JESUS AT THE CENTER: CHAPTER 2
As I began to realize what God’s purpose for my life was, something important came into focus. I saw that throughout the New Testament, Jesus was central to the plan and purpose of God. The Father has determined that all men are to “honor the Son, even as they honor the Father” (Jn 5:23). To the Christians at the church in Philippi Paul wrote about Jesus: “Therefore also God highly exalted him [Jesus] and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phi 2:9-11).
A day is coming, Paul tells us, when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. This glorious day will be the consummation of human history when all of mankind will kneel and declare that Jesus Christ is Lord. Whenever we confess Jesus as Lord, something happens deep within our spirits. Our recognition of him as King, as our personal Lord and God, brings us more closely in line with God’s purpose. We understand more clearly what it means to live for Him, to glorify and honor him with all we do.
“And whatever you do in word or deed,” Paul encouraged the Colossians, “do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Col 3:17). Paul understood how important it was, not only to declare Jesus as Lord but to do everything in his name and for his honor. Such an approach does not consist of performing a mechanical exercise or a simple religious duty. For instance, we don’t walk down the street, saying, “I take this step in the name of Jesus” or drive the car, saying, “I turn this corner in the name of Jesus.” Rather, glorifying and honoring the Lord is an attitude of heart and mind that causes us to call on him many times during the day. We learn to say, “Lord, what I’m doing now I do in your name. Give me wisdom so that I may honor you. Guide my thinking, my words, and my actions.”
The apostles knew the importance of teaching and directing the believers to follow God’s purpose. They also knew the danger of letting the church forget its reason for being — to honor God, to please him, to glorify him, and to enjoy his presence forever. “I shall always be ready to remind you of these things,” the Apostle Peter wrote, “even though you already know them, and have been established in the truth which is present with you” (2 Pet 1:12). Later he added, “I am writing to you … stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder” (2 Pet 3:1). Since Peter realized the tendency of the human mind to drift away from the truth, he tried to remind his listeners of God’s Word and of the things he had taught them. He exalted Jesus again and again in his writing. Paul also exalted Jesus: “For by him all things were created … all things have been created by Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together … so that He Himself might come to have first place in everything” (Col 1:16-18).
The writers of the New Testament understood that Jesus Christ was to be preeminent in everything. Their mission was to help Christians discover and live by this eternal intention. They knew how easily the human mind gets sidetracked from things of eternal value. That’s why Paul in his letter to the Colossians not only exalts Christ, but points out the distractions that Christians will face as they try to center their own lives in Christ.
For example, Paul says that the person who realizes Christ’s preeminence, who puts Christ first in all things, will not be deluded into worshipping angels or putting others between himself and the Lord (Col 2:18-19).
Also, much of the letter to the Hebrews is devoted to this same theme. The writer of Hebrews points out many objects which the early Christians could have put first, over and above Christ — the glory of the prophets, creation, the priests, Moses, and the angels. One by one he lifts them up, and then sets them aside, turning the reader’s attention instead to Christ. Let’s look at what Hebrews says about each of these potential distractions.
Prophets and Mighty Men
Hebrews begins with this phrase: “God … spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets.” At its outset, the letter to the Hebrews mentions the prophets. In that day some people let the prophets have preeminence in their thinking. The same is true today. Some people are fascinated with the prophets. They read the Old Testament, not just to study God’s revelation of truth, but in order to imagine how a prophet might walk or talk. They think of a fiery-eyed oracle prophesying impending doom before the trembling people of a sinful city. Gradually, these people might even begin to see themselves in a similar way. Somehow the idea of a mighty, thundering prophet catches their attention.
Yet the writer of Hebrews continues, “In these last days [God] has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom He made the world” (Heb 1:2). At one time God’s revelation to man came only through the prophets. But that era has passed. He is now revealing himself through Jesus.
On one occasion Jesus took Peter, James, and John to a mountain, where before their eyes he was transfigured. His own eternal brightness and glory began shining through him, more radiant than the noontime sun. Overwhelmed by the sight, the disciples fell to the ground, covering their faces. After a moment they looked up and saw Moses standing with Jesus — Moses, the mighty prophet and deliverer of Israel, the man revered and spoken of in every synagogue in Israel, the man God Himself spoke with, the one who received the Ten Commandments. Next to Moses was Elijah, the mighty prophet who called down fire from heaven. Gazing at this powerful trio, Peter spoke to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, I will make three tabernacles (tents) here, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah” (Mat 17:4).
So captivated was Peter by the sight of these mighty prophets gathered with Jesus that he missed the point of Jesus’ transfiguration. While he was making his proposal a bright cloud came over the whole scene. And God spoke. “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Mat 17:5). Then Moses and Elijah vanished. Only Jesus remained. All the mighty prophets that ever came before Jesus were only types and shadows, bits and pieces of the One who was to come. And so the writer of Hebrews holds up the mighty men of God and then lays them aside, pointing once again to God’s only Son, Jesus.
Hebrews mentions the angels. How it would thrill us to see an angel, to have one speak to us and show us his power! Yet God holds up his Son in sharp contrast to the glory of the angels.
“And of the angels He says, ‘Who makes His angels winds, and His ministers a flame of fire.’ But of the Son He says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever… (Heb 1:7-8). When God speaks of angels, he is speaking about his creatures, beings that he has made. But when he speaks of his Son he says, “O God.” Jesus is not a creation. He is God. And what of the mighty angels? They are prostrate before God, worshipping the Lord. “And let all the angels of God worship Him” (Heb 1:6).
For some people the beauty and glory of creation can be a stumbling block. Many people are so caught up with the magnificence and glory of creation that they come close to worshipping nature. “Look at the trees,” they say. “I see God in the trees. I see God in the sun and the stars.” God’s creation is magnificent and it does reflect his glory. Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of his hands.” As we come to understand God’s eternal purpose, we see that creation, too, is bringing glory to God.
Referring to Jesus, Hebrews then quotes the psalmist, “You, Lord, in the beginning did lay the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of Your hands; they will perish but Your remain; and they all will become old as a garment, and as a mantle Your will roll them up; as a garment they will also be changed. But Your are the same, and Your years will not come to an end” (Heb 1:10-12). He was simply saying, “Lord, you have made all of creation. One day you will fold it all up, but glory will remain forever.”
It is very easy to make another man or woman preeminent in our lives. Many people place far too much importance on other human beings. Of course it’s right to give a degree of attention and recognition to someone who has accomplished something of genuine merit. Perhaps a Christian leader spoke an inspired message to the church. It wouldn’t be wrong to say, “Bill Jones gave one of the most inspiring sermons I’ve heard in a long time at last night’s meeting.” But it is wrong to give glory to a person or group of people in a way that detracts from God, so that a person’s name rather than Christ’s name is constantly on the lips and in the minds of others. In the late 1940s and the 1950s, posters were put up all over a city in order to advertise certain preachers. “God’s Man of Faith and Power,” the posters declared. Soon the conversation of Christians in those cities was dominated by that man’s name, instead of the name of Jesus.
Once you begin to understand just how central Jesus is to God’s plan for the universe, you will discover how many ways Satan can divert the church from exalting Jesus.
Church doctrines and doctrinal positions can also be a source of distraction for Christians. True and false interpretations of Bible teaching abound and definite lines of truth cannot be crossed without error. But far too much energy is wasted arguing and splitting hairs over every possible degree of biblical interpretation. Much less time and attention is spent helping the church fulfill her glorious purpose of exalting the Lord Jesus Christ. Many church denominations are failing in their real purpose because they have adopted another, lesser purpose —- to define and propagate THEIR brand of the “truth”.
Some pastors spend all of their time developing and teaching their particular denominational viewpoint. They work eagerly and studiously to ensure that their people understand the importance of this “special revelation from God”. Yet so often no real spiritual maturity can be found in the lives of these people because they fail to see that their purpose is to exalt Jesus and to fill the earth with the glory of his name. It is not enough simply to hear, agree with, believe, and promote a specific set of religious teachings.
I’m well aware that I could fall into the same trap, and so could my church. Right now I teach and preach certain principles from Scripture. During my lifetime I may write a number of books explaining these ideas. One day, though, I’ll pass away to be with the Lord. Years later someone may decide to reprint my books. A new generation of Christians will arise in the churches I was involved with. They begin to read and study my teachings. One day at a meeting in one of these churches, someone gets up to teach in a way that differs from my ideas. Someone else who’s been reading my books jumps up and says, “Stop. That’s wrong. This is what we believe, right here in this book. This is the truth given to us by God through our founder Jim Durkin. If you don’t agree, get out of this church.” And there you have it, the beginning of a new division in the body of Christ.
However, the New Testament writers present another picture. “Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement,” Paul wrote, “grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus; that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 15:5-6). This is God’s purpose for the church — that all believers come together in unity to give glory and honor to the Lord, instead of dividing from one another to defend their own teachings and ideas.
Jesus Will be Lifted Up
God wants the name of his Son Jesus to be exalted in heaven and on earth. All men will come to honor the Son even as they honor the Father. His name will be known from one end of the earth to the other. His story and his deeds will be proclaimed. His person will be revealed and all men will hear of the marvelous things our God has done.
God’s purpose will be completed on earth. My hope is that it will be fulfilled in this generation. If we turn aside to lesser purposes, our lives will remain frustrated and spiritually shallow. But if we come to understand that our very existence is to honor God and glorify Jesus, and if we live for this purpose, then we will know the great and all-surpassing joy of a life that pleases God.
For Reflection and Discussion
- Say out loud these words: “Jesus is Lord.” What does this mean for your life?
- What does it mean to do everything for the glory of God?
- What does it mean to “put Christ first in everything?”