Cruciform Priorities: Living Like Apostles Today

“Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven. Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:32-34)

Jesus wants these first apostles to have their priorities set ahead of time about Him. When Matthew writes this Gospel, the reality of persecution of early Christians was real. Like Daniel’s friends—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—the early followers of Jesus regularly had to decide if they were going to hold to their faith in God publicly or not. Would they burn incense to the Roman Emperor and confess Caesar as Lord or would they refrain from this and confess Jesus as Lord? They may not have been thrown into a fiery furnace, but many early Christians were thrown to the beasts in gladiatorial coliseums.

In a culture increasingly hostile toward Jesus and Christianity, what about us? Even as Christians may be mocked or ridiculed, are we willing still to acknowledge Jesus as Lord?

Jesus says those who acknowledge Him before others, He will acknowledge before God in the heavenly throne room. But whoever disowns Jesus publicly in our lives will be disowned by Jesus before the Father. These are such strong words here. What are we to do with them when we fail in our dedication?

Biblical scholar R. T. France offers Peter as a stark example of disowning Jesus under pressure. Peter felt the weight of his denial, but he also was rehabilitated by Jesus after his denial.

Peter’s denial was a failure along the line of his life which was lived under the lordship of Jesus. The overall direction of his life was about acknowledging Jesus as Lord. In fact, church tradition tells us that Peter was martyred for his faith. So, too, with us. The overall direction of our lives makes the difference here. We can ask ourselves: am I steadily walking with Jesus and acknowledging Him before others, or have I turned my back upon Him? 

It’s not only in relation to the anonymous public and crowd that Jesus calls for priority, but also closer to Him in our family and friend relationships. While we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves, there are times when we must make a decision, even between following Jesus and following our families.

When a young man in another part of the world where persecution of Christians is normal became a follower of Jesus, he knew it would come at the cost of his family rejecting him. This is exactly what they did, and he was cast out upon the streets to survive. God has been faithful, but his path of following Jesus has been arduous.

This text is so relevant for us today, even in the wake of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Although this may sound strange, the church of Jesus Christ is not just about building happy families. Of course, we hope that does happen, but, even more importantly, we exist to develop strong disciples in Jesus Christ. When everything is put under the lordship of Christ, then our family relationships, our friendships, and all other things find their right place and priority in relation to Jesus.

We may have moments when our family members will look down on us or not invite us to things because of our commitment to Christ. We may have friends who will turn away from us, labeling us as one of the problems in our society or seeing us as close-minded because of our commitment to the teaching of Christ. While we don’t want to unnecessarily put stumbling blocks in peoples’ way by being stubborn, self-righteous, or foolish, we will have moments when we encounter a strong conflict of priorities. And the question will arise, “Do we love Jesus more than anyone or anything else?”

All of this sets up one of the most memorable and significant statements of Jesus about following him as disciples. Let me read it again.

“Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:38-39)

Our priority as disciples must be to live a cruciform life; a life that is conformed to the Cross of Christ. The cross was a symbol of humiliation and execution, but through Christ we realize that this Cross is also the symbol of life and love. Here we have the most amazing picture of what it looks like to be a disciple. We yield all our life to God, we let go of our own power and self-rule, and we die to ourselves. Simultaneously, the Cross is liberation from sin and the darkness of an upside-down world. It is the doorway into real life with God through the loving embrace of Christ. What is it worth to us to pursue Jesus?

The Son of Man and the Hope of the Nations

The prophet Daniel speaks of both judgment and hope to a people exiled in foreign kingdoms. His prophetic oracles are situated within the exile in Babylon and the following Persian kingdoms.

In chapter 2, Daniel offers an interpretation of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a giant statue made of different materials that is eventually struck by a giant rock that destroys it. Daniel tells of how one earthly kingdom will supplant another, tracing events we know from history after Daniel’s time. However, the culmination of Daniel’s interpretation—the stone that destroys this statue of kingdoms—he says represents God’s kingdom. These are his exact words:

“In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.” (Daniel 2:44)

The theme of the vision is the humbling of earthly rulers because God is king and only God’s kingdom will endure through time, as it eventually supplants all other kingdoms.

Later in the book, in chapter 7, Daniel has a vision that has many similarities to this vision from Daniel 2. This time, however, the kings and kingdoms of earth are represented as ghoulish beasts that afflict the earth. Amidst this vision of terrifying vision, Daniel has a theophany—a vision of God—which puts perspective on the passing kingdoms of earth. In Daniel’s vision of God, there is a unique element, which connects with the messianic expectations of Isaiah:

“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13-14)

This Son of Man figure surpasses all the earthly kings and kingdoms, even rising in victory over all the competing kingdoms that bring pain and corruption upon the earth. The Son of Man is the One who brings true hope, healing, and the kingdom of God upon earth. He is our hope, not the passing kings and kingdoms of earth.

Five Recommendations on Election Day

Here are five recommendations I’d like to offer for followers of Jesus Christ on Election Day here in the US.

  1. Pray – We know as believers that God works through prayer (James 5:16). We know that our calling includes praying for those in authority (1 Timothy 2:1-2). We know that our nation is facing many challenges that are not only difficult to overcome but may even appear insurmountable. We know there is a great need for people to turn back to God and His ways at numerous levels. Because of these things, we should pray that our nation will be awakened with a need for God, that the elections will be guided by God, that safety and peace will reign on this day and days to come, and that all the candidates up for public office will be strengthened by God regardless of their political party.
  2. Think Biblically – As followers of Christ we must always filter our actions through the truth of God as revealed in the Scriptures. We must let God’s truth both correct and encourage us, even as it renews our minds (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Romans 12:1-2). We must remember that Jesus is our King and our allegiance is first and foremost to His kingdom. The kingdom of God is bigger than any political party. The kingdom calls us to value human life as made in the image of God from before birth through the end of our days. The kingdom of God calls us toward stewardship of the environment as created by God and stewardship of finances as a gift from God. The kingdom of God calls us to care for the forgotten, the poor, prisoners, widows, orphans, and foreigners in our midst. The kingdom of God calls for truth where truth is disregarded and moral order amidst disordered lives and relationships. The kingdom of God is marked by grace, truth, righteousness, and justice. As we face into this election day, we must think biblically as we wrestle with the issues before us.
  3. Vote – It is a huge privilege in our country to have a voice in the political process. So many of my friends from around the world do not have this privilege where they live. They have little to no voice in the political process. This is similar to the first century church, which did not experience anything like this during their lifetimes under the Roman Empire. One aspect of Paul’s instructions about our relationship to governing authorities in Romans 13 is to exercise our right to vote. I encourage every follower of Jesus to take up this privilege.
  4. Maintain Perspective – In the coming days, there will be some of us whose candidate wins and some of us whose candidate loses. For those whose candidate wins, we may be tempted to believe this victory is the answer for our country. For those whose candidate loses, we may be tempted to believe this outcome is the worst reality for our country. Without downplaying the good or bad realities, we must maintain perspective on all of this. The prophet Daniel shows us how to do this. After being ripped from his homeland and launched into exile, Daniel witnessed many kings and kingdoms rising and falling over the course of his life. God gave Daniel a vision of even more changes yet to come in the future. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we must maintain clear perspective that our hopes are not tied to a candidate, policy, country, or kingdom. All of these will come and go. There is only one “kingdom that cannot be shaken” (Hebrews 12:28).
  5. Love One Another – Scripture affirms again and again that we are called as followers of Christ to love one another and stand in unity (1 John 4:11; Philippians 4:1-2). Jesus Himself said that people would know we are His disciples if we love one another (John 13:34-35). Amidst one of the most divided times in our lives, as believers in Christ we most choose a different way. We must stand together as one in ways that those around us, divided by so many different political philosophies and party allegiances, cannot. Let us put on love, which binds all things together in perfect unity” (Colossians 3:14) so that, as brothers and sisters in Christ, we might uphold the unity forged through the broken body and spilled blood of Jesus Christ.

God is King: Tracing the Kingdom of God through the Old Testament

This past weekend at Eastbrook Church we began a new series, “The Kingdom of God.” This first weekend I explored the theme of the kingdom of God through the Old Testament, touching on the creation in Genesis, Abraham’s calling, the Exodus with Moses and Joshua, the entrance of the kings, exile, and two prophets, Isaiah and Daniel. It was a lot in a short time, but was my attempt to help us gain clarity on the big themes of God’s kingdom in the Hebrew Scriptures. Next week we will take a similar journey through the New Testament.

You can view the message video and outline for the message is below. You can follow along with the entire series here and the devotional that accompanies the series here. You could always join us for weekend worship in-person or remotely via Eastbrook at Home.


“Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty.” (Psalm 24:8)

God is King over all (Genesis 1-2)

  • He has made and rules over everything
  • Humanity is made in God’s image and serves as God’s representative upon earth

God is King and His people play a part (Genesis, Exodus, Joshua)

  • God promises Abraham to raise up a new people (Genesis 12:1-3)
  • God delivers Israel at the Exodus and brings them to the Promised Land (Exodus 6:1-8)
  • God’s kingdom is different; He’s on His own “side” (Joshua 5:13-15)

God is King but Israel wanted another king  (1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings)

  • Samuel and Israel’s rejection of God (1 Samuel 8)
  • Saul the first and faulty king (1 Samuel 9)
  • David the new, but imperfect, king (1 Samuel 16; 2 Samuel 5)
  • Solomon and the decline of the kingship toward exile (1 Kings 11)

God is King and His kingdom is coming (Isaiah)

  • A day will come when the nations will stream to Jerusalem (Isaiah 2)
  • A messianic king will reign on David’s throne and bring God’s kingdom (Isaiah 9 & 11)
  • He will restore Zion’s glory, rebuild the exiled ruins, and bless the nations (Isaiah 60 & 61)

God is King and no other kingdom will endure (Daniel)

  • God’s kingdom will overwhelm and supplant the kingdoms of earth (Daniel 2:29-45)
  • God’s kingdom will break through the beastly kingdoms of earth when the Son of Man appears (Daniel 7:1-28)

Key themes of the kingdom of God in the Old Testament

  • God is King
  • God’s kingdom is different than and superior to all other kingdoms
  • God’s kingdom will come when the Messiah arrives
  • God’s people play a part in His kingdom
  • God’s kingdom brings blessing to the nations

Daniel: A Prophet of Prayer

 

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“The handwriting’s on the wall…”

“We’re walking into the lion’s den…”

It might not surprise you to hear that these well-known English idioms trace their way back to the biblical story of Daniel. Daniel is best known for his journey into the lion’s den when he defied a monarch’s edict. The story of Belshazzar’s feast, where Daniel interprets writing that miraculously appears on a wall, has been recounted in numerous works of literature.

Enduring Prayer
But what catches my eye as I read through the book of Daniel is not the lions’ den or the miracle handwriting, but Daniel’s life of prayer. We see in the first chapter of the book that Daniel and his friends were dedicated to the Lord God of Israel by their commitment and behavior. When Daniel faced a challenge of interpreting King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, we read that he and his friends “plead for mercy from the God of heaven” (2:18). In answer to those pleading prayers, God miraculously provided when the pressure was on for Daniel. Clearly, Daniel was a man of prayer when faced with challenges.

Consistent Prayer
Yet as we read on, we find that Daniel was a man of prayer at all times, not just in times of challenge. In fact, it was Daniel’s consistency in prayer that provided the opportunity for him to be sent to the lions’ den. Out of jealousy for his position, Daniel’s enemies realized that they could not catch him up on issues of integrity or character but only if “it has something to do with the law of his God” (6:5). So, they trick King Darius into signing off on a law that prohibits prayer to anyone but the king himself for a thirty-day period. Undaunted by this situation, Daniel returned home and did what he always did: “three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before” (6:10). Daniel was consistent in prayer.

Humble Prayer
In chapter 9 of the book, we find Daniel poring over the Hebrew Scriptures of the prophet Jeremiah. There, Daniel discovered that a seventy-year period was decreed for the exile of God’s people (Jeremiah 29:10) and that the end of that time is drawing near. Daniel’s response is not to lurch into action and set up a strategy for returning the people of God to their homeland. Instead, his immediate response is to turn to God in contrite prayer. His heart is broken over the sin and idolatry of His people and, in Daniel 9:4-19, he offers one of the most moving and powerful prayers of repentance in the entire Bible. Daniel’s prayer eventually takes him into a time of deep repentance accompanied by a vision of God’s messenger, the angel Gabriel. Daniel was a man of prayer that took sin and wrong seriously. Action was required, but it was not actually to come through Daniel. God had that task for Ezra and Nehemiah. Yet it was Daniel’s humble prayer that catches the eye in Daniel 9.

So, who is Daniel? The un-eaten prophet of the lions’ den? The reader of divinely-sourced dreams for earthly kings? A person of integrity in the presence of great earthly power? Yes, without a doubt, Daniel is all of these things. Yet at the core of Daniel’s life is an intimacy of relationship with God that is birthed in the crucible of prayer: enduring, consistent, and humble.

[For more on Daniel, consider following through the Eastbrook Church preaching series, “Daniel: Apocalyptic Imagination and Exile Faith.”]