How do you picture Christ? Maybe you were in a Sunday school class many years ago where they used flannel graph images. Maybe on one of those Sundays, you were exceptionally good and the teacher asked you to move the printed picture of Jesus into the boat with the disciples.
Maybe you enjoy the artwork and you think back to some of the famous paintings such as the Last Supper.
Maybe your image of Christ is more updated than that. There have been several features of Christ on the big screen in recent years.
All the pictures we may have in our mind are weak and superficial for they only capture the human resemblance of our Savior who walked this earth 2,000 years ago. You see, the portrait of Christ reveals so much more. When we truly see Christ,
- We don’t just see a man endowed with great power to heal the sick and cast out demons, although he was that.
- We don’t just see a gentleman but also a hero for a cause, although he was gentle to those who believed and caustic toward those who disrespected His Father.
- We don’t just see a teacher with the uncanny ability to take common everyday experiences and open up a treasure of spiritual truths, although he did that often.
The Portrait of Christ reveals so much more. Jesus reveals to you and to me everything about God. No man has seen God at any time, but Jesus Christ will communicate the depths of the riches of who He is. As an infinite being His ways are past our finding out, but Jesus Christ translates the eternal abstract into something that we can understand.
When I was working during my seminary years, I was an enrollment advisor. That required that I be on the phone with applicants constantly helping them to get their information so they could be accepted. I had a list of applicants that I watched over. Usually, I would have talked to this person on the phone and by the sound of their voice, I had my idea of what they looked like. Then I would get their picture in the mail for their file and what I envisioned and what they actually looked like were never the same.
The people had heard the teaching of the OT. Many of them had probably read parts of it themselves. By hearing the Words of God, they began to imagine what the Messiah would look like. They imagined a stately king riding into Jerusalem on a strong horse. They imagined a brilliant leader with more wisdom than what Solomon had leading Israel to be the world-power they once were.
He came unto his own, and his own received him not. (John 1:11)
Why couldn’t they recognize Christ?
They were always looking for the wrong person.
What are you looking for? For whom do you seek? Are you seeking that fix in your life?
You see people today are still looking for the same type of Christ that the people in Jesus’ day were looking for.
They weren’t looking for humility.
They aren’t expecting to find difficulty.
They aren’t looking for sacrifice.
“We aren’t fighting; we are having a discussion.”
Malachi records such a “discussion” between the Jews and God. In any “discussion” someone has the final say. It is exactly like arguing with your siblings when you were growing up. Someone had to put in the last word, so they felt like they won the argument. The Jews try to have the final say, but in the end, it is God who has the final say.
The discussion begins with Israel challenging God’s claim that He loves them. “I have loved you, saith the Lord. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us?” (Malachi 1:2). The truth is, they were not feeling the love. Times were hard. They could not seem to get ahead. How could God claim He loved them? God begins with their privilege as His chosen people. Between Jacob and Esau, God loved Jacob and hated Esau. Seems harsh! However, when you review Esau’s life you realize it was not a choice God made, but a choice Esau made. The Bible calls Esau a profane person (Hebrews 12:16). This means he did not appreciate the things of God. He treated everything common and would not esteem the blessings of God as anything special. Esau preferred the sport of recreation over the spiritual responsibility he was supposed to exercise as the firstborn son. Because Esau rejected his responsibility in favor of recreation, God judged him.
Imagine the book of Malachi as a courtroom and the people are the prosecution and God is the defendant. They accuse God, but the evidence proves it is not God’s decision to withhold blessing from them. He is only responding to their decisions. The Lord does not change. He is patient, but, in the end, the just and the wicked receive their reward. Malachi prophesies of a great Prophet who will come and purify the sin away from His people. The intense light of His judgment upon the wicked is but the Sun of righteousness which shines a holy, healing beam upon those who love Him.
God has the final say. He is not fickle, but constant (Malachi 3:6). He will bless those who fear the Lord and think upon His name (Malachi 3:16), but, in the end, he will “discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not” (Malachi 3:18).
God’s Final call
Someday you’ll hear God’s Final Call to you
To take his offer of salvation true-
This could be it my friend if you but knew-
God’s Final Call, God’s Final Call
How can you live another day in sin,
Thinking some day with Christ you will begin?
O will you hear above the world’s loud din-
God’s Final Call, God’s Final Call
If you reject God’s Final Call of grace,
You’ll have no chance your footsteps to retrace
All hope will then be gone and doom you’ll face.
O hear his call! God’s Final Call
You’ve heard of the Greatest Generation. They were those who grew up in the Great Depression and for the sake of freedom went to fight in World War Two. It’s just possible, the true Greatest Generation is the generation who raised those children during the Depression. When you read about the way people pitched in for the cause during both World Wars, it is a powerful testimony of patriotism. People went without a lot during those years in order to have metal for bullets and rubber for vehicles and food for their soldiers.
“Keep the Home Fires Burning” was a phrase which caught on during the first World War and was put to song in England. The sons and husbands valiantly went to war and it was up to the women and children to keep the fires burning at home. They had sacrifices to make, but they wanted their boys to have a home to come back to.
Nehemiah 10:34 mentions something that you don’t see anywhere else outside of this book.
“And we cast the lots among the priests, the Levites, and the people, for the wood offering, to bring it into the house of our God, after the houses of our fathers, at times appointed year by year, to burn upon the altar of the Lord our God, as it is written in the law:”
There really is not any instruction regarding the wood offering in the law, but what the law did prescribe was to keep the altar fires burning. Since Jerusalem and the surrounding area had been ransacked by the Babylonians and for the next few centuries it would continue to face much deprivation, historians claim harvesting firewood took a hit. In order to have enough fuel to keep the altar fires burning everyone had to contribute during their appointed time.
Isn’t this a wonderful picture of what keeps the work of God going? One person cannot do everything and everyone cannot be all things. However, everyone can do their part and when everyone does their part, the fires keep burning. Paul pictured the church family as a body. When everyone does their part the body is healthy and full of life. Those days you do not feel 100% because something in you is not working right, is the same feeling your church family feels when you are missing in action. Don’t worry about doing your part only when someone else will do theirs. Step up and contribute. When you do, you will keep the church fires burning.
This was my moniker in high school choir. Every year at summer camp, our teen choir would compete and of course, we were expected to smile while we sang praises to God. My “smiler” was broken. Truthfully, it was not cool to smile in the choir. When we were having fun, we could smile, laugh, and carry-on throughout the day, but when it came to the choir, the smiles shut down. My youth pastor called me “Coffin Boy” in order to force a smile. This disease followed me through high school into college. As a singer in college, I still struggled with smiling.
Something changed after college in the first few years of ministry. I can’t tell you when exactly, but, after a while, the smile became more natural. Although I can’t claim a certain point in time, I can tell you it was a mixture of two things: God’s Word and God’s work. Nehemiah knew about this 2,500 years ago when he challenged the people, “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). The people had been busy doing God’s work and they were hearing God’s Word. How do those two things bring joy?
God’s Word transforms our perception. “Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). Jeremiah gave a personal testimony when he said, “Thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by thy name, O Lord God of hosts” (Jeremiah 15:16). In the popular description of the Word of God in Psalm 19, you will read, “The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart” (Psalm 19:8). If you are not possessed with an infectious joy, then check your connection to God’s Word. “Rejoice, because your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).
God’s work transforms our purpose. While others in the world chase after earthly gains, the ones who choose to do God’s work saturate their soul with joy. This is not a perk only available to full-time, vocational ministry. Wherever you are and whatever your occupation may be, when you see your purpose on earth as serving your Lord and bringing honor to His name, you will find joy in what you do. Your skills are being used to bring you closer to the lost. Your experience is awarding you the opportunity to mentor and train others. Your service enables you to resemble the Perfect Servant who “came not to be ministered unto, but to minister” (Mark 10:45). When you are doing God’s work you are aligning your purpose for life with God’s plan and the harmony brings a sweetness of joy.
Happiness is a roller coaster of ups and downs. Joy is a steady, stable energy not derived from circumstances but from connection with God. If it can revive Coffin Boy, then surely joy can transform anyone.
It’s a gift.
I know I shouldn’t brag, but when it comes to packing the car for a trip or the moving truck for a move, I have enough spatial intelligence to fit the most stuff in the least space. This gift is constantly sharpened by my lovely wife who needs to take one more essential with us, but fitting the most stuff in the least space is an entertaining challenge.
Little spaces are trending. People who claim to be minimalists strip all the accessories of their life away until they are left with only the essentials. Some minimalists are extreme and have even limited their living space to a couple hundred square feet! It is fascinating to explore their little spaces. With all the secret compartments and fold down or pop up elements, they can pack a lot in a small area.
Ezra mentions a little space but he is not downsizing to a studio apartment. He marvels at the little space of grace God has given His people. This little space of grace is not limited. It is extraordinary. God’s grace is more than sufficient, but it is not sloppy. In this little space of grace, you will find a black hole of supply. Paul speaks of God’s grace as “where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Romans 5:20). God far exceeds my packing skills when it comes to packing His grace into a little space and making it available to you and to me.
The problem is we tend to live expansively. If you have two months for a project, it will probably take you two months. However, if you were only given ten days, you’d be surprised how you could meet that deadline! If you have two thousand square feet of living space, then you will accumulate stuff to fill the space. When we sin expansively we treat God’s grace contemptuously. As Ezra began teaching the Jews the words from God, they were convicted. The book of Ezra ends oddly with this issue of putting away or divorcing wives. You would need to read much of Israel’s history to understand the dangerous presumption of God’s grace in Ezra 9-10. Read Numbers 25 and you will see what happened when the pagans enticed the Israelites to reject the true God and worship false gods. In fact, their unfaithfulness to God necessitated the Babylonian captivity! Their expansive living—their licentious, grace-gorging style of living—risked the chastening of God, again.
Paul asks, “Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound” (Romans 6:1)? God forbid! We should not live expansively in sin at the expense of God’s meritorious grace. Believer, you know the price of grace. It cost Jesus humiliation and suffering. “For if we sin wilfully” we have “trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood…an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace” (Hebrews 10:26, 29). If you have been living expansively, then read Ezra’s plea for forgiveness and make it your own. Christian, marvel at the little space of grace.