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!

Studies in Ruth – Fulfilling A Promise

We have come to the “grand-finale” in our studies in Ruth. We have seen God’s hand of providence revealed in many of the details throughout this grand story, from Naomi and Ruth returning to Bethlehem at the “right-time“, to them living close to a close-relative, to Boaz’s kindness to Naomi and Ruth, and now, Boaz’s promise to bring their case to “court“.

We have explored the basis for some of their “customs” which probably don’t make sense to us, but which are founded on the Law of God. Yes, it seems like we are coming to the “end-of-the-line” for Boaz and Ruth, but their story won’t really be “complete” until Christ returns to take His “family” home to be with Him. This story is our story too, because as we are “spiritual-children” of Abraham, we are also “spiritual-children” of Boaz and Ruth through our great kinsman-redeemer, Jesus Christ.

Some of “the rest of the story” is told in the Prophesies and Promises behind the Incarnation, which we celebrate at Christmas. Part of their story came before them, going all the way back to the Promise, given by God, in Genesis 3:15.

To get the background for this chapter, we need to go back to the Law of God as given in Deuteronomy 25:5-10. There will be one significant difference in this story; who goes to court.

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. 7 But if the man does not desire to take his brother’s wife, then his brother’s wife shall go up to the gate to the elders and say, ‘My husband’s brother refuses to establish a name for his brother in Israel; he is not willing to perform the duty of a husband’s brother to me.’ 8 Then the elders of his city shall summon him and speak to him. And if he persists and says, ‘I do not desire to take her,’ 9 then his brother’s wife shall come to him in the sight of the elders, and pull his sandal off his foot and spit in his face; and she shall declare, ‘Thus it is done to the man who does not build up his brother’s house.’ 10 In Israel his name shall be called, ‘The house of him whose sandal is removed.’ (Deuteronomy 25:5-10)

Boaz goes to court…
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.”

After Ruth left Boaz and returned to the place where she and Naomi were staying, Boaz went to town. He stopped at the town gates where the Elders were to be found, which was a customary place for them to conduct their duties. When the other kinsman-redeemer came along, he asked the man to sit with him in the hearing of the Elders to discuss the situation. You will no doubt recall that the night before, Boaz had mentioned to Ruth that there was a closer relative who was first in line as kinsman-redeemer, and this is the matter Boaz brought up that morning.

It would seem, from verses 3 and 4 that Naomi had inherited her husband’s property, so Boaz mentioned this to the man first. In an earlier study, we saw that a kinsman-redeemer would buy the land of the dead husband from the widow so that she would have money in her old age with which to live, since she probably wouldn’t be able to make a living from the land by herself, and this other kinsman-redeemer, whose name is never mentioned in the text, agreed to buy it. If he had the cash, then why not buy it? He could do his duty to the family, and add to his own income in the bargain; so far, so good. Then something strange happens:

Then Boaz said, “On the day you buy the land from Naomi, you also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the dead man’s widow, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property.” (4:5)

Oh dear, there’s a catch – that Moabite woman!

At this, the kinsman-redeemer said, “Then I cannot redeem it because I might endanger my own estate. You redeem it yourself. I cannot do it.” (4:6)

Did you notice that as long as Boaz just mentioned Naomi and her property, the other guy was willing to redeem, but when he mentioned the Moabite woman was part of the deal, the other guy backed out? Why do you suppose Boaz mentioned that she was a Moabite, of all things?

Why would this unnamed kinsman have a problem with marrying Ruth? For an Israelite to have a Gentile in their household was problematic enough, but a Moabite woman was really too much; they had experience with Moabite women in the past; these women were trouble! It looks like there was something even deeper going on if we look at the man’s reason for declining the deal; “Then I cannot redeem it because I might endanger my own estate“. That begs the question; “Was he single, and thus didn’t have an heir, or was he married, but his wife was barren?” Evidently if he married Ruth, their first son would inherit both Naomi’s estate AND his estate. No way, the man was not going to redeem, even though it was his duty; Boaz could have the deal. Evidently, Boaz already had an heir, or he was content to have his legacy carried-on through a son, yet unborn, who would be born to him and Ruth. Would we even know anything about Boaz if Ruth hadn’t come along?

Making it legal…
7 Now this was the custom in former times in Israel concerning the redemption and the exchange of land to confirm any matter: a man removed his sandal and gave it to another; and this was the manner of attestation in Israel. 8 So the closest relative said to Boaz, “Buy it for yourself.” And he removed his sandal. 9 Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people, “You are witnesses today that I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and Mahlon. 10 Moreover, I have acquired Ruth the Moabitess, the widow of Mahlon, to be my wife in order to raise up the name of the deceased on his inheritance, so that the name of the deceased will not be cut off from his brothers or from the court of his birth place; you are witnesses today.” 11 All the people who were in the court, and the elders, said, “We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, both of whom built the house of Israel; and may you achieve wealth in Ephrathah and become famous in Bethlehem. 12 Moreover, may your house be like the house of Perez whom Tamar bore to Judah, through the offspring which the Lord will give you by this young woman.”

Thus, with all of the Elders as his witnesses, Boaz acquired the right to redeem, and bought the land and Ruth from Naomi, and Ruth thus became his wife. I know that to the modern reader, this transaction sounds pretty weird, but this took place a very long time ago, and was proper and binding. The Elders agree and gave their blessing to the arrangement: Done.

The blessing the Elders pronounce harkened back to Boaz’s own direct-ancestry and the beginning of the Twelve Tribes. Rachel and Leah were Jacob’s wives, and they, along with their maids, were the mothers of Jacob’s twelve sons. Perez was Judah’s son by his daughter-in-law, Tamar. (Genesis 38)

Boaz was a very sharp man; he knew how to get things done in this world. He did so with wisdom and intelligence, and by the rules of the day. In the process, he did his duty to his family, to Naomi, to Ruth and to their husbands’ family line, and he did it with justice for all concerned. In so doing, he provides all of us with an excellent example of what it means to be a godly man.

Here comes the bride…
13 So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife, and he went in to her. And the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. 14 Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed is the Lord who has not left you without a redeemer today, and may his name become famous in Israel. 15 May he also be to you a restorer of life and a sustainer of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.”

Had Ruth been barren prior to her marrying Boaz? This phrase, “And the Lord enabled her to conceive,” is used many times throughout the Bible when God intervened and gave a barren woman the ability to become pregnant. Could this be why she and her first husband didn’t have any children? Had God “saved” her for this point in her life, to accomplish His special-purpose?

Naomi’s friends understood the significance of Ruth having a son, because not only did Ruth and Naomi receive an heir, their kinsman-redeemer had redeemed them from poverty and hopelessness. Ruth, through Boaz, had accomplished what Naomi’s own sons were not able to accomplish, give her an heir and security in her old-age.

The women’s praises celebrate the fulfillment of God’s covenant-love to Naomi. Her daughter-in-law, Ruth, is more to her than seven sons would be. Moreover, Naomi in effect has a son in her grandson, Obed. He will become the grandfather of David.

The Line of David Began Here
16 Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her lap, and became his nurse. 17 The neighbor women gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi!” So they named him Obed. He is the father of Jesse, the father of David.

Naomi had gone away “empty”, but her cup now overflowed with blessings.

18 Now these are the generations of Perez: to Perez was born Hezron, 19 and to Hezron was born Ram, and to Ram, Amminadab, 20 and to Amminadab was born Nahshon, and to Nahshon, Salmon, 21 and to Salmon was born Boaz, and to Boaz, Obed, 22 and to Obed was born Jesse, and to Jesse, David. (Ruth 4)

Why does the book of Ruth close with a genealogy? The closing genealogy shifts the focus from Naomi back to Boaz, and fulfills the larger purpose of the narrative. The genealogy begins with Perez, someone who could “break-through“, and whom the women in their blessing remembered as the vigorous son of Tamar. Like Ruth, Tamar became an ancestor of David in an unexpected way. For New Testament readers, David is not the end of God’s provisions for the people of His choice. But for her time, Ruth’s journey had reached its divinely-appointed goal.

After the scene that takes place in verses 1-12 of chapter four, Boaz and Ruth are married. There is not a single word in the text about their life together; other than they had a son named Obed. From what the text has told us, Ruth is humble and loyal, Boaz is kind, of high character and righteous, so we can infer that they lived happily ever after. Certainly there is nothing to cause this inference to be brought into question. It’s probably safe to infer that Naomi lived out her years in happiness as well.

The text mentions a son as the only specific about the lives of Ruth and Boaz because that son becomes a direct ancestor of the Lord Jesus Christ, and that is a very big deal indeed. It places Ruth in that same lineage; a Moabite. Of course, she is not the only Gentile woman in that lineage, and I suppose that we should pause to clear up any confusion resulting from this point, since ultimately this line will pass to Jesus through Mary.

The Old Testament Law states that to be a Jew, someone must be of the seed of Abraham, a quaint old fashioned way of saying Abraham’s genetic descendant. This “seed” passes from the father, thus Obed is Jewish by birth even though his mother was a Gentile. The Father of Jesus was not strictly speaking a Jew; instead He was God. So how could Jesus be a Jew?

I hope you were sitting down when you read that; it is not a joke. You see, unless something happened first, Jesus would be the Son of God without being a Jew.

But something did happen.

During the captivity in Babylon, Jews began to intermarry with Gentiles. After the return from captivity, many Jews chose not to return, while others returned and continued intermarrying. It seems that men were much more likely to take a Gentile bride than women a Gentile husband and eventually, after much controversy and confusion, the Law was changed, so that descendancy from Abraham came through mothers instead of fathers. Thus, you could only be born a Jew if your mother was Jewish. If your mother was Gentile and your father was Jewish, you were considered to be a Gentile, and this is so to this very day. Thus, Jesus was Jewish because Mary was Jewish.

If you read this book again carefully, there would seem to be either a lot of coincidence or a lot of luck in the story. I think the biggest one of these took place when Ruth went out to work in the fields that first day, and somehow came upon the fields of Boaz. Why didn’t Naomi tell Ruth where to go? By all rights, shouldn’t she have directed Ruth to the fields of the other kinsman-redeemer, the one with first right of redemption? No, somehow Ruth just got lucky and stumbled into Boaz’ life!

You can be quite sure that there are no coincidences here, and no dumb luck either, for God was at work in the lives of these people. Now here’s a question for everyone to ponder: Why did God choose Naomi, Ruth and Boaz to be in this story, and thus to be part of the lineage of His Son?

Naomi, Ruth and Boaz Have Much to Teach Us
Looking at our adventure in the book of Ruth, it should be obvious to anyone that this story has much to teach us. I’m not going to say that the things I mention about them are an exhaustive and encyclopedic analysis, but I hope that what follows will give you a pretty good picture of the kinds of people they were.

Naomi
Here is woman who went through a terrible time; she can almost be compared to Job in her affliction. First there was the famine that tore her family away from their lands and lives in Bethlehem, forcing them to move to Moab just to try and survive. She was an outsider there, not knowing the customs or the people, being a foreigner in a foreign place. Thus, she had only her family to cling to; her husband and two sons. The sons then come of marrying age and they marry foreign women, a cultural problem that their parents had to deal with, and then her husband and two sons die leaving Naomi destitute with two foreign daughters-in-law. In this time of trial, Naomi becomes an embittered old woman, by her own estimation, and begins making drastic decisions.

She tried to do right by her daughters in law, releasing them from their obligations to her and urging them to return to their own, and one finally does so, while Ruth insists on being loyal to Naomi, and then Naomi returns to her homeland and her God and family. Upon her return home with Ruth, Naomi guides Ruth on several occasions, and even though some of her advice was risky, it turns out that Naomi was a very good judge of character and gave advice that can only be described as “harmless as a lamb and crafty as a serpent.”

Naomi, while she had her low points in a life marked with tragedy and adversity, overcame that adversity by returning to her God and making very wise choices. I’d say we can learn from her example.

Ruth
Whole books have been written on Ruth’s character, so I’ll keep it short; Ruth had the heart of a servant. She was loyal to the family of her husband, she was humble, she worked hard and without complaint, and she was submissive to her elders. In all of this, Ruth shows us what it means to deal with self, for there is no “self” on display in her story. To top it off, let us not forget the fact that Ruth made a conscious-choice to follow the God of Israel. How different she was from the way we are today, and great was her reward.

Boaz
Boaz was a leader of men, but he was not like many leaders of men, for Boaz was a servant-leader. Remember when, on Ruth’s first day in the fields, Boaz returned from town and “greeted” his workers? Maybe you recall that he told his men not to lay a hand on Ruth. Was there any mention of an incident taking place, or of any grumbling about that? How about when Boaz went to the village gate and asked the elders to come and listen to his discussion with the other kinsman-redeemer; did they say they were too busy? Did the tell him to buzz off? No! They immediately did as he asked because they respected him, just as his workers did. Yet in everything we know of Boaz, there is no indication at all that anybody’s respect was borne out of fear, for Boaz built relationships with other men that enabled him to lead them by gaining their trust.

Have you ever worked for a boss who was a “tyrant“? Have you ever worked for a boss who was a “team-builder“? I have worked for both types of bosses, and I will take the “team-builder” any day of the week. One time, I worked for both types in the same department. The day-shift-supervisor was a “tyrant“, but the night-shift-leadman was a “team-builder“. The night-shift worked like a “well-oiled-machine“. The day-shift could be chaos. Which type of manager was Boaz?

On that fateful night when Boaz awakened to find Ruth lying at his feet, how did he react? He reacted with mercy, kindness and gratitude for the opportunity to serve. That all of this must include a healthy dose of humility should go without saying…

Now, when you put the characteristics of these three people together, what do you have?

You have the type of person who is a disciple of Jesus Christ.

I would submit to you that this is why God chose to work through these three people, and why their story has resulted in their names being forever associated with the lineage of the Son of God.

Some Final Thoughts
Thinking about the story of Ruth, it’s hard to come away from it without the sense that God really does work in the lives of His people. He certainly did so in ancient times, and maybe we sometimes feel like they were more “special” than we are because of this. Yet upon reflection, we should know better. The Bible is full of stories of amazing men and women of faith, and it also has many stories of men and women who were ungodly in their lives and characters, and isn’t this really the same condition that we see around us today?

I would actually like to go a step further and suggest that there are more amazing men and women of faith today than there were in Bible times, since unlike those in the Old Testament, God’s people in our time are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and Old Testament Israelites were not. The problem we have today is that we aren’t having these people pointed out to us, and in the busy day-to-day we might not notice what is really going on around us. If nothing else, we might at least ponder the possibilities.

As for the specifics of the Ruth story, one thing is quite clear: Boaz was no ordinary man, for he was a “type” of Christ as a kinsman-redeemer. The fact that the text includes “redeemer” in it should bring this into focus for most readers. To review, a “type” is a term that comes from a manner of interpretation called “Typology”; a “typological interpretation”, and is a natural element of Old Testament writing since the Old Covenant itself is a “type” of the New, a fact brought out and referred to again and again in the New Testament book of Hebrews. Ruth is a type of the redeemed, which is to say of you and me. The humility that she demonstrates over and over is the behavior that is supposed to be seen in us, and when she lay down in total submission and humility at the feet of Boaz portrays our coming to Christ in humility and submission and receiving redemption from our sins and the gift of a new life in Christ.

The result of Ruth’s actions was that she was redeemed from widowhood and received a new life as the wife of Boaz, ultimately giving birth to a son in the direct lineage of the Son of God. For us, we are redeemed from sin and receive a new life in Christ, as I said, but we also join the family tree of Jesus as his brothers and sisters in the household of His Father… and our Father. While we remain on this earth, we are servants of His, but when we inherit this birthright, we have not only eternal life with Him, but that life is lived as His brothers and sisters in the Father’s house. It is because of this significance, we can say that the story of Ruth is much more than an inspiring tale of overcoming adversity and of godly role models, for it is a significance that leads us to the very source of life itself.

I hope that you have enjoyed our little adventure through this story, and I hope that you have found it to be an adventure that is worthy of more thoughtful contemplation. May all of us walk more closely with our Lord as a result of our adventures with Him.

Since we are approaching Christmas, we will spend the next few weeks looking at the Promises and Prophesies given throughout the Old Testament, leading up to when we will celebrate Christmas by reading the account of the birth of Christ from the Gospels.

Sola Deo Gloria!!!

According To The Order Of Melchizedec

Melchizedec is one of the least know and most mysterious people in the Bible, only mentioned in Genesis 14, Psalm 110:4, and Hebrews 7, but that doesn’t undercut his significance. He was a contemporary of Abraham, so he could not be descended from Levi and part of the Aaronic priesthood, and yet he was the priest of God Most High. His significance is explained in Hebrews 7.

Who was Melchizedek?
18 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. 19 And he blessed him and said: “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; 20 And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.”And he gave him a tithe of all. (Genesis 14:18-20)

7 For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, 2 to whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all, first being translated “king of righteousness,” and then also king of Salem, meaning “king of peace,” 3 without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, remains a priest continually. (Hebrews 7:1-3)

As with many of the people in the Old Testament, his name has great meaning. The Hebrew word melech means “king“, and the Hebrew word zedek means “rightousness“. Thus, his name means “King of righteousness“, which means that he was a Priest.

He was also King of Salem, which means “peace“, however, Salem, which we know as Jerusalem, was one of the many city-states, each ruled by its own king, in the land of Canaan. This made Melchizidek both and King and a Priest. The only other person in the Bible who is described as both a King and a Priest is Jesus Christ. Melchizekek is seen as a type of Christ, our eternal Prophet, Priest and King.

From Hebrews 7:3, we learn that he was “without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life…“. Lineage and genealogy were very important in the Old Testament, particularly in the Aaronic priesthood, however, lineage had no bearing on Melchizedek’s priesthood, particularly since he predated the Jewish priesthood. Were there simply no records of his family-heritage, or was it just immaterial? Some Bible scholars believe that Melchizedek was a manifestation of the pre-incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, but the Bible doesn’t really support that interpretation. He is also compared to the Son of God, “but made like the Son of God, remains a priest continually.” Jesus Christ wouldn’t be compared to Himself.

Abraham and Melchizedek
Abraham wasn’t a king and he didn’t rule a city, but God had given him the land of Canaan in Genesis 13:14-17. He was still a nomadic-herdsman, but he did have many trained servants. Having his servants trained and armed was necessary to protect both his herds and his camp. When he heard that Lot, his nephew, had been captured, he armed his servants and went to retake what was rightfully his and to liberate Lot. (Genesis 14:13-16)

On his way back home, he encountered Melchizedek, who brought a feast out to him. Melchizedek pronounced a blessing on Abraham, 19 And he blessed him and said: “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth;”. Melchizedec also praised God for Abraham’s victory, 20 And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.”

Then, Abraham did something interesting, And he gave him a tithe of all. 4 Now consider how great this man was, to whom even the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils. He recognized that Melchizedek was greater than him, and someone who represented God. Mind you, this was long before God gave the Law, which means that Abraham gave this offering freely and without obligation.

The prophesy…
The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool.”
2 The Lord shall send the rod of Your strength out of Zion.
Rule in the midst of Your enemies!
3 Your people shall be volunteers In the day of Your power;
In the beauties of holiness, from the womb of the morning,
You have the dew of Your youth.
4 The Lord has sworn And will not relent,
“You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” (Psalm 110:1-4)

David, the Psalmist, is looking forward to the time when his greater-son, Jesus Christ, is given all power and authority and is enthroned to reign forever. God had promised that one of his heirs would have an eternal kingdom and would reign forever. (2 Samuel 7:16) We also see the promise of an eternal priesthood.

The King of Righteousness
4 Now consider how great this man was, to whom even the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils. 5 And indeed those who are of the sons of Levi, who receive the priesthood, have a commandment to receive tithes from the people according to the law, that is, from their brethren, though they have come from the loins of Abraham; 6 but he whose genealogy is not derived from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. 7 Now beyond all contradiction the lesser is blessed by the better. 8 Here mortal men receive tithes, but there he receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives. 9 Even Levi, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, so to speak, 10 for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him.

Need for a New Priesthood
11 Therefore, if perfection were through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should rise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be called according to the order of Aaron? 12 For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law. 13 For He of whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no man has officiated at the altar.

14 For it is evident that our Lord arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood. 15 And it is yet far more evident if, in the likeness of Melchizedek, there arises another priest 16 who has come, not according to the law of a fleshly commandment, but according to the power of an endless life. 17 For He testifies: “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”

18 For on the one hand there is an annulling of the former commandment because of its weakness and unprofitableness, 19 for the law made nothing perfect; on the other hand, there is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God.

Greatness of the New Priest
20 And inasmuch as He was not made priest without an oath 21 (for they have become priests without an oath, but He with an oath by Him who said to Him:
“The Lord has sworn
And will not relent,
‘You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek’”),

22 by so much more Jesus has become a surety of a better covenant.

23 Also there were many priests, because they were prevented by death from continuing. 24 But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. 25 Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.

26 For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; 27 who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. 28 For the law appoints as high priests men who have weakness, but the word of the oath, which came after the law, appoints the Son who has been perfected forever. (Hebrews 7)

Jesus Christ has become our great High Priest, not by earthly-lineage, but by Divine-Appointment. Earthly High Priests lived to die. Jesus Christ lived to die and be raised from the dead, to live eternally. Thus, while an earthly High Priest only served for a limited time, Jesus Christ is living and serving, and will continue to serve for all eternity.

As New Testament believers, we rightly-understand that the Old Testament sacrificial-system has been fulfilled by Jesus Christ, and that the Temple, with its Aaronic-Priests, has also been eliminated, but even as Jesus Christ fulfilled and eliminated the old-order, He has also established a new-order of Priests with a new, perfect and eternal High Priest. The new Priesthood isn’t based on physical-lineage, as the old one was, but on spiritual-lineage. Those of us who have been “born-again” by faith in Christ have been appointed as Priests to God under our great High Priest, Jesus Christ.

4 And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, 5 you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For this is contained in Scripture:
“Behold, I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious corner stone,
And he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.”
7 This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve,
“The stone which the builders rejected,
This became the very corner stone,”
8 and,
“A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense”;
for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed.

9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:4-10)

If you thought that being a Christian was “boring“, think again…

Sola Deo Gloria!

Who Was John the Baptist?

John the Baptist wasn’t on the scene for very long, and little is said about him in the Gospels, but what is said underscores his significance in God’s plan of redemption. What do we know about John the Baptist?

1) His arrival was foretold in several prophesies. God had been silent for over four-hundred years before he came, and one of the prophesies of his coming was the last prophesy in the Old Testament:
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)

5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet
Before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.

6 And he will turn
The hearts of the fathers to the children,
And the hearts of the children to their fathers,
Lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.” (Malachi 4:5-6)

2) He was a “miracle-baby“:
5 There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years.

8 So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, 9 according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. 10 And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense. 11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.

13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. 15 For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

18 And Zacharias said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.”

19 And the angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings. 20 But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.”

21 And the people waited for Zacharias, and marveled that he lingered so long in the temple. 22 But when he came out, he could not speak to them; and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple, for he beckoned to them and remained speechless.

23 So it was, as soon as the days of his service were completed, that he departed to his own house.

24 Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying, 25 “Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.” (Luke 1:5-25)

3) He had priestly-lineage on both sides of his family:
5 There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. (Luke 1:5)

4) He was indwelt by the Holy Spirit before he was born.
He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. (Luke 1:15b)

5) He came in the spirit and power of Elijah, and he was the forerunner of the Messiah:
17 He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:17)

6) He was related to Jesus:
36 Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. (Luke 1:36)

7) His ministry was short-lived in time, but not geographically-limited.
Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, 2 while Annas and Caiaphas were high priests, the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. 3 And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, (Luke 3:1-3)

Now when Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, He departed to Galilee. (Matthew 4:12)

16 But when Herod heard, he said, “This is John, whom I beheaded; he has been raised from the dead!” 17 For Herod himself had sent and laid hold of John, and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife; for he had married her. 18 Because John had said to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”

19 Therefore Herodias held it against him and wanted to kill him, but she could not; 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just and holy man, and he protected him. And when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly.

21 Then an opportune day came when Herod on his birthday gave a feast for his nobles, the high officers, and the chief men of Galilee. 22 And when Herodias’ daughter herself came in and danced, and pleased Herod and those who sat with him, the king said to the girl, “Ask me whatever you want, and I will give it to you.” 23 He also swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half my kingdom.”

24 So she went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask?”
And she said, “The head of John the Baptist!”

25 Immediately she came in with haste to the king and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”

26 And the king was exceedingly sorry; yet, because of the oaths and because of those who sat with him, he did not want to refuse her. 27 Immediately the king sent an executioner and commanded his head to be brought. And he went and beheaded him in prison, 28 brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl; and the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard of it, they came and took away his corpse and laid it in a tomb. (Mark 6:16-29)

24 Now a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures, came to Ephesus. 25 This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 So he began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. 27 And when he desired to cross to Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him; and when he arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace; 28 for he vigorously refuted the Jews publicly, showing from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ. (Acts 18:24-28)

8) His message was simple:
3 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 3:1-2)

9) He defied conventional-culture and the Jewish religious leaders:
15 For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. (Luke 1:15)

4 Now John himself was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him 6 and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins.

7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, 9 and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. 10 And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3:4-12)

10) He baptized Jesus:
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. 14 And John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?”

15 But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him.

16 When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. 17 And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:13-17)

11) He came at a pivot-point in God’s plan of redemption:
11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. (Matthew 3:11)

12) Jesus spoke very-highly of him:
24 When the messengers of John had departed, He began to speak to the multitudes concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 25 But what did you go out to see? A man clothed in soft garments? Indeed those who are gorgeously appareled and live in luxury are in kings’ courts. 26 But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet. 27 This is he of whom it is written:
‘Behold, I send My messenger before Your face,
Who will prepare Your way before You.’

28 For I say to you, among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” (Luke 7:24-28)

John the Baptist, as the last Old Covenant prophet, and the forerunner of the Messiah, understood that the “old-order” was going to be both fulfilled and done-away-with by the Messiah. The Old Covenant required sacrifices to be offered to “atone” for sin, but that “atonement” only “covered” sin, it didn’t do-away with it.

He testified concerning Jesus:
29 The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is He on behalf of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’ 31 I did not recognize Him, but so that He might be manifested to Israel, I came baptizing in water.” 32 John testified saying, “I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him. 33 I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:29-34)

Jesus came as the spotless “Lamb of God“, who would not only “atone” for sin, but also “take it away“.

Limitations of the Earthly Service
6 Now when these things had been thus prepared, the priests always went into the first part of the tabernacle, performing the services. 7 But into the second part the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the people’s sins committed in ignorance; 8 the Holy Spirit indicating this, that the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing. 9 It was symbolic for the present time in which both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make him who performed the service perfect in regard to the conscience— 10 concerned only with foods and drinks, various washings, and fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of reformation.

The Heavenly Sanctuary
11 But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. 12 Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, 14 how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? 15 And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.

The Mediator’s Death Necessary
16 For where there is a testament, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. 17 For a testament is in force after men are dead, since it has no power at all while the testator lives. 18 Therefore not even the first covenant was dedicated without blood. 19 For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water, scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 saying, “This is the blood of the covenant which God has commanded you.” 21 Then likewise he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry. 22 And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission.

Greatness of Christ’s Sacrifice
23 Therefore it was necessary that the copies of the things in the heavens should be purified with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; 25 not that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another— 26 He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. 27 And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, 28 so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation. (Hebrews 9:6-28)

What John the Baptist foresaw, Jesus has accomplished. Have your sins been washed-away in the blood of the Lamb?

Sola Deo Gloria!

Bible Study – The Great Commission and Christ’s Ascension

We have already seen John’s account of the Great Commission in John 20:21-23, but we are going to look at the Great Commission in more detail from all four Gospels and Acts. While some of the Gospels place the Great Commission immediately-before Christ ascended back into heaven, others placed it as part of other discourses. The important thing is that God chose to have it included in all of the Gospels as well as in Acts 1. If the Great Commission was that important to God that must mean that it should be important to us also. This will also wrap-up our studies in John’s Gospel.

Jesus only came to earth for a brief time, and when His mission on earth was completed, He ascended back into Heaven where He rules and reigns at the Father’s right hand. While He could have done more here on earth, He had done all He needed to do. We have been given the mission of spreading God’s kingdom, of continuing the work Jesus began.

The Great Commission
18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

15 And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. (Mark 16:15)

44 Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, 47 and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:44-49)

21 So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” (John 20:21)

8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

Two recurring-themes should jump-out at us:
1) The disciples were called to be “witnesses“. They had spent over three years with Jesus before His crucifixion, and they had walked, talked and eaten with Him after His resurrection. None of this was “hear-say“. They had seen and heard it with their own eyes and ears. They were also given the task of recording what Jesus said and taught for us.

2) They weren’t to keep it to themselves, they were to GO and tell others. The Great Commission is so important that God saw fit to have it included in all four Gospels and Acts. Extending His kingdom in this world is very important to God, and He has given us a way for that mission to be accomplished.

There are four mandates in the Great Commission:
1) Go to all of the nations: Note that there is no exclusion-clause in “all of the nations“, and in order to further-explain what He meant by “all the nations“, Jesus expanded on this command in Acts 1:8, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Jesus also knew that there would be “push-back” about the “all” because His disciples were “red-blooded” Jews, and there was. Peter never became “comfortable” with ministering to Gentiles. The four facets of “all the nations” are:

a) Jerusalem: Our “home-town“, where we live, work, play and shop.

b) Judea: The surrounding-area, perhaps our county.

c) Samaria: Go to those who are “different” than we are. Nudist resorts are a “Samaria” to the mainstream church, thus the majority of ministry in Nudist resorts is done be fellow-nudists.

d) To the ends of the earth: There is no place too “out-of-the-way” or “obscure“. Five missionaries were murdered in Ecuador in 1956 as they attempted to contact a tribe of indigenous people (known as the Aucas) deep in the Amazon basin. Some of their widows and families subsequently were able to make peaceful contact with them and eventually established a mission in their village. The Bible has been translated into their language, and some of them are now faithful “God-followers“. That is going “to the ends of the earth“.

2) Make disciples: While part of the task of disciple-making IS teaching, the initial-step must be helping people come to faith in Jesus Christ, what we commonly call that “evangelism“.

3) Baptize them: While baptism isn’t “necessary” for our salvation, it is a means whereby a person publicly-identifies with the faith-community. Baptism must always be preceded by a person’s credible profession of faith.

4) Teach them: A new believer can’t be left to merely “fend for themselves“; they need to be taught the Word of God. The ultimate goal of disciple-making isn’t to make a bunch of “spiritual-consumers“, but to grow them in their faith and start equipping them to also become disciple-makers. Far too many churches are busy “getting people saved” (filling the pews) without teaching them, and far too few churches are diligent about equipping saints for serving the Lord.

One Bible teacher I read recently wrote, “The “success” of a church shouldn’t be measured by its seating-capacity, but by its SENDING-CAPACITY.”

Jesus Christ is the head of the church and He is the commissioning and sending authority. He promised to be by our side as we do His work in the world, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” There is also no evidence in the Bible that this Commission was only given to a “chosen-few“. No, it was given to ALL Believers. That includes ME, and that includes YOU.

The Ascension
50 And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. 51 While He was blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they, after worshiping Him, returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple praising God. (Luke 24:50-53)

Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God, left His glory in Heaven to be Emmanuel, God with us, and came as a baby, not born in a palace, but in a nasty, smelly stable. He grew up, not in wealth, but in poverty, to walk among us, to experience first-hand the depths of human misery and suffering. He ministered, not to the “holy” and “religious“, but to sinners, like me, and like you. Nobody who needed Him was ever turned-away. He was touchable, approachable, and His unfailing-love drew people to Him.

He was destined, not to earthly-glory to wear a crown of gold and jewels, but to suffer and die. The only “crown” He ever wore was a “crown of thorns“. He, who knew no sin, was judged and condemned by sinners, condemned to die the death of a common-criminal, on a cross. A cross-shaped shadow hovered-over Him from the cradle to the cross. He was here for a reason, to purchase our redemption, to satisfy God’s righteous-judgment on sin, and to live a sinless-life so that we may become sinless before God.

Death and the grave couldn’t hold Him, so He was gloriously-resurrected on the third day. Having fulfilled His mission on earth, He ascended back to Heaven, back to the glory He had had from all eternity, to become King of kings and Lord of lords, to sit at the Father’s right-hand.

Someday He WILL return, not as a baby in a manger, but as Conquering-King, when He will vanquish ALL of His enemies and reward those who have followed Him in spirit and in truth. Then we will join Him, not as servants, but as heirs of God’s kingdom. What He has earned for us will be ours for all eternity.

Final thoughts…
As we wrap-up our studies in John’s Gospel, it has been a long journey, covering almost a year, and I have learned a lot as I prepared each study. I have endeavored to be as thorough and accurate to the text as I can be, while keeping each study to a manageable-length. We took a few “side-trips” for Christmas and Easter during the appropriate times of the year. I pray that your walk with the Lord has been enriched, and that you have come to a deeper-appreciation of God’s holy Word.

We are moving on to Studies in Ruth for our next study-series. Please join us.

Sola Deo Gloria!!!

Bible Study – The Resurrection

Had Jesus Christ not been resurrected from the dead, He would have died the death of a common-criminal, proving the Jewish religious leaders right that He was a fraud, a deceiver, a self-deluded huckster. His outrageous claims would have been little more than the rantings of deluded mad-man, an illegitimate one at that, but when He rose from the grave on that third day, it validated everything He had said about Himself. His resurrection was also as important as His crucifixion in purchasing our salvation, because His glorious resurrection is the guarantee of our own future-resurrection.

The Apostle Paul summed up the significance of Christ’s resurrection with these words: 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. (1 Corinthians 15:12-19)

If Christ has not been resurrected, what are we doing here? Am I also a “huckster“?

What “evidence” did Paul present to “prove” that Christ’s resurrection was “real“? 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 Cephas, 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. (1 Corinthians 15:3-11)

The Resurrection

Imagine with me, if you will, the surprise, the shock at finding that tomb EMPTY. If ANYONE was convinced that Jesus was dead, those women were, because they had been there when He died. Only a small-handful of His followers dared to be there during the crucifixion, John, and those four women. They had seen the bloody-mess that used to be His back. They saw the blood running from many open-wounds. They heard the gasp as He was thrown down on that cross. They heard the “thud” as His head hit that hard wood. They saw the Roman soldiers drive those ugly spikes through His hands and feet. They heard His labored-breathing as He hung there. They heard His screams of agony. They saw the sky go dark, inky-black, for three hours. They heard His last words as He committed His spirit to His Father. They saw His last gasp as He said “It is finished“. They also saw the Roman soldier jab his spear into His side. Yes, He was dead, very dead.

They had watched as His body was taken down from the cross. They may have even assisted as His body was washed and prepared for burial. They saw Him being buried. Their only hope had died a horrible-death. Jesus was DEAD.

As many times as Jesus had told them that He would rise again on the third day, they still didn’t understand, until…

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb. 2 So she ran and came to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.” 3 So Peter and the other disciple went forth, and they were going to the tomb. 4 The two were running together; and the other disciple ran ahead faster than Peter and came to the tomb first; 5 and stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings lying there; but he did not go in. 6 And so Simon Peter also came, following him, and entered the tomb; and he saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the face-cloth which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb then also entered, and he saw and believed. 9 For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. 10 So the disciples went away again to their own homes.

11 But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying. 13 And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and that He had said these things to her. (John 20:1-18)

How did that stone get moved? It was massive, and it would have taken a Herculean-effort to move it, particularly since it had been rolled downhill into place, but it HAD been moved. Mary Magdalene WASN’T seeing things. As incredulous as it was, she couldn’t keep that news to herself, she had to tell SOMEONE, and the first two people she ran into were Peter and John. We can’t blame them for racing to the tomb, because in that culture, almost nobody took a woman’s word for anything. They had to find out for themselves. We should note that the ONLY rational-explanation was that someone had stolen His body. They still didn’t “get-it“…

Things got even stranger because His grave-wrappings were there, but He wasn’t in them. If someone had stolen His body, why did they leave His grave-wrappings behind? Nothing made sense. The only thing they knew for sure was that He wasn’t there. They still didn’t “get-it“…

Peter and John went home, still shaking their heads, leaving Mary behind. We may never know why Mary stayed at the tomb, but her devotion to her Lord was soon rewarded.

Imagine the awesome-sight of seeing Angels in the tomb, as if her senses weren’t overloaded enough already. Then they spoke to her… “Woman, why are you weeping?” The only explanation she could come up with was “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” She still didn’t “get-it“…

As she turned around, she saw her risen Lord, or did she? Was she prevented from recognizing Him, or had her grief so-blinded her to the reality of the resurrection that she couldn’t believe her eyes? Think about it for a moment before we go on…

Even though His voice should have been familiar, she didn’t recognize it when He said “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?”. Why did she think that He might be the gardener? Was He still naked, as He was when he was crucified and buried? Gardeners and other common-laborers often worked naked to preserve what little clothing they had. The Roman soldiers had stolen His clothes when they crucified Him, so He didn’t have those to wear, and there was no WalMart just around the corner either. Even though artists love to portray Jesus walking out of the tomb in a gleaming-white robe, we don’t really know how long it was before He actually got some more clothes. It also wasn’t “shameful” for Him to appear naked to her.

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” Did His tone of voice change, or did calling her by name provide that needed-recognition? He didn’t call her “woman” again. He called her “Mary“, her name. “Woman” was generic, but “Mary” was personal, very personal. Don’t we love to hear our name? Our name makes us stand out in a crowd.

She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher). Mary was overwhelmed, and the only word she could get out was “Teacher“. He was that and more, but it was good enough for now. “Teacher” was also personal, because He was her Teacher before He became her Lord.

Jesus was ALIVE, and all Mary could do was hang-on to Him. The last three days had been HELL, so she didn’t want to lose Jesus again. Would we cling to Jesus as Mary did? It wasn’t “bad” or “wrong” for Mary to touch Jesus, but He wasn’t merely raised from the dead, He was resurrected, never to die again. His resurrection-body, while it still bears the marks of His crucifixion, is glorified, perfect, and the ultimate-template of the resurrection-body which will be ours when that time comes. Jesus still lives in and through His body, as He will for all eternity.

18 Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and that He had said these things to her. I’m sure that Mary didn’t just stroll back into town to find the disciples, rather, she probably RAN back into town because that news was too good to keep to herself. She was excited, and for good reason, because the resurrection of Jesus Christ WAS good-news. Three days of hell had come to an end.

As we reflect back on those events which happened almost two-thousand years ago, we should come away with a renewed-sense of what our salvation cost. Had Adam and Eve not sinned in the Garden, we might still be perfect and there would have been no need for Jesus Christ to come to earth. Had there been no Jesus Christ, there would have been no crucifixion, and without the crucifixion, there would have been no resurrection. We, and our sin, are what brought Jesus to earth. We, and our sin…are why He died on that cross. We are the reason….

Next time, we will consider some of those events which Paul spoke about in 1 Corinthians 15. Please join us for “Seeing Is Believing“.

Sola Deo Gloria!
Steve

Bible Study – The Crucifixion

Why DID Pilate go from “I find no guilt in Him.” to handing Jesus over to be crucified?

Pilate had finally caved-in to political-pressure and issued the “verdict” that the Jews had been wanting all along. He also “washed his hands” of that whole mess.

24 When Pilate saw that he was accomplishing nothing, but rather that a riot was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this Man’s blood; see to that yourselves.” 25 And all the people said, “His blood shall be on us and on our children!” 26 Then he released Barabbas for them; but after having Jesus scourged, he handed Him over to be crucified. (Mathew 27:24-26)

Little did the Jews know at that time, but Jerusalem would be destroyed by the Romans only forty-years later, on Passover, 70 AD. Their “day of reckoning” was gruesome beyond description, as over 300,000 Jews were slaughtered and another 100,000 were captured and sent into exile. There were piles of bodies in the Temple and their blood ran down the steps. There wasn’t even one stone left standing of their beloved Temple once the Romans got done destroying the city.

The Crucifixion
17 They took Jesus, therefore, and He went out, bearing His own cross, to the place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha. 18 There they crucified Him, and with Him two other men, one on either side, and Jesus in between. 19 Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It was written, “JESUS THE NAZARENE, THE KING OF THE JEWS.” 20 Therefore many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Latin and in Greek. 21 So the chief priests of the Jews were saying to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews’; but that He said, ‘I am King of the Jews.’” 22 Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.” (John 19:17-22)

It was customary for the condemned to carry their own cross to where they were going to be crucified, however, we know from Luke 23:26, that after Jesus became too weak to bear His own cross, the Romans pressed a passer-by into service to carry it for Him.

Golgotha, or the Place of a Skull, was a bluff which overlooked the city of Jerusalem, and its rocky-face bore a strong-resemblance to a human-skull. It was a well-known execution-site which was quite close to the city, so it was no wonder that an “audience” had gathered for Jesus’ crucifixion.

It was also customary for a plaque stating the “charges“, thus the “reason” why each criminal was being executed. Pilate chose to make another “jab” at the Jews by writing; “JESUS THE NAZARENE, THE KING OF THE JEWS.” Then, when the chief priests objected, Pilate stuck to his guns. Even though Pilate had finally bowed to political-pressure, he knew in his heart that Jesus was innocent of any wrong-doing, particularly anything that was worthy of death. Pilate had Jesus crucified, not because he wanted to, but because he HAD to.

The soldiers were just doing their job. Human-life was cheap, particularly if the prisoner was a Jew. They weren’t paid to ask questions, just follow orders, so they didn’t care who they crucified, even if it WAS the Son of God. Jesus was just one of many prisoners they had executed through the years, so other than that mysterious inscription, they thought nothing about it. They just did their job…

38 At that time two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and one on the left. 39 And those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads 40 and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” 41 In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking Him and saying, 42 “He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him. 43 He trusts in God; let God rescue Him now, if He delights in Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” 44 The robbers who had been crucified with Him were also insulting Him with the same words. (Matthew 27:38-44)

The two “robbers” may have been cohorts of Barabbas, who was also scheduled to be crucified that day, but was “spared” when the Jews chose him to be released rather than Jesus.

It should come as no surprise that some of the mob that had screamed “Crucify him, Crucify him” would have followed the execution-party to the place of the execution, and that their hearts hadn’t become any less evil when they hurled insults at Jesus. Sadly, even the two criminals joined in on the abuse, until…

39 One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” 40 But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” 43 And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43)

One man died and went to Hell, but the other man went to Heaven when he died.

Simple-faith was saving-faith!

Let that sink in for a moment….

23 Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His outer garments and made four parts, a part to every soldier and also the tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece. 24 So they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, to decide whose it shall be”; this was to fulfill the Scripture: “They divided My outer garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots.”(Psalm 22:18) 25 Therefore the soldiers did these things. (John 19:23-24)

The Romans always crucified their prisoners naked, and because their prisoners wouldn’t need their clothes again, those clothes became “souvenirs” for the soldiers on the “crucifixion-team“. Their understanding of “modesty” was far-different than ours today, and well, criminals were criminals, undeserving of any “special-privileges“. So much for the cute little “loin-clothes” artists like to draw in.

But standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” 27 Then He said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” From that hour the disciple took her into his own household. (John 19:23-27)

Only a small-handful of His followers dared to be there during the crucifixion, John, and those four women. They had seen the bloody-mess that used to be His back. They saw the blood running from many open-wounds. They heard the gasp as He was thrown down on that cross. They heard the “thud” as His head hit that hard wood. They saw the Roman soldiers drive those ugly spikes through His hands and feet. They heard His labored-breathing as He hung there. They heard His screams of agony. They saw the sky go dark, inky-black, for three hours. They heard His last words as He committed His spirit to His Father. They saw His last gasp as He said “It is finished”. They also saw the Roman soldier jab his spear into His side.

Did memories of Jesus’ childhood come flooding through Mary’s mind as she watched her first-born son die? Did the words of Simeon from those early-days resound through her ears? Did she remember that prophesy? Jesus was only forty-days-old when they had presented Him in the Temple. 34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and]rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed— 35 and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”(Luke 2:34-35)

All but two of Jesus’ disciples had turned-tail and ran when Jesus was arrested, and after Peter denied his Lord, he too vanished into the woodwork. Only John followed Jesus all the way to the cross. In spite of everything, there were four very-gutsy women at the foot of the cross, including Jesus’ own mother, Mary. I can’t even imagine how hard it must have been for Mary to see her own Son crucified, dying, dead… That scene must have haunted her til the day she died. Perhaps that is why Jesus chose to give her a “comforter” then, rather than later.

Jesus, in spite of being tortured and hung on a cross, took care of His responsibility as Mary’s first-born-son to provide for her care after He was gone. Mary had been a widow since before Jesus began His earthly-ministry, as evidenced by there being no mention of Joseph in the Gospels other than in Jesus early life, and him not being present at the Wedding in Cana. Widows were totally-dependent on their family, namely their eldest son, for their support and livelihood, because when their husband died, whatever inheritance there was was passed out among their sons, which was why the first-born was supposed to get a “double-portion” of the inheritance. Jesus was NOT going to allow His mother to try to eke-out some kind of existence, so He entrusted that responsibility to one of His faithful-followers, John. Tenderness in the midst of suffering…

45 Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour. 46 About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” 47 And some of those who were standing there, when they heard it, began saying, “This man is calling for Elijah.” 48 Immediately one of them ran, and taking a sponge, he filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed, and gave Him a drink. 49 But the rest of them said, “Let us see whether Elijah will come to save Him.” 50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. 51 And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; 53 and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many. 54 Now the centurion, and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the things that were happening, became very frightened and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:45-54)

Part of the penalty for sin is God’s curse upon us. God’s favor is portrayed as the light of His countenance shining upon us, so His curse, which is the opposite of His favor, is God’s “turning out the lights” of His countenance upon us. Jesus Christ had NEVER been separated from His Father for so much as a nano-second in all eternity. The light of His Father’s countenance shone upon Him during His whole earthly journey, until He died on that cross. Jesus, Who was sinless, took upon Himself OUR sin, and when He died on that cross, He died for us as we should have died. Jesus experienced the totality of God’s wrath and curse…God “turned out the lights“, both physically and spiritually. God turned His back on His OWN Son. God was silent…absent…

46 About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” God the Father had poured out His horrible wrath for sin on His own Son. God had “turned out the lights” on His only Son, our Savior, so that we too could become children of God. “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Even God’s creation “turned out the lights” for three hours. That must have been a scary time, midnight at high-noon. The Earth trembled, the Earth shook, rocks were torn-apart, tombs were opened, and long-dead saints appeared in Jerusalem. The Veil of the Temple, which separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies, was sixty-feet-long, thirty-feet-high, and up to four-inches-thick, was torn in two, from top to bottom. God’s presence, which had long-been separated from ordinary people by that veil, became open to all.

54 Now the centurion, and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the things that were happening, became very frightened and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” A Roman centurion confessed what the Jews refused to believe.

28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, to fulfill the Scripture, said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar full of sour wine was standing there; so they put a sponge full of the sour wine upon a branch of hyssop and brought it up to His mouth. 30 Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit. (John 19:28-30)

It is finished! The debt for our sin was paid-in-full. God’s Plan of Redemption had been brought from Promise to Reality. Our Creator-God had made-good on His promise to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:15.

Care of the Body of Jesus
31 Then the Jews, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. 32 So the soldiers came, and broke the legs of the first man and of the other who was crucified with Him; 33 but coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. 34 But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. 35 And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you also may believe. 36 For these things came to pass to fulfill the Scripture, “Not a bone of Him shall be broken.” 37 And again another Scripture says, “They shall look on Him whom they pierced.”

Breaking the legs of crucified prisoners hastened their death, because it denied them ability to push their body up with their legs so they could breathe somewhat easier. Besides suffering from catastrophic blood-loss, they also suffocated to death. Jesus was already dead, so they didn’t break His legs, but a soldier did run a spear up through His side and vital-organs “just to make sure”. Two prophesies, which had been given centuries before that, we fulfilled by their actions.

38 After these things Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate granted permission. So he came and took away His body. 39 Nicodemus, who had first come to Him by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight. 40 So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. 42 Therefore because of the Jewish day of preparation, since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there. (John 19:31-42)

It was customary among the Jews to wash the body carefully before they prepared it for burial. That would have been a tedious and time-consuming task with Jesus’ body because He was covered with blood from head to toe, and by then, some of that blood had matted and dried. It was a labor-of-love for those two men, because it also made them ceremonially-unclean, and thus unfit to partake of Passover and the festivities which followed it. This wasn’t going to be a “poor-man’s” burial, because a hundred pounds of spices was a LOT of spices and cost a significant chunk of money. Linen also wasn’t a “poor-man’s” fabric either, but the cost wasn’t going to deter them from doing it right. This wasn’t just anyone’s tomb; Joseph honored Jesus by burying Him in his own tomb. (Matthew 28:59-60) Jesus died an ignominious-death, but He got a dignified-burial.

Almost eight-centuries before Jesus Christ came to earth, God spoke through the prophet Isaiah and gave us a detailed description of the life, ministry and death of the coming “Suffering Servant“. As we look back, we can see how this prophesy was fulfilled by Jesus Christ, and we look forward to its ultimate-fulfillment when Christ returns to make all things right, and all things new.

The Suffering Servant
53 Who has believed our message?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
2 For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot,
And like a root out of parched ground;
He has no stately form or majesty
That we should look upon Him,
Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.
3 He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
And like one from whom men hide their face
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
4 Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
And our sorrows He carried;
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten of God, and afflicted.
5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed.
6 All of us like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all
To fall on Him.
7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He did not open His mouth;
Like a lamb that is led to slaughter,
And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers,
So He did not open His mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment He was taken away;
And as for His generation, who considered
That He was cut off out of the land of the living
For the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due?
9 His grave was assigned with wicked men,
Yet He was with a rich man in His death,
Because He had done no violence,
Nor was there any deceit in His mouth.
10 But the Lord was pleased
To crush Him, putting Him to grief;
If He would render Himself as a guilt offering,
He will see His offspring,
He will prolong His days,
And the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand.
11 As a result of the anguish of His soul,
He will see it and be satisfied;
By His knowledge the Righteous One,
My Servant, will justify the many,
As He will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great,
And He will divide the booty with the strong;
Because He poured out Himself to death,
And was numbered with the transgressors;
Yet He Himself bore the sin of many,
And interceded for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53)

Sola Deo Gloria!

Call Me “Ambassador”

No, I don’t represent the US to a foreign government, nor do I represent a foreign government to the US, or do I? In a very-real sense, as a Christian, I DO represent a foreign government, the kingdom of God, to people here and abroad. I come bearing God’s revealed Word, the Bible.

You may be thinking, “Steve, where did you get the idea that you are an Ambassador?“, and that would be a fair question if I had just pulled that idea out of my hat, but I didn’t. That idea isn’t original with me, but came from the Apostle Paul.

You may be thinking, “Where did I get the idea that I represent a foreign government?“, and that would also be a fair question if I just pulled that idea out of my hat, but I didn’t. Jesus told His disciples, and us, that we are NOT of this world, and the Apostle Paul reiterated that to his readers. As believers, we are NOTcitizens” of this world, even though we live in it. Our “tenure“, our “journey” here is only temporary. Hence, as political envoys, Ambassadors serve for a limited time and may be “recalled” at any time, we may also be “recalled” at any time if our Lord sees-fit to call us HOME.

Another fair question would be “Who sent you?” That question was answered by Jesus in the Great Commission, and contrary to popular-opinion, it was given to ALL believers, not just a “chosen-few“.

SO, after we look at what an Ambassador is, we will look at the applicable Scriptures. This may even change your mind about who you are in Christ, and I pray it does.

What IS an Ambassador?
Full Definition of ambassador (from Webster’s Dictionary)
1 : an official envoy; especially : a diplomatic agent of the highest rank accredited to a foreign government or sovereign as the resident representative of his or her own government or sovereign or appointed for a special and often temporary diplomatic assignment

2a: an authorized representative or messenger

An Ambassador is an official envoy, sent by a foreign sovereign, to be his official-messenger. This description fits all believers in Jesus Christ.

Our commission:
18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

Our Authority (sending-agent) is Jesus Christ, our Commission is “Go and make disciples”, and our Message is “Teaching them to observe all that I commanded you”.

Our citizenship:
18 “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. (John 15:18-19)

20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; 21 who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself. (Philippians 3:20-21)

We are citizens of Heaven even though we reside on the earth. When we are “recalled” (taken home), we will realize the full-benefits of our heavenly-citizenship.

Our job-title and message:
Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:20)

18 With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, 19 and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak. (Ephesians 6:18-20)

We are Ambassadors for Christ, bearing a message of reconciliation with God, which is summed-up in the Gospel.

As a minister of the Gospel, I am an Ambassador for Christ. Will you join me in this endeavor?

Sola Deo Gloria!
Steve