Back to the Basics series on: The Church Part 3; Captivated by Christ
Below are additional resources, links, tools, and expanded notes to supplement the sermon preached by Rob Blair at Harbour Shores Church on June. 18th, 2023.
“Every day He was teaching in the temple complex. The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people were looking for a way to destroy Him, but they could not find a way to do it, because all the people were captivated(1) by what they heard.” – Luke 19:47-48; from Holman Bible translation
(1) Lit people hung on what they heard
As people heard Jesus speak, they hung on every word. Or as the verb tense indicates (aorist, middle, indicative, third person), Jesus words literally held His listeners captive/prisoner. They were actually held captive by what He taught.
How about us? Are we captivated not only by the words of Jesus, but by the real person os Christ?
Secondly, how should a better understanding of the real Jesus transform us personally/individually as well corporately/collectively? How does it apply to the church? What is the church?
The short answer to this last question of what is the church? can be succinctly stated as; the people of God.
Before Jesus’ all-sufficient, substitutionary, atoning death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, the people of God were called *Israel of God. *(Also referred to as true Israel, or spiritual Israel in contrast to physical, ethnic nation of Israel. Ref. Galatians 3:7, 26, 29, [heir > offspring Is. 65:9] 4:5-7, 28-29, 6:15-16, 1 Peter 2:9/Exodus 19:5-6, Ephesians 2:12-13, Romans 10:12). The word ‘Israel’ in the Heb. yisrā,ēl = Lit. one who wrestles/strives with God; ref. Gen. 32:28
After Jesus’ all-sufficient, substitutionary, atoning death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, the people of God are called *the church of God. *(Also referred to throughout the Book of acts and the New testament Epistles as the true church, the way, body/bride/building/temple/flock/family of God, etc.) The word ‘church’ in the Grk. ekklēsia = Lit. called out assembly.
Note: Some who read the above may label it as what is often referred to as replacement theology; in short– that the church replaces Israel (Note: With regards to Israel and the Church, the 2 other most held positions are: covenant theology, and dispensationalism). However, the above position which simply says that God has always had a people for His own possession is NOT replacement theology. For one, something can NOT be replaced by something which was there prior to, or from the beginning. Second, God’s plan has always been to display His glory through a redeemed people who love Him! The true, genuine, spiritually transformed people of God’s are His people, whether they are called Israel or the church. (Note: Although this position is not strictly any of the 3 referenced above, it is probably be best understood as a hybrid of the covenant & replacement positions–though far more the former than the later.)
In the same way, Christ names the church (Matt. 16:18) prior to its official formation at Pentecost (Acts 2:1, 5:11). In short, the people of God have always existed, although their name, spiritual/physical form and identity may look different throughout time, they have always been those whom God has called out to assemble together as His people.
A more detailed definition of the church is provided in chapter one: What is a Church? on pg. 26 in Rediscover Church by Collin Hansen & Jonathan Leeman;
What is a Church?
A church is a group of Christians (chapter 2)
who assemble as an earthly embassy of Christ’s heavenly kingdom (chapter 3)
to proclaim the good news and commands of Christ the King (chapter 4);
at affirm one another as his citizens through the ordinances (chapter 5);
and to display God’s own holiness and love (chapter 6)
through a unified and diverse people (chapter 7)
in all the world (chapter 8),
following the teaching and example of elders (chapter 9).
To dive further into the original topic of being captivated by Christ, I reference all of chapter 1: Jesus, in Dane Ortlund’s book Deeper; Real Growth for Real Sinners. I believe this to be so helpful for us individually in our sanctification, as well as corporately assisting the local church body, that the entire chapter is included below for you to read–and enjoy Him more deeply.
This is a book about growing in Christ. The first thing to get clear, then, is what Jesus Christ himself is like. Our growth is not independent personal improvement. It is growth in Christ. Who then is he?
The temptation for many of us at this point is to assume we pretty much know what Jesus is like. We’ve been saved by him. We’ve spent time in the Bible over the years. We’ve read some books about him. We’ve told a few others about him.
And yet, if we are honest, we still find our lives riddled with failure and worry and dysfunction and emptiness.
One common reason we fail to leave sin behind is that we have a domesticated view of Jesus. Not a heterodox view; we are fully orthodox in our Christology. We understand that he came from heaven as the Son of God to live the life we cannot live and die the death we deserve to die. We affirm his glorious resurrection. We confess with the ancient creeds that he is truly God and truly man. We don’t have a heterodox view. We have a domesticated view that, for all its doctrinal precision, has downsized the glory of Christ in our hearts.
So we need to begin by getting clear on who this person is in whom we grow. And we start just there-he is a person. Not just a historical figure, but an actual person, alive and well today. He is to be related to. Trusted, spoken to, listened to. Jesus is not a concept. Not an ideal. Not a force. Growing in Christ is a relational, not a formulaic, experience.
Who then is this person?
Ephesians speaks of “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8). The Greek word underlying “unsearchable” occurs just one other time in the New Testament, in Romans 11 :33: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” Romans 11 calls God’s wisdom and knowledge unsearchable. That makes sense. God is infinite and omniscient; of course his wisdom and knowledge are unsearchable. But Ephesians 3 calls Christ’s riches unsearchable. How so? What does it mean that there are riches in Christ and that these riches are unsearchable? That we can dig and dig but never hit bottom on them?
As you wade into this book, let me propose an idea. Let me suggest that you consider the possibility that your current mental idea of Jesus is the tip of the iceberg. That there are wondrous depths to him, realities about him, still awaiting your discovery. I’m not disregarding the real discipleship already at play in your life and the true discoveries of the depths of Jesus Christ you have already made. But let me ask you to open yourself up to the possibility that one reason you see modest growth and ongoing sin in your life-if that is indeed the case-is that the Jesus you are following is a junior varsity Jesus, an unwittingly reduced Jesus, an unsurprising and predictable Jesus. I’m not assuming that’s the case. I’m just asking you to test yourself, with honesty.
When Christopher Columbus reached the Caribbean in 1492, he named the natives “Indians,” thinking he had reached what Europeans of the time referred to as “the Indies” (China, Japan, and India). In fact he was nowhere close to South or East Asia. In his path were vast regions of land, unexplored and uncharted, of which Columbus knew nothing. He assumed the world was smaller than it was. Have we made a similar mistake with regard to Jesus Christ? Are there vast tracts of who he is, according to biblical revelation, that are unexplored? Have we unintentionally reduced him to manageable, predictable proportions?
Have we been looking at a junior varsity, decaffeinated, one-dimensional Jesus of our own making, thinking we’re looking at the real Jesus? Have we snorkeled in the shallows, thinking we’ve now hit bottom on the Pacific?
In this chapter I’d like to mention seven facets of Christ, seven “regions” of Christ that may be under-explored in our generation. Dozens more could be considered. But we’ll restrict ourselves to these seven: ruling, saving, befriending, persevering, interceding, returning, and tenderness. The point of this exercise is to bring the living Christ himself into sharper, starker contrast, to see him loom larger and more radiant and more glorious than ever before-to trade in our snorkel and face mask for scuba gear that takes us down into depths we’ve never peered into before-and to seek Christian growth out of an accurate and ever-deepening vision of the Christ to whom we have been united.
Jesus exercises supreme authority over the entire universe.
Just before his ascension he said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matt. 28:18). He is not hoping to be in charge; he rules supremely now. The world’s sidelining of his authority does nothing to reflect the reality of that authority. From heaven’s perspective, everything is going according to plan. Jesus Christ is overseeing all that happens, both in the church and in world history at large. Our perception of and ability to see his rule may wax and wane; but that’s perception only. His actual rule holds steady-supreme, strong, exhaustive, allseeing. No drug deal goes down apart from his awareness, no political scandal unfolds beyond the reach of his vision, no injustice can be exacted behind his back. When today’s world leaders gather together, they themselves are held in the hand of a risen Galilean carpenter.
This supreme reign holds true not only for the cosmos and for world history but also for your own little life. He sees you. He knows you. Nothing is hid from his gaze. You will be judged one day not according to what was visible to others but according to what you really were and did. The Bible says that when Jesus comes to judge the world, he “will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart” (1 Cor. 4:5). Not only what we did in secret, but even our very motives will be laid bare and judged.
We may not see Jesus with our eyes. But he is the most real thing in the universe. The Bible says that “in him all things hold together” (Col. 1: 17). Subtract Jesus from the universe, and everything falls apart. He is not a bobblehead Savior, to be smiled at and merely added to an otherwise well-oiled life. He is the mighty sustainer of the universe, to whose supreme rule we will bow the knee in either this life or the next (Phil. 2: 10).
Consider the depiction of him in Revelation 1. John is clearly attempting to capture in words what cannot be captured in words as he describes
one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. – Rev. 1: 13-17
Have you reduced the Lord Jesus to a safe, containable, predictable Savior who pitches in and helps out your otherwise smoothly running existence? Have you treated what is spiritually nuclear as a double-A battery? Might one reason we stall out in our growth in Christ be that we have unwittingly domesticated the expansive authority and rule of Jesus Christ over all things? Might we be lacking an appropriate fear of, wonder at, trembling before, the Lord Jesus, the real Jesus who will one day silence the raging of the nations with a moment’s whisper?
It may seem obvious that the real Jesus is a saving Jesus. But I mean something quite specific when I call him “saving.” I mean he is saving and not only helping. As sinners we are not wounded but dead in our trespasses and we need not merely strengthening or helping but resurrection, a full-scale deliverance (Eph. 2:1-6).
As we consider our growth in Christ, do we have an impoverished view of the length to which God had to go in Christ to deliver us? And in our ongoing walk with the Lord now, do we functionally believe that the healthy Christian life is basically a matter of our efforts, baptized with a little extra push from Jesus?
Do we know what it means to be saved? In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus tells a parable to make the point:
One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”
“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven-for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” – Luke 7:36-50
Every human is five hundred denarii in debt. The point of the parable is that we tend to feel only fifty denarii in debt. The more obvious failures of a given culture sense their sinfulness more readily than others and are therefore readier and more eager for a deliverance that sweeps them up out of death with a full and total salvation.
One reason our spiritual growth grinds down is that we gradually lose a heart sense of the profound length to which Jesus went to save us. Save us. When we were running full speed the other direction, he chased us down, subdued our rebellion, and opened our eyes to see our need of him and his all-sufficiency to meet that need. We were not drowning, in need of being thrown a life-preserver; we were stone-dead at the bottom of the ocean. He pulled us up, breathed new life into us, and set us on our feet-and every breath we now draw is owing to his full and utter deliverance of us in all our helplessness and death.
It is the nature of all human relationships that they vacillate. We profess undying commitment to each other, and we truly mean it. But we humans are fickle. Even in marriage, we enter in by force of a covenant. Why? Because we know our feelings come and go. We need a bond that goes deeper than our feelings to bind husband and wife together.
Who is Jesus? A non-vacillating friend. He perseveres. Heading into the final week of his earthly life, John’s Gospel tells us, “having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1). Jesus binds himself to his people. No expiration date. No end of the road. Our side of the commitment will falter and stumble, but his never does.
We will not grow in Christ if we view his presence and favor as a ticking clock, ready for an alarm to go off once we fail him enough. We can flourish into deeper health only as the truth settles over us that once Jesus has brought us to himself, he will never be looking for an off-ramp. He will stick by us to the end. In that knowledge we calm down and begin to flourish. One Bible scholar rightly called our growth in Christ “a strangely relaxed kind of strenuousness.”(1) We strain forward, but it is a straining that is at the same time relaxed, because it has been settled in our hearts that we cannot sin our way out of the grip of Jesus.
That’s the logic of Romans 5. Jesus died for us “while we were still weak” (v. 6), “while we were enemies” (v. 10)-he certainly isn’t going to let us go now that we are his brothers. If Jesus went to the cross for us when we did not belong to him, he has proven that he will hang in there with us now that we do.
Jesus perseveres with us!
Another vital yet neglected part of our growth in Christ is knowing that his work did not end when he rose from the dead. It is common but mistaken to limit the work of Christ to
birth –> life –> death –> burial –> resurrection –> ascension.
But this leaves off the part of his work that he is doing right now:
birth –> life –> death –> burial –> resurrection –> ascension –> intercession.
The Bible says that no one can condemn believers because “Christ Jesus is the one … who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Rom.
8:34). He is speaking up for us. Jesus prays for us. This is what the ascended Christ does. The old theologian Thomas Goodwin said, “Let me tell you, he would still be preaching this day, but he had other business to do for you in heaven, where he is now praying and interceding for you, even when you are sinning; as on earth we see he did for the Jews when they were a-crucifying him.”(2)
Jesus is not bored in heaven. He is fully engaged on our behalf, as engaged as ever he was on earth. He is interceding for us. Why? Because we continue to sin as believers. If conversion so changed us that we never sinned again, we would not need Christ’s intercessory work. We would only need his death and resurrection to pay for our pre-conversion sins. But he is a comprehensive Savior. His present intercessory work applies his past atoning work moment-by-moment before the Father as we move through life desiring to please the Lord but often failing. The Bible says that Jesus “is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25). His speaking on our behalf in the courts of heaven is a constant, abiding reality-“he always lives to make intercession.”
We will grow in Christ only as we recognize the ally Jesus Christ is to us, now in heaven. He did not die and rise again on our behalf back then only to stand now with arms crossed seeing how we’ll do in response. He continues to work on our behalfhe goes “to the uttermost” for us-advocating for us when no one else will, not even we ourselves. He is more committed to your growth in him than you are.
Our growth in Christ also draws strength from a vivid heart sense of his imminent return.
It is hard to move forward in the Christian life if we allow ourselves to be lulled into the monotonous sense that this world will simply roll on forever as it currently is. But as we foster an expectation of the time “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire” (2 Thess. 1:7-8), urgency and expectancy spur us forward.
Do we really believe that one day, “in that resurrection morning,” as Jonathan Edwards preached in 1746, “when the Sun of Righteousness shall appear in the heavens, shining in all his brightness and glory, he will come forth as a bridegroom; he shall come in the glory of his Father, with all his holy angels”?(3) Consider it: This is going to happen on an actual day in world history. A certain month, a certain date. It has been fixed (Acts 17:31). Only God knows (Matt. 24:36). But it is imminent (Matt. 24:42). When it happens, will we not lament our complacency about growing in Christ? Will we not be mystified at how our bank accounts and reputations loomed so large in our minds, so much larger than our actual spiritual conditions? Jesus left this earth quietly, but he will return loudly (1 Thess. 4:16). He slipped away; but he will come roaring back. It may be tomorrow. Even if not, we’re one day closer.
Jesus is returning!
Finally-and this is what I want ringing in your heart most strongly as you continue through the rest of this book-Jesus is infinitely tender. He is the most open and accessible, the most peaceful and accommodating person in the universe. He is the gentlest, least abrasive person you will ever experience. Infinite strength, infinite meekness. Dazzlingly resplendent; endlessly calm.
If you had only a few words to define who Jesus is, what would you say? In the one place where he himself tells us about his own heart, he says, “I am gentle and lowly in heart” (Matt. 11:29). And remember that the “heart” in biblical terms is not merely our emotions but the innermost animating center of all that we do. Our deepest loves and desires and ambitions pour out of our hearts. And when Jesus opens himself up and tells us of the fountain, the engine, the throbbing core of all that he does, he says that deeper than anything else, he is gentle and lowly. Peer down into the deepest recesses of Jesus Christ and there we find: gentleness and lowliness.
We who know our hearts resist this. We see the ugliness within. We can hardly face ourselves, we feel so inadequate. And Jesus is perfectly holy, the divine Son of God. It is normal and natural, even in our churches, to sense instinctively that he is holding his people at arm’s length. This is why we need a Bible. The testimony of the entire Bible, culminating in Matthew 11 :29, is that God defies what we instinctively feel by embracing his people in their mess. He finds penitence, distress, need, and lack irresistible.
You don’t have to go through security to get to Jesus. You don’t have to get in line or take a ticket. No waving for his attention. No raising your voice to make sure he hears you. In your smallness, he notices you.
In your sinfulness, he draws near to you. In your anguish, he is in solidarity with you.
What we must see is not only that Jesus is gentle toward you but that he is positively drawn toward you when you are most sure he doesn’t want to be. It’s not only that he is not repelled by your fallenness-he finds your need and emptiness and sorrow irresistible. He is not slow to meet you in your need. It’s the difference between a teenager’s alarm going off on a Monday morning, forcing him to drag himself out of bed, and that same teen springing out of bed on Christmas morning. Just look at the Savior in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. With whom does he hang out? What draws forth his tears? What gets him out of bed in the morning? With whom does he eat lunch? The sidelined, the hollowed out, those long out of hope, those who have sent their lives into meltdown.
The first thing I want to make clear here, early in this book, is that the real Jesus is gentle and lowly in heart. I say the real Jesus because we all unwittingly dilute him. We cut him down to what our minds can naturally imagine. But the Bible corrects us, tells us to stop doing that. We can only create a Jesus in our own image–a Jesus of moderate gentleness and mercy– without a Bible. Scripture tears down that diluted Jesus and lets loose the real Christ. And what we find is that his deepest heart is gentle and lowly.
This is a book about how we change. Let me be plain. You will not change until you get straight who Jesus is, particularly with regard to his surprising tenderness. And then spend your whole life long going deeper into the gentleness of Jesus. The only alternative to the real Jesus is to get back on the treadmill-the treadmill of doing your best to follow and honor Jesus but believing his mercy and grace to be a stockpile gradually depleted by your failures, and hoping to make it to death before the mountain of mercy runs out. Here is the teaching of the Bible: If you are in Christ, your sins cause that stockpile to grow all the more. Where sins abound, his grace superabounds. It is in your pockets of deepest shame and regret that his heart dwells and won’t leave.
As you read this book and as you continue to work your way through life, shed once and for all the reduced Jesus and lift your eyes to the real Jesus, the Jesus whose tenderness ever outstrips and embraces your weaknesses, the Christ whose riches are unsearchable. This Christ is one under whose care and instruction you will finally be able to blossom and grow.
“I am gentle and lowly in heart.”
Jesus is tender.
The Real Christ
Make your growth journey a journey into Christ himself. Explore uncharted regions of who he is. Resist the tendency we all have to whittle him down to our preconceived expectation of what he must be like. Let him surprise you. Let his fullness arrest you and buoy you along. Let him be a big Christ. C. S. Lewis remarked in a 1959 letter:
“Gentle Jesus,” my elbow! The most striking thing about Our Lord is the union of great ferocity with extreme tenderness. (Remember Pascal? “I do not admire the extreme of one virtue unless you show me at the same time the extreme of the opposite virtue. One shows one’s greatness not by being at an extremity but by being simultaneously at two extremities and filling all the space between.”) Add to this that He is also a supreme ironist, dialectician, and (occasionally) humourist. So go on! You are on the right track now: getting to the real Man behind all the plaster dolls that have been substituted for Him. This is the appearance in Human form of the God who made the Tiger and the Lamb, the avalanche and the rose. He’ll frighten and puzzle you: but the real Christ can be loved and admired as the doll can’t. (4)
Determine today, before God, through the Bible and good books explaining it, that you will spend the rest of your life wading into the unsearchable riches of the real Christ.
Let him, in all his endless fullness, love you into growth.
(1) C. F. D. Maule, ‘”The New Life’ in Colossians 3:1-17 ,” Review and Expositor 70, no. 4 (1973): 482.
(2) Thomas Goodwin, Encouragements to Faith, in The Works of Thomas Goodwin, 12 vols. (repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage, 2006), 4:224.
(3)Jonathan Edwards, “The Church’s Marriage to Her Sons, and to Her God,” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards,
vol. 25, Sermons and Discourses, 1743-1758, ed. Wilson H. Kimnach (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006), 183.
(4)C. S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, vol. 3, Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy, 1950-1963, ed. Walter Hooper (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2009), 1011; emphasis original.
If you’re interested in studying deeper on the biblical theology of the church (formerly known as ecclesiology) here are 2 additional resources that are extremely helpful by pastor/author/speaker Mark Dever;