Ruth – From Macro to Micro

There are books in the Bible which are quite easy to pass-over or ignore, and Ruth is one of them. It is quite possible for a person to read the book of Ruth and think that it is little more than a cute romance-story, but they wouldn’t even have scratched the surface of its significance. They might even wonder why God bothered including Ruth in Scripture, but they would be missing those beautiful, juicy, tender, “Filet Mignon” gems hiding beneath the surface. So, with that in mind, I want to look at where the book of Ruth fits into the over-arching-narrative of the Bible, and then zoom-in on what we can learn from it.

The Bible…
The Bible is one grand story from beginning to end, which can be broken-up into three “acts“, encompassing many sub-stories. The story of the Bible is of God’s relationship with mankind, and how, after that relationship is broken, God set about to restore that relationship, and make it personal. The Bible both begins and ends in God’s Garden. When one fails to place the Bible events within the context of the Scripture’s meta-narrative, they will miss nuances that they should not miss, and will fail to appreciate the unity of scriptural teaching.

Act I…
Act I begins with creation, creation of the cosmos, creation of the plants and animals, and creation of mankind, Adam and Eve. Before the Fall, God and man had perfect fellowship, a perfect relationship, as God intended. Genesis 1 & 2 recount those events. Beginning in Genesis 3, we see the Fall, and how it destroyed that perfect relationship between God and mankind. After creating the cosmos by the Word of His power, God knelt in the dust of the ground to make His final and ultimate-creation – mankind (Genesis 2:7), and gave both mankind and animals all of the fruits and plants for food, with one exception; 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.”(Genesis 2:16-17)

The penalty for disobedience was death. Period! When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden-fruit, God could have rightly struck them dead on the spot, but He didn’t. He set the stage for Act II in Genesis 3:15:
“And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall crush your the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel.”

God could have abandoned or “rebooted” His human-project, but He didn’t. He set-about to redeem mankind which opens in Genesis 4.

Act II…
Act II tells the story from the promise of a Redeemer to its ultimate-fulfillment by Jesus Christ, on the Cross. While our English Bibles divide the Old Testament and the New Testament between Malachi and Matthew, the Gospels are really part of the Old Testament, because the “old-order” isn’t fulfilled and done-away-with until the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. If you recall, when Jesus died on the cross, the veil in the Temple between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies was torn in two, thus removing the veil that had always separated God and His people. Christ, on the Cross, inaugurated the “new-order

Ruth is part of Act II, and tells part of the story about how God used ordinary people to help fulfill the promise the Genesis 3:15, the coming of the Redeemer. Ruth looks forward to an ultimate-fulfillment, to come later, which the entire Old Testament, from Genesis 3:15 to the Cross, was pointing to.

Act III…
Act III tells the story of how God again used ordinary people in bringing into reality the ultimate-restoration of His relationship with His chosen people from mankind. Act III is about fulfilling God’s promise to Abram in Genesis 12:3, that “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed”. Act III closes in the closing chapters of Revelation with God’s people being restored to perfect fellowship with God in His Garden, just as the story began in Genesis 1 & 2. The overarching-story has come full-circle.

Focusing in on Ruth…
From our long-lens view of the Bible, we will now start focusing-in on some of the important, but often-overlooked details in Ruth. We will start with the setting:

Setting…
Every human story has to have a setting, a discrete time and place. There are times when, as much as might like to be in more than one place at the same moment, it is physically and humanly impossible. God isn’t limited by time and place, because He is infinite. Man is finite.

TIme…
Ruth 1 begins by giving us a snapshot of its timeline:
Now it came about in the days when the judges governed (Ruth 1:1a)

When did the judges govern? The period of the judges was from just after the death of Joshua until the coming of Samuel. The judges ruled Israel for about 350 years, from about 1400 BC until 1050 BC. Thus, the children of Israel had mostly conquered the Promised Land, and were starting to settle-in. That time can be summed-up with; “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25)

Can we get closer than that, and where might we find that information? How about Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus Christ, in Matthew 1? Low and behold, we find another data-point in Matthew 1:5a: Salmon begat Boaz by Rahab;”

Who was Rahab? Rahab is introduced to us in Joshua 2:1-21. She was the innkeeper/prostitute who sheltered the spies in Jericho, and helped them escape safely. She asked for, a received a promise that she and her family would be spared when the Israelites conquered Jericho. That promise was fulfilled in Joshua 6:17-25. So what became of her after that? She disappeared off of the Old Testament “radar“, so we wouldn’t know “the rest of the story” without Matthew 1:5. She settled-down with Salmon, and they had Boaz. This helps us bracket our timeline even more precisely.

We will take a closer-look at Boaz’s genealogy when we look at “types” a bit later.

How old was Boaz when he met Ruth? We aren’t told, so we can’t be sure, but I think it is safe to say that an old, gray-headed man wouldn’t get too excited about marrying a twenty-something woman, but maybe a forty-something man might. This brackets our timeline to closer to the beginning of the period of the judges, within a few years of the Israelites’ conquest of the Promised Land.

Place…
Ruth begins and ends in Bethlehem. The scene immediately transitions into Moab: And a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the land of Moab with his wife and his two sons. 2 The name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife, Naomi; and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites of Bethlehem in Judah. Now they entered the land of Moab and remained there.(Ruth 1:1c, 2)

Why the change in scenery? there was a famine in the land.(Ruth 1:1b) Why the famine? In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25)

As they frequently did in the wilderness, the Israelites again forgot which God they were supposed to serve, and as a result, God sent a famine to punish and remind them.

The journey back to Bethlehem takes place in Ruth 1:6-22. Bethlehem is the setting for the rest of this story.

Time-stamps…
An important time-stamp for this story is in Ruth 1:22b; And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest. Why is this particular time-stamp important? Barley has the shortest growing-season of the cereal grains, so it is the first to be harvested. It would give Ruth the opportunity to work for their sustenance, and there would be plenty of time to store away grains for winter.

Our next time-stamp comes in Ruth 3:2; 2 Now is not Boaz our kinsman, with whose maids you were? Behold, he winnows barley at the threshing floor tonight. Naomi has hatched a plan for Ruth to propose to Boaz that he become their kinsman-redeemer, and it doesn’t take long before that opportunity arises. How long have they been in Bethlehem? For the duration of the barley harvest, a few days to a couple of weeks. BTW, who is orchestrating these events? There are no “coincidences” in the Bible. I have known of other very-short courtships, but this one just about takes the cake.

Naomi and Ruth were redeemed, and Ruth was married before they had even been in Bethlehem a month. WOW!!!

I used to have a brother-in-law who remarried shortly after he lost his first wife, but he and his second wife had known each other since they were kids…literally.

Now that we know where it took place, and approximately when it took place, who are our main characters?

Characters…
Since Naomi’s husband and sons both appear and disappear within the first five verses of Ruth, while they helped set the stage, they aren’t integral to the continuation of story.

Naomi…
Naomi and her family were “Ephrathites of Bethlehem in Judah” (Ruth 1:2). When the Israelites settled the Promised Land, each Tribe got its allotted area, which was further broken-down by clans and families. Thus, the Ephrathites settled the area around Bethlehem. We find an interesting prophesy concerning the coming Redeemer in Micah 5:2;

But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
Too little to be among the clans of Judah,
From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel.
His goings forth are from long ago,
From the days of eternity.”

Maybe Ephrathah wasn’t so “insignificant” after all.

Ruth…
Ruth was a Moabite, so who were the Moabites?

The Moabites were descended from Lot, Abraham’s nephew, by one of his daughters (Genesis 19:33-37). It was an incestuous relationship, because his daughters feared that Lot’s family-line would die-out, since Lot had no sons and there were no available husbands for them in a cave in the wilderness.

The relationship between the Moabites and the Israelites waxed and waned, but it was at least “cordial” during the time of Naomi and Ruth.

Cultural note…
While we recoil in disgust at the mention of incest, there was no cultural-taboo against it during the days of the Patriarchs. God didn’t regulate the “degree-of-separation” for intra-family marriages until He gave the Law at Mt. Sinai. Sarah was Abraham’s half-sister. Abraham sent his servant back to “his brother’s family” to take a wife for Isaac, so Isaac and Rebekah were cousins. Likewise, Isaac sent Jacob back to “family” to find a wife, so Jacob, Rachael and Leah were cousins. Intra-family-marriage, incest, was a very common and accepted practice.

Think about it a moment; How did the earth get populated originally, since mankind began with one couple, Adam and Eve? How did the earth get repopulated after the Flood, since that re-population depended on three related couples? The purpose of this exercise is to help us wrap our heads around the cultures at the times when the Old Testament was recorded. We can’t judge what happened three-thousand years ago by our cultural-norms today.

Boaz…
Our last significant character is Boaz. Who was he?

Now Naomi had a kinsman of her husband, a man of great wealth, of the family of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. (Ruth 2:1)

Boaz was related to Elimelech, perhaps a cousin. Boaz was also well-known, well-respected and well-connected in the area, as we will see later when he goes to bat for Naomi and Ruth. He was one of the community’s “movers and shakers”.

As we have seen from Matthew 1:5, Boaz’s father was Salmon and his mother was Rahab. We will delve deeper into his family-history in the next section; Types.

Types…
God used “types” in the Old Testament to point forward to a greater fulfillment which was to come. For instance; God chose the children of Israel to be His special people, and yet, not all of the physical descendents of Israel were or will be saved. The Jewish leaders of Jesus’ time claimed Abraham as their “father“, but rejected Jesus, who was the promised-one who was to come to bless all the nations of the earth. The New Testament equates all believers with “spiritual Israel“, “Abraham’s spiritual seed“. All of “spiritual Israel” will be saved, but not all of physical Israel will be saved.

Ruth…
Ruth, in embracing Naomi’s God as her God (Ruth 1:16-17), became a “type” of all Gentiles who would come to God by faith. Yes, Ruth is, if you will, our “spiritual-mother“. She was also an industrious, hard-working woman who had no problem taking the initiative.

Boaz…
We see Boaz, in redeeming Naomi and Ruth, as the penultimate “type” of the Redeemer who was to come, Jesus Christ. All who come to faith in God through Jesus Christ become part of God’s redeemed family.

Slaves are still bought and sold in parts of the world today. What if a man went to a slave-market and found a young boy or girl who was being sold into slavery, but rather than buying them to be his slave, he bought (redeemed) them to be part of his family? Rather than taking that child home to be a slave, he took that child home, gave them a bath, dressed them in nice, clean clothes, and at dinner time, showed them their place at the family table, where there was plenty of food to eat, and then at bed time, showed them to their bedroom, where they have their own clean bed to sleep in? That child even bears the family-name, since they are a real part of the family.

That is a picture of our redemption and adoption into God’s family, which Jesus procured on the cross on our behalf.

Before we come to faith in God through Jesus Christ, we are slaves to sin and Satan, but when we come by faith to God, Jesus Christ, through His shed-blood and finished-work on the Cross, redeems us, not to be slaves any longer, but to be sons and daughters of God. By redeeming Naomi and Ruth, Boaz made them part of his family. They weren’t poor widows any more. They had a place at Boaz’s table, and Ruth also had a place in his bedroom.

Boaz wasn’t the first kinsman-redeemer in the Old Testament, but he was the first to “get it right“. The kinsman-redeemer custom was well-established long before God enshrined it in His law (Deuteronomy 25:5-10). The importance of having a male heir in that society can not be overstated. When God didn’t keep His promise of an heir for Abraham soon enough, he tried to short-circuit the process by having Ishmael by Hagar (Genesis 16:3-16). As we saw earlier, Lot’s daughters had children by Lot through incest (Genesis 19:33-37). One of those sons became the father of the Moabites.

One thing we need to note from Deuteronomy 25:5-6:
5 “When brothers live together and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the deceased shall not be married outside the family to a strange man. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her to himself as wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. 6 It shall be that the firstborn whom she bears shall assume the name of his dead brother, so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel.”

Do you see something missing? There is no “marital-status” stipulation for the kinsman-redeemer, so it didn’t matter whether the kinsman-redeemer was single or already-married, or whether he already had an heir or not. Polygamy was not forbidden by God, so it was fairly-common during that time. Contrary to popular-opinion, God never outlawed polygamy in the Bible, with one exception, Elders and Deacons (1 Timothy 3:1-13), who are only permitted one wife. Polygamy was still practiced in Israel during the time of Christ.

Redemption often meant more that just caring for the widow, particularly if land was involved. By the time of Ruth, the Israelites had settled most of the Promised Land, and each tribe clan and family got their allotted parcel of land. Thus, when Boaz redeemed Naomi and Ruth, he also redeemed their land, land he would farm to bring them income. Otherwise, that land would lay fallow. It would also pass on to Naomi/Ruth’s son(s). That land could not be sold outside of their family and tribe.

This didn’t matter to Boaz, but it sure mattered to the other potential kinsman-redeemer;
4 Now Boaz went up to the gate and sat down there, and behold, the close relative of whom Boaz spoke was passing by, so he said, “Turn aside, friend, sit down here.” And he turned aside and sat down. 2 He took ten men of the elders of the city and said, “Sit down here.” So they sat down. 3 Then he said to the closest relative, “Naomi, who has come back from the land of Moab, has to sell the piece of land which belonged to our brother Elimelech. 4 So I thought to inform you, saying, ‘Buy it before those who are sitting here, and before the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, redeem it; but if not, tell me that I may know; for there is no one but you to redeem it, and I am after you.’” And he said, “I will redeem it.” 5 Then Boaz said, “On the day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, you must also acquire Ruth the Moabitess, the widow of the deceased, in order to raise up the name of the deceased on his inheritance.” 6 The closest relative said, “I cannot redeem it for myself, because I would jeopardize my own inheritance. Redeem it for yourself; you may have my right of redemption, for I cannot redeem it.”(Ruth 4:1-6)

Notice that he was all-ears when it came to buying the land, but he got cold-feet when Boaz mentioned him having to marry Ruth. Some commentators have speculated that the reason he got cold-feet was that Ruth was a Moabite, but that doesn’t square with what he said; “I cannot redeem it for myself, because I would jeopardize my own inheritance.” It is far more likely that he didn’t have his own heir yet, so Ruth’s son would become his heir also, and he didn’t want that to happen. Again, that didn’t matter to Boaz, even though we aren’t told anything about his prior status.

I am an only-child, and I only have one son, JD, so unless JD has a son, my family-lineage ends with him. Even though my daughters have sons, they carry their father’s family-name, not mine. It wouldn’t be a “tragedy” if JD doesn’t have a son in my 21st century culture, because nothing is riding on it, but it would have been in that culture. Newlywed men were even exempt from military service for the first year of their marriage, so he could hopefully produce an heir. (Deuteronomy 24:5)

While we are still on the topic of kinsman-redeemers, we need to look at one more historical-footnote from Boaz’s genealogy; “Judah begot Perez and Zerah by Tamar” (Matthew 1:3a)

Judah was the patriarch from whose line Boaz, David, and ultimately, Jesus Christ would come, but who was Tamar? Tamar was Judah’s daughter-in-law. Yes, you read that right. Here is the “condensedversion” of that story, which you can find in Genesis 38.

Judah married and had three sons, Er, Onan, and Shelah.

Judah married-off Er to Tamar, but Er was a scumbag so God killed him.

Next in line was Onan, but when Onan had sex with Tamar, “he had the fun but didn’t finish the job“, so God killed him too. Kinsman-redeemer failure!!!

Shelah was still a kid, so Judah sent her back home to wait until Shelah was grown, but Hell was going to freeze-over before Judah gave Shelah to Tamar.

Seeing that Shelah was grown, but Judah hadn’t given him to her, she tricked Judah into having sex with her, and became pregnant with twins, Perez and Zerah.

There was a penalty for refusing to perform the duty of a kinsman-redeemer. For Onan, it was death, and later in the Law, it was public-shaming. Boaz, ever the gentleman, didn’t shame the other kinsman-redeemer, we simply will never know who he was, because the writer of Ruth omitted that detail. Boaz happily married Ruth, they had a son, Obed, and the rest is history.

Other customs…
There is another custom we see in Ruth that we need to be aware of. There was no welfare, public assistance, or other social-safety-net for widows like Naomi and Ruth. Most women only had one skill-set – being a wife and mother, and had no “marketable” skills otherwise, so if they weren’t able to remarry, all they had left was their body – prostitution, but God hadn’t forgotten about them, and He didn’t want His people to forget them either.

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?

Imagine the reaction of farmers today if they were told they couldn’t harvest all of their grain and produce, but that is exactly what God’s Law required. What was not harvested was to be available for those who had no other means of sustenance. It wasn’t “welfare“, because they had to work for it, by harvesting it themselves. That was known as “gleaning“, and we see it taking place in Ruth 2, when Ruth gleaned in Boaz’s fields. Even though it was her legal-right, she still asked permission first.

Something else we shouldn’t ignore: 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)

While the justice system today seems to be tilted in favor of the rich and well-connected, God didn’t allow that kind of favoritism with His people. That was why, when Boaz took Naomi and Ruth’s case to “court“, they got a fair hearing (Ruth 4:1-10). Ruth 4 also ends with a blessing on Ruth and Boaz’s union (Ruth 4:11-12).

Speaking of that blessing; Did you notice that curious reference to “the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah“? Knowing the back-story of Judah and Tamar, would WE ever admit that there had been that kind of chicanery in our ancestry? Probably not, but Perez WAS an important ancestor, not only to the family of Boaz, but as an ancestor of King David, and to his greater-son, Jesus Christ.

Maybe we shouldn’t have expected any better behavior from Judah, since in Genesis 37:12-36, Judah conspired with the rest of his brothers to sell Joseph into slavery in Egypt. If Judah had ever had any moral-compass, it was long-gone by the time Genesis 38 opens. He didn’t even pretend to “keep it in the family” when he got married, as did his father, Jacob, rather he married a Canaanite woman in Genesis 38:2. Ah, but he certainly came by some of his chicanery honestly, because Jacob was a shyster from the get-go. That apple certainly didn’t fall far from the family-tree, but we also need to remember that “bad company corrupts good morals“, even if his morals weren’t very good to begin with.

Another sharp-eyed writer brought something else to my attention recently, and it relates to Ruth’s “proposal” to Boaz. That, in and of itself, was highly-irregular, but beyond that, there was something else that I had missed from Ruth 3:1-5:

Then Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, shall I not seek security for you, that it may be well with you? 2 Now is not Boaz our kinsman, with whose maids you were? Behold, he winnows barley at the threshing floor tonight. 3 Wash yourself therefore, and anoint yourself and put on your best clothes, and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. 4 It shall be when he lies down, that you shall notice the place where he lies, and you shall go and uncover his feet and lie down; then he will tell you what you shall do.” 5 She said to her, “All that you say I will do.”

What I missed, is that “best” is always noted as an added-in word in all of the most accurate translations, including the NASB and NKJV. What if Ruth had been working naked, as was common in the day, because the work was hard, hot, dirty and sweaty, and clothing was hard to come-by and expensive? What if Naomi was telling Ruth that, unlike her work-days, when Boaz saw her working like a servant (naked), she needed to dress herself up so that she looked more like a wife, rather than like a servant? It would not have been improper for Ruth to have been working naked, because it is quite likely that Boaz’s workers, including his servant-girls, were also working naked.

That still hadn’t changed in Jesus’ time, because, when He spoke of the Great Tribulation, the fall of Jerusalem, in Matthew 24, He said “Let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes.” (Matthew 24:18) That the farm-worker would be working naked was simply assumed. It was also common for fishermen to work naked for that same reason, to not ruin their clothes. Remember Peter in John 21:7?

We, in our 21st century Western culture, can’t relate to only having one or two garments because clothes are so cheap and plentiful. Even though I prefer to be au naturel, I do have to get dressed to do some things and go some places. I have enough T-shirts to be able to wear a different one every day for a month and still not run out of clean T-shirts, but there are still parts of the world where people barely have one set of clothes, let alone a closet-full of clothes. My father ministered in parts of Eastern Europe that were that poor. Clothes were only washed when it was warm enough for everyone to take them off. Then, just about the whole village went naked, and nobody thought a thing about it.

FInal thoughts…
God had announced His plan of redemption back in Genesis 3:15, and He WAS going to accomplish it. Along the way, God used many seriously-flawed people to accomplish His purposes. Hebrews 11 recounts many “heroes of the faith“, and included in those heroes are people like Rahab, Samson and David, all people that nobody would regard as “saints“, and yet they are held up to us as faithful men and women whom God used. Many were “ordinary” people who were given extraordinary missions to fulfill.

Boaz didn’t have to turn-in his “man-card” in because of what he did. If anything, he showed us what a REAL man looks like. He begins as Ruth’s PROTECTOR, becomes her’s and Naomi’s PROVIDER, pleads their case in court as their DEFENDER, and willingly takes Ruth to be his wife as her LOVER. Come to think of it, isn’t that what Jesus has done, and is doing for us? Their similarities aren’t coincidental. Boaz, as Naomi and Ruth’s kinsman-redeemer, was a type of Christ, and foreshadowed that ultimate kinsman-redeemer to come, Jesus Christ, our great kinsman-redeemer.

That, at the end of the day, is the story of Ruth. Three “ordinary” people whom God used to fulfill His promise of the coming Redeemer. May He use us as He used them.

Sola Deo Gloria!

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It Is Not Good For The Man To Be Alone…

I listened recently to a TEDx talk by a well-known neuro-scientist about why loneliness is dangerous. He spent about twenty minutes talking, showing pictures, charts, graphs and scans of people’s brains, and even though he approached it from a different framework – evolution, he could have summed up his whole talk with the words God spoke thousands of years ago, “It is not good for the man to be alone“.

God has created us for community because God IS a community, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and He began revealing His community in the opening verses of Genesis 1:

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

And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters (Genesis 1:2b), to:

The God said, “Let US make man in OUR image, after OUR likeness. Let THEM have dominion… (Genesis 1:26)

So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created THEM. (Genesis 1:27)

We see community throughout God’s entire work of creation, and we see that God created mankind to BE a community.

When God, in Genesis 2, fills us in on some of the details of His creative-work, He reveals the basis of this human-community. After God created Adam, God was Adam’s only companion in the world, and for those who believe that “God is all we need“, it was God who revealed what was unfinished in His design for humanity, not Adam. Adam had God’s undivided-attention, so other than for Jesus Christ, no other human-being has had a closer-connection to God, but at this point, God revealed Adam’s “need“; “It is not good for the man to be alone.”

This wasn’t Adam’s idea: It was God’s declaration.

Even though Adam hadn’t realized it yet, God had created a “wife-shaped-hole” in his heart that only a wife, a spouse, could fill. God’s solution; “I will make him a helper suitable for him.”

When we think of “helper suitable“, we need to understand that God said He was going to make a MATE, for Adam, not just a “helper“, as we think of a “helper“. While we may be tempted to think that Adam only needed Eve for reproduction, God created Eve for far more than just reproduction. That was certainly part of the equation, but Eve was to be Adam’s companion, his “co-regent“, his “other-half“, as they carried out the mission that God had given them. Together, they would be greater than “the sum of their parts“.

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 (Ishah),
Because she was taken out of Man (Ish).”

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 2:18-25)

After Adam picked his jaw up off of the ground when God presented the woman to him, notice what he said:
“This is now bone of my bones,
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman (Ishah),
Because she was taken out of Man (Ish).”

WOW!!! I AM NOW COMPLETE!!!

I found an interesting article about how “Ish” and “Ishah” complete humanity;

Ish & Ishah – Together Fully Human
(Adam) said, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman (ishah), Because she was taken out of Man (ish).” For this reason a man (ish) shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife (ishah); and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:23-24)

The creation story has many profound things to say about God’s intention for our lives. We can be enriched just by looking closely at the Hebrew words that are used to describe the first human Adam, and then the creation of man and woman.

It may surprise English readers that the word adam is a neutral term meaning “human,” not specifically a man. In the original Hebrew text, all references to Adam are neutral until God takes a rib and some of Adam’s flesh and makes a woman – ishah, in Hebrew. Only at that point is Adam called ish, a man. The Hebrew word ishah hints at her origins from within the ish, something that we can mimic in English, with the words “man” and “woman.” But interestingly, Adam is never called an ish until the ishah has been separated from him. It is as if the text is implying that male and female cannot define themselves fully as human without the other.

We may not realize that this logic is part of the next verse that says that for this reason, when a man and woman marry, they become “one.” They are returning to God’s first design before the ish and ishah were separated. The complementarity between man and woman is inherent in the way they were taken apart from each other, as the first ishah provides what the ish lacks. In God’s design, it is the the two together who ultimately reflect the image of God.
by Lois Tverberg PhD.

Now, for a little test:

If you actually look at what is between your legs, would it truly make sense if there was no complementary gender? Of course not, because, if you are a man, basic-function would only require an outlet to urinate through. The same holds true for women. There used to be a man in the UK who was born without any visible genitals – visibly “genderless“, even though he was genetically-male. He had everything necessary for basic-functions even though he had no obvious genitals. We all have “excess-equipment” if there was no complementary-gender, and some of those parts can be real trouble-makers.

What about that “hole” in our hearts, because, after all, this is really about relationships?
Have you ever heard a spouse call their spouse their “other-half“, or maybe, their “better-half“? That is no misnomer, because, as we see from Scripture, we are not “complete” without our spouse, our mate.

Is it any wonder that widows and widowers are very lonely without their “other-half“? The longer they were together, the more the survivor will feel their loneliness. An irreplaceable-part of them died when their beloved passed away, just as Connie took a part of me when she pulled the trigger. We are missing something – our “other-half“.

Is it any wonder that many widows and widowers try to “replace” their missing lover? Of course not, because an imperfect-match may be better than no match at all. Yes, I tried too, but those were poor matches from the get-go. None of them even came close…

What about singles? I’m glad you asked, because God grand design for humanity doesn’t exclude them, just because they don’t have a spouse (mate) – yet. What about those seemingly “happy-singles“? Are they REALLYhappy” being single? Maybe not as much as they like to let-on…

I know a single lady, who is in her early 50’s, who has been single for most of her adult life, after being briefly-married. Is she really “happy“? She may appear to be “happy“, but those of us who really know her know that she really is miserable. She is constantly looking for someone to “go somewhere with her“, and even when she barely had two nickels to rub together, she HAD to renew her Disney annual-pass, because that, along with several other things, is her “escape” from life as a lonely-single. She doesn’t want a room-mate and she doesn’t want a husband, but she is desperate for intimate-connection, which all the entertainment in the world will never provide. I’m sure her story is repeated countless times by those who are desperate for the kind of intimate-connection we were created for, but won’t find anywhere else than as God intended, as couples.

I know another lady who says she LOVES being single, except when she doesn’t – when she craves male companionship. She isn’t willing to make the sacrifices necessary for marriage, and she can’t have it both ways. Yes, marriage takes work, because two people are trying to live together amicably even when they try each other’s patience. Marriage also takes a full-time commitment, and can’t be “on-again, off-again“, at least not Biblically.

What about that “gift-of-singleness“, as some hyper-spiritual people like to call it? Notice that most of the people who talk about the “gift of singleness” are married. How ironic! They like to parade Jesus and Paul around as examples of men who had the “gift-of-singleness“, as if they are to be our examples, our consolation, when we are lonely.

Again, take a close look at their lives:

Jesus hadn’t much more than freshened-up after He tangled with Satan in the wilderness when He started calling disciples, men, who, from a human-relationship-aspect, were to be His buddies and traveling-companions. Jesus had a special-affinity for John (the disciple whom Jesus loved). Paul likewise, nearly-always had one or more traveling-companions. Paul called Luke the “beloved physician“.

Jesus, when asked about marriage and divorce, reiterated both the importance and permanence of marriage:
3 Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?” 4 And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” 7 They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?” 8 He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. 9 And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 19:3-9)

Marriage is intended to be for keeps – “til death do us part“, and anything else violates God’s intended design. Divorce is an anomaly, NOT part of God’s original-intention for marriage.

Are there any REALcontented-singles“? Yes, and no, depending on how they define being “contented“. I’ll dare say, that if there are REALcontented-singles“, they are “married” to their work. Oh, but what about the Apostle Paul? Wasn’t he “contented“?, Yes, and he was clearly “married” to his work, the job of being an Apostle and a tentmaker.

Paul wrote during the first-century when it was commonly-assumed that Christ’s return was imminent, within their lifetime, so there could be nothing more important than spreading the Gospel. Thus, believers shouldn’t “waste” their time with marriage if it would take away from their ability to spread the Gospel.

8 But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I. 9 But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion. (1 Corinthians 7:8-9)

“Better to marry than to burn with passion”? As if sex is the only reason for marriage…

Sex IS important in marriage, but it is NOT all-important. God created us as sexual-beings, and marriage is the only legitimate-outlet for our sexual needs and desires, but marriage is more than sex. Marriage is meant to fill that void, that hole in our hearts which only an intimate-partner can fill. Marriage makes us complete, and in sex, we truly become “one-flesh“, as those parts which are “different” about us are intimately-united. Sex isn’t just a utilitarian good; it’s a gift to be enjoyed by a married couple that images nothing less than the relationship between Christ and his church (Eph. 5:22–33).

There STILL is nothing more important than spreading the Gospel, yet in God’s grand plan, being married is one of the primary qualification for church officers, Elders and Deacons (1 Timothy 3:1-13).

Do you ever wonder why officers in the church are supposed to be married? Marriage, from Genesis to Revelation, is the very picture of God and His people, of Christ and His church. Revelation closes with the great Marriage Supper of the Lamb. We will live in community in Heaven.

Christian marriage is a picture of Heaven!

What about people who are same-sex-attracted (SSA)? They seem to be looking for the same kind of intimate-connection, just in a different way. I know a SSA man who calls his partner his “husband“. He travels a lot, but when he gets back home, he wants to go home to a loving-welcome. Many SSA female couples use similar language. ‘Nuf-said.

Are there “advantages” to being single? Yes, but “sleeping-single-in-a-double-bed” isn’t one of them. Neither is “eating alone at a table-for-two“. Neither is coming home to a quiet-house. Neither is sitting-alone in church. Do you get the point?

Maybe God knew what He was talking about when He said “It is not good for the man to be alone“…

Soli Deo Gloria!

 

 

 

Out With The Old – In With The New

This is the story of the first miracle of Jesus, which has no parallel in the synoptic Gospels, and it stands quite alone giving insight into the way Jesus and His disciples lived that many Christians love to ignore: Jesus drank wine. (Horrors!) Just for fun, compare this passage with Colossians 2:20 ff.

If this blows your mind, then let me quickly sum up this passage for you: Jesus performed His first miracle at Cana, where, for the first time His glory and authority was revealed, and His disciples came to believe in Him; let’s have a closer look…

As our next scene opens, Jesus and His disciples have been invited to a wedding. Wedding-celebrations lasted up to a week, depending on the resources of the family, and they were a time of feasting and drinking. This was often a community-wide event.

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; 2 and both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.” 6 Now there were six stone waterpots set there for the Jewish custom of purification, containing twenty or thirty gallons each. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the waterpots with water.” So they filled them up to the brim. 8 And He said to them, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.” So they took it to him. 9 When the headwaiter tasted the water which had become wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom, 10 and said to him, “Every man serves the good wine first, and when the people have drunk freely, then he serves the poorer wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.

12 After this He went down to Capernaum, He and His mother and His brothers and His disciples; and they stayed there a few days. (John 2:1-12)

The scene is set: Jesus, His mother (John never says “Mary”) and the disciples were there. This seems to have been three days after the calling of Phillip. No reason is given for the reason the wine ran out. Some have postulated that the attendance of Jesus and the disciples was the cause, but since John says that they had been invited, this seems unlikely. It would also seem that Mary was well known to the family involved here, since she so quickly took charge of the disaster. When she brings this social catastrophe to Jesus’ attention, His reaction is interesting: literally, “What’s it to me?” Notice that Mary seems to be aware that Jesus can remedy the situation easily; why else would she pass right over His question and tell the servants to do whatever He says? Jesus statement that His time has not yet come has troubled some commentators who haven’t noticed that, in John’s Gospel, John uses this wording to refer to the time of Jesus’ being glorified (by the cross) and not to His performance of miracles, in this case a rather mundane one, if indeed any miracle can ever be called “mundane“.

Running out of wine was serious-business, because either the guests had drank more than anticipated or those responsible for the feast hadn’t planned properly. Either way, there wasn’t a liquor-store in the neighborhood where they could buy more wine. They had a problem…

Mary knew what to do – ask Jesus to take care of their problem, but…

While we might recoil in horror that Jesus called His mother “woman“, but in that culture, it wasn’t disrespectful, demeaning or dishonoring to her. This was the way Jesus normally addressed women.

The next part of His response might also surprise us by its bluntness. “What does that have to do with us?” Jesus and His disciples were guests at this party, so the logistics of the party was not His concern. Jesus was also fully-aware of His mission on earth, and being the “divine-caterer” wasn’t part of the package. Yes, He did feed large crowds on a least two occasions, but that was out of compassion, not obligation. Jesus did NOT perform miracles “on-demand“, and His mother didn’t have any more say in His mission than anyone else. Even though Jesus told His mother that taking care of their host’s wine-problem wasn’t in His “job-description“, I don’t believe that it was a hard-edge rebuke either, as do some Bible-scholars.

“My hour has not yet come.” Whoa! What did Jesus Just say? What is this about His “hour“? As we will see, when Jesus refers to His “hour“, He is speaking of the time of His crucifixion…already… Keeping this party going is a foreshadowing of a much grander party which is to come; the great Marriage Supper of the Lamb, but He will have to die on the cross to make this grander party possible.

Was Mary forcing the issue when she said, “Whatever He says to you, do it.”, or was she expressing full-confidence that Jesus would provide what was needed? I believe that she thought that Jesus would do something, and that what He would do would be good.

The need for the stone water-pots takes us back into the Old Testament, specifically the Ceremonial Law. The Ceremonial Law, which is detailed in Leviticus 12-15, touched virtually ever facet of their daily-lives. The religious-establishment had also added many rules and regulations of their own in addition to God’s laws. They also didn’t have indoor-plumbing or any of the other conveniences that we take for granted, so something as simple as washing one’s hands before eating or after going to the bathroom required water. Some people kept water on hand to take care of their purification needs, as did this family. Others had to go to the public bathhouse or other body of water to bathe, wash their clothes, and take care of other personal-care needs.

The total capacity of these jars would have been in the range of 120 to 180 gallons. It is worthy of note that Jesus used all of the jars and had them filled up completely; nobody could say that Jesus’ power was limited, nor could they claim that He just slipped some kind of magic fairy dust into them: they were full.

It may have taken many trips to the well to fill up those waterpots, but at Jesus’ command, they did. If they averaged twenty-five gallons each, that was one-hundred and fifty gallons of water, which was soon to become wine. That must have been some very good wine, because the headwaiter wondered why they had saved the best wine for last. We don’t know how far along in the feast that this event took place.

While Jesus always performed His miracles for the benefit of others, His primary purposes in performing miracles were to show His glory and to lend credibility to His message, to further-convince His disciples that He was who He said He was, the Messiah.

When the servants drew the “water” from the jars and served it to the master of the banquet, the master confirmed that not only was this wine, but it was the “good stuff”. This wasn’t some cheap “wino’s-wine“; this was “top-shelf-vintage“. It can be hilarious reading commentaries about these verses when the commentator goes on and on about how this was “obviously” not really wine but unfermented grape juice.

We should also see that Jesus was God over all of creation, which meant that He could create something from nothing or turn something into something else, water into wine. He will demonstrate His lordship over creation in many other ways as we progress through John’s gospel and His ministry.

One very important thing to note is that this miracle symbolized the coming of a new kingdom-order. The old ceremonial and sacrificial system was being done away with, symbolized by the water for purification, and Jesus was establishing a new kingdom-order, symbolized by wine, a symbol of the coming Holy Spirit. Jesus came both to fulfill the old law and to nullify it, which He did by His sinless life and atoning-sacrifice on the cross. We are beneficiaries of both His finished work and promised Holy Spirit.

The brand new disciples, who had responded to the testimony of John the Baptist, and then to each other’s witness, saw for the first time, that Jesus was more than a man who had been blessed by God: He had a power that no mere mortal possessed, and they put their faith in Him. This would also be the reason for His future miracles; to confirm His true identity and the authority by which He taught.

One of the cardinal rules of interpretation of the Bible is that you must set aside your pre-suppositions, opinions and traditions and let the text speak for itself. When you are confused or feel that you have come upon a contradiction, there are various things you can do to figure out what the meaning is. Here are two easy ideas: You can usually do a word study and find out what is going on. In addition, a close examination of the complete context will also aid in determining what the text is teaching. After this has been done, if the Bible turns out to support your pre-suppositions, opinions and traditions: Marvelous. But where it doesn’t, your presuppositions, opinions or traditions are wrong. In this case, if you are bound and determined to say that Jesus would never allow the serving of wine, you have two problems to deal with: First, the Greek word used here is “oinos“; which happens to mean “wine”. The Greek word for grape juice is “tnyx“. Why would John, “under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit“, make such a “writing error”? Second, note what the master of the banquet said in verse 10. Does that even remotely indicate that they were dealing with grape juice? Does it sound to you like what he would say if the wine was watered down to less than 50% wine? A better question would be,Was Jesus trying to get everyone drunk?” The text does not tell us that Jesus had everyone’s glass refilled, it tells us that the master of the banquet, the only one we know for sure that was aware of the problem got a sample. We don’t know what the other attendees did after that, or if they even became aware that the wine was gone. We do know why Jesus performed the miracle, however.

Yes dear believers, this is the point, and all of the silly business of trying to explain away the wine only draws our attention away from the majesty of our Lord.

12 After this He went down to Capernaum, He and His mother and His brothers and His disciples; and they stayed there a few days.

Jesus had already made Capernaum His “headquarters“, maybe at the home of Peter and Andrew, so that was His next stop. By this time, His entourage already included at least four disciples plus His family, and there was no “Motel-6” or “Days-Inn” to stay in. Other Gospels record Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law at his home in Capernaum.

It appears that Mary was already a widow by this time, with kids still living at home, because there is no mention of Joseph in this scene, and Mary will reappear at other times throughout Jesus’ ministry (Mark 3:31-32). It would have been a serious social faux-pas for Mary to show up at the wedding without Joseph at her side. His sisters may have already been married-off by then, because girls got married much younger than boys in that culture. Whatever the case was, the family was together during the wedding and for a short time afterward.

Sola Deo Gloria!

Steve

John Baptizes Jesus

Jesus was about to begin His public ministry, transitioning from being a carpenter to being an itinerant Rabbi, but were a couple of important things He had to do first. He couldn’t begin until He was “initiated” and had completed His “testing-period“.

No account of the life of Christ would be complete without His baptism by John the Baptist. As we saw last week, John the Baptist alluded to this event in John 1:31-34, so we are going to take a wee side-trip into Matthew 3 to pick up that narrative. We will follow that next week with Jesus’ temptation by Satan from Luke 4:1-13, before resuming our progress through John’s Gospel.

John the Baptist’s ministry…
Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 3 For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet when he said,
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness,
‘Make ready the way of the Lord,
Make His paths straight!’”

4 Now John himself had a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea and all the district around the Jordan; 6 and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins. (Matthew 3:1-5)

John’s baptism was unique because he was calling for Jews to be baptized, not for ritual-purification, but as a symbol of spiritual-renewal. Jews used a ritual known as the “mikvah” whenever they were ceremonially-unclean. Gentiles also went through the mikvah when they converted to the Jewish faith.

Would John the Baptist be welcome in your church?

John baptizes Jesus
13 Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. 14 But John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” 15 But Jesus answering said to him, “Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he permitted Him. 16 After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, 17 and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” (Matthew 3:13-17)

John was reluctant to baptize Jesus because he recognized that Jesus was the one person who had no need for repentance. but in order to “fulfill all righteousness“, Jesus had to be identified with His people as the bearer of their sins (2 Corin. 5:21). Ultimately John’s baptism pointed to Jesus, for only Jesus’ death on the cross, which He called a “baptism” (Luke 12:50), could take away sins. Jesus’ identification with His people included His baptism and death, His anointment with the Spirit, and His victory over temptation.

God’s kingdom (His sovereign rule in salvation and judgment) is defined by His righteousness. Jesus teaches the perfect righteousness that God requires (Matt. 5:20, 48); He also secures God’s righteousness for sinners. His baptism points to His death as “a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28) and shows the perfect obedience in which He fulfills all righteousness (Jer. 23:5, 6). Remission of sins and the gift of righteousness are received through faith in Jesus Christ (8:10; 23:23; cf. 21:32). Those who lack God’s righteousness, but hunger and thirst for it, will be filled (5:6; 6:23). Jesus calls those burdened with a load of self-righteousness to find their rest in Him (11:28-12:8).

To Fulfill All Righteousness?
That statement, which came from the lips of Jesus, would seem almost like an oxymoron, and yet that was the reason He gave to John the Baptist for requesting baptism. The sinless Son of God was “fulfilling all righteousness” by being baptized? How could that be?

Sit back, relax and buckle up for the tour, as we try to discover what He needed to be done with that act. The journey begins back in the Old Testament, where God gave Moses the instructions for consecrating priests. I also want to touch on why our own baptism should be such a wonderful, deeply-spiritual event.

As 21st century Christians, most of us haven’t been schooled in the Law of Moses. We know and understand the moral law – the Ten Commandments, but those are but the tip of the iceberg for a 1st century Jew. They were also schooled in and bound by the ceremonial law, which impacted virtually all facets of life. In a previous lesson, I mentioned circumcision and its importance and impact. Besides keeping the moral law perfectly, Jesus also kept the ceremonial law to the letter. I encourage you, if you haven’t done so already, to read the Pentateuch, because in my teaching and writings, I try to keep and portray a holistic view of the Bible without imposing 21st century culture on my interpretations.

Something that fails our understanding of worship in the Old Testament is how intimately-tied the Ceremonial Law was to their worship. God had called the children of Israel to be “set-apart“, a people who were markedly-different than their neighbors, and that included in their worship. We don’t quite “get” the difference between someone being “ceremonially-unclean” and something being “bad” or “wrong“, so it is quite easy for us to conclude that something which made a person “ceremonially-unclean” was “wrong”. Was it “bad” or “wrong” for a woman to have her monthly-period, or for a couple to have sex? Of course not, but both made them “ceremonially-unclean“, as did child-birth, which meant that they couldn’t participate in tabernacle or temple worship until they had gone through the necessary “purification“. (Leviticus 15:16-24) The Moral Law and the Ceremonial Law were known collectively as the Law of Moses.

Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one jot or one tittle will pass from the Law until it is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:17-18)

Jesus came to fulfill and keep both the Moral Law AND the entirety of the Ceremonial Law. The Law Giver came to be the perfect Law Keeper

According to the law…
And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived. And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be holy to the Lord”) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” (Luke 22:21-24)

There were no shortcuts in fulfilling the whole Law. Everything was done how and when it was supposed to be done, because Jesus was a “complete” Jew. In spite of being “hick-town” Jews, Galileans, Mary and Joseph were very conversant with the Law and kept it meticulously.

Circumcision is just another “medical procedure” to us, but it was the Rite of Passage to a Jewish boy. It visually-symbolized his inclusion in God’s covenant people, Israel. Jesus could not have been proclaimed to be “The King of the Jews” while He hung on the cross if He had not been circumcised.

Thirty years old…
Why did Jesus wait until he was thirty years old before he began his public ministry? (Luke 3:23) Priests and Levites were not allowed to enter temple-service until they were thirty years old. (Numbers 4:34-37)

Priestly consecration…
God gave very specific instructions to Moses regarding the consecration and installation of priests:

“Then you shall bring Aaron and his sons to the entrance of the tent of meeting and shall wash them with water and put on Aaron the holy garments. And you shall anoint him and consecrate him, that he may serve Me as priest.” (Exodus 40:12-13)

His baptism…
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so for now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:13-17)

Even though Jesus was not anointed with oil after His baptism, He was anointed with the Holy Spirit, which the oil symbolizes. Jesus, in His baptism, fully identified with His people, and willingly took on His role as our High Priest. As the water of baptism symbolically cleanses away sin, so Jesus, in entering the water of baptism, symbolically took upon Himself our sin and pollution.

Jesus – our High Priest…
Jesus was not descended from the priestly line of Aaron, the traditional Jewish priestly line. He was from the tribe of Judah, so He became a priest by special decree. “For it evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. This becomes even more evident when another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life. For it is witnessed of him, “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.” (Hebrews 7:14-17)

To fulfill all righteousness?
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men, and being found in human form, he humbled himself by being obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5-11)

Jesus, who is the eternal Word, laid-aside His divine glory and divine prerogatives, and became a human-being, a man, so that He could live the life we can not live, one of perfect obedience to His Father, and died the death that is rightfully ours, so that we may be clothed in His righteousness. He fulfilled ALL righteousness, because we can not do it for ourselves.

Why does it matter?
To come into the presence of God, we must be perfectly-holy, and a “clean-slate” isn’t good enough. Had Jesus only died for our sins, we would, at the moment of our salvation, be restored to a “pre-fall” condition, but the rest would be up to us. We must be righteous before God, which means that we must live a perfectly-holy life, but we can’t muster that for even one minute. Only by Jesus’ perfectly-holy life can His perfect-record become ours. When Jesus “fulfilled all righteousness“, He did for us what we cannot do for ourselves, make us righteous before God.

The Priesthood of all believers…
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)

“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:9-10)

Baptism – our priestly consecration…
The 21st century church has forsaken the rich symbolism of baptism in the early church, and most people would be incensed if they had to strip naked in public and be baptized nude. Believers in the early church had no such cultural hangups, because they were thoroughly versed in the ceremonial practices of the Jewish faith and didn’t have the conveniences which we take for granted.. We miss out on the richness of the baptism rite, which was meant to symbolize, or reproduce, the consecration and anointing of priests in the Old Testament.

The putting off of the old garment symbolizes putting off the old man, our old, pre-believer self. The washing with water (baptism) symbolizes being cleansed, purified for holy service. The anointing with oil symbolizes the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Putting on a new, clean garment symbolizes being covered with the righteousness of Christ. It symbolizes a complete transformation, because once a priest, always a priest…a perpetual priesthood, under our great High Priest, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Even if we haven’t gone through the whole baptism rite, we must understand what our baptism symbolizes – becoming a kingdom of priests to our God and Father.

Have you been consecrated for holy service?

Sola Deo Gloria!
Steve

Why Does Jesus’ Humanity Matter – To Naturists?

Most Christians have at least some vague idea about why Jesus’ humanity matters to them, at least in terms of their salvation and redemption, but even they don’t have a clue about its implications for their attitudes towards the human body. As a result, wherever Christianity has spread, cultures that had little need or use for clothing have been “textilized”, naturists are often discriminated against, and naturism may even be criminalized.

Why does it matter? It matters because our ethical and moral standards come either from the Bible (God), or from our culture, and where our cultural ethical and morals standards deviate from the Bible (God), we can’t have it both ways. Keep in mind that our laws are derived from our culture, not the other way around. Case in point; “Same-sex marriage“, in the US, didn’t become legal until it had become more-or-less “culturally-acceptable“. That is only one example of where our cultural ethical and moral standards have deviated significantly from the Bible (God). Many countries, and/or their political subdivisions, have “anti-nudity” laws, not because it is forbidden in the Bible (by God), but because it is culturally-unacceptable. How did it get that way?

There is a huge theological-disconnect between what the Bible says and teaches about our bodies and what Christians believe about our bodies. Beginning all the way back in Genesis 2, Christians have perverted what the Bible says to fit their own narrative, their own cultural-qualms:

And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.(Genesis 2:25); This statement does not idealize nudity, but shows why humans must wear clothes. With the Fall came a tragic loss of innocence (together with the resulting shame). When people’s minds are enlightened by the Gospel, they understand their moral frailty and practice customs of dress that shield them against sexual temptation. (from the New Geneva Study Bible)

When prominent Bible scholars begin their interpretation of the Bible that deeply in their “culturalhole“, it is highly-unlikely that they will begin to fill that “hole” with Bible truth, at least with regards to nudity. I don’t find that application in that passage, or for that matter, anywhere else in the Bible. It was based on what was “culturallyacceptable” to the commentator.

Moving forward through Genesis 3, the first seven verses recount the Fall, Adam and Eve’s subsequent shame, and their attempt to hide their shame behind “fig leaves“. Who, or what, were they hiding from? They were hiding from God (v. 8), but can a person hide their shame with “fig leaves“? People have been trying to hide their shame with “fig leaves” ever since.

God asked an amazing question in Genesis 3:11; “Who told you that you were naked…?” Where did this amazing new knowledge come from? “Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” Did the “fruit” impart that new knowledge? Not likely, because the “fruit” is not a “Who“. That “Who” can only point to the Serpent, Satan, the Deceiver, the Father of lies. Who else would have been interested in perverting God’s image in mankind? Certainly not God. He called His image-bearers “very good” (Genesis 1:31). It is notable that God didn’t join-in in condemning their as-created (naked) bodies.

Why did God make “tunics of skin” for Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:21)? The typical answer would be “to cover their nakedness“, but was that really the reason? God had already seen them naked (He created them that way) and promised a remedy for their shame (Genesis 3:15), so who were they going to hide from? In the intervening-verses, Genesis 3:14-19, God has cursed the Serpent, Eve, Adam, and finally the ground. The curse on the ground included “thorns and thistles” (v. 18), things that can tear and damage their skin. What if the “thorns and thistles” was the real reason God gave them clothes? That would make sense, based on the context, because they were still the only two people on the planet, they were a couple (Genesis 2:23-24) with the command to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28), AND, they were being evicted from the Garden (3:23-24). God created the first PPC (Personal Protective Clothing). God also never “commanded” them to wear that clothing, and didn’t command anyone to wear clothing until He prescribed the Priest’s garments in Exodus 28, which were made in Exodus 39:1-31.

How many pastors would allow themselves to be consecrated as God told Moses to consecrate Aaron and his sons (Exodus 29:4-9; 40:12-15)? They were stripped-naked, washed with water, and clothed from the bare-skin up – in public

So where does Jesus fit-in?

Jesus, as Creator-God, was the designer and architect of our human-bodies (John 1:1-4). He created, from the dust of the ground, the first two “prototypes” of our human-bodies, and He created them male and female (Genesis 1:26-27; 2:7). That we have gender-distinctive body-parts is no accident, and certainly nothing to be ashamed of. It was part of the plan, which included “be fruitful and multiply“, sexual reproduction, (Genesis 1:28). Mankind was created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27), which, in and of itself, bequeaths the human-body with incredible dignity. That man is God’s image-bearer is reiterated in Genesis 9:6, when God proscribed murder and prescribed capitol-punishment for murder. That is why all human-life is precious and any form of murder is wrong.

 

“God could not have been able to become man if he had not first made man in his own image.” – Herman Bavinck

 

That Jesus took on flesh (John 1:14), became a human, a man, bequeaths the human-body with even more incredible dignity.

Jesus, as male, a man, had the same gender-distinctive body-parts all males have, so men, don’t be ashamed of what is between your legs, because Jesus had one too. If hadn’t had a penis, He couldn’t have been circumcised (Luke 2:21). He also couldn’t have been the “Son of David” (2 Samuel 7:12–16; Matthew 1:1; Mark 10:46-48), “The King of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2; 27:37) or the “last Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:45).

Jesus was born into a time, place and culture, a culture that hadn’t embraced “bodyshame” (God hadn’t legislated it either), as we have, so He, who was perfect, had no reason to be ashamed of His body. So what did His culture look like?

God, in His law, commanded many ceremonial washings (baths) which observant Jews were obligated to do regularly (including every time a couple had sex, after a woman’s period, or a baby was born)…

There was no running water…

There were no indoor private restrooms or bathrooms…

Most homes only had one or two rooms…

Clothes were handmade and expensive…

There were no clothes washers or dryers…

People wore clothes when necessary and convenient…

Clothes and bodies were washed in any available place, river, lake or public pool…

Farmers, common laborers, fishermen and slaves often worked naked when it was warm, or they were doing dirty work, to preserve what little clothing they had…

The Greeks had built gymnasiums throughout the territories they ruled for physical training, sports and education… (The root word “gymnos” means “naked”)

After the Greeks, the Romans built public bath-houses throughout much of their territory. Everyone bathed and socialized nude…

The Romans crucified their prisoners naked and in public…

Jesus:

Born naked (all babies are born naked)…

Experienced normal puberty…

Baptized naked (mikvah)…

Washed His disciple’s feet naked…

Crucified naked…

Left the tomb naked…

As a carpenter, He probably frequently worked naked…

Did many other things naked which are not recorded in the Gospels, because He fully-kept the Law…

Once Jesus left home to begin His public ministry, He was essentially-homeless;  

As they were going along the road,  someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go.”  And Jesus said to him,  “The foxes have holes and the birds of the  air  have  nests, but  the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” (Luke 9:57-58)

Nobody batted an eye when they saw someone naked in public, because it was normal!

Most Christians would object to this scenario, claiming that it was a “clothed-society”, which it was, but the difference is that it wasn’t a “compulsively-clothed-society”. Nudity, even public-nudity, was no big deal, because everyone was nude in public when necessary. Naturists would have felt at home in that environment.

Surely, if God was incensed by “public nudity”, when Jesus walked the earth would have been the ideal time to crack-down on it, but He didn’t. If wearing clothes became a “moral imperative” after the Fall, God must have not gotten that “memo”. Even though the Apostle Paul was the most widely-traveled of the Apostles, and wrote over half of the New Testament, God didn’t clue him into it either, because there is nothing in the Pauline Epistles about not participating in the Greek gymnasiums or Roman bathes. That leads me to wonder where some people get their interpretations from…

After His crucifixion, Jesus was raised back from the dead – bodily. There was obvious-continuity between His pre-crucifixion body and His resurrection-body, as the marks of His torture and crucifixion were still evident and visible. Since He had left His grave-wrappings behind, He emerged from the Tomb the same way He was crucified – naked. He was still fully-human, and He still ate and drank.

At His ascension, Jesus did NOT leave His human-body behind. He ascended-bodily, taking our flesh and blood back with Him to Heaven, where He is the eternal God-Man. As God, He is NOT constrained by time, space and place, but as Man, He has many of the same constraints as we do.

A Christian’s hope for eternity is NOT as a disembodied-spirit living forever with God, but as a fully-embodied human-being living forever with God. While our spirits leave our bodies behind at death, in the resurrection, our spirits rejoin our resurrected-body as one unified-person, fully-human in every respect.

“A person has no-less human-dignity, “wearing nothing but a grin”, au naturel, than they do when wearing the “finery of royalty”. The “finery of royalty” only denotes “social-status”, not the person’s inherent-dignity.” – Steve

Final thoughts…

As a Christian, and a Naturist, as I study the Bible, I am often appalled at how knowledgeable Bible scholars, teachers and preachers pervert what the Bible says to support their own cultural qualms and whims. The Bible is supposed to be our “Gold Standard”, the lens through which we see and evaluate our culture, NOT the other way around. We must never evaluate and interpret the Bible through the lens of our own, fallen culture, but that is what far too many Christians do.

If you want to get a real “eye-full” of what God thinks concerning our bodies and sexuality, read the Song of Solomon. If it was illustrated, it would be at least X-rated, if not XXX-rated. Yes, it is that graphic, which means that it is graphic enough to make many “good Christians” blush, and yes, it IS in the Bible.

I am naked and unashamed in Christ!
Steve

The Word Became Flesh – Take Two

The Word Made Flesh
14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 John testified about Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’” 16 For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. 17 For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. (John 1:14-18)

The Incarnation…
And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

How could God reveal His glory to mankind? Only by taking upon Himself our humanity, becoming “God with us“, as was foretold by Isaiah and revealed to Joseph by the angel.

Try wrapping your mind around that incredible event…

22 So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” (Matthew 1:22-23, Isaiah 7:14)

Up to this point, we know that the Word was with God and that the Word was God; the “Word-God.” We have also seen John refer to this Word-God as “He”. Now, for the first time, John identifies “Him” as the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Yes, for it was none other than Jesus who became flesh and made His dwelling among us at the incarnation, it is of Jesus that the Hebrews author asserts, “and through whom also he made the universe” (Hebrews 1:2) which is parallel to John 1:3; there can be no doubt about whom it is that John is referring to here. It is Jesus who is the Son, having come to us from the Father.

Dwelt among us…
Throughout the history of the children of Israel, God’s “Presence“, His Glory, dwelt periodically in the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle or Temple, but it was not a “touchable“, physical presence, and only the High Priest could enter that sacred space, only once a year, and only with the blood of a sacrifice. When Moses asked God “Please, show me your glory” (Exodus 33:18), God hid Moses in a cleft in the rock so that Moses could only see His back. No man could see God and live (Exodus 33:20). A huge change in God’s “Presence” occurred when the Word became flesh, because God became visible and touchable. It also wasn’t just an “appearance“, because God, in the person of Jesus Christ, walked this earth for over thirty-three years. The Infinite became touchable and the Almighty became breakable when the Promise of Genesis 3:15 became reality. (Galations 4:4-5)

And we saw His glory…
Jesus revealed God’s glory when He raised Lazarus from the dead in John 11. Revealing God’s glory is the reason Jesus gave in John 11:4 for not returning to Bethany immediately.

John, along with Peter and James, were the disciples Jesus chose to witness His transfiguration, so when Johns speaks of seeing His glory, it was in a very real sense. They saw His glory with their own two eyes. We will get more into that event when we inject the account of that event from Matthew 17 at the appropriate place in His ministry.

Glory as of the only begotten from the Father…
This phrase should impress upon us the absolute-uniqueness of Jesus Christ. Unlike children who adopted into a family, as we are into God’s family, “natural-born” children bear their parent’s genetic-imprint, while the adopted children do not. That is the best way I can explain that phrase.

Full of grace and truth…
Now that we are certain of just who John has been talking about, we can look at the attributes John mentions about Him, He was full of “grace and truth.” Notice the balance between those two; how many of us maintain that kind of balance between grace and truth when we are interacting with others? Some of us have a great deal of grace, so much so in fact, that we can overlook almost anything; we might even make the truth hard to find. Others are so strong on truth that we find ourselves pointing fingers at those around us, seldom displaying love, compassion or understanding (grace).

I used to give my students a little chart containing two axes, the north-south axis was labeled “justice” at the top and “mercy” at the bottom, and the east-west was labeled “truth” on the west and “grace” on the east. Then I would ask them to rate themselves by making a little “X” where they think they fall on the chart as I asked them four or five simple questions. After that, I would ask the questions again and have them rate me…

Almost without exception, the students rated themselves right in the middle of the chart, and almost without exception they rated me in the upper left hand quadrant: they were all full of grace and truth, while I was cold, aloof and correct.

I always got a kick out of that and joked that they should just remember who was the one who was correct in the room. Then, springing the trap, I would congratulate them, for they had each placed themselves on a par with none other than Jesus Christ Himself, a position much loftier than anything the Apostle Paul would ever dare to claim!

The preacher who pounds his pulpit while heaping condemnation on the sinners around the room thinks he’s being just like Jesus, but where is the grace? The preacher who is willing to tolerate virtually any behavior also thinks he’s being just like Jesus, but where’s the truth? Oh yes, beloved, it is so very hard for us to see ourselves the way that others do, and even harder to see ourselves as God sees us, but since being like Christ is our goal, we need to try.

It might just be that you, me and everyone else should seek His guidance in this through fervent and regular prayer that He, through His Spirit would guide our every action, that all around us would see His love at work in each of us. (DM)

Would You Like to Know God?
John’s text continues as he mentions that John the Baptist testified concerning Jesus in verse 15, and then in 16-18 gives his own testimony about Him.

16 For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. 17 For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. (John 1:16-18)

John’s first statement is about the abundance of grace that we have received through relationship with Christ. Then, John expands on his statement, pointing out that while the Law was “given”, grace and truthcame” through a person – Jesus Christ. I think that’s worthy of a little thought, for as John has structured this, the Law is a rather top-down thing. The Law was handed down by God to Moses, and then from Moses to the people; the people could take it or leave it. They took it, and then for the most part, they left it; there was no relationship with Law, for Law just is. The result was that that very Law became their condemnation, not their salvation.

And then, grace and truth came to them…

Grace and truth came to them in a person; they could talk and laugh and cry and walk together; there is relationship with grace and truth, for grace and truth become a part of who we are as human beings; there is no fear in grace and truth.

In the remainder of this text, John reveals to us that through Jesus, God can be known to Man, for Jesus is Himself God. Through Jesus, therefore, we can have relationship with God, the Creator of everything: Grace and Truth.

Would you like to know God?

Get to know Jesus.

Would you like to know Jesus?

Get to know the Word who became flesh and made His dwelling among us.

Beloved, this is really too simple for us to miss! Out of all of the knowledge that has come to humanity over the ages, this is all we need to know to receive forgiveness and eternal life; grab onto it and hold on tight, never let it go…

We wish to see Jesus…
20 Now there were some Greeks among those who were going up to worship at the feast; 21 these then came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and began to ask him, saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip came and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip came and told Jesus. (John 12:20-22)

Have you “seen” Jesus?
While it is not possible for us to “see” Jesus physically, we CANsee” Jesus, and the Father, through His word. That is one of the purposes for studying the Bible, to “see” God as He has revealed Himself through the Bible.

Many people today think that it would be easier to believe in Jesus if they could see Him with their own eyes, hear Him with their own ears, witness His miracles, and even eat the food that He provided, but thousands of people were able to do all of those things, and STILL didn’t believe in Him. Are we really any different than they were? We have the advantage of having ALL of the Scripture, the Old Testament before He came, and the New Testament which all testifies of Him. We have a much fuller “picture” of our Savior than they did, and yet, many people STILL don’t believe.

The Incarnation has enabled us unprecedented-access to what the Jews had only dreamed about, God. I believe that the Incarnation is the hinge-pin of redemption-history, and since we are coming into the Advent season, I think that it is appropriate to pause our forward-march through John’s Gospel and spend some time contemplating the Incarnation and all it means to us.

The Promise…
God could have “rebooted” His “human-project” after Adam and Eve sinned by simply annihilating them and starting over, but He didn’t. Instead, in His grace and mercy, He promised them a Redeemer.

14 So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,
“Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life.
15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:14-15)

Contrary to what some people believe, God’s promise of a Redeemer was NOT some “Plan-B“. God didn’t simply “react” to what Adam and Eve did, because, in His infinite foreknowledge and wisdom, He knew exactly what would happen on the fateful day before He breathed life into them. When He asked Adam “Where are you?“, that question was for Adam and Eve’s benefit, not His. God wanted Adam and Eve to realize that they still mattered to Him, and that even though they had broken their intimate relationship with Him, He would do what it would take to restore that relationship.

The Prophesies…
Throughout the rest of the Old Testament, God gave periodic word through His prophets about the coming Redeemer. All of those prophesies looked forward to the day when they would be fulfilled and the Redeemer would come to make things right again.

The Fulfillment…
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. (Galatians 4:4-5)

In the coming weeks leading up to Christmas, we will look at some of the Messianic prophesies which were fulfilled when “The Word became flesh…”, and right before Christmas, we will read about the birth of Christ from the Gospels.

In Christ,
Steve

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

 

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 4

After telling us how we can be certain that we are in the faith, John proceeds to give us a “litmus-test” to be able to judge whether others are in the faith. This test harkens back to what he has told us about Christ in the opening verses of this epistle, and to his warning concerning the Antichrists which are arising in our midst. He has already warned us of those who claim that Christ only “appeared” to be human, and now he nails it down with a sure-fire “litmus-test”. Call this a “spiritual pathology-report”. He now equates believing that Christ only “appeared” to be human with the spirit of the Antichrist (the Docetic view).

Testing the Spirits
4 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the Antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. 4 You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. 5 They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

God Is Love
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. 14 We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.

15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the Day of Judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. 19 We love, because He first loved us. 20 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also. (1 John 4)

Test the Spirits
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. (1 John 4:1-3)

Oh my word, what a timely text! With the previous chapter ending by saying that we can know that Jesus lives in us because of the (Holy) Spirit He gave us, now John takes another step forward in our experience. How can we tell who is right and who is not?

Simple! Test the spirits!

There are many Christians, who, while they will give mental ascent to Jesus’ humanity, can’t wrap their heads around the “nitty-gritty” of His humanity because they believe that this somehow “demeans” His deity. We see this subtly expressed in a phrase in the popular Christmas Carol, “Away In A Manger“; “But little Lord Jesus no crying he makes.” If Jesus didn’t cry, He wasn’t human.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a three-part series of articles entitled; “How Human Was Jesus?” approaching His humanity from a real-world perspective. I wanted to ground my own perspective in facts, not some “sanitized-version“. Part 1 of that series is included in today’s study packet, and for those joining us online, I invite you to read the whole series.

Well, it is actually simple, but at first it sounded a little creepy to me. On closer examination, however, it isn’t creepy and it isn’t hard. Does a teacher or commentator acknowledge that Jesus Christ came in the flesh? Do they acknowledge Him at all? If they do, they are from God; if they don’t they are not from God. If they don’t acknowledge Jesus, they aren’t from God, they are Antichrist. If this is so, would we consider them a reliable source of insight? Well, you can decide that one…

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood. (1 John 4:4-6)

John finishes this thought in these verses, making his point even clearer. We have overcome the spirit of Antichrist, because the Holy Spirit within us is greater by far than the spirit of Antichrist could ever dream of being. Interesting point to bear in mind when reading commentaries, blogs and books! These false teachers speak from the viewpoint of the world, not from the viewpoint of God, and the world will listen to them. Yes, and while the world will listen to the false teacher, the spirit of Antichrist, the world will not generally listen to us, for they simply can’t fathom what we are talking about, so let’s not be surprised by this.

I’ve spoken with many Christians who fear that they might be tricked and led astray, and I always tell them that they will not be tricked and led astray if they have a strong relationship with Christ. That is precisely what John is asserting here. It’s so simple to tell the difference, and when you were little, your mother or father probably told you how to recognize who is credible and who is not, for I’ll bet they told you to “consider the source.” To put it another way, I wouldn’t recommend that we take spiritual advice from an atheist, nor would I suggest that we should take Bible instruction from a non-believer.

See how simple this stuff is?

This is Love
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:7-10)

We are now beginning the central core of this letter, and this core runs from verse 7 to the end of this chapter. It is not only the central core of the letter, but it is also the central core of Christian theology. All of those comparisons at the beginning of the letter, and all of the discussion of evil, Antichrists and the testing of spirits comes back to this theme, for without it, the rest of the theology of our faith is rendered meaningless. In short, what is written in this section is the one thing that gives Christianity its power and authority, and against which the gates of Hell itself cannot, and will not stand.

John is giving us another “litmus-test” which demonstrates the reality of God’s love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. God hasn’t left us to question His love, He has graphically-demonstrated it so that we need not ever wonder whether God loves us. God has demonstrated His love for us by providing the WAY that we can be restored to fellowship with Him. He has done for us what we could never do for ourselves. If you ever doubt whether God loves you, look at the Cross, because it is the most graphic-evidence of God’s love for you. Furthermore, the Cross was no “Plan-B”. It was part of God’s plan for redemption even before Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden.

The last sentence in this text is the key: God loved us. In fact, he loved us while we were lost, and not loving Him at all. Yet God loved us anyway! He loved us so much that He sent Jesus to die for us. Yes, you’re right, this has already been pointed out in this letter, but here it is again, as the core of everything else; that is how important it is that we grasp this simple concept!

How could God love us so much in spite of everything? Because God is love! Love is an integral-part of God’s very nature. God cannot NOT love us, because to NOT love us would violate everything God is.

Because of God’s love, demonstrated on the Cross, we are to love one another just as God loved us. Nobody can do this unless God is in that person, which is to say that person is in Christ. Loving one another as God loved us runs counter to every teaching of this world, as it also runs against our natural human inclinations. Therefore, if a person does not love, it is because God is not in him or her.

More Love
Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (1 John 4:11-12)

John is continuing his thoughts that we looked at in vv. 7-10, and as I mentioned last time, this is the central core of Christian theology, the part that everything else is built upon. Simply stated, this love core flows like this:
1. God loved us while we were still sinners.

2. God sent His Son to die for our sins.

3. We loved God and responded to the Gospel.

4. God loved our brothers and sisters in Christ.

5. Therefore, so do we.

We see this pattern at work once again in verse 11. God loved us, so we should love each other. Then John, as was his custom, takes one more step. Since no one has ever seen God, and since God loves all of us and we love Him, if we also love each other, God’s love will be complete in us and visibly expressed within His Body, the Church. This is as far as John has gone so far…

At this point, we can infer that there is another step. The other step is implied in John’s mentioning that “no one has seen God.” OK, why did he choose to write that? Think…

No one has seen God, but if we love one another as God loved us, then His love will live amongst us, and through us, all will see it.

During a recent debate about Evolution and Creation, there was an assumption that if we cannot observe some “evidence” that God exists, then we can determine that He does not exist. I’m no scientist, but this seems to be a natural inclination on the part of people who are educated with regard to the Scientific Method. Remember that one from your school days? It was the one about observations, and testing theories with observable evidence?

Back to John. Have you ever thought that it would be nice if you could find the positive “proof” of God’s existence? Yes, something that can be observed and studied?

Are you sitting down?

John just gave it to you! The proof is God’s love at work in our lives and within the Body of Christ. At least it should be! Maybe if we started taking these verses to heart and putting them into our everyday manner of living, like we are commanded by God to do, more people would notice that the greatest “proof” of God, the observable evidence is right there in front of us all: Love for one another as Jesus has loved us, and gave His life for us.

34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

Consider this question: Do you ever wonder if it is a coincidence that the whole concept of Godly love has been corrupted and demeaned in our culture? After all, doesn’t society use the word “love” to mean just about anything other than Godly love?

God is Love
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the Day of Judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (1 John 4:16b-18)

This short text is tricky; we need to be sharp to get the full benefit of it. “God is love.” OK, so far, so good, this part is easy. Then John says, “Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them”. For us to live in love is to also live in God, and when we do that, God lives in us because God and His love are inseparable. Here comes the curve: John is building again. Because of the inseparable nature of God and love, living our lives in love will make love complete, and ensure that we will be confident on the day of judgment: This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: OK, this one is really interesting…

John finishes this way: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

Did you catch that? If we live in love, we live in God, and God lives in us. This is because love and God cannot be separated. If we live this way, we live like Jesus lived. Jesus did not fear death, why should He? He knew exactly where He was going! When we live in love, we need have no fear of judgment, for that love drives fear of judgment out of our lives.

When a person dies, the next step is judgment. You might believe that we die and immediately go to judgment, or you might believe that we die and sleep until judgment day, but to be honest, it doesn’t matter. Judgment is the next step either way. Just as Jesus knew exactly where He was going, so do we, we are going to be at His side.

So what really happens?
When we go to judgment, there are two sets of books. There is the Book of Life and there is the Books of Deeds. If your name is in the Book of Life, that’s it, you’re in! If not, the other books are consulted, and you are judged by your deeds. You don’t want to be involved in those deeds books! The judgment is not a horrifying ordeal if you are in the Book of Life. Your name is read and that’s it, “Welcome home!” What John is telling us here is that living in love means that our names are in the Book of Life.

Let’s put it another way: We read about this day in Revelation 21:11 ff. If you are in Christ, living in love (they are the same thing) your name is in the Book of Life. That being the case, you are not being put on trial or accused of anything at all, for your sins have been taken away entirely; they are as far from you as the east is from the west. There is no sin to even discuss: Period. That is why John can say here, that perfect love drives out all fear. The love God has always had for you terminated all discussion and your appearance at judgment is a welcoming ceremony, you might say.

We love because He first loved us
We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. (1 John 4:19-21)

This just about sums it all up, don’t you think? God so loves us that He went to extreme measures in showing it, sending His Son to die for us… because so great was God’s love. (John 3:16)

If God loves us, and we in turn love God, then we must also love our brother or sister. As you can see from these verses, there is no negotiating to be done. In fact, John says that it is a command from God that we love our brother. End of discussion!

In verse 20, John gives us yet another “litmus-test”. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. We cannot claim to love God if we don’t love our brother also. Period!

Well… almost. It may strike some as odd that God has commanded love. It is really a fair question to ask if someone asked it… How can I be commanded to love? I see my brother or sister, and I don’t feel anything for them. As I’ve written before words are funny things; they mean stuff. In English, we only have one word: “Love.” John wrote in Greek. Greek has five words for our “love” and they mean different things. The word that John used here is agapaō which is the word used in the New Testament for God’s love. It is not the word for romantic love. When we are commanded to love one another, this command has nothing whatsoever to do with emotions. Instead, it has everything do with attitude and actions.

To love your brother or sister in Christ means to put their interests ahead of your own. If your brother or sister is in need, we are to take care of their need before we take care of our need. We are to be willing to set aside our cares and hurts to see to the needs of others… just like Jesus did. If we see our brother or sister hurting, we do something about it. Jesus saw us hurting from sin and death, so He did something about it, setting aside His own personal needs…that is, unless you’d claim that He really needed to be tortured and murdered.

This is the attitude that makes the Body of Christ possible. If we were to approach the Body (church) as our little plaything or as our chance to be important, or in the way humans often approach things, then the Body will fight and divide. Hmmmmm, we might think about that one! If we approach it as people who love one another and put others ahead of ourselves, the Body is the most amazing and awesome thing this side of Heaven, as they say.

History is rife with religious-persecution, Jews versus Christians, and Catholics versus Protestants, and yet they have always claimed to love and serve the same God. Muslims and Christians claim to serve the same God of Abraham, and yet Muslims slaughter Christians frequently, and Christians can’t get let off the hook either. Which one really loves God, and which one really loves their religion instead?

So, can we do it? Sure we can! We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. It begins with a commitment to follow Jesus, and it carries on when we are more satisfied in His presence than when we are any place else. Need help or guidance in this? No problem, seek Him, and follow where He leads. You’ll know what to do.

Sola Deo Gloria!

Studies in John’s Epistles – Introduction

John begins his first Epistle, as he did his Gospel, by affirming that Jesus is both fully-God AND fully-human. He goes on to assert that those who deny that Jesus was fully-human are not only NOT saved, but are possessed by a demonic-spirit, the spirit of the anti-Christ.

In some ways, John picks up where he left off in his Gospel, by presenting the physical-evidence that Jesus didn’t just “appear” to be human, but that He WAS fully-human. Our entire salvation hinges on this doctrine, as does the entire Word of God.

If anyone was in a position to make these assertions, John certainly was. He had spent over three years with Jesus, had seen Him be crucified and die, and was one of the first witnesses to the empty tomb. He had seen Jesus walk on water, but he had also seen Jesus tired, hungry and thirsty. He had witnessed many miracles, including when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. John had also seen Jesus’ majesty and glory on the Mount of Transfiguration. He was a “well-qualified eye-witness“.

What IF John was wrong, and Jesus was a hoax? Paul puts it succinctly in 1 Corinthians 15:1-19;

15 Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.

3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Peter, then to the twelve. 6 After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; 7 then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; 8 and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

12 Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. 15 Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; 17 and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.

If John was wrong about whom Jesus is, the consequences are catastrophic. If Jesus was ONLY a man;

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to”. (From Mere Christianity, Book Two, by C.S. Lewis)

Both John and Paul understood the consequences of mis-characterizing Jesus Christ, which was why John began this Letter, as he did his Gospel, by asserting that Jesus Christ IS fully-God AND fully-human.

Introduction, the Incarnate Word
1 What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life— 2 and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us— 3 what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. 4 These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete. (1 John 1:1-4)

1:1-4 The central event of history is the appearance of eternal life in Jesus Christ. John is one of the chosen witnesses who saw, heard and touched the One who had existed from the beginning – the Son of God, whose eternal fellowship with the Father is now extended to others. This extension takes place through the apostolic proclamation, including the writing of 1st John itself.

1:1 the beginning. The verse echoes John 1:1, as that verse in turn echoes Genesis 1:1. The two New Testament verses highlight the Incarnation as an event as significant as creation itself.

The Word of life. The subject of John’s proclamation is Jesus, the Incarnate Word (John 1:1-14).

John has a way of telling the story of Jesus from a lofty, heavenly viewpoint, and this is surely one of those instances. His Gospel begins in a similar way, (see John 1:1-4) it provides a perfect parallel passage in fact. Of course, in Revelation, John’s vantage point is so lofty that most misread it entirely. Here in this short letter, John is setting forth two basic and wonderful facts: First, that Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed One of God. Second, He is setting forth the fact that he, himself, is an eyewitness of Jesus, and Apostle who lived and walked with Jesus for over three years, consequently he is able to give eyewitness testimony about Him.

In verse one, John is letting us know that he saw this Jesus with his own eyes, touched Him with his own hands, heard Him with his own ears, and that now he (John) is proclaiming as the Word of Life, the Word that was with God and that was in fact God from the very beginning, a beginning that predates time itself.

Heard…seen…looked upon…handled. These vivid verbs defend the reality of the human nature of Christ against the Docetic speculation that is later rejected explicitly (2:22, 4:2, 3) (The Docetic view was that Jesus Christ only “appeared” to be human, that He only “appeared” to die and only “appeared” to be raised from the dead.)

If John was addressing an American audience today, he might put it this way; “Listen up folks, because I am going to tell you something which is far more important than who is going to occupy the Oval Office for the next four years. This will affect your eternal-destiny. I was an eye-witness to these events, so I know that they are true.”

In verse two, John takes a step further, as he did in John 1:2. This Word of Life really appeared, and John saw Him, John was there. This eternal life that came from the Father Himself John is now going to proclaim to us! John will proclaim this great news of the Word of Life so that we may have fellowship with John and with Jesus, the Son as well as with the Father. And in doing so, our entry into fellowship will make John’s joy complete.

Fellowship is an interesting word, from the Greek word koinōnia meaning “association, community, communion, joint participation, intercourse; the share which one has in anything, participation.” This participation is not only in relationship, but in purpose, for we really cannot separate the Person of Christ from the purpose of the Father. John’s joy will be complete, because by the proclamation of the Word of Life, we will be in relationship and purpose with John, our fellow believers, and with the Lord Himself.

4 These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete. Those who proclaim the Gospel of Christ derive great joy from proclaiming it and helping those they teach understand it and make it their own. That is the essence of “making disciples” (Luke 24:46-48).

God Is Light
5 This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; 7 but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. (1 John 1)

1:5-10 Like John’s Gospel, 1st John begins with a contrast between light and darkness. In the Gospel, the Incarnate Christ is the light that continues to shine in the darkness of a world that tries to exclude Him. Believers are faced with a choice: either to “walk in the light“, coming to Him and opening their hearts to Him in confession of sin, or to “walk in the darkness“, denying that they are sinners. The contrast between “light” and “darkness” is inseparably linked to a contrast between those who “practice the truth” and agree with God, and those who make God a “liar“. It is an inescapable reality that believers sin; the remedy for sin – confession, and cleansing by the blood of Jesus – is God’s continuing irrevocable gift to believers. Because Jesus’ death has paid in full the penalty for sin, and because God has recognized Jesus as His true Son by raising Him from the dead, God grants forgiveness and cleansing as a matter of faithfulness and justice. He will not and cannot refuse.

Earlier we looked at the introduction to this letter, and here, we enter the first section of the letter which begins at verse 5 and continues through 2:14. This section is given context in verse 5: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. Thus, this section is all about John’s declaration of light versus darkness, and it contains comparisons and contrasts.

1:5 God is light. This description of God emphasizes His attributes of moral purity and omniscience, reinforcing John’s focus on our need to confess sin.

Before we take a look at it, keep in mind what John wrote in John 1:4 “In him was life, and that life was the light of men.” All through the Gospel story, John used “light” as signifying the presence of Jesus, contrasted with “darkness” denoting His absence. Keeping this in mind, let’s take a look at our text. After proclaiming that God is light, John gets down to his explanation, claiming that if we claim to be in fellowship with God, but walk in darkness, we lie, and are not in the truth. This is a rather easy statement to understand, for if we are in darkness, then we aren’t in His presence, and if we aren’t in His presence, we couldn’t possibly be in fellowship. There is no half-way!

The contrast is that if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship… because we are with Him in the light. If we have this fellowship in the light of His presence and truth, then His blood purifies us from all sin. The reality of the statement is that we can’t be in fellowship with Him until our sins have been forgiven by His sacrifice on the cross.

1:7 the blood of Jesus Christ. As Hebrews 9:22 indicates, “without the shedding of blood there is no remission“. The shedding of the blood of Christ was a voluntary substitutionary sacrifice of infinite value for the elect; it paid in full God’s penalty for sin (Hebrews 9:27, 28)

Sometimes, we may walk a ways in darkness, and by this I mean that we may stray from time-to-time. John doesn’t suggest that our errors kick us out of fellowship as we will see a little farther through this text, but that there is a way to return to the light of His presence, by confessing our sins, as we see in the next paragraph:

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10)

1:9 If we confess our sins. God’s forgiveness is given as soon as we admit our need for it, not on the basis of any acts we have done to earn it, but solely because of His grace. The free gift of forgiveness carries with it purification from unrighteousness. God accepts us as righteous because He imputes the righteousness of Christ to us. That is, the very righteousness of Christ, our sin-bearer, is reckoned to our account.

1:10 If we say that we have not sinned. Perhaps the “sin leading to death” mentioned in 5:16 is a stubborn-refusal to accept God’s diagnosis of our need and His offer of forgiveness.

I think we all would agree that a claim by any one of us to have never sinned would be little short of crazy. John seems to think it’s worse than that! All have sinned, but take heart, for there is a way out, confess your sins and He will forgive; this is our covenant promise.

There is simply no need for us to wring our hands and carry around a burden of guilt and shame before God, for when we confess our sins (acknowledge them) He will forgive; we have His Word on that!

Sola Deo Gloria!