Ryan Higginbottom

Impressive or Known

There’s no need to pretend we’re perfect or that we have it all together. There’s no need to wear the mask of competence and independence and unwavering success. Jesus is the one who is truly impressive, and he has followed all the rules and done everything right in our place. He is the one who is always good and pure and generous, who never shades the truth. All of his goodness and uprightness has been credited to those who believe. 

You can either be impressive or you can be known. You have to pick one.
I’ve heard variations of this quote over the years. They’ve bounced around my head, and I’ve now seen a couple of sources pointing to Ray Ortlund for its origin. I think this is a central truth of vibrant Christian community.
The more we try to impress others, the less we will be known. Conversely, the more we allow ourselves to be known by others, the less impressive we will be. Like a playground see-saw, these realities move in opposition to one another.
Wanting to be Loved
We all have a fundamental desire to be loved by those who matter most to us. This impulse is not identical for everyone, but some expression of this desire seems so widespread as to be programmed into us.
And while we may put on a mask to be tolerated or liked by some, in order to be loved, we need to be known. We want those we care about to stay committed to us even when they know the darkest shadows of our hearts.
This, after all, is what we have in the gospel of Jesus Christ. In his love God has pursued and changed us; we must never think God’s love is the result of our faith or some sliver of obedience. While we were sinners, Christ died for us (Rom 5:8)!
Jesus was not persuaded to save us by our kindness or humor. He didn’t observe our gentleness or intelligence and then sign up for the incarnation and the cross. We did not impress God into forgiveness.
No. God knew us and loved us.
So, what we seek from other people is a human version of what we already have from God. Stated from the other angle, what we welcome people into with our Christian love is a faint shadow of what they can enjoy from God himself.
There’s no way around it—being known by others is risky. It is literally an act of faith. There are those who might use our mistakes and faults for harm against us. I am not advising everyone to spill all of their guts to everyone.
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The Titles of Jesus in Matthew

Matthew was not just writing to convey information; he wanted his readers to know that Jesus is the king of Israel. By the titles he used, we know that Matthew did not just think of Jesus as a historical figure. He was the Christ, the promised Messiah, the one sent to save his people from their sins (Matt 1:21).

The names we call others provide a snapshot of our relationship. It is drastically different, for example, to hear a child refer to an adult as “Mr. Smith,” “Officer Thomas,” or “Daddy.”
Names and titles matter throughout the Scriptures, and I’ve recently started a project examining the use of titles and names for Jesus in the Gospels. My first article laid out my methodology and looked at the top 10 titles of Jesus in the Gospels.
In this article we’ll consider the titles used for Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew.
Top 5 Titles
By my accounting, there are 131 titles used for Jesus in Matthew. There are 443 in all four Gospels, so the titles in Matthew account for about 29.6% of the all titles. (Matthew contains about 28% of the verses in the Gospels.)
Here are the top 5 titles in Matthew.

Son of Man (30 times)
Lord (23 times)
Christ (13 times)
teacher (10 times)
the child (9 times)

The next few entries on the list are also interesting: Son of David (8 times), Son of God (8 times), and Son (6 times). The top four titles used in Matthew are the same as the top four titles used in all the Gospels, just in a slightly different order.
Perhaps also of interest: the title “Lord” comes from Peter five times, and five of the 13 uses of “Christ” are by Matthew himself.
Titles Used by Matthew
Most of the titles used in the Gospels are put in the mouth of someone else by the Gospel author. But there are times when the author himself refers to a name or title of Jesus.
There are ten such occasions in Matthew. He refers to Jesus as “Christ” five times, as “the child” four times, and as the “Son of David” once. Nine of these occasions are found within the first two chapters of the Gospel; the other one (“the Christ”) is found in Matthew 11:2.
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Connecting Biblical Hope to Promises

God is a promise-making and promise-keeping God. And so many of his promises are designed to give us strength, encouragement, and clarity to press in and press through the hard things of life. We can abound in hope as we learn, remember, and trust in God’s promises.

It would be hard to deny the importance of hope in the Christian life. Along with faith and love, Paul lists hope as one of three essential virtues (1 Cor 13:13).
Additionally, Paul calls Jesus “our hope” (1 Tim 1:1). Peter gets in on the action, reminding Christians that they have been “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).
So, hope is crucial to followers of Jesus. What, then, is hope?
Basic Ideas About Hope
We use “hope” in conversation with enough frequency that we may not have a solid definition in mind. When we tell a friend that we hope they have a good day or that we hope we can cut the grass before it rains, we’re expressing a strong desire. In this usage, “hope” means something close to “wish.”
But this isn’t how the Biblical authors use the Hebrew and Greek words that come into English as “hope.”
Before we dive too deeply, let’s establish some basic ideas about hope. First, hope is forward-looking. It is about the future, events yet to come. Additionally, in almost every New Testament instance, the use of “hope” is eschatological. That fancy word just means that hope refers to “last things” or “end things.” Here are some examples.
Now when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.” (Acts 23:6)
If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Cor 15:19)
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Giving Thanks is Serious Business

It is good and necessary for us to cultivate a thankful spirit, both individually and as a community. Giving thanks regularly reminds us that we receive all that we have, not because we have earned or deserved it, but because God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Meditating on God’s provision for us gives us a natural connection to the saving work of Jesus.

For many Christians (especially in the U.S.), thanksgiving means either a quick prayer before a meal or the fourth Thursday in November. But for the Israelites in Nehemiah’s day, giving thanks was a serious endeavor.
Completing Hard Tasks
When some of the Jewish people were sent back to a decimated Jerusalem from exile in Babylon, they faced a steep challenge. They needed to rebuild the temple, the city walls, and the city itself. The tasks themselves were difficult, but they were made more so by enemies who lied about, threatened, and attacked the people. (These stories can be found in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.)
But God was still with his people, after all these years! He protected them, strengthened them, and provided for them over and over and over again. So, when the wall was finished and ready to be dedicated, it was time to give God proper thanks.
The Ceremony
To prepare for the dedication ceremony, the first order of business was to call all the Levites and singers back to the city (Neh 12:27–29). The Levites were the assistants and managers of the temple, and for this occasion they were needed for their musical abilities. This was to be a worship service, so the Levites and priests purified themselves, the people, the gates, and the wall (Neh 12:30).
The procession to the dedication service was a bit unusual. Nehemiah appointed “two great choirs that gave thanks” (Neh 12:31). It seems these choirs were created just for this purpose, which says a lot about the importance of their work!
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Overlooked Details of the Red Sea Crossing

God rescued his people and closed the door to any possible return to Egypt. In tangible ways, the Lord fought for his people as he promised.

The crossing of the Red Sea is one of the most memorable and cinematic events recorded in the Bible. This brief section of history has been captured in several films as well as in thousands of Sunday school lessons and coloring pages.
So if we were asked to recount this story, we could probably list many of the highlights without consulting Scripture. However, because the episode is so famous, and depictions of the event are so numerous, we will inevitably miss some details. The story is perhaps too familiar.
This was certainly the case for me! I recently reread this portion of Exodus and felt like I was reading this passage for the first time.
Four Important Details
Peter has written extensively and deeply on all of Exodus and on this passage specifically. To learn how this event fits into the whole book of Exodus, and for a razor-sharp look at this particular episode, I encourage you to read his article.
Here I will highlight some aspects of Exodus 13–14 that I had not remembered. These details are not just interesting—they help guide us to the main point of the passage. (Remember: good observation fuels accurate interpretation!)
Israel Crossed at Night
For understandable reasons, all pictures and video depicting this event happen during the day. (That makes for a much better coloring page!) But this event happened in the dark of night. (See Exodus 14:24 and Exodus 14:27 where it seems that the Israelites crossed during the night, with their path illuminated by the pillar of fire, and then the Egyptians started their pursuit at first light of the morning.) As we will see below, God aimed to confuse the Egyptians, and the nighttime setting was an important ingredient.
The Wind Blew All Night to Part the Sea
Yes, Moses “stretched out his hand” in order to divide the sea, but the way this happened was that “the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided” (Exodus 14:21). This miracle did not happen in an instant but rather over the course of several hours. Imagine waiting by the side of the Sea while this was happening!
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Why We Reread the Bible

Reading (and rereading) the Bible is not an end in itself. There is no heavenly trophy for most times reading the Bible. We are getting to know a person—God—not a textbook. And we must hold tight to the gospel truths that fuel our love of our neighbors. We read because we are loved by God. And because God loves us, we read so that we might love him and love our neighbors.

The Bible is not like other books. When we finish a novel or biography, we put it down and pick up something new. But many Christians complete a Bible reading and start right in again. For those new to the faith, this may seem strange.
Because frequent rereading of the Bible is not an obvious activity, I thought it might be helpful to highlight some of the reasons Christians never really finish reading the Scriptures.
The Bible is a Singular Book
Christians believe that the Bible is God’s Word, that God himself inspired what we read on those pages. This gives the Bible an authority and status unequal to any other book.
While this by itself does not imply we should reread the Bible, it does mean it’s no surprise if we treat it differently than other volumes on our shelves.
We Need to Keep Learning
The Bible gives us instruction, correction, comfort, and hope. This is the infinite, eternal God’s primary revelation of himself, and we finite, fallen humans don’t understand everything about God the first or second or tenth time we read it. Given our limitations and our nature, we will never have perfect knowledge of God in these imperfect bodies.
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The Bible is Not About You

We should think corporately, not individually. Especially in the global west we have a far more individual mindset than the first audiences of the Bible. God has set out to redeem a people for himself, the Church. This collective body is not the same as a group of random humans! So, while applying the Bible has clear implications for us as persons, those implications (often) flow out of truths and commands for the corporate people of God. (So many of the New Testament commands are for you (plural), not you (singular)!)

We are self-centered by nature. This egotism can be amplified in certain cultures and by some personalities, but we all have a central impulse to focus on the person in the mirror.
So it is not surprising that when we turn to the Bible we think about ourselves first. Our spiritual disciplines can easily become a vehicle for self-improvement.
So what is a healthy way to approach reading the Bible? How should we pay attention to and process God’s word?
For a start, when reading the Bible, we should not immediately look for ourselves in the text. The Bible has implications for us, but the Bible is not about us.
The Bible is about God
If the Bible is not about us, then what is it about? Don’t take my word for it—search the Bible from beginning to end and you will see there is one primary actor and one main subject. The Bible is about God.
Note how the book begins.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1)
And when the book ends, we see the servants of this creator-king gathered around to worship.
No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. (Revelation 22:3)
God is infinite and eternal, so glorious and holy that humans could never know him without his self-revelation. And while God has revealed himself through his creation, he has shown himself in more detail and with precision in his word, the Bible.
Consider the way this displays God’s heart. He wants to be known! If you have access to a Bible, you are able to learn about this wonderful, powerful God. This is his desire!
The Bible is about Redemption
As we read the Bible, we learn who God is and what he is like. But we also learn about the place of humanity in the world and how we relate to God.
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When Creation was Finished but God was Not

Sabbath rest should thank God for our work. If we have work to do, God has given it—even jobs we do not like. He has also provided the strength, wisdom, endurance, and creativity to complete any work that is behind us. (He has also given others to help us with our work!)

The beginning of Genesis is rich enough and deep enough to repay a lifetime of rereadings. I noticed something recently in these early chapters which cannot be original to me but which I had not seen before.
Here is the end of Genesis 1 and the beginning of Genesis 2.
And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. (Genesis 1:31–2:3)
What I hadn’t seen before is this: The heavens and the earth were finished on the sixth day, but God finished his work on the seventh.
On the seventh day, God “rested from all his work that he had done in creation.”
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What the Holy Spirit Does for Us

Knowing that the Spirit prays, we can sit with God in prayer when we don’t have words. It is good to keep coming to him in our confusion and suffering—we don’t need any fancy language or feeling of holiness. We can trust that the Spirit will intercede for us (just as Jesus also does, see Romans 8:34) “according to the will of God.”

For many Christians, the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives is unclear. We have heard many stories of excess, of churches either ignoring the Spirit or focusing almost exclusively on him and his gifts. If we affirm the Trinity and want to understand and celebrate the work of the third Person, how should we proceed?
Romans 8 is not a bad place to start! It is full of references to the Holy Spirit.
But, because the chapter is so full of these references, we need an entry point. As we look closer, two of the references to the Holy Spirit stand out.
Twice in Romans 8 we are told that “the Spirit himself” does or accomplishes something. This phrase is emphatic, designed to make us look up from our coffee and take notice. The Spirit does not contract these jobs out to others, he does them himself, intimately involved in this work for us.
The Spirit Bears Witness
This phrase first occurs in verse 16.
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:15–17, emphasis mine)
When the Spirit “bears witness” with our spirits, he is reminding us—testifying to us—that we are children of God. Why would we need such reminding? Too often we default to a “spirit of slavery” which leads us to fear (Romans 8:15).
To know when we are sliding back into a spirit of slavery and away from the Spirit of adoption, we only need to consider the difference between slaves and children.
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What We Miss When We Skip the Book of Ezra

Ezra connects to the overarching story of the Bible. We were made to worship God, but our rebellion means that we need a pure high priest to make our worship possible. Ezra reminds us of this central activity of the community of God and our dependence on him to draw us near.

The book of Ezra is an odd duck. It bears the name of a man who doesn’t appear in its first half. Though titled like a minor prophet, this is a book of history, one far shorter than most historical books in Scripture. And it is one of the few portions of God’s word set after the Babylonian exile.
I couldn’t find any data to justify this suspicion, but I would guess that Ezra is not commonly read or studied by modern Christians. I get it—among other barriers, there are long lists of names in chapters 2, 8, and 10.
Yet, this little book has much to offer!
God Works in the Hearts of Kings
God rules over kingdoms and kings—this is true everywhere and at all times. But it is made explicit with surprising frequency in the book of Ezra.
We see this in the very first verse of the book: “…the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing …” (Ezra 1:1)
We also read that the Lord “had turned the heart of the king of Assyria” toward the Israelites (Ezra 6:22). The author of the book blesses God “who put such a thing as this into the heart of the king, to beautify the house of the Lord that is in Jerusalem, and who extended to me his steadfast love before the king and his counselors, and before all the king’s mighty officers” (Ezra 7:27–28). Finally, as part of his confession, Ezra thanks God that he “has extended to us his steadfast love before the kings of Persia, to grant us some reviving to set up the house of our God, to repair its ruins, and to give us protection in Judea and Jerusalem” (Ezra 9:9).
In Ezra a group of Israelites journeyed from Babylon to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple of God. Since they left captivity, traveled through dangeous territories, and settled in an occupied land, these people needed the approval, help, and protection of the local and central rulers.
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