Preparing The Way – Take Two

In the beginning…
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. 5 The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

The Witness of John
6 There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light.

9 There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:1-13)

The Deity of Jesus Christ
The author starts by affirming both the deity of Jesus Christ and His role in creation. As we saw in “In The Beginning“, Jesus Christ, the eternal Word, was the principal agent of creation, and as such, defines who “God” is in: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1.) The Word was eternally-pre-existant with God and part of the Godhead.

Life and Light
4 In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. 5 The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

We see in verse 4, that Jesus Christ, the Word, was both Life and Light. We often think of Light as a person’s presence, and may say “The lights are on but nobody is at home” when a person seems to be alive but is totally-unresponsive. When a person dies, we think of their “light” having gone out.

Light” is also about spiritual-illumination. As fallen humans, we are in spiritual-darkness because there is no “Light” in us. The Word, Jesus Christ, came to shine His Light into our spiritual-darkness.

Verse 5 begins the next little section of John’s text, a section that continues through verse 13. The theme is that of the manifestation of the Word in this dark world, and in this it is interesting to note the transition from the Word, to God and then of Word-God into “light’. We can easily see through this device that the three terms, Word, God and light are being used interchangeably to describe attributes of God, thus they are One in their reference to Christ, who is as yet unnamed in the text.

The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not comprehend it. (John 1:5)

Once again, John has put into one simple statement a fact that theologians have struggled with for centuries; the world around us just doesn’t “get it”. OK, those poor souls who live in the darkness of this world don’t understand the light; why does this surprise us? At the same time as we are surprised that this world struggles with the message of Christ, some of us are surprised that we should be called to reach out to the world around us to deliver the message of light to them and help them to see it for what it is; grace and truth. Why should we be surprised to be called to help others understand it? Why should we resist this calling?

Sent by God
6 There came a man sent from God, whose name was John.

John came as a forerunner of Jesus Christ to bear witness of His coming. He announced the coming of Jesus Christ much as a herald would announce the imminent arrival of a king. He was foretold by Isaiah and Malachi.

The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord;
Make straight in the desert
A highway for our God. (Isaiah 40:3)

“Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me.
And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple,
Even the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight.
Behold, He is coming,” Says the Lord of hosts. (Malachi 3:1)

There was a guy who did not resist the calling, and his name was John. This John is not the same guy who wrote the gospel, yet both of them were only too happy to share the light with a dark world. Verses 5-9 set up what follows by pointing out that this John (the Baptist) was sent to prepare the way for the Messiah who was about to burst upon the scene in the person of Jesus. John was not the light, just as you and I are not the light, yet he was sent to prepare the people to hear the message that would come in Christ.

Witness to the Light
7 He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light.

John was NOT that Light, but he came to bear witness to that Light, and to begin shining Light into dark hearts and souls. He was not pointing to himself as a a source of Light, but to the coming Messiah, as the one true Light. Once Jesus Christ came upon the scene, John always pointed people to Him.

The True Light
9 There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.

Jesus Christ, the Messiah who was to come, would be the true source of Light. When we see the Moon, it appears to be a source of light, however it is only reflecting light from the real source, the Sun. In much the same way, John reflected God’s Light to those around him until the real source of Light, Jesus Christ came and began His ministry. As the Sun gives light to all of us on Earth, Jesus Christ brought Light into our darkened world.

In our time, the light has already come, and we have received it and received grace as a result. We are sent to share that light, and to help those around us to comprehend it that some should receive it also and share in its blessing. When you think about it, this is an awesome calling.

How did they miss Him???
10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.

The Jews had been set-apart by God as His chosen-people, and when Jesus Christ appeared on the scene, they should have worshiped and adored Him as their Creator and Lord, but the majority of people rejected Him. His own testimony, supported by His many miracles, should have been all they needed to follow Him wholesale, but most who followed Him did so only to see His miracles.

After all, there were dozens of promises and prophesies of the coming Redeemer, beginning all the way back in Genesis 3:15. They were told that He would be the Son of David, that He would be born of a virgin, even that He would be born in Bethlehem. How did they miss all those clues? We will be studying these promises and prophesies more in detail as we approach the Christmas season.

How could they be SO blind? In truth, as we will see later on, they were looking for a different “kind” of Messiah. They were looking for a Messiah who would come in riding a white horse and leading a mighty army. The “Messiah” they envisioned, would drive the Romans out of Israel, set-up an earthly-kingdom and restore the “glory” to Israel. They were also looking in all the wrong places, not really understanding the entirety of the Old Testament Messianic prophesies. That He would be the “Suffering-Servant” (Isaiah 53) wasn’t on their “radar“.

One of the most important “His own” groups of His day was the religious-leadership, the Scribes, Pharisees and Teachers of the Law, and they rejected Him because they couldn’t control Him. As we will see later in John’s Gospel, Jesus Christ had many run-ins with them.

Children of God
He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1:10-13)

Yet again, simple John took a major theological concept and boiled it down to a few simple sentences that anyone should be able to understand; it is clear and simple. This “light” who is also the WordGod, came into this world of darkness, and even though He made the world, the world simply didn’t recognize Him for who He really was. He even came and lived among his own covenant people, the ones who had received the message of the prophets concerning Him and His coming, yet they for the most part, didn’t recognize Him any more than they recognized the prophets when they came. Many of them thought, as we will see later, that their ethnic-heritage, as “children of Abraham“, meant that they had it made. Yet, for those who did see Him for who He was, He made it possible for them to be reborn as children of God.

Wow! What could be simpler?

Salvation is of God
12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

As hard as people try to make themselves right before God, it is impossible. We can’t DO enough good things to merit His favor, nor can we NOT DO enough wrong things to avoid His wrath. That was what the religious leaders were trying to do, and as “good” as they thought they were, their “good” was never GOOD ENOUGH.

The ONLY way we can gain salvation is to accept that we CAN’T do it on our own and accept and receive Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. Only then will God make us His children, with all the rights and responsibilities which go with that high-status.

In Christ,
Steve

 

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In The Beginning…Take Two

The Gospel of John

The Purpose of This Book
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name. (John 20:30-31)

Beginnings…
We all had beginnings, first, in the mind of God, then physically, at our conception. God had NO beginning, and will have no end. He has existed as God from eternity-past to eternity-future. He is the “Great I AM!”. “In the beginning” is as if God placed His finger on what would become the timeline of history and proclaimed “the beginning“. As finite human beings, we can’t grasp the infinite, but God IS infinite.

The phrase, “I am“, seems to be incomplete, as if it doesn’t give us enough information, but in reality, it stands nicely on its own. It is a statement of being, of existence, and of person-hood. “I” is personal, and it can only refer to the person who says it. “Am” signifies existence and being, and unless it is modified by some descriptor, “I am” simply means that I exist. While we aren’t comfortable with the profound simplicity of “I am“, and feel that we need to modify it to give more information, God doesn’t have our problem.

I Am” is also the first personal name God gave to His chosen people, and when He gave it as His name, it signified His eternal presence. As we go along, we will look at the times Jesus used “I am” to assert His divinity, and examine the seven great “I am’s” He gave us in the Gospels.

In the beginning…
There are two “In the beginning…” passages in the Bible, Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1-5. The second “In the beginning…” explains and magnifies the first.

1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1)

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-5, 14)

Explaining “God”…
When Moses, the writer of the first five books of the Bible, started compiling and writing what had been only oral-history before then (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit), while we get hints in Genesis 1:2; “…And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the deep.“, and Genesis 1:26; “Let US make man in OUR image, after OUR likeness…” of the plurality of persons within the Godhead, God had only explicitly revealed Himself as a singular-entity, so trying to explain “God” in more detail would have been an impossible task. Nowhere else in Scripture is this doctrine of “one God” taught more explicitly than in Deuteronomy 6:4, often called the Shema: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!“. Faithful Jews recited that great confession morning and evening, cementing it firmly in their theology. Thus, they had no place in their theology for a Trinitarian doctrine of God. That was one of the reasons the Jews rejected Jesus, because He claimed to be God. John,the writer of this Gospel, because he had spent over three years as a close follower of Jesus , didn’t have that problem.

Why was it necessary for God to reveal Himself as “One”? If we look back into the ancestry of the children of Israel, we note that their first patriarch, Abraham, we get no indication that Abram was a “God-follower” prior to God’s calling him in Genesis 12:1-3. He lived in a polytheistic culture, so it is quite likely that he worshiped many “gods” (idols) too. We are told that Abraham followed God faithfully from that point on, with a few exceptions. 1) He tried to shortcut God’s promise of a son by taking Hagar as his concubine and having Ishmael by her (Genesis 16). 2) When it was time to find a wife for Isaac, he sent his servant back to his heathen extended-family (Genesis 24). After Jacob stole Esau’s blessing and birthright (Genesis 27), his mother, Rebekah, sent him where? Back to her heathen brother, Laban, in Haran, to find a heathen wife (Genesis 27:42-45). After staying in Haran for several years, marrying two wives, having a bunch of kids and acquiring a LOT of livestock, Jacob hightailed it back home (Genesis 31), after Rachel stole the household idols from her father (Genesis 31:26-35). Jacob finally turned back to God after he wrestled with God (Genesis 32:22-32). After being sold into slavery in Egypt (Genesis 37:12-36), Joseph called his family to join him in Egypt because of a famine (Genesis 45). Egypt was another polytheistic culture, so even though we are told that there were families that were still faithful to God, they still absorbed some of that heathen culture. The story of their liberation from Egypt begins in Exodus 2 with the birth of Moses. God revealed Himself to Moses in the burning bush (Genesis 3). After their liberation from Egypt (Exodus 12:31-42), where they had spent 430 years, the children of Israel again embraced idolatry while Moses was on Mount Sinai getting the Law from God (Exodus 20 ff), by making and worshiping a golden calf (Exodus 32). Thus, is it an wonder that God would reveal Himself as “One”? Not if we carefully consider their history…

The fact that the Word, the pre-incarnate Jesus, was the principal agent of creation has great importance to us, because it not only means that He created the first two “prototypes” of the body He would one day take on for Himself, it also means that He personally gave the promise to Adam and Eve that one day He would return as their Savior. “And I will put enmity between you and the woman,and between your seed and her seed; He shall crush your head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.” (Genesis 3:15)

In the Beginning…
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.
(John 1:1-4)

John begins his account with the words, “in the beginning” with a very different beginning in mind than we find in Genesis 1:1, for while Genesis begins with the creation, John begins with God alone. The “God” that John refers to here is first called the Word (logos) God, the uncreated Creator, before the creation of anything… The Word. That “Word” was there first of all… with God; in fact the Word was and is God.

We throw those terms around in our day, don’t we? “The Word” referring to the Scriptures, and we seem to like to use it to prove our various points in arguments with each other as though the “Word” is our own very precious tool for debating. Yet John, the Apostle of Jesus Christ uses it as a name for Almighty God.

Notice how the Word becomes God, and then in the next verse God becomes “He.” He was with God in the beginning. The Word was with God in the beginning: “The Word” “God” and “He” were all together in the beginning, before anything had been created.

They are One.

Jesus is God’s messenger to mankind, as well as being the embodiment of God’s message (Heb. 1:1-4) It was by His Word that the universe came into being, and it is by His blood that we may enter into relationship with Him, as told in His Word. Thus, we may say that the Word is not only God’s person, essence and power, but that it is one and inseparable from the person of Jesus Christ, who is entirely one with God. Verse 2 is set up as transition in the sense that it begins the move from “what” to “whom”; from “the Word” to “He”: Jesus was there.

Now it becomes clear and unambiguous that this “He” is the one through who all things have been made. This is stated positively “all things” and negatively “without him nothing…” Within him was life which reminds us of God breathing life into Adam. (Gen. 2:7) “He” contained life, was its very source, and this essence will be the light of the world. Life and light are two themes that carry throughout the entire gospel of John, and will become more and more clear as we go on. For now, suffice it to say that His very essence is “Truth” and that will illuminate a dark world that carries on without either Truth or God’s presence, since fellowship with God had ceased after the entry of rebellion into the world.

I hope that you have noticed how much theological truth that John has expressed in four simple, clear and easy to understand little verses; scholars write volumes and can’t say so much. This is precisely why I always tell my students that John’s gospel is very much a “Big Boy” book.

Studying the Bible…
This study will immerse us in both this Gospel and in the Old Testament prophesies and historical-context of the time of Jesus and John, because I don’t believe that we can adequately understand the New Testament without having at least a working-knowledge of the Old Testament. I pray that you are enlightened and enrichened, and that your faith in Christ is deepened by this study.

In Christ,
Steve

A Creational-Approach to Missions

Has the church been doing missions “wrong” for almost two-thousand years? No, but I believe that we can deepen our passion for missions by going back and asking “Why did God make man?” This also relates-directly to the greatest philosophical and theological question of all time, “Why am I here?

As I have worked on my message for the Sunday morning service during the 2017 CNA Spring Conference, I have been drawn to ponder more deeply what the foundation of that message should be. I believe that this must be rooted in what God has revealed about Himself in His Word, the Bible. Lest you think that I have finally lost my mind, bare with me and it should all start making sense.

Creation…
The first four words of the Bible are “In the beginning, God…” Our Creator-God pre-existed all of creation, so He decreed the “beginning“. The first two chapters of Genesis are the story of creation, what God did, and how He did it. As great as the cosmos is, they weren’t God’s ultimate-acts of creation. God simply spoke the cosmos into being, ex nihilo, out of nothing, but when He was ready to create man, He attended to that project personally.

Scientists love to talk about the “big-bang“, as if all matter coalesced into one place and exploded. Where did THAT matter come from? Matter isn’t self-generating. I also believe in a “big-bang“, a God-ordained “big-bang“, because when God said “let there be light“, and the nuclear-fires of a gazillion stars lit as one, releasing an enormous burst of light and energy, that WAS an unimaginably BIG BANG.

We pick up the story of man’s creation from Genesis 1:
26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28 God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 29 Then God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; 30 and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to everything that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food”; and it was so. 31 God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. (Genesis 1:26-31)

What jumps out at you in Genesis 1?

From Genesis 1:
Man is created in God’s image.

That “image” is both male and female. We are neither one a “greater-image-bearer‘ than the other.

God gave two commands, “be fruitful and multiply“, and “subdue and rule over the earth“. God gave us the reasons for our existence from the very beginning, our “why’s“.

God created mankind to co-create more bearers of His image, and to continue His work in the world.

7 Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7)

15 Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. 16 The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; 17 but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”

18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” 19 Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him. 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. 22 The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. 23 The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones,
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man.”

24 For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. (Genesis 2:7, 15-25)

What jumps out at you in Genesis 2?

From Genesis 2:
God got His hands dirty, because He hand-formed the man from the dust of the ground.

God performed the first “artificial-respiration“. God didn’t “snap His fingers” to bring His creature to life, He breathed His OWN breathe into the man.

There was only one restriction; do not eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Man needed companionship.

God performed the first “anesthesia” and the first “surgery“, making God the first Doctor.

The “companion” God created was NOT another man; it was a woman, the perfect-complement to the man. 22 The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. 23 The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones,
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man.”

24 For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

Naked and not ashamed“: Adam and Eve had perfect-fellowship with God, just as God intended.

Why did God make man?
We often have trouble separating our “needs” from our “wants“, but God doesn’t have that problem. People have lived for thousands of years, and still do, in “improvised-shelters“, “shelters” that do what “shelters” are intended to do, “shelter” them from the elements. “Shelter” is a basic “need“, and yet, particularly here in the US, most of us aren’t content with “basic-shelter“. WE WANT MORE! We WANT homes with all the “amenities“, even when we could get by with much less. That is only one example of how we have inflated our “needs” into often-overblown WANTS.

Does God “need” anything? God has been totally self-sufficient and self-sustaining for all eternity. To put it more succinctly, God didn’t “need” to make man. The Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit ARE the PERFECT-FAMILY. There is no tension, strife or discord within the Trinity. As God told Moses from the burning-bush, He is the great I AM. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

What if God “wanted” something He didn’t have? What if God wanted a larger family, a “forever-family“? One of the few things God CAN’T do is procreate or replicate Himself. There always have been three persons in the Godhead, and there will always be three persons in the Godhead, because God is unchangeable.

If we want a larger family, we have two options, procreation and adoption. Many couples don’t have the option of procreation for a variety of reasons, one being endometriosis. Endometriosis runs in my first wife’s family, and even though Connie didn’t have that problem, our oldest daughter does, and has had since she was about thirteen. After trying for several years, she and her husband adopted a baby boy. She got pregnant shortly thereafter. They have two boys, and a “blended-family“, including ethnically-blended, because the boy they adopted is black, and she and her husband are white. I am button-popping proud of them as parents, and of both boys as my grandsons. A couple in my church has three children naturally, and they adopted three siblings. The youngest, a boy, is autistic.

For God to have a larger family, His ONLYoption” was “adoption“, which is why the theme of “adoption” comes up frequently in the New Testament. That, my friends, I believe, is why God created mankind, so He could have the larger family He desires.

What happened?
We have seen God’s plan to create and adopt a larger family, but something got in the way.

3 Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; 3 but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’” 4 The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! 5 For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.

8 They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 Then the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 He said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.” 11 And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” And the woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” 14 The Lord God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
Cursed are you more than all cattle,
And more than every beast of the field;
On your belly you will go,
And dust you will eat
All the days of your life;
15 And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall crush your head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel.” (Genesis 3:1-15)

Something happened, and it wasn’t good. Satan attempted to usurp God’s place to build his OWNfamily“. While it appears that Satan succeeded in the short-run, God wasn’t having any part of it.

Did this turn of events catch God off-guard? If it did, God isn’t God. The reality is that God knew this was going to happen before He even began creation. God’s “plan of redemption” was NOT some “Plan-B“, and the rest of the Old Testament is the unfolding-story leading up the coming of the promised “the seed of the woman“.

Redemption…
4 But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, 5 so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons (and daughters). 6 Because you are sons (and daughters), God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son (or daughter); and if a son (or daughter), then an heir through God. (Galatians 4:4-7)

Notice that glorious word “ADOPTION“. “Adoption” means that we are part of God’s “forever-family“, furthermore, we can call Him “daddy (Abba)“, and we have become “heirs” of God’s kingdom.

Jesus Christ was that long-promised “seed of the woman” who “crushed the serpent’s head” at Calvary, so that we could become part of God’s “forever-family“.

Why am I here?
For most of us, it is quite easy for us to determine “why” we are doing what we are doing at a particular moment in time, but when we get to the overarching question of “Why am I here?”, we are stumped. We don’t have a clue, UNLESS we have developed a Biblical view of our meaning in life.

About 350 years ago, a group of Bible scholars and theologians met in Westminster Abbey to scour the Scriptures for the most important doctrines of our faith. They summarized those doctrines in short, concise statements, in what became the Westminster Confession of Faith. Many churches and denominations still subscribe to that Confession, including my home church, Cypress Ridge Pres. I also subscribe to that Confession.

From that Confession of Faith, they set out to formulate teaching-tools so that those great doctrines could be taught to the masses. They produced two Catechisms, a Larger, more detailed Catechism, and a Shorter, or more simplified Catechism, which is suitable for even young children.

The very first question they asked was “Why am I here?” Thus, question and answer one is:
Q – What is the chief end of man?

A – Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and enjoy Him forever.

If you are thinking that this question sounds suspiciously like “Why am I here?”, you are right, because the Bible should inform our understanding of “why” we are here, the “meaning of life“. If it doesn’t, we are looking for “meaning” in all the wrong places.

Why am I here? To be part of God’s “forever-family“.

Family rules…
For a family to function smoothly, there have to be rules, rules about how the children are to interact with their parents, and rules for now the children are to interact with each other. God’s family is no different; hence God gave us the Ten Commandments. The first four commandments tell us how we are to interact with God. The other six commandments tell us how we are to interact with one another.

20 Then God spoke all these words, saying,
2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

3 “You shall have no other gods before Me.

4 “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6 but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.

7 “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.

8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who [e]stays with you. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you.

13 “You shall not murder.

14 “You shall not commit adultery.

15 “You shall not steal.

16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:1-17)

By the time Jesus came to earth, the number of rules and regulations in the Torah had blossomed to over six-hundred, covering virtually every aspect of life. If the Pharisees thought that God hadn’t been “detailed-enough“, they added even more rules and regulations. They were always trying to pick a fight with Jesus, but they ALWAYS lost. Not surprisingly, they kept trying, because He made them look like the idiots they were. Anything to save-face…

34 But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. 35 One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the great and foremost commandment. 39 The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:34-40)

We will now focus on that second Great Commandment:

You shall love your neighbor as yourself…

We can certainly think of many ways we can show love for our neighbor, and all of them are valid, however, what is our neighbor’s GREATESTneed“? Think about that “need” for a few moments before we go on.

God gave me a “love-project” for over three years, a sickly, injury-prone neighbor. She needed MANY things, many of which I was able to help her with, but since she thought that she had gotten her “ticket punched” when she was a young girl, she thought that she “had it made“, and had no interest in the things of the Lord. Her lifestyle reflects that belief. She ONLY goes to church when she thinks it will be “advantageous” to her. She has a great “need“, even though she thinks she doesn’t.

There are MANY like her in this world, for whom God may only be a “useful-accessory“, it at all. We see them everywhere we turn.

Every person belongs to one of two families, either God’s family, or Satan’s family. There is NOmiddle-ground“. They are also going to either Heaven, or Hell. Again, there is NOmiddle-ground“.

What is MANKIND’S GREATEST “NEED”?

Mankind’s greatest “need” is to be restored to a right-relationship with God, and to become part of God’s “forever-family“. The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ IS the GOOD NEWS that we can be restored to a right-relationship with God, and join His “forever-family

God has given US the awesome-privilege of being part of His “adoption-agency“, so doesn’t it make sense for us to share the Good News of the Gospel so that others can become part of His “forever-family“, and participate in His ultimate-plan for mankind? I sure think so.

That, my friends, is how we can “love our neighbor” in the very-best-way possible.

Sola Deo Gloria!

Studies in John’s Epistles – 1 John 3

John continues with his themes of love and hate by showing how we must demonstrate our love to one another. Love isn’t merely a feeling; it must be demonstrated by action. Our “cosmic-lover” is none other than God the Father, and because God loves us so much, and since He proved His love by sending Jesus to purchase our redemption, we are to follow His example by loving one another.

Children of God Love One Another
3 See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. 2 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. 3 And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.

4 Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him. 7 Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; 8 the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.

9 No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. 10 By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.

11 For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another; 12 not as Cain, who was of the evil one and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother’s were righteous.

13 Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. 15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. 16 We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. 17 But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.

19 We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him 20 in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things. 21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; 22 and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight.

23 This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us. 24 The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.

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Children of God
3 See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. 2 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. 3 And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. (1 John 3:1-3)

It’s really an amazing thing to read this text and give it a chance to sink in; this is a text to read slowly, prayerfully…

While we were dead in our sinful rebellion against God, He loved us so much, even in spite of our mindset against Him, that he went to extraordinary lengths to redeem us to Himself, and once reborn, we are now His children. There are moments when we may not feel like it, but when God looks upon us, He sees His own children… what more is there to say?

If we are in Christ, God sees us, NOT in our sin and despair, but as “holy and righteous”, not because we are inherently “holy and righteous”, but because our Savior, Jesus Christ, ISholy and righteous”, and God sees us through Him. Furthermore, we are “saints”, not because we feel like “saints”, but because God calls us saints”. Our feelings don’t dictate our “status” before God. One of my previous pastors, Ray Cortese, had a favorite saying which he loved to quote often, “If God has a refrigerator, your pictures are all over it.” That is something we can relate to, because we may have family pictures all over our refrigerator also. I do…

None of us really can appreciate exactly what that entails. It’s like being asked what heaven is like… I’ve been asked this many times, but I must admit that I don’t really know. People repeat certain Biblical passages about heaven, and act as though they know all, but they are kidding themselves, for they are quoting non-literal passages that give indications of certain aspects of heaven, but not details, and do you know how I can say this so boldly? It’s easy; human language does not, nor could it ever, contain the vocabulary to describe fully, accurately and completely those things which no man has ever seen and reported directly – we have no references to comprehend.

The same is true for being children of God. Much remains “hidden” for there is simply no vocabulary to convey the full meaning. When we see Jesus Christ face-to-face, we will see all! What a glorious hope! It is only natural and proper for us to respond to this by setting aside the old life, the old ways, and to be pure as He is pure to the best of our ability, and according to His leading.

Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that He appeared so that He might take away our sins. And in Him is no sin. No one who lives in Him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen Him or known Him. (1 John 3:4-6)

John highlights the point made above about purity in these verses. For us to disregard everything He has done for us, to reject His love and His grace and remain in the old ways is simply inconceivable! That isn’t to say that we will never struggle or make mistakes; it isn’t to say that we are suddenly perfect. He came to take sin away, after all, not to catch us messing up. John is once again pointing out the contrast between the follower of Jesus Christ and the one who rejects Jesus Christ. He doesn’t appear to be referring in any way to a follower who had a bad day; however, he IS referring to someone who claims to be a “follower” of Christ but continues in a sinful lifestyle. We all have “bad days“, which the Apostle Paul laments in Romans 7:14-25.

14 For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. 15 For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. 16 But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. 17 So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. 19 For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. 20 But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.

21 I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. 22 For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, 23 but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.

What is it that really jumps out at you here?

For me, the thing that jumps out is that not only is God’s love for us amazing, boundless and tremendous, but that it holds implications that go far beyond anything that we can even begin to comprehend in our current mortal state, and that our hope for eternal life is not only assured, but far more amazing than anyone has ever understood it to be!

Doing What is Right
Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister. (1 John 3:7-10)

This is an interesting passage with which to begin any day. Don’t let anyone lead you astray! There are many who would do so, and they may try by appealing to our pride or vanity, they might appeal to greed or lust, they might even appeal to our intellect with attractive arguments or curious reasoning, but have you ever asked yourself why they would bother?

John gives the reason in this passage: They are sinful, of the devil and doing the devil’s work, because the devil has been in rebellion against God since the beginning and is looking for allies… or at least to separate us from Christ. It is really important that we get this point. It is the work of the devil to separate us from Christ, because in Christ, we are part of His work, and His work is to destroy the works of the devil. Actually, this is so simple we might miss it! In Christ, we are a threat, so there will be opposition, and one of our enemy’s most potent weapons is DOUBT.

Within this context, John speaks of doing what is right as opposed to doing what is sinful, and in this context doing what is right means following Jesus Christ, and doing what is sinful means not following Christ and trying to lead His followers astray. So far, this is very straight forward, and then John throws us a curve at the end, a curve that leads us to the next section. Doing right means that we love one another, doing wrong means that we don’t.

Wait! I thought you just said that doing right was following Jesus, and doing wrong was not following Jesus! Where did all of this love stuff come from?

Simple answer: If we do not love one another as He loved us, then we can’t possibly be following Jesus Christ, because loving one another is where He is leading.

What we have heard from the Beginning
For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him. (1 John 3:11-15)

Well, we HAVE heard this message from the beginning, that we should love one another. A quick look through Christian blogs will reveal that everybody writes about it at one time or another… or every day. Why does it take so long to sink in for so many?

John takes us right to the story of Cain and Abel, an interesting choice. He tells us that Cain murdered his brother because Cain was following the evil one, that his actions were evil and Abel’s actions were righteous; murder was the result. Now to be fair to Cain, I’ve never heard this mentioned as a motive for murder on a detective show before. The usual motives for murder are hatred, greed, fear of exposure, jealousy… wait! Maybe that’s the one; jealousy! He was jealous because Abel was righteous and Cain was evil, and that led to hatred, which led to murder. I wonder if Perry Mason or DCS Foyle would see it that way….

It would seem that John is suggesting that evil will oppress the righteous. Then he takes another interesting step, adding linkage that we should pay close attention to, because it takes the old story from Genesis and brings it starkly to life: Do not be surprised if the world hates you.

I never cease to be amazed when Christians act all horrified and indignant that certain elements in society oppose us at every turn. What is surprising about that? Certain elements in society murdered God’s prophets and opposed the Lord Himself to the point of death, not to mention the early church, and evil regimes all through the ages. There is nothing new in any of this. No, it is not a sign that the end is near, it is a sign that we are in the last age, just as John said his readers were…

We must love one another, because we have passed from death into life. We must love one another because God first loved us and He also loves our brother, and we love our brother because we love God. This too is nothing new. How will the world know that we are in Christ? Because we love one another. Will the world hate that? Yes, but many will also want it and be attracted to it, because once you separate individuals from the society in which they live, they want what we have in Christ.

Therefore, loving one another spreads the Gospel and accomplishes God’s purpose.

Love is Active
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. (1 John 3:16-18)

This is where “the rubber meets the road”…

We now come to an amazing text regarding love and what it really is. The concept of Christian love, love of our brother or sister, is not merely an abstract idea; it is a reality of life that requires action. John gives us the model of Christ as the example of what love looks like in action. Jesus loved us, and so He set His own life aside so that we might live. In the same way, John calls upon us to set aside our own lives for the sake of others. This may not necessarily require our physical death, for there is more to the teaching of Christ than that. It will most certainly require that we set our interests aside to serve others.

John uses the specific example of one who has material resources giving them to a brother or sister who is in need in these verses. How can we possibly sit by and let our brother or sister suffer when we have the means to bring relief; to do so is not showing the person love. We can think of other circumstances in which we may have what a hurting person might need, and we must not withhold aid, even though giving aid can be quite inconvenient. Very often these days, we may come across a brother or sister who has emotional pain, and we must be ready to give whatever comfort and relief that we can.

Whatever the particular case may be, we must understand that loving one another doesn’t simply mean to be nice, it means to put others first in thought, and deed as well as in words. This is what it means to follow Jesus Christ; this is what it means to love one another!

Do You Really Know for Sure?
This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and He knows everything. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from Him anything we ask, because we keep His commands and do what pleases Him. And this is His command: to believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as He commanded us. The one who keeps God’s commands lives in Him, and He in them. And this is how we know that He lives in us: We know it by the Spirit He gave us. (1 John 3:19-24)

Chapter 3 of John’s first letter ends with the assurance that we can know for sure where we stand with God, but it isn’t the answer that most of us give if we are asked “How can I know?“…

John’s answer is that we know by the Spirit within us.

Well steady on there, isn’t that the Spirit that so many are waiting for…until “it” decides to move…?

Yes, that one, the one that we say we can’t hear.

Yes, that’s the one John is referring to!

John takes a little different tack than we often do. He says that we will notice whether or not the Spirit within us condemns us, we know that God is greater than our hearts and knows all. I think that many of us today use slightly different terminology for this by saying that we “feel convicted” about something. When this happens, we have something to seek forgiveness for and have the need to alter our behavior or attitudes in some way. When we are not condemned by our hearts, we are confident in His presence. We know that in saying these things, John is making reference to the work of the Spirit in our lives because he says so in the last part of the passage. Now, the remaining question is whether or not this is really true in our lives.

Over the years I’ve noticed that many people will tell me about their active prayer lives. They will tell me all about the countless hours they spend with God and all the rest. On other occasions, they will tell me that they never notice the Spirit working within them, and that’s how I know for sure that they don’t have any of this great prayer life they like to go on about. The reason is that seeking His presence is how we are able to discern the Spirit that is within us! Notice that John linked the two in verse 21 and 22:

Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask,

You should notice something else here. Here’s verse 22 in full: and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him.

Yes, we will receive anything we ask in prayer, if we “keep his commands and do what pleases him.” As always in John’s writings, asking and receiving are mentioned firmly within the context of doing His will, and not in doing our will. So, can you really know for sure where you stand with God? YES!

Seek His presence and you’ll find out!

Sola Deo Gloria!

The Incarnation – Jesus is Born

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us…

As we gather here on Christmas, we have come to the most important event in human history, the birth of Jesus, because without His birth, there would have been no crucifixion or resurrection, thus no redemption. The birth of Jesus Christ was the hinge-pin of redemption-history, tying the Old Testament to the New Testament and the Promises to their fulfillment.

Mary’s visitation…
Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; 33 and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. 36 And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, the servant of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:26-38)

Mary’s reaction to this announcement isn’t surprising, considering that she was young, perhaps 12 to 14 years-old, and she still wasn’t married yet. Yes, she was engaged, but she was still living with her parents, as was the custom. This was Gabriel’s second earthly-visit in the last few months. He had visited Zacharias just six months earlier, and now Elizabeth, who had been unable to have a child, was in her sixth month of pregnancy. God had done the impossible for Zacharias and Elizabeth, and He was going to do the same for Mary. Once Mary was assured that this was of God, she responded with faith and trust.

Mary Visits Elizabeth
39 Now at this time Mary arose and went in a hurry to the hill country, to a city of Judah, 40 and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 And she cried out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.” (Luke 1:39-45)

When Mary visited Elizabeth, she saw with her own eyes that God had enabled Elizabeth to get pregnant. In response to God’s goodness, she praised God in this very beautiful song. God, in His covenant-love for His people, was providing a Redeemer and fulfilling His promises given long ago.

The song of Mary…
And Mary said: “My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; for behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. For the Mighty One has done great things for me; and holy is His name. And His mercy is upon generation after generation toward those who fear Him. He has done mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart. He has brought down rulers from their thrones, and has exalted those who were humble. He has filled the hungry with good things; and sent away the rich empty-handed. He has given help to Israel His servant, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his descendants forever.” (Luke 1:46-55)

Joseph’s visitation…
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. 19 And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. 20 But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” 22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.”

24 And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, 25 but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus. (Matthew 1:18-25)

Betrothal was much more binding than mere engagement. The only way a betrothal could be annulled was by divorce. Mary was pregnant, but they weren’t married yet. If he divorced her, she could be charged with adultery and potentially be stoned because that was the penalty for adultery. The baby wasn’t his, as a check of her virginity would verify. Of course a check of her virginity would also show that she was pregnant even though she was still a virgin. God didn’t have to break her hymen to make her pregnant.

Joseph was in a sticky-situation. Would anyone actually believe Mary’s story of being visited by an angel? Did he actually believe it? All he knew was that his decision would be life-changing. Did he already have hopes and dreams for their future together? We are told that Joseph was a “righteous man“, so he didn’t want to make a rash decision. He had probably had several nearly-sleepless nights before finally falling asleep in exhaustion. It was then that God visited him through an angel.

The angel reminded Joseph of the long-awaited prophesy that Emmanuel, God with us, would be born, and he was going to be the “father” of the Messiah. Whatever doubts Joseph had were quickly put to rest, and he responded in faith and took Mary home to be his wife.
How hard was it for Joseph to not have sex with Mary, his right, for the next nine or so months, particularly since a marriage wasn’t “official” until it was consummated? Even though Mary would still be a “virgin” after the baby was born, Joseph would not have the honor of “deflowering” her. We are simply told that Joseph kept her a virgin until after Jesus was born.

The birth of Jesus
Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. 2 This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. 4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, 5 in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. 6 While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:1-7)

Mary and Joseph had a “divine-appointment” in Bethlehem and the Romans unknowingly arranged it. That must have been an arduous journey for them because Mary was “due” any day. Even though this was Mary’s first baby, she was still a “little girl” by modern-day standards, barely old enough to get pregnant, let alone have a baby. Bethlehem was packed with travelers, so it was no wonder that the local Inn was full. All that was left for shelter was a stable, maybe the innkeeper’s stable.

We can’t imagine a more humble “delivery-room“, but the coming King wouldn’t ever live in a palace. There had been no “baby-shower“, so all Mary had to wrap her baby in was strips of cloth. She may have brought them along just for that purpose. There were no doctors or nurses, and probably not even a mid-wife. Joseph, who had never helped deliver a baby, had to help her with the delivery. Maybe he had swept some of the manure out of the stable and put some fresh hay in the manger, but there was nothing “sanitary” about this delivery. They may have not even had a “clean” knife to cut the cord with. The baby’s first bed was a manger, a feed-trough for animals, but it was better than if Mary had delivered her baby on the road.

Emmanuel, God with us, was born that night. The Word, who had taken on human-flesh, entered into our world, and the world would never be the same.

Celebration!
In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.

15 When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. 17 When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 The shepherds went back; glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them. (Luke 2:8-20)

Even though Jesus was born into humble-circumstances, God orchestrated a celebration of His birth. Angels serenaded a bewildered group of shepherds who were camped nearby for the night. I wonder if anyone else saw the heavenly-show. The shepherds didn’t waste any time checking out the marvelous news, and with the shepherds, we should glorify and praise our wonderful God.

Glory to God in the highest! Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!!!

Wishing you and yours a blessed Christmas and a healthy and productive New Year!

Sola Deo Gloria!

Why I Celebrate The Birth Of Christ

Around this time of year, the anti-Christmas folks come out in full-force to try to shame and demean fellow-Christians into not celebrating the birth of Christ, and while their “reasons” may seem plausible on the surface, they are built on a false-pretext. Part of their pretext is that “it isn’t commanded in the Bible“, so if we are going to celebrate anything, we should still celebrate the Jewish feasts and festivals. I won’t go into why we no longer celebrate the Jewish feast and festivals, but only a handful of cults do.

I believe the real question comes down to; “Do we have good reason to celebrate the birth of Christ?“, to which I believe that the answer is a resounding “YES“. So, I am going to present my reasons for celebrating the birth of Christ. They are; its importance to our redemption, and the precedent for celebrating it.

Its importance to our redemption…

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us…

The birth of Jesus Christ was THE most important event in human history, because, without His birth, there would have been no crucifixion or resurrection, thus no redemption. The birth of Jesus Christ was also the hinge-pin of redemption-history, tying the Old Testament to the New Testament and the Promises to their fulfillment.

The first promise of a Redeemer was given to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and it is recorded in Genesis 3:15. They had disobeyed God by eating the forbidden-fruit, and thus they had broken their relationship with God. Sin entered the world by their disobedience to God’s command, and we have inherited that sinful-nature. God did NOT accept this broken-relationship as the “new-normal“; rather He instituted a plan of redemption, whereby a “seed of the woman” would come someday to “crush the serpent’s head“. God wanted us to be restored to a right-relationship with Him, and in His love and grace, He was willing to do what it took to accomplish His goal.

Down through the annals of time, God gave many promises to select-people who would carry-on that special lineage from which this Redeemer would come. God also spoke through His prophets to remind His people that the Redeemer, the Messiah was yet to come.

This Redeemer would be no “ordinary man” because an “ordinary-man” could not live up to the righteous standards God demands. Adam had failed, and he only had ONE command to obey. This Redeemer had to be fully-human, yet perfect in all respects. He would be the “second-Adam“, the one who would perfectly fulfill all of God’s just requirements. He came to bring a “new-humanity” to mankind.

John the Baptist, in John 1:29-34, called Jesus “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Our deepest, most-urgent need is for a Savior, someone who will save us from our sins, because it is our sins which separate and exile us from God. Jesus came to be our Savior, to reconcile us to God by paying the just-price for our sins and imputing His perfect-righteousness on us. We gain, through Christ, the sinless-record we could never produce on our own.

That is why the Birth of Christ is SO important.

The precedent for celebrating….
In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.

15 When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. 17 When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 The shepherds went back; glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them. (Luke 2:8-20)

Even though Jesus was born into humble-circumstances, God orchestrated a celebration of His birth. Angels serenaded a bewildered group of shepherds who were camped nearby for the night. I wonder if anyone else saw the heavenly-show. The shepherds didn’t waste any time checking out the marvelous news, and with the shepherds, we should glorify and praise our wonderful God.

Why did God orchestrate that celebration? “I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” A Savior had been born, and not just any savior, He was Christ the Lord. God, in the person of Jesus Christ, had entered our time and our space as a human-being. God, who’s very Presence was so awesome and holy that He was unapproachable by any human, was lying in a manger, and He was here to become THE solution to man’s deepest-need, the need for salvation.

Not celebrating would be unthinkable to me because it would covey a “ho-hum” attitude towards God’s most marvelous gift. THAT is why I celebrate the birth of Christ.

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

Sola Deo Gloria!

Studies in Ruth – Ruth Goes To Work

We have come to one of the most amazing stories in the Old Testament. Ruth, who was from Moab, is not only accepted into the community, she is also welcomed by one of the prominent men in the community. Far from being lazy and hoping that someone is willing to help them out, she actively-pursued an opportunity to work for her keep and help feed them.

God had commanded the children of Israel to care for the poor, the stranger and the alien by giving them the opportunity to glean in their fields. They had been commanded to not harvest the corners of their fields, nor were they allowed to go back and get anything they missed, but they were to leave it untouched so that those less-fortunate than them could have a place to get food. (Leviticus 19:9-10, 23:22, and Deuteronomy 24:19-22)

19 “When you reap your harvest in your field and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow, in order that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. 20 When you beat your olive tree, you shall not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow.

21 “When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not go over it again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow. 22 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I am commanding you to do this thing. (Deuteronomy 24:19-22)

Another interesting command goes along with this one: 17 “You shall not pervert the justice due an alien or an orphan, nor take a widow’s garment in pledge. 18 But you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and that the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I am commanding you to do this thing. (Deuteronomy 24:17-18)

Not only were they to provide for the needs of those who were poor and needy, they were also to make sure that the alien and orphan got the justice they deserved. They weren’t to be treated as “second-class citizens” in the courts of law. Did you notice the reason why God gave these commands?

We saw last time that Naomi and Ruth had arrived in Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest. Barley was the first grain to be harvested, and it was usually ready in about April. Thus, they had come home during a time when an abundant-harvest was a time of celebration and giving thanks to God. We will catch a glimpse of this celebration later on.

Ruth Gleans in Boaz’ Field
Now Naomi had a kinsman of her husband, a man of great wealth, of the family of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz.

This verse seems to come out of left field; it interrupts the narrative, yet it is used to set up what will shortly come into the story. His name means in him is strength, and he is a man of standing, meaning that he was mighty in wealth and in godliness, a rare combination.

2 And Ruth the Moabitess said to Naomi, “Please let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after one in whose sight I may find favor.” And she said to her, “Go, my daughter.” 3 So she departed and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers; and she happened to come to the portion of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech. 4 Now behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem and said to the reapers, “May the Lord be with you.” And they said to him, “May the Lord bless you.” 5 Then Boaz said to his servant who was in charge of the reapers, “Whose young woman is this?” 6 The servant in charge of the reapers replied, “She is the young Moabite woman who returned with Naomi from the land of Moab. 7 And she said, ‘Please let me glean and gather after the reapers among the sheaves.’ Thus she came and has remained from the morning until now; she has been sitting in the house for a little while.”

God’s providence is very-evident in this story. Not only did Naomi and Ruth get to Bethlehem at the right time, they were near to a prominent man in the community who was not only quite-wealthy, but was related to Naomi. Was it just “coincidental” that she picked a field belonging to Boaz? It looks more like a “divine-appointment” to me.

We see more of Ruth’s character coming out in the section, she was not only ambitious, she was also hard-working. She asked Naomi if it was okay for her to go glean in someone’s field, thus honoring Naomi’s place in their family. She also didn’t presume that it was okay to glean in that field; she asked the head-reaper first. By the time Boaz came along, she had already been in the field for several hours.

When Boaz came from Bethlehem back to his farm, the first thing we need to notice is how he greets his reapers. We don’t see him acting and talking like a “head-honcho” even though he is talking to his servants. He said; “May the Lord be with you.” This sounds more like a benediction or doxology than a mere-greeting. He is calling on God to be with his laborers as they do their work. They are not just “hired-hands” or “servants“… He is the kind of godly-boss everyone should delight to work for.

Notice their response; “May the Lord bless you.” Again, we see a benediction or doxology. Was this their “customary-greeting“? If they had worked for Boaz for many years, this may have become their “customary-greeting“. Among the Finnish-Lutherans, their “customary-greeting” is “God’s peace“.

While Ruth is toiling, Boaz returns from town and greets his workers, and then asks the boss if he knows who this woman was who was gleaning. Some commentators suggest that Boaz was curious about her because of her great beauty, but if our text has mentioned her being beautiful, I missed it; probably he just didn’t recognize her. The overseer tells him who she was, and from there forward, our text records the kindness Boaz affords Ruth. Boaz, it seems, views Ruth as a part of his extended family and recognizes that he has a responsibility here to care for her in some way. Now let’s be clear about that; Boaz has no legal responsibility for Ruth because her husband was dead, and she is free to marry anyone who will have her. In addition, she is a Moabite, and in that case, he would have no responsibility for her at all, yet because of the loyalty that she has shown to Naomi, Boaz goes out of his way to help her.

We don’t know whether the head-reaper was plugged-in to the community-grapevine, but he already knew who Ruth was. As we will see in the next few verses, Ruth’s reputation had already made the rounds in that community. Is our reputation so “good” that it goes-before us, or is our reputation so “bad” that we wish that no-one knew about us?

Have you ever treated someone like “family” even though they are not “related” to you?

8 Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Listen carefully, my daughter. Do not go to glean in another field; furthermore, do not go on from this one, but stay here with my maids. 9 Let your eyes be on the field which they reap, and go after them. Indeed, I have commanded the servants not to touch you. When you are thirsty, go to the water jars and drink from what the servants draw.” 10 Then she fell on her face, bowing to the ground and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your sight that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” 11 Boaz replied to her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law after the death of your husband has been fully reported to me, and how you left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and came to a people that you did not previously know. 12 May the Lord reward your work, and your wages be full from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to seek refuge.” 13 Then she said, “I have found favor in your sight, my lord, for you have comforted me and indeed have spoken kindly to your maidservant, though I am not like one of your maidservants.”

Boaz offered Ruth a “safe-place” to work, something that might not be guaranteed otherwise. Even though the Law required land-owners to allow the poor and needy to glean in their fields, some of them might not have been very “happy” about it. In addition, he also provided the means for her to get refreshed and to relax when she needed to.
Ruth didn’t take these extra “perks” for-granted, she asked why Boaz even noticed her, and she is thankful that he had noticed her.

It seems like Ruth must have been “the talk of the town” because Boaz already knew her whole history. As Boaz speaks of Ruth coming to seek “refuge under the wings of the God of Israel“, “refuge” became a recurring-theme for their future great-grandson, David, in the Psalms that he wrote. Psalm 36:7 is only one of many.

How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God!
And the children of men take refuge in the shadow of Your wings. (Psalm 36:7)

Boaz pronounced a blessing on Ruth; 12 “May the Lord reward your work, and your wages be full from the Lord, the God of Israel,”

Even though Boaz “knows-of” or “knows-about” Ruth, he still doesn’t really “know” her yet. Thus it is in all of our relationships. Most of our relationships are superficial, at best. Even in marriage, our “most-intimate” relationship, we each have a long “voyage-of-discovery” as we travel life together, and we may not really know what makes our spouse “tick” until we go through some kind of traumatic life-event, such as loss of a job, or a major-move. That kind of event may bring out the “worst” in one or both spouses.

14 At mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come here, that you may eat of the bread and dip your piece of bread in the vinegar.” So she sat beside the reapers; and he served her roasted grain, and she ate and was satisfied and had some left. 15 When she rose to glean, Boaz commanded his servants, saying, “Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not insult her. 16 Also you shall purposely pull out for her some grain from the bundles and leave it that she may glean, and do not rebuke her.”

Notice that Boaz orders his men to leave her alone, that he gives her a seat at the table with the rest of the household (a household in the OT would include the servants) and that he arranges for her to receive considerably more grain than she would have received just from gleaning. Also, please take note of Ruth’s attitude of humility; even now she assumes no rights or entitlements.

Even though Boaz was “duty-bound” to allow Ruth to glean in his field, we see him “going above and beyond the call of duty” in how he treats Ruth. We call people who “go above and beyond the call of duty” Heroes.

These are two very unusual people!

17 So she gleaned in the field until evening. Then she beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley. 18 She took it up and went into the city, and her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned. She also took it out and gave Naomi what she had left after she was satisfied. 19 Her mother-in-law then said to her, “Where did you glean today and where did you work? May he who took notice of you be blessed.” So she told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked and said, “The name of the man with whom I worked today is Boaz.” 20 Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “May he be blessed of the Lord who has not withdrawn his kindness to the living and to the dead.” Again Naomi said to her, “The man is our relative, he is one of our closest relatives.” 21 Then Ruth the Moabitess said, “Furthermore, he said to me, ‘You should stay close to my servants until they have finished all my harvest.’” 22 Naomi said to Ruth her daughter-in-law, “It is good, my daughter, that you go out with his maids, so that others do not fall upon you in another field.” 23 So she stayed close by the maids of Boaz in order to glean until the end of the barley harvest and the wheat harvest. And she lived with her mother-in-law. (Ruth 2)

Even though reapers didn’t usually “thresh” or “beat-out” what they had harvested until the harvest was done, what Ruth had gleaned was useless unless she did “thresh” or “beat-out” her harvest. “Threshing” separated the grain from the stalk and chaff.

How much grain did she get? An “ephah” was about half a bushel, or about thirty-pounds of grain. Once that barley was ground into meal or flour, it was going to make a LOT of bread, or whatever else barley was used for.

Naomi was probably blown-away by how much barley Ruth brought home because it is unlikely that gleaning-alone would have netted her that much. It certainly got her attention. It also aroused her curiosity; “Where did you glean today and where did you work?“, and also garnered a blessing; “May he who took notice of you be blessed.” From blaming God for her misfortunes to asking God to bless the man who was blessing them…

Ruth’s answer will set the stage for the rest of this story; “The name of the man with whom I worked today is Boaz.” Why is this important? 20 Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “May he be blessed of the Lord who has not withdrawn his kindness to the living and to the dead.” Again Naomi said to her, “The man is our relative, he is one of our closest relatives.” Was Naomi already starting to “connect the dots“?, because in that culture, family-legacy was so important that God had given them a means for preserving family-lines (Deuteronomy 25:5-10). We will look at that in more detail later in our study, along with what it means for us today.

Naomi knows that Boaz is a kinsman-redeemer, which comes from the Hebrew word ga’al which means “kinsman-redeemer”. A kinsman-redeemer is a relative who is obligated to “redeem” the property, and sometimes the life or marriage, of a relation who has fallen into severe distress. For example, if there is real property that is owned by a widow, the kinsman-redeemer might buy that property so that the widow, who couldn’t farm it herself, has an income to live off of. They might also pay off a mortgage, take the person into their household, or marry a brother’s wife if they have no children so that the brother can live on through the children. In the case of Boaz, he was a kinsman-redeemer for Naomi, since he is related to her husband. In the case of Ruth, he is a relative of her husband as well, but the fact that Ruth is a Moabite would give Boaz an “out” if he wished to avoid his responsibilities to the family. Finally, we must remind ourselves that there had been a famine in the land 10 years earlier, and we do not know how long it lasted. A famine in the Promised Land would tell us that God’s Law was not being obeyed in that generation, thus Boaz may or may not be the kind of man who would honor this obligation. Naomi seems to think that he will do his duty, based upon Ruth’s report.

I am sure that Naomi is “all-ears” as Ruth recounts her day at work. 21 Then Ruth the Moabitess said, “Furthermore, he said to me, ‘You should stay close to my servants until they have finished all my harvest.’” Naomi immediately-recognizes that Ruth will be safe as long as she doesn’t go somewhere else. “It is good, my daughter, that you go out with his maids, so that others do not fall upon you in another field.

23 So she stayed close by the maids of Boaz in order to glean until the end of the barley harvest and the wheat harvest. And she lived with her mother-in-law.

We see Ruth revealed as our first “type“. She was a “type“, or “forerunner” of everyone who will ever become a member of the “family of God” through faith. Up to that time, people were “born-into” the “family of God” by physical-descent, but not anymore. The Jews, in Jesus’ time, claimed Abraham as their “father“, however, in Ruth, we see that “door” opened-up to people who were NOT descended from Abraham, such as us. We become members of the “family of God” through faith, much as Ruth did. In the New Testament, we are called “the spiritual children of Abraham” (Romans 4:11-25), and yes, we still have a “blood-connection“, but it is not our own blood. Our connection is through the shed-blood of Christ, who was descended from Abraham.

Sola Deo Gloria!

Bible Study – Seeing Is Believing

Over the next couple of weeks, we will be looking at a “composite-account” of Jesus’ last forty days on this earth which will be drawn from three of the four Gospels, since no single Gospel writer paints a complete picture of all of the events.

Pilate sets a guard
62 Now on the next day, the day after the preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered together with Pilate, 63 and said, “Sir, we remember that when He was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I am to rise again.’ 64 Therefore, give orders for the grave to be made secure until the third day, otherwise His disciples may come and steal Him away and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last deception will be worse than the first.” 65 Pilate said to them, “You have a guard; go, make it as secure as you know how.” 66 And they went and made the grave secure, and along with the guard they set a seal on the stone. (Matthew 27:62-66)

The guards are bribed
11 Now while they were on their way, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all that had happened. 12 And when they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13 and said, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.’ 14 And if this should come to the governor’s ears, we will win him over and keep you out of trouble.” 15 And they took the money and did as they had been instructed; and this story was widely spread among the Jews, and is to this day. (Matthew 28:11-15)

Why should we NOT be surprised that the Jewish leaders concocted a story to cover-up the fact that Jesus had risen from the dead? After all, they had seen Him hanging on the cross, dead as a rock, and since they were still convinced that Jesus was an impostor, the only plausible explanation for His body being missing HAD to be that some had stolen the body, right under their noses. There was NO WAY they were ever going to believe that Jesus had been resurrected from the dead.

The Road to Emmaus
13 And behold, two of them were going that very day to a village named Emmaus, which was about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 And they were talking with each other about all these things which had taken place. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus Himself approached and began traveling with them. 16 But their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him. 17 And He said to them, “What are these words that you are exchanging with one another as you are walking?” And they stood still, looking sad. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, answered and said to Him, “Are You the only one visiting Jerusalem and unaware of the things which have happened here in these days?” 19 And He said to them, “What things?” And they said to Him, “The things about Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word in the sight of God and all the people, 20 and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to the sentence of death, and crucified Him. 21 But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, it is the third day since these things happened. 22 But also some women among us amazed us. When they were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and did not find His body, they came, saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said that He was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just exactly as the women also had said; but Him they did not see.” 25 And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures. (Luke 24:13-27)

Imagine these two dejected followers of Christ trudging-along trying to figure out what had just happened. Yes, they had heard Jesus tell them that He had to be crucified and be resurrected on the third day, but they still weren’t “connecting-the-dots“. When they had met Jesus some years ago, His claims of being the Messiah had rekindled their hope that He was their long-promised “conquering-king“. He also claimed to be their long-awaited “David’s greater Son“, thus He was also in the royal-lineage and could be that final heir to the Davidic-kingdom. As they chafed under Roman domination, they were hoping and praying that God would send a “liberator” to set them free and re-establish the nation of Israel as an independent kingdom. Jesus death on the cross had dashed their last hope that He was their “messianic-king“.

They believed, as most Jews still do today, that the “suffering servant” of Isaiah 53 referred to the nation of Israel, not to some particular person, let alone Jesus Christ. We see Isaiah 53 first applied to Jesus by Philip when he preached to the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26-39. Only Christians understand Isaiah 53 as Messianic-prophesy.

While they had heard the report that Jesus was alive, they weren’t quite sure they believed it. After all, nobody, at least nobody they trusted, had actually seen Jesus alive. Jews didn’t put much credence in the testimony of a woman, particularly in a woman who had been demon-possessed. For all they knew, the resurrection was still a rumor, not an established-fact. Then Jesus met them…

15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus Himself approached and began traveling with them. 16 But their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him. 17 And He said to them, “What are these words that you are exchanging with one another as you are walking?” And they stood still, looking sad. Jesus already knew what they were talking about, but He wanted to hear it from them. Why were they prevented from recognizing Jesus?

18 One of them, named Cleopas, answered and said to Him, “Are You the only one visiting Jerusalem and unaware of the things which have happened here in these days?” 19 And He said to them, “What things?” They were incredulous that He seemed to be ignorant of the most significant event that had happened over the weekend. How could He have NOT heard?

19 And He said to them, “What things?” And they said to Him, “The things about Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word in the sight of God and all the people, 20 and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to the sentence of death, and crucified Him. 21 But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, it is the third day since these things happened. 22 But also some women among us amazed us. When they were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and did not find His body, they came, saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said that He was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just exactly as the women also had said; but Him they did not see.” What had happened to Jesus’ body? Like most Jews of their day, they DID believe in a “resurrection from the dead“, but only in a general way, and only at the end of the age. That was the way Mary and Martha thought too, until Jesus resurrected Lazarus. These two dejected followers may have even witnessed Lazarus’ resurrection, but they still hadn’t “connected the dots” to realize that Jesus might be resurrected too. For all they knew, someone may have stolen Jesus’ body, as was rumored in Jerusalem. In spite of all they had seen and heard, Jesus had seriously let them down.

25 And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.

Why HADN’T they believed what the prophets foretold about the coming Messiah? Even though they hadn’t been to “seminary“, but that doesn’t mean that they were illiterate about the Old Testament? After all, it was read in their synagogues every Sabbath. Had they been looking for the wrong “kind” of Messiah? While we aren’t told what Scriptures Jesus used to show how He had fulfilled many prophesies, He certainly tore-down their Old Testament Messianic-preconceptions and showed them that they had been looking for the wrong “kind” of Messiah all along. Jesus came to be the “suffering-servant“, not to be an earthly “conquering-king“.

On a side-note, I had read and heard the Great Commission many times over the years, but because it was given to the Apostles, and has been largely-restricted to the “spiritual-elite” to carry-out in our time, I never understood that it applies to ALL Believers. I didn’t “get-it” until my pastor preached a series of sermons entitled “Getting out of the boat“. That is when the Great Commission flashed through my brain like a stroke of lightning. My eyes were finally opened, and it “only” took fifty-eight-years to finally happen. I finally “got-it“. Why did it take me that long to finally “get-it“? I grew up in a church-culture where men were “called, trained and ordained” as pastors or missionaries. It was, and still is, a tightly-controlled system, which should remind us of the Jewish religious leaders asking Jesus “By what authority…?” “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” Maybe we shouldn’t be quite so “hard” on those disciples, because they were a “product” of their culture just as I was of mine.

28 And they approached the village where they were going, and He acted as though He were going farther. 29 But they urged Him, saying, “Stay with us, for it is getting toward evening, and the day is now nearly over.” So He went in to stay with them. 30 When He had reclined at the table with them, He took the bread and blessed it, and breaking it, He began giving it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight. 32 They said to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?” 33 And they got up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found gathered together the eleven and those who were with them, 34 saying, “The Lord has really risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35 They began to relate their experiences on the road and how He was recognized by them in the breaking of the bread. (Luke 24:28-35)

Why did Jesus act like He was going to continue His trip? Had He come “dangerously-close” to revealing who He was? Were their “mental-gears” whirring with wondering if the stranger who had met them might be Jesus? Maybe He wasn’t ready for the “great-reveal” just yet…

29 But they urged Him, saying, “Stay with us, for it is getting toward evening, and the day is now nearly over.” So He went in to stay with them. Hospitality-customs in that culture required that local-people open their home to travelers who were passing-through, so in keeping with that custom, they offered Jesus a place to spend the night, and supper.

30 When He had reclined at the table with them, He took the bread and blessed it, and breaking it, He began giving it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight. This begs the question of whether they had been with Jesus during the Last Supper, or were their eyes opened supernaturally? Maybe a bit of both? Why did Jesus abruptly-vanish?

32 They said to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?” They had heard those prophesies before, maybe even dozens of times, but they had been “conditioned” to a different-interpretation. How many times have we read or heard the same thing ninety-nine times, but we didn’t “get-it” until the hundredth time? That is the work of the Holy Spirit, as Jesus told us in John 16:13 “He will guide you into all truth.” We are guided to understand the truth because we have a Divine-guide.

33 And they got up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found gathered together the eleven and those who were with them, 34 saying, “The Lord has really risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35 They began to relate their experiences on the road and how He was recognized by them in the breaking of the bread. That news was certainly too good to keep to themselves so they high-tailed it back to Jerusalem. They weren’t the only ones to have seen the risen Lord; Jesus had also appeared to Simon Peter.

Note: We don’t have a “timeline” of Jesus’ appearances to His disciples, so the following-accounts may be “parallel-accounts” told by different authors. We will take them as individual-events as recounted by their authors.

Other Appearances
36 While they were telling these things, He Himself stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be to you.” 37 But they were startled and frightened and thought that they were seeing a spirit. 38 And He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. 41 While they still could not believe it because of their joy and amazement, He said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave Him a piece of a broiled fish; 43 and He took it and ate it before them. (Luke 24:36-43)

I can imagine their surprise as they were swapping-stories about the Risen-Lord when Jesus Himself appeared to them. They hadn’t heard a “knock” on the door and didn’t see the door open, Jesus just “appeared”. He appeared as suddenly as He had disappeared from Emmaus. I would be troubled too.

“Peace be to you.” His greeting should have brought comfort to them, but they couldn’t believe their eyes. They thought that they were seeing a ghost, a “spirit”, because humans don’t walk through doors or just “appear”.

38 And He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” As incredulous as it seemed, Jesus really WAS alive.

41 While they still could not believe it because of their joy and amazement, He said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave Him a piece of a broiled fish; 43 and He took it and ate it before them. One thing was for sure, “ghostsDON’T eat, but Jesus took food and ate it in their presence. Yes, He WAS alive, and they were NOTseeing-things”.

Jesus among His Disciples
19 So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” 22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.” (John 20:19-23)

The disciples had gathered, most-likely in an upper-room, and they had gone there secretly because they weren’t “out-of-the-woods” yet just because Jesus was “dead”. They still represented a significant-threat to the Jewish-establishment because there were so many of them. They also knew that if Jesus WAS alive, they could be rounded-up at any moment and suffer a similar-fate. Some of them may have even slipped-in under-cover of darkness. It was just too soon to be taking ANY chances. I would have been jittery too.

When Jesus appeared to them, He tried to calm their fears with “Peace be with you.” That “peace” was more than just an absence of conflict, it was an inner-peace, and the kind of “peace” we can have regardless of circumstance because we know that God is still in control of everything. 20 And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord. If any of them had been skeptical about Jesus’ resurrection, seeing Him in person removed all doubt.

21 So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” Jesus’ disciples weren’t going to be able to just “go back home as if nothing had happened”, He gave them a new mission, a COMMISSION. They were to be His “ambassadors”, and they were to carry on with the work that He had begun, namely spreading the Good-News that the Kingdom of God had come.

22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. This gift is essential for the performance of the task given the disciples. This occasion is a “foreshadowing” of the fullness of the Spirit to be given to the church on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came-upon them in great power. There were no “tongues-of-fire” or “speaking in tongues”, but God was already preparing them for the mission which lay-ahead of them.

23 If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.” The Apostles, as the founders of the church and acting for it, received the authority to declare God’s judgment on sins. Fundamentally, this declaration is made when the Gospel is preached.

“Doubting” Thomas
24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”

Why didn’t Thomas believe that Jesus had risen from the dead? Did he still believe the rumor in Jerusalem that Jesus’ body had been “stolen”? He had witnessed Lazarus’ resurrection, but how could a “dead-man” bring himself back to life? That was impossible. He, along with Mary and Martha, may have believed that there would be a “general-resurrection” at the end of time, but…

Thomas needed EVIDENCE, real, touchable EVIDENCE, that Jesus was alive. He would only believe if he could see and touch Jesus for himself. Second-hand “testimony” wasn’t good enough for him. He would have been a very-tough “trial-lawyer”.

26 After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” 28 Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” (John 20:24-29)

Jesus didn’t rebuke Thomas for wanting to see Him first-hand because He knew that some people need more “evidence” than just what they have been told. He had certainly surprised the other disciples when He appeared to them. He also wasn’t “surprised” that Thomas was “skeptical” because there is a bit of “skeptic” in all of us. It is part of being HUMAN. That is also one of the reasons why we have four Gospels, not just one. Each of the Gospels was written by a different author, each from their own “perspective”, and each was written to a different “target-audience”.

27 Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” Thomas could only exclaim “My Lord and my God!” Thomas finally “got-it”.

29 Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.”

The disciples were the first eye-witnesses to the resurrected Christ, and yes, seeing WAS believing, but Christ has a message for us today. “Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” Because of their eye-witness accounts in the Gospels, we too are able to believe in the resurrected Christ. We have the same opportunity to exclaim, with Thomas, “My Lord and my God!” Have you seen Christ through the pages of Scripture? I pray that you have.

Sola Deo Gloria!
Steve

Tough Times…

I’ve had them, you’ve had them, even the Apostle Paul had them, and some of you may even be going through tough-times right now. Maybe you are going through financial-difficulties such that there is “too much month at the end of the money“, health issues for which there is no “cure“, relationship issues, or are in a spiritual-slump, and while it may be hard to imagine anything “good” coming from them, we aren’t abandoned in our struggles. Paul reminds us that “we are not alone“.

The Apostle Paul was certainly no stranger to pain, suffering and tough times, and as he wrote the letter to the Romans, he knew that more sufferings were ahead of him. He had been beaten many times, imprisoned, and stoned and left for dead. While the exact date of this letter is unknown, we do know that Paul hadn’t been to Rome yet, but that there was already a vibrant church there. He wrote Romans 8 out of those experiences, combined with the assurances he had received from the Holy Spirit. Romans 8 also contains some of the most “difficult” verses in the whole Bible because they are counter-intuitive to us and our experiences. With that in mind, I want to look at verses 18-27. I have covered Romans 8:28-39 in a previous post entitled “Good?” which was posted in August, 2015. I invite you to read and study that post as a “follow-up” to this treatise.

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. 23 And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. 24 For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.

Paul kicks-off this section by comparing the significance of his sufferings with the glory that awaits him after his journey is over. 18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. As much as Paul had already suffered, and as many sufferings were still on the horizon, they paled in comparison to the glories of Heaven.

While it is not “wrong” to ask, “When will this all end?“, or, “When will I get some relief?“, if you have accepted Christ as your Lord and Savior, your spirit should be buoyed by the fact that your suffering will end when you take your last breath, and when you wake up in Heaven, you will have the perfect health and have the perfect body which you may have even been denied at your birth. Yes, I am looking forward to seeing perfectly with two good eyes, hearing perfectly and not having my body riddled with arthritis, the true glory will be seeing my blessed Savior face-to-face and having perfect fellowship with God and with His people.

Paul then reminds us that we are not alone in yearning for when all things will be made right, for when all things will be made new. 19 For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. 23 And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.

When God created mankind, He gave us custodial-responsibility over all of His creation. When Adam and Eve fell, God placed a curse on the rest of His creation as well. However, rather than being good custodians of God’s creation, mankind has exploited and raped God’s creation in our endless greed for MORE, MORE, MORE. While I don’t know how much of “climate change” is man-made and how much of it is really climate-cycling, I do remember the days when coal-fired power-plants belched acrid black smoke twenty-four hour a day, seven day a week, and when diesel trucks left a plume of acrid black smoke in their wake. I don’t miss those days, but at that, we should be doing a much-better job of tending God’s creation. Yes, even creation eagerly-waits that time when all things will be made right, and all things will be made new.

23 And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. While some false religions are looking forward to the time when our spirits are “liberated” from our bodily-shell, Christians are looking forward to our bodily-resurrection. Christ’s resurrection was more than merely Him coming back to life; it serves as the iron-clad assurance of our own bodily-resurrection. To be “humanmeans to have a “human-body“, and that is what God created us to be for all eternity.

Our Victory in Christ
26 In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; 27 and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Have you ever thought that you NEED to pray, and may even have urgent things to pray for, but really couldn’t put your thoughts into a coherent-prayer? Have you ever tried to pray, but all you did was sputter and stammer? Did you ever stop and remind yourself that the Holy Spirit knows what is on your mind and is praying with and for you? Maybe you have read these words before, but their significance still hasn’t sunk-in yet, if so, read them again and let them sink-in to the depths of your heart. 26 In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; 27 and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. We have an intercessor Who knows how to make our petitions known to God the Father even better than we ever could. The Holy Spirit never sputters or stammers. Take comfort in that glorious-reality!

From Isaiah 40:
Eight centuries before Paul wrote his letter to the Romans, God addressed His exiled-people through the prophet Isaiah. As they struggled to endure the hardships of their exile, they asked “Has God abandoned us?”, a question we may be tempted to ask when we are struggling with tough times. God’s answer to them, and to us, should give us comfort and assurance that we are NOT abandoned.

27 Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord, and the justice due me escapes the notice of my God”?

28 Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable.

29 He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power.

30 Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly,

31 Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary. (Isaiah 40:27-31)

God, through Isaiah, asks: 27 Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord, and the justice due me escapes the notice of my God”? As they yearned for their homeland, they may have wondered whether God had abandoned them, or God was “on vacation” and had forgotten their plight. Do we ever have those thoughts?

Notice God’s answer to their immediate-question: 28 Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. God tells them, AND us, that He NEVERtakes a vacation” or even “goes to sleep“. God is ALWAYS on “high-alert“.

In the aftermath of 9-11, many people wondered where God was on that fateful day, and even more recently, where God was during the Pulse Nightclub massacre, but God has assured us that NOTHINGescapes His notice“.

In the midst of our tough-times, we may ask “WHY?” many times, but God reminds us that we may never understand His reasons for our struggles. His understanding is inscrutable. There are many times in my life when I have asked “WHY?“, only to be met with deafening-silence, and it would only be many years later before I finally caught a glimpse of “why” those things happened.

Have you ever wondered, as you struggled through tough-times, how you were able to keep putting one foot in front if the other? Tough-times wear us down and wear us out, but God concludes His message with one of the most amazing promises in all of Scripture.

29 He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power. 30 Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, 31 Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.

Some of you may have read “Footprints In The Sand” before, and I can’t think of any more fitting way to close this treatise.

Footprints in the Sand
One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord. Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky. In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand. Sometimes there were two sets of footprints, other times there were one set of footprints.

This bothered me because I noticed that during the low periods of my life, when I was suffering from anguish, sorrow or defeat, I could see only one set of footprints.

So I said to the Lord, “You promised me Lord, that if I followed you, You would walk with me always. But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there have only been one set of footprints in the sand. “Why, when I needed you most, you have not been there for me?”

The Lord replied, “The times when you have seen only one set of footprints, is when I carried you.”

If you are going through tough-times, or know someone who is, my prayer is that your spirit will be buoyed by these precious promises from Romans 8 and Isaiah 40. I need to be reminded of them too, because my life isn’t exactly “smooth” right now either.

Sola Deo Gloria!
Steve

Bible Study – Jesus On Trial

We now come to the most disturbing, evil part of the account of the life of Christ, His mock “trial” by what can best be described as a “kangaroo-court“, and His crucifixion. We are only going to look at the first part of His “trial” this week, and we will look at the second part of His “trial” and the “verdict” next week.

This was a cosmic miscarriage of “justice“, crucifying the Incarnate Son of God.

Jesus before the Priests
12 So the Roman cohort and the commander and the officers of the Jews, arrested Jesus and bound Him, 13 and led Him to Annas first; for he was father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. 14 Now Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was expedient for one man to die on behalf of the people. (John 18:12-14)

Jesus went willingly…

Annas was one of the most influential Jewish leaders of that era, and although he had been deposed from the high priesthood by the Romans, he still wielded significant clout. That Jesus was being tried at night was a significant irregularity, and capitol-crimes were not supposed to be tried on the eve of a Sabbath or feast day. They were violating their own laws!

Jesus’ appearance before Annas was probably a “preliminary-hearing“, because He also appeared before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin, where He was finally “convicted“. As if the Jewish religious leaders weren’t corrupt enough on their own, they even sought out “false-witnesses” to bolster their “case” against Jesus. “Truth” didn’t matter. All they cared about was carrying out their “agenda“. They not only violated the Law of God, they also violated their own regulations for legal-proceedings.

15 Simon Peter was following Jesus, and so was another disciple. Now that disciple was known to the high priest, and entered with Jesus into the court of the high priest, 16 but Peter was standing at the door outside. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the doorkeeper, and brought Peter in. 17 Then the slave-girl who kept the door said to Peter, “You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” 18 Now the slaves and the officers were standing there, having made a charcoal fire, for it was cold and they were warming themselves; and Peter was also with them, standing and warming himself. (John 18:15-18)

Simon Peter followed Jesus to this first “hearing“, as did John (another disciple). How or why John was “known” to the high priest is unknown, but he was, and he went into the court with Jesus. Simon Peter stayed outside in the court-yard, which sets up his denial of His Lord, which he had claimed that “he would never do“. John must have had some clout, because he was able to bring Peter inside with him. Of all the people who could have confronted Peter about one of Jesus’ disciples, the “slave-girl” who was the door-keeper would seem to have been the least “intimidating“, but Peter, possibly to avoid “trouble“, denied his Lord. So much for “Mr. Tough-guy“…

19 The high priest then questioned Jesus about His disciples, and about His teaching. 20 Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world; I always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together; and I spoke nothing in secret. 21 Why do you question Me? Question those who have heard what I spoke to them; they know what I said.” 22 When He had said this, one of the officers standing nearby struck Jesus, saying, “Is that the way You answer the high priest?” 23 Jesus answered him, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify of the wrong; but if rightly, why do you strike Me?” 24 So Annas sent Him bound to Caiaphas the high priest. (John 18:19-24)

Annas wanted to know what kind of “corrupt” teaching Jesus had been doing, possibly trying to figure out why Jesus had such a loyal-following, but Jesus wasn’t going to give him any more “ammunition“. If he thought he was going to get Jesus to contradict Himself, that WASN’T going to happen. Jesus simply told him to ask other people about Him, but that answer wasn’t “good-enough” for Annas. Evidently one of the court-officers didn’t like it either, because he took a swing at Jesus. Never mind that what he did was illegal. This was a “kangaroo-court“, so “legal” or “illegal” didn’t matter. Unable to get the “answers” he was looking for, Annas sent Jesus to Caiaphas, who was just as corrupt as he was, if not worse.

Peter’s Denial of Jesus
25 Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, “You are not also one of His disciples, are you?” He denied it, and said, “I am not.” 26 One of the slaves of the high priest, being a relative of the one whose ear Peter cut off, said, “Did I not see you in the garden with Him?” 27 Peter then denied it again, and immediately a rooster crowed. (John 18:25-27)

As Peter was warming himself by the fire, someone else confronted him about being one of Jesus’ disciples. His simple denial, “I am not“, wasn’t good enough for someone who had seen him in the Garden with Jesus, particularly since Peter had taken a swipe with his sword at one of his relatives. 74 Then he began to curse and swear, “I do not know the man!” And immediately a rooster crowed. 75 And Peter remembered the word which Jesus had said, “Before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly. (Matthew 26:74-75) Poor Peter had been caught “red-handed“. Sorry Peter, “three-strikes, and you are OUT“. That fateful rooster crowed, and Peter realized that he had “blown-it” big-time. How could Jesus ever trust him again?

For many of us, myself included, there have been times in our lives when it was difficult to figure out which “side” we were on, because, while claiming to be a “Christian“, we were acting like a “heathen“. I wasn’t “pastor-material” twenty-five years ago, and neither was Peter or Paul, but God can uses “messes” like us to fulfill His purposes. It also during those times when God’s abundant grace, mercy and forgiveness are the sweetest. It is amazing what God can do.

Jesus faces the Sanhedrin
55 Now the chief priests and the whole Council kept trying to obtain testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, and they were not finding any. 56 For many were giving false testimony against Him, but their testimony was not consistent. 57 Some stood up and began to give false testimony against Him, saying, 58 “We heard Him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with hands, and in three days I will build another made without hands.’” 59 Not even in this respect was their testimony consistent.

60 The high priest stood up and came forward and questioned Jesus, saying, “Do You not answer? What is it that these men are testifying against You?” 61 But He kept silent and did not answer. Again the high priest was questioning Him, and saying to Him, “Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” 62 And Jesus said, “I am; and you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” 63 Tearing his clothes, the high priest said, “What further need do we have of witnesses? 64 You have heard the blasphemy; how does it seem to you?” And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death. 65 Some began to spit at Him, and to blindfold Him, and to beat Him with their fists, and to say to Him, “Prophesy!” And the officers received Him with slaps in the face. (Mark 14:55-65)

First of all, we must understand that the Jewish religious leaders had already given their verdict, that Jesus must die was a forgone conclusion, so now they are going to try to find “evidence” to support their verdict. Now, mind you, this was the same bunch of creeps who had tried to get Jesus arrested before and even tried to stone Him. Their hatred of Jesus was way over-the-top. Even though their corruption and hatred are obvious to us, there was nobody “grading their homework” back then. They WERE the “top-dogs“. When they were finally able to find some “witnesses” who were willing to give false-testimony against Jesus, no two agreed on their testimony.

At his wits-end, the high priest finally stood up and asked Jesus “Do You not answer? What is it that these men are testifying against You?” Jesus wasn’t even going to straighten the false-witnesses out, so finally the high priest asked “Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” This question was either going to make or break their case, because if Jesus said “No“, He would be lying, and if He said “Yes“, they could accuse Him of blasphemy, which was a capitol-offense.

62 And Jesus said, “I am; and you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” Jesus was either a liar or a fraud, or who He said He is, but His answer needed no further clarification. Notice that He used His favorite title for Himself, Son of Man, which He used more frequently than any other title throughout His earthly-ministry.

63 Tearing his clothes, the high priest said, “What further need do we have of witnesses? 64 You have heard the blasphemy; how does it seem to you?” The high priest had caught Jesus in His own mouth-trap. He now had all the “evidence” he needed to render the verdict, and things were going to get even uglier from then on.

And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death. 65 Some began to spit at Him, and to blindfold Him, and to beat Him with their fists, and to say to Him, “Prophesy!” And the officers received Him with slaps in the face.

All pretenses of human-decency went out the window, as they who were supposed to be so “holy” started behaving like school-yard-bullies. Even though they claimed to be “children of Abraham“, they were acting like “children of the devil“. Jesus had nailed them back in John 8:44. “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

Now, all they had to do was get Pilate to agree with their verdict…

Jesus before Pilate
28 Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas into the Praetorium, and it was early; and they themselves did not enter into the Praetorium so that they would not be defiled, but might eat the Passover. 29 Therefore Pilate went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this Man?” 30 They answered and said to him, “If this Man were not an evildoer, we would not have delivered Him to you.” 31 So Pilate said to them, “Take Him yourselves, and judge Him according to your law.” The Jews said to him, “We are not permitted to put anyone to death,” 32 to fulfill the word of Jesus which He spoke, signifying by what kind of death He was about to die. (John 18:28-32)

We have an interesting scene here. The Jews didn’t want to become “ceremonially-unclean” by entering the Roman governor’s mansion, which also doubled as a courthouse, so Pilate had to go out to them. One might wonder what their ceremonial condition was after the role they played in putting the Son of God to death! They were so concerned about ceremonial-purity, but it was all for outward-show.

What was their true spiritual-condition? Their hearts were totally-corrupt. Only the Romans could impose the death-penalty and execute prisoners, and since the Jews had been unable to “silence” Jesus any other way, the only way they could “get-rid” of Jesus was to have Him crucified, but they had to convince Pilate first.

29 Therefore Pilate went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this Man?” Pilate wanted to know why the Jews were bothering him with their “problems”, particularly first-thing in the morning. First, they had hornswoggled him out of a contingent of Roman soldiers, and now they were expecting him to try this poor guy. What was up with that? Couldn’t they handle their own problems?

30 They answered and said to him, “If this Man were not an evildoer, we would not have delivered Him to you.” Could they have gotten any LESS SPECIFIC? “Evildoer”? What kind of mischief had Jesus gotten Himself into to be an “evildoer”? They were grasping at straws that didn’t exist.

31 So Pilate said to them, “Take Him yourselves, and judge Him according to your law.” Get Him out of here and handle your own problems. DON’T BOTHER ME WITH YOUR PROBLEMS!!!

The Jews said to him, “We are not permitted to put anyone to death,” Since when? That hadn’t kept them from trying to stone Jesus, or wanting to stone the woman who had been “caught” in adultery (John 8:2-12). That also didn’t keep them from stoning Stephen in Acts 7:57-60. They wanted Pilate to do their dirty-work for them.

32 to fulfill the word of Jesus which He spoke, signifying by what kind of death He was about to die. ( As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; (John 3:14)) Jesus had made it abundantly clear that He was going to be crucified.

33 Therefore Pilate entered again into the Praetorium, and summoned Jesus and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Are you saying this on your own initiative, or did others tell you about Me?” 35 Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests delivered You to me; what have You done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom was of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” 37 Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”

38 Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?”

There was no love-lost between the Jews and the Romans, and Pilate had no desire to be the Jew’s “hatchet-man“, BUT, if he didn’t placate the Jews somehow, he might have a riot on his hands, which would NOT have looked good if word got back to his superiors. His whole political-career was on the line, and one misstep could have sent him packing. Pilate was stuck between the proverbial “rock and a hard-spot“. How was he going to save his “neck” and save Jesus also? In the end, he couldn’t have it both ways.

“Are You the King of the Jews?” Was Jesus a threat to his authority and political-career? If Jesus was, Pilate would have to quash that rebellion immediately. After all, the Jews were looking for a “Messiah” who would throw the Romans out and liberate the Jews, which would be bad-news for the Romans.

34 Jesus answered, “Are you saying this on your own initiative, or did others tell you about Me?” Jesus wasn’t very sympathetic with Pilate’s predicament. Had Pilate figured this out on his own, or had the Jews “snitched” on Jesus. 35 Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I?” Pilate WASN’T a Jew, so it was highly-unlikely that he would have known about the Messianic-prophesies on his own. “Your own nation and the chief priests delivered You to me; what have You done?” Pilate was basically asking Jesus “what He had done to tick the Jews off”. It must have been pretty-bad for them to drag Jesus before Pilate.

In our world, where we never know what or who to believe, where lies and half-truths are peddled to us constantly, where “political-correctness” and “situational-ethics” reign supreme, “What is truth?” remains the question of the ages. It wasn’t just poor Pilate who had no clue what the truth was, we also struggle with that same question.

Unknown to Pilate, but Jesus had answered that question for us, when He said “I am the way, the truth and the life”. The answer to the great question about truth is that Jesus is the very embodiment of Truth. I seek to proclaim the truth, but I am NOT the truth.

And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews and said to them, “I find no guilt in Him…

Next time, we will look at “Jesus on Trial – The Verdict”, so stay tuned.

Sola Deo Gloria!
Steve