spirit’s power.

Then they are to take the good news everywhere and make disciples of all people. This is crucial because Jesus is coming again.

Read about this in Matthew 28:16–20; Luke 24:50–53; Acts 1:3–11.



This blog post has been adapted from my new book Self-Guided Tour of the Bible. You can read more about it here


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Jesus' Life and Teaching: Jesus Is Tried, Denied, and Crucified

, by Christopher D. Hudson

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” 


For Jesus, this begins a long night of illegal trials.

The high priest, the chief priests, and Israel’s elders and teachers of the law—who normally don’t agree on much of anything—unite wholeheartedly in their opposition to Jesus. Even though the witnesses testifying against Jesus give inconsistent and conflicting testimony, the leaders decide Jesus is guilty of blasphemy and deserves to die.

Meanwhile, Peter faces his own ordeal. Despite his earlier pledge of absolute commitment to the Lord (even expressing a willingness to die for him), Peter denies three times having any involvement with Jesus or even knowing him.

Since the religious leaders lack legal authority to carry out an execution, they seek approval from the Roman government. The Roman governor of that region, Pontius Pilate, rejects their case for executing Jesus. When they persist, Pilate sends Jesus to King Herod Antipas. Herod welcomes the opportunity to interview Jesus—and maybe see a miracle. When Jesus won’t answer questions, Herod and his soldiers mock Jesus and send him back to Pilate. Pilate wants to free Jesus, but when a mob forms and threatens to riot, the Roman governor reluctantly sentences Christ to death.

The soldiers take Jesus away, strip him, mock him, beat and flog him. When they grow weary of ridiculing him, they crucify him between two common criminals. Some six gruesome hours later, Jesus is dead.

Read about this in Matthew 26:57–27:56; Mark 14:53–15:41; Luke 22:54–23:49; John 18:12–19:37.


This blog post has been adapted from my new book Self-Guided Tour of the Bible. You can learn more about it here.
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Jesus' Life and Teaching: Jesus Challenges the Status Quo

, by Christopher D. Hudson


“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”


Time and again during his three-year ministry, Jesus confronts the prevailing religious system. At times his critiques of first-century Judaism’s empty ritualism are mere verbal barbs. On other occasions, there are heated discussions. The callous and hypocritical actions of some scribes and Pharisees anger Jesus. He sternly pronounces “woes” on these leaders, calling them hypocrites, fools, and blind guides. He even enters the part of the temple they’ve turned into a moneymaking market, overturns their tables, and drives them out! We see the leaders’ curiosity turn to concern and then morph into a calculated plan to kill Jesus.

This blog post has been adapted from by book Self-Guided Tour of the Bible. You can learn more about it here.


 
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Life-Changing Themes from the Bible: All Will Be Well

, by Christopher D. Hudson

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” 


A final big idea that permeates Scripture is the promise of restoration. Over and over again, the Bible states that God will fix our fallen, broken world. When all is said and done, sin will be eradicated. Trouble and suffering will cease. Death will be no more. Life will finally be as God intended, forever and ever.

- In the Old Testament, God made promises (called agreements or covenants) with Abraham and Moses and David. In each case, God’s desire and intent was to bless his chosen people so that they might bless the nations. In a fallen world, Israel was meant to serve as exhibit A to a watching world of how glorious life can be when it is lived under God’s rule. The Promised Land served as a faint but tangible picture of heaven. It was “a good land” reported to be “flowing with milk and honey” (Leviticus 20:24; Deuteronomy 1:25). Most importantly, it was a gift from God. Unfortunately, the people of Israel struggled to trust and obey God. As a result, they brought much unnecessary sorrow on themselves. They were removed from the land for a time. But not even that could alter God’s good intent for his people.
- The prophets constantly pointed to the future. Writing to their fellow citizens who were suffering under oppressive regimes (typically because of their own disobedience), men like Isaiah saw a day when the Lord would bring ultimate judgment on evil and reign in glory (Isaiah 24:21–22; 34; 46–47; 60–66). Isaiah wrote that on that day, God “will swallow up death forever” and “wipe away the tears from all faces” (Isaiah 25:8). On that day, people will declare: “Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation” (Isaiah 25:9).
- In the New Testament, God promises a future peace and eternal life for all people—not just the Israelites of the Old Testament. Christ speaks repeatedly of eternal life (Mark 10:30; John 4:14; 5:24; 6:47; 10:28; 17:2–3). He calls himself “the resurrection and the life” and pledges life after the end of this life to all who believe in him (John 11:25–26). Just before his own death, he tells his followers that he is going to his “Father’s house” to prepare a place for them, and he promises, “I will come back and take you to be with me” (John 14:1–4).
- When Christ walks out of his grave on that first Easter morning, he acts as a kind of preview of coming attractions (“firstfruits,” 1 Corinthians 15:20). His resurrection shouts the truth that all those who are in Christ will live forever. What’s more, we will live in what the apostle John called “a new heaven and a new earth” (Revelation 21:1).

WHY IS THIS BIBLICAL THEME SO IMPORTANT?
God’s holiness means he will deal fully and finally with sin and its corrupting effects. God’s grace and mercy (demonstrated in Christ) mean that sinners can be forgiven. God’s goodness means our future is one of joy and peace, not fear. God’s power and sovereignty mean that he will restore all things. Christ’s resurrection is our sure hope. The risen Jesus gives eternal life to all who trust him. All the great themes of the Bible point forward to this one: a sure and certain future. He is “making everything new!” (Revelation 21:5). 


This blog post has been adapted from my new book Self-Guided Tour of the Bible. You can learn more about it here.

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Life-Changing Themes from the Bible: This World Is Not All There Is

, by Christopher D. Hudson


Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” 


A sixth theme that’s prominent in God’s Word is the reality of the kingdom of heaven (or the kingdom of God).

This physical world in which we find ourselves is not all there is to reality. There is more to this life than just this life. We now live a material existence, but there is also an invisible but entirely real spiritual dimension to life.

All through the Bible we read about moments when God “pulls back the curtains,” as it were, to reveal a realm that transcends human comprehension and experience. Consider, for example, the following events described in the Bible:

- In Genesis 28, Jacob dreams at Bethel and sees angels ascending and descending a stairway to heaven. We know this isn’t just a case of having eaten too much spicy food at bedtime, because Jacob wakes and makes this classic statement: “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it” (verse 16).
-  In Exodus 24, Moses, Aaron, the elders of Israel, and Aaron’s two sons go up to a mountain to feast in the majestic presence of God.
- In 2 Kings 6, the prophet Elisha prays that his alarmed servant’s eyes will be opened to spiritual realities. Suddenly the young man is able to see heavenly chariots of fire and horses surrounding them (verse 17).
- In his book, the prophet Ezekiel records vision after vision of eternal realities that defy description. He describes four unusual living creatures—each with four faces and four wings and each having a human form—that were accompanied by wheels (Ezekiel 1:4–24). Later Ezekiel sees bones that join together, become covered in flesh, and come to life when he speaks to them (Ezekiel 37:1–14).
- In Luke 2, in the New Testament, a few shepherds are minding their own business when the nighttime skies above Bethlehem suddenly blaze with the light of an angelic army. With excitement, these heavenly messengers announce the birth of “a Savior . . . the Messiah, the Lord” (verse 11). After praising God, the angels disappear and the skies darken again.
- Beginning his ministry, Jesus announces the arrival of “the kingdom of God” (Mark 1:15). Later, he clarifies that his kingdom is not necessarily visible or earthly (Luke 17:20–21; John 18:36).
- In 2 Corinthians 12, the apostle Paul speaks of a man (likely himself) who was caught up into heaven (“paradise,” verse 4).
- In the book of Revelation, the apostle John is given a front-row seat and a preview of the future hope Christians have. John sees into the last days of the world and into heaven itself. You get the sense he keeps rubbing his eyes as he struggles to find words to express all that he sees.

WHY IS THIS BIBLICAL THEME SO IMPORTANT?
We all have deep, inexpressible longings in our souls, a sense that there is more to life than meets the eye. Some have called this an ache for transcendence, even an eternal homesickness. In his book Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis put it this way: “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”

The spiritual life is about developing “the eyes of [our] heart” (Ephesians 1:18). As we do that, we are able to remember that this world is passing away and that our true home is in heaven. This helps us avoid the great trap of becoming overly attached to stuff that cannot last. 


This blog post has been adapted from my new book Self-Guided Tour of the Bible. You can learn more about it here.


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Life-Changing Themes from the Bible: God Rescues Us in Christ

, by Christopher D. Hudson

The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. 


Another towering idea that looms over the pages of the story of the Bible is the wonder of salvation. God relentlessly seeks to find us when we are lost, forgive us when we sin, and fix us when we are broken. This is seen in the Bible from the first page to the last.

- Almost before Adam and Eve have swallowed the forbidden fruit, we see God coming into the Garden of Eden, calling out to his cowering creatures, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9). Then, even as God confronts Adam and Eve with their sin, he mentions that one of Eve’s descendants will crush the head of the serpent, the one who has deceptively introduced such evil and suffering into the world (Genesis 3:15).
- Soon after, Noah is a recipient of God’s favor (i.e., his grace, Genesis 6:8). As a result, he and his family are brought safely through the great flood.
- In Exodus, God delivers his people from Egyptian bondage.
- In Judges, God repeatedly rescues the Israelites from oppression at the hands of neighboring nations.
-  In the psalms, David makes a frequent point of mentioning all the ways and times God has come to his aid.
- In the book of Jonah, we see God command one of his prophets to travel to Nineveh (the capital city of ancient Assyria) and urge the people there to turn from their sin or face judgment. It’s not as though the Assyrians are seeking God. They’re not. They worship other gods and are bent on destroying the Israelites. Even so, God proactively sends a messenger to warn them. When they repent, they are spared.

In each of these instances, short-term physical deliverance is a picture of the eternal and spiritual salvation God wants to bring to his people. In his compassion and love, God pursues people and desires to save them from the consequences of their own rebellion  (Psalm 103:8–18; Jonah 4:2). And this pursuit continues in the New Testament.

- The New Testament Gospels depict Jesus as the “sent” one of God (John 5:24). In Jesus’ own words, “The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). His invitation? “Come to me” (Matthew 11:28). His legacy? “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
- In Acts 9, we read the astounding story of Saul (a.k.a. the apostle Paul). He is dead set on wiping off the map the new Jesus movement. He is hell-bent on rounding up Christians, and he is violently opposed to this new entity called the church—until the day Jesus essentially hunts him down (and knocks him down, literally!) on the Damascus Road. From that day forward, Paul becomes a partner with Christ in the mission of going to the ends of the earth to bring people to God.

Throughout its pages, the Bible shows God as pursuing and wooing his wayward creatures. In the Gospels, we see Jesus going, preaching, warning, inviting, calling, and training a group to take his message to the world. We see him compassionately serving, healing, and accepting people—including people on the fringes of society who are ignored or disdained by others. In the end we see him suffering, dying, rising, and calling his followers to “Go!” Why this theme of rescue? Why such divine passion for a relationship with indifferent people? Because of who God is:

- God is loving. This means he always seeks the best for his creatures (John 3:16; 1 John 4:7–21).
- God is compassionate. This means his heart is moved when he sees the ones he loves in trouble (Psalm 103:2–4; 145:8; Matthew 9:36).
- God is merciful. This means God spares us from the punishment we deserve (Nehemiah 9:31; Luke 6:36).
- God is gracious. This means God gives us amazingly good things we don’t deserve (Psalm 116:5). Grace is undeserved favor (Ephesians 2:8–9). Perhaps the best New Testament picture of grace is the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11–32). It’s hard to read this story and not be blown away by God’s heart.
- God is forgiving. This means God blots out our sins (Psalm 86:5; Ephesians 1:7). In Christ, our offenses against God are paid for and wiped away. When we trust in Christ and what he did for us at the cross, we are made right with God. Jesus takes upon himself the sin of all who believe. In exchange he gives his perfect righteousness to all who humbly trust in him.

WHY IS THIS BIBLICAL THEME SO IMPORTANT?
The consistent message of the Bible is that God’s heart is for sinners—which is every one of us! God hates sin because he is holy and because sin kills the ones he loves. The coming of Jesus into the world is the clearest proof of God’s love. The death of Christ shows the lengths God will go to in order to solve our problem of sin and bring us back to himself. God is not only eager to save; he is able to save! 


This blog post has been adapted from my new book Self-Guided Tour of the Bible. You can learn more about it here.


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Life-Changing Themes from the Bible: God Is Awesome

, by Christopher D. Hudson

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.  


People toss around the word awesome a lot: “That game-winning play was awesome!” “That sandwich was awesome!” But in the strictest sense, the word awesome means far more than having your taste buds tantalized. Being awed means to be filled with speechless wonder. It means to be breathless with holy fear. When we are in the presence of true awesomeness, we hug the ground, tremble, freeze, even lose the power of speech.

Hundreds of Bible verses describe God’s awesomeness as his glory. In Hebrew (the language used to write most of the Old Testament), the word glory means “weighty” or “heavy.” God isn’t an insignificant character. He’s not hiding off in the margins of life, resting lightly on people and events. His majesty is central to everything; his splendor fills the universe. There’s a divine beauty that covers the world like a heavy blanket. It’s there, even when we don’t feel it, even if we never acknowledge it.

Question: In what specific ways is God awesome? Answer: In more ways than we can mention. But let’s take a minute and list seven “heavy,” breathtaking truths the Bible reveals about our awesome God:

1. God is infinite. He is without end or limits (1 Kings 8:27; Psalm 145:3).
2. God is eternal. He is outside of and unbounded by time (Genesis 21:33; Psalm 90:2).
3. God is all-knowing. He sees and comprehends all things—both actual and possible (Psalms 139:1–4; 147:4–5; Hebrews 4:13; 1 John 3:20).
4. God is all-powerful. Nothing is too hard for the Almighty (Job 42:2; Jeremiah 32:17; Matthew 19:26).
5. God is present everywhere. There is no place where he is not (Psalm 139:7–12; Jeremiah 23:23–24).
6. God is sovereign. He authoritatively rules and orchestrates all things for his glory and the good of the creatures he loves (Ephesians 1:4–14, 21).
7. God is unchanging. He doesn’t morph or evolve; he is reliable and consistent (Psalm 102:27; Malachi 3:6; James 1:17).

WHY IS THIS BIBLICAL THEME SO IMPORTANT?
By constantly showing God as glorious, the Bible makes it clear that he is worth not only our attention but also our devotion. Because God is awesome, he deserves all the honor we can give him. We should spend our lives making much of God. We should order our lives around him.

In truth this is what worship is. Our English word worship means the state of having worth. Worship isn’t merely a church service or singing religious songs. It can be that, but it is so much more. Worship is about what we treat as worthy or valuable 24/7. People worship money, fame, power, beauty—all kinds of things. But because God alone is truly awesome, we should worship him and not lesser things.


This blog post has been adapted from my new book Self-Guided Tour of the Bible. You can learn more about it here.

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Life-Changing Themes from the Bible - God Is

, by Christopher D. Hudson

"Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” “You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!” “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds. 

One major idea that permeates the Bible is the reality of God. The Bible begins with God. When nothing else is, God is: “In the beginning God . . .” (Genesis 1:1). In the first verse of the Bible, God is revealed as Creator. If you flip to the very end of the Bible—the book of Revelation, the apostle John’s vision of heaven and eternity—God is revealed as King, Lord, and Judge of all the earth (Revelation 15:3; 20:12–13).

In between Genesis and Revelation, the words God and Lord are mentioned thousands of times. Clearly, from beginning to end, the reality of God is a dominating idea in the Bible. In the Old Testament, God is often perceived as invisible or hidden in dramatic displays of fire and smoke (Exodus 19:18). His power, wisdom, and holiness caused people to tremble with fear and awe at his presence (Exodus 20:18; Psalms 96:9; 119:120; Proverbs 28:14). But people who enjoyed a close relationship with God also experienced him and his love in extremely personal ways. Adam and Eve, for example, spent time with God in the garden; after their fateful choice to disobey him, they tried to physically hide from God’s presence (Genesis 3:8). The Bible describes Abraham as God’s “friend” (2 Chronicles 20:7; Isaiah 41:8; James 2:23). Moses is a great example of someone who experienced God’s presence, love, and friendship firsthand (Exodus 34:5–6). God himself “would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend” (Exodus 33:11).

In the New Testament, we are introduced to Jesus, the Son of God. Though this carpenter-turned-teacher from Nazareth claimed repeatedly to be God, he was visible and approachable (John 8:56–59; 10:30–33)! He came close enough to be seen, heard, and touched (1 John 1:1–3).

After his death, burial, resurrection, and return to heaven, Jesus sent the very Spirit of God to live in the hearts and souls of his followers (Acts 2). What a jaw-dropping reality! Think about it: The Gospels in the New Testament show God among us (John 1:14). Jesus was “God with us” (Matthew 1:23, emphasis added). The book of Acts in the New Testament shows that the Spirit is God in us.

WHY IS THIS BIBLICAL THEME SO IMPORTANT?
If the Bible is true (and, of course, we believe it is), then God is. God exists. We’re not alone in the universe. The world and the human race are not cosmic accidents, the result of eons of time + chance + nothing. We were designed. We were made for a purpose. The world is not random; it is going somewhere. We have meaning and significance.

This blog post has been adapted from my new book, Self-Guided Tour of the Bible. You can read more about it here.

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