In The Beginning…Take Two

The Gospel of John

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They are One.

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Steve

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Sabbatical

It is time for me to take a break, as hard as that is. My training and psyche are saying “Suck it up buttercup. You are a better man than that.” Sixty-one years of having my self-worth tied to my performance are saying “Suck it up buttercup. You are a better man than that“. I feel like I am letting my ministry and my good readers down by taking a break, but I have to take a break, so I am. It is also hard to admit that I am NOTSuperman“, because for many years, I heeded the “call to duty” regardless of when that call came in.

I am physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted. My “battery” is drained down to little more than “click-click” when I hit the switch, and if I don’t take a break and recover, the “lights” may not even come on. Yes, I know that I am using “automotive-jargon“, but it is something most people can relate to, and something that is fresh in my mind, because the battery in my truck DIED just a few days ago.

This was NOT an easy decision to make, but after reading “A Theology Of Vacationing“, by Pastor Mark Johnstone, I came to realize that Jesus not only taught it, He commanded it. He did NOT take a poll to see how many of His disciples “wanted” to take a break, He said “We ARE going to take a break” (Mark 6:31, my paraphrase). Jesus was the perfect God-man, so He understood and experienced physical, mental and emotional fatigue. In another scene in the Gospels, we find Jesus “passed-out” in the back of the boat as His disciples were struggling to row across the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 8:23-25). He was dog-tired, so when He had a chance to sleep, He did. If Jesus knew when to take a break, shouldn’t we take a break too?

Pastor John Piper posted a couple of podcasts back in May, 2014 about “A Theology of Vacations“, where he covered this topic from multiple-angles. He tied this theology in with God’s Sabbath ordinance which included rest for both man and beast. Resting one day a week was NOT an “optional-activity“. He also mentions that Jesus took these breaks, so why shouldn’t we do likewise. Both Pastor John’s and Pastor Mark’s articles are well-worth reading. How many of us actually truly rest and “recreate” one day a week. I have saved them to my computer for future-reference, for when I am tempted to play “Superman” again, and need to be reminded that I am just a frail human.

I posted “Time-Out” August 24, 2015, using these same passages, but have I been wise-enough to heed my own advise? What is good for the rest of you may not apply to me (or so I thought). Why not? Reread the first paragraph…

Why now? I needed to be hit between the eyes by this Biblical doctrine again, from a fresh-perspective, for it to finally sink-in. The more I researched this topic, the more convinced I became. The last time I took a real VACATION was in 2012. Time for another vacation.

So, my friends, I am going to take a sabbatical til the middle of September, to rest, recharge, and get my mental-faculties and emotional fatigue relieved and be ready for a busy Fall season. See you in September.

Blessings,
Steve

A Creational-Approach to Missions

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

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

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

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

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

What jumps out at you in Genesis 1?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What jumps out at you in Genesis 2?

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

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

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

Man needed companionship.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 “You shall have no other gods before Me.

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

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

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

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

13 “You shall not murder.

14 “You shall not commit adultery.

15 “You shall not steal.

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

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

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

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

We will now focus on that second Great Commandment:

You shall love your neighbor as yourself…

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

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

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

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

What is MANKIND’S GREATEST “NEED”?

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

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

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

Sola Deo Gloria!

Why I Celebrate The Birth Of Christ

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

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

Its importance to our redemption…

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us…

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

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

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

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

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

That is why the Birth of Christ is SO important.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sola Deo Gloria!

Studies in Ruth – Going Back Home

When we left Naomi, Ruth and Orpah last time, all three women had lost their husbands, so they were widows. Naomi was a foreigner, so she was left with no way of supporting herself, and even though Ruth and Orpah were “natives“, they weren’t going to find husbands on their own. For a woman, or three women, to be left alone in the world without a man or an extended family in those days meant that one of three things would very shortly happen: The woman would find a man to marry, she would become a prostitute, or she would starve. Thus Naomi, Orpah and Ruth were in very deep trouble. What will they do?

There was only one solution, for Naomi to go back home to Bethlehem, and for Orpah and Ruth to go back home to their families.

It wasn’t going to be an easy journey, because no matter which route they took, it was going to be about seventy-five miles long. Moab was separated from Israel by the Salt Sea, the Jordan River, and a range of mountains, so they were going to encounter rivers to ford and mountains to cross. Unless they had pack-animals to carry extra goods, such as a tent, they were going back with little-more than the clothes on their backs. Were the routes even safe-enough for three women to travel alone? There were SO many unknowns…

Naomi Returns with Ruth
6 Then she arose with her daughters-in-law that she might return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the Lord had visited His people by giving them bread. 7 Therefore she went out from the place where she was, and her two daughters-in-law with her; and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. 8 And Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each to her mother’s house. The Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. 9 The Lord grant that you may find rest, each in the house of her husband.” (Ruth 1:6-9)

Even though God’s judgment was over, the famine was lifted, and prosperity was being restored in Israel, Naomi still had grave-concerns about how she would be treated when she got home. Would she be welcomed with open-arms, or would she be ostracized for having left the country? She was even more concerned for her daughter’s-in-law because they would be strangers in a foreign-land. The relationship between Israel and Moab hadn’t always been very good, even though they were distantly-related. If she was ostracized, her daughters-in-law would be ostracized too. She was prepared to “go it alone“, but she didn’t think it was a good idea for them to go with her. They were going to be better-off going back home to their families.

So she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. 10 And they said to her, “Surely we will return with you to your people.”

Parting company with ones we love is hard to do, which is why we prefer to say “See you later” rather than “Goodbye“. I went up to see my dad just a few weeks before he died because mom had told me that he had been unresponsive all week. As I drove up there, I was afraid that this would be the last time I saw him alive, and I was correct, but he “woke-up” for a few minutes while I was there, so rather than having to say my final “Goodbye“, I was able to tell him “See you later“. He died a few weeks later, so that was the last time I saw him alive, but I was spared that final “Goodbye“. I know that we will be reunited in Heaven, so I WILL see him later and he will no longer be suffering from the devastating diseases that killed him.

11 But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Are there still sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands? 12 Turn back, my daughters, go—for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, if I should have a husband tonight and should also bear sons, 13 would you wait for them till they were grown? Would you restrain yourselves from having husbands? No, my daughters; for it grieves me very much for your sakes that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me!”

Once again Naomi appeals to her daughters to go back home to their families, for their own good. They were still young and would more-easily find husbands in their own communities, while she was beyond the age of bearing children, and even if she could, she didn’t expect them to wait long-enough for her sons, if she did have sons, to grow up. No, they would be better-off going back home, and if we didn’t know “the rest of the story”, this would seem to have been “wise-counsel”.

How many times have we received what seemed to be “wise-counsel” which turned out to be “bad-advise”?

Who does Naomi blame for their predicament? God, of course. SHE had been faithful to God, but SHE had still suffered the same fate as the rest of the Jews, a famine. How could God do that to her? How many times have we blamed God for our struggles and problems?

14 Then they lifted up their voices and wept again; and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.

Orpah finally heeded Naomi’s appeal and went back home, but Ruth was stubborn. We don’t know anything about Orpah’s fate, but we do have the rest of Ruth’s story. Which one made the right decision?

15 And she said, “Look, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 16 But Ruth said:
“Entreat me not to leave you,
Or to turn back from following after you;
For wherever you go, I will go;
And wherever you lodge, I will lodge;
Your people shall be my people,
And your God, my God.
17 Where you die, I will die,
And there will I be buried.
The Lord do so to me, and more also,
If anything but death parts you and me.”

Once more, Naomi appealed for Ruth to go back home, but Ruth wasn’t going to be deterred from continuing-on with her. We start seeing Ruth’s character in her response:

1. Her unyielding-devotion to Naomi.

2. Her desire to worship the God of Israel.

3. Her promise to go wherever Naomi goes.

4. Her willingness to share whatever their future may bring.

For whatever reason, Ruth declares that she is in it for the long-haul. Seeing Ruth’s determination, Naomi gives in and lets her travel with Naomi to Bethlehem and an uncertain future. Ruth was staking her future, as uncertain as it was, on believing that the God of Israel would take care of her. That was remarkable faith for a person who had come from an idol-worshiping culture.

18 When she saw that she was determined to go with her, she stopped speaking to her.

Has anyone ever given you the “silent-treatment” when you said something they didn’t like? It was going to be a long trip…

19 Now the two of them went until they came to Bethlehem. And it happened, when they had come to Bethlehem, that all the city was excited because of them; and the women said, “Is this Naomi?”

Far from being ostracized, the people in Bethlehem were excited that Naomi had returned. Some of them may have been wondering about her since she and her family left over ten-years ago. They didn’t have the kinds of instant-communications which we so heavily-depend-on, nor was there a “postal-service“, so any communications had to be entrusted to someone who was traveling back “home“. We also don’t see them asking why she has this “foreigner” with her. They were just glad that Naomi had made it back home safely.

20 But she said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. 21 I went out full, and the Lord has brought me home again empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has testified against me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?”

Many names in the Bible had special-significance or meaning, which was why Naomi (pleasant) wanted to be known as Mara (bitter). She is still blaming God for what has happened…

22 So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabitess her daughter-in-law with her, who returned from the country of Moab. Now they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest. (Ruth 1:6-22)

When they got to Bethlehem, the barley harvest had just began, which sets the stage for our next encounter.

Sola Deo Gloria!

Studies In Ruth – Introduction

The book of Ruth, sandwiched between Judges and 1st Samuel, is far more than just a nice story. It encapsulates God’s dealings with His people down through history and to this day. It is a story of faith, faith in a God who loves and cares for His people, who isn’t content with merely calling out one group of people as His own. The imagery is rich and its historical and theological significance is timeless.

Ruth has been understood to celebrate the following: (a) that a proselyte, even from Moab, can be faithful to the Lord and gain full-membership in Israel; (b) that qualities of loyalty and covenant faithfulness in a foreigner can be a model for Israel’s response to the Lord; (c) that the Lord as Redeemer will restore the exiled family of Israel to its land. In light of the epilogue (4:18-22), however, and assuming a date close to the time of David, the major purpose seems to include showing that David’s kingship is legitimate. The primacy of the tribe of Judah (the father of Perez; 4:12, 18) had already been established in Israel, in spite of Tamar’s strange act of desperation (Genesis 38). Now the primacy of David must be established, even though there is a Moabite in the line. Boaz is the model for a relative who redeems, while Ruth beautifully reflects God’s faithful covenant-love, claiming refuge under the Lord’s wings, and clinging to Naomi. If God has drawn together all of these disparate-strands so carefully to bless the line of David, is that not more reason to affirm David’s initially-fragile claim to the throne?

The Old Testament book of Ruth is often used as a women’s Bible study, and I can see why when it shows the amazing faith of a young widow named Ruth. Yet, I think it is even better as a study for men, since the male lead is a real man’s man; Boaz. Both characters show what faith looks like in action, both main characters demonstrate godly humility, devotion and service, and as I see it, the take away from the story is one that each one of us can learn from. What does a godly woman look like? Take a look at Ruth. What does a godly man look like? Take a look at Boaz… and guess what guys; Boaz didn’t have to turn in his “man card” to faithfully follow God.

Setting…
Ruth is set during the time of the Judges before the monarchy. Israel has fallen away from God and has been punished with a famine. Naomi, one of the principal characters, and her family had gone to live in Moab where there was food. While we are not told specifically which judge was over Israel, these events took place shortly after Israel’s conquest of the Promised Land.

It is important for us to bear in mind that famines were not supposed to happen, and that if one did occur, there were more problems in the land than just a famine. In the Law, God linked His statues with blessings and curses; there would be blessings when the people obeyed the Law, curses when they did not, and one of those curses was famine. (Lev. 26:19) That there was a famine in the land is indicative of disobedience afoot. It would seem that the situation became so bad that people were leaving Bethlehem, headed for more favorable areas where they could find food. Understand that for a Jew to leave the Promised Land to live among the Gentile Moabites was a very big deal, and this family must have been very desperate to do this

Why study Ruth?
The “simple-answer” would be, “because it is in the Bible“, but there is more to it than that. As we have seen in prior-studies, God has preserved a line of faithful “God-followers” since right after the Fall because they were necessary in order for God to be able to send that promised “seed of the woman(Genesis 3:15), who would accomplish His plan of redemption. As we will see, these events, and the people in them, were to become important in the coming of King David, and thus his “Greater-Son“, the Messiah, Jesus our Savior.

Elimelech’s Family Goes to Moab
1 Now it came about in the days when the judges governed, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the land of Moab with his wife and his two sons. 2 The name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife, Naomi; and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites of Bethlehem in Judah. Now they entered the land of Moab and remained there. 3 Then Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died; and she was left with her two sons. 4 They took for themselves Moabite women as wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. And they lived there about ten years. 5 Then both Mahlon and Chilion also died, and the woman was bereft of her two children and her husband. (Ruth 1:1-5)

The family lived in Moab for 10 years. During this time, Elimelech died, and then the two sons married local Moabite women, and in turn each of the sons died leaving Naomi alone with her two daughters in law. No reasons are given for the deaths of the men, but one thing is very clear: These events were disastrous. For a woman, or three women, to be left alone in the world without a man or an extended family in those days meant that one of three things would very shortly happen: The woman would find a man to marry, she would become a prostitute, or she would starve. Thus Naomi, Orpah and Ruth were in very deep trouble as our passage draws to a close. What will they do?

Characters…
There are three principal characters, Naomi, Ruth and Boaz:
Naomi, Elimelech’s wife, was Ruth’s mother-in-law.

Ruth, a Moabite, was the widow of one of Naomi’s sons. She may have still been in her teens, so she was definitely a young-widow.

Boaz was a wealthy land-owner and farmer in Naomi’s hometown, Bethlehem.

“Types”
Types” are used throughout the Old Testament to point to something yet to be revealed in its fullness. There are two very-important “types” in Ruth, which we will look at in detail as they come up. Ruth and Boaz are those two “types“.

Themes…
Though clearly an important historical document of its period, the narrative of Ruth is told with dramatic intensity and movement. The story moves quickly through its various stages, each part marked with irony and suspense, all contributing to a symphony of divine providential fulfillment. God inspires Naomi’s return, Ruth’s covenant faithful, and Boaz’s righteous adherence to the law. The book closes with a genealogy of King David, the descendent of Boaz the Israelite and Ruth the Moabite, a young woman who took refuge under the Lord’s wings (2:12) and was rewarded by God who “gave her conception(4:13)

Ruth and Boaz are part of a longer line that often shows God’s grace combined with human-frailty. One of David’s ancestors was Perez, son of an irregular-union between Judah and his own daughter-in-law, Tamar, who was more “righteous” than the patriarch himself (Genesis 38:26). The final few verses of Ruth comprise a genealogy which may have been added later, however it wasn’t unusual for historical-accounts to end with a genealogy. Also, this genealogy highlights the value of Ruth, and reveals the mixed-ancestry of King David, and through him, of Jesus Christ. Even though she isn’t mentioned in this genealogy, Rahab was also in the line of David and of Jesus Christ. (Joshua 6:22-25, Matthew 1:5-6) Rahab was also Boaz’s mother.

Looking beyond this witness to the legitimacy of David’s kingship, we should note the significance of this book in the light of the Gospel. Ruth follows the faith of Abraham, as she leaves home and family to go to a foreign land under God’s care. The universal scope of the Gospel comes to light as Ruth, a Moabite, finds the blessings promised to all the nations in Abraham’s descendants. Finally, Ruth becomes an ancestor of Christ, who in Himself will reconcile to God such different nations as Moab and Israel, and indeed, all nations.

Outline:
I. The death of Elimelech and his sons (1:1-5)

II. Naomi and Ruth return to Bethlehem in Judah (1:6-22)
A. Naomi and her daughters-in-law leave Moab (1:6-7)
B. Naomi urges Orpah to go back home (1:8-14)
C. Ruth’s solemn promise (1:15-18)
D. Naomi’s bitter homecoming (1:19-22)

III. Ruth gleans in Boaz’s fields (Ch. 2)
A. Ruth goes out to glean (2:1-3)
B. Boaz meets Ruth (2:4-16)
C. Naomi’s assessment of Boaz (2:17-23)

IV. Ruth visits Boaz at the threshing-floor (Ch. 3)
A. Naomi’s plan (3:1-5)
B. Boaz discovers Ruth (3:6-13)
C. Ruth returns to Naomi (3:14-18)

V. Boaz redeems Ruth (Ch. 4)
A. The close relative excuses himself (4:1-6)
B. Ruth and Boaz are married before witnesses (4:7-12)
C. Their first child is welcomed and blessed (4:13-17)
D. Genealogy from Perez to David (4:18-22)

Historical note on place-names:
When the people of Israel conquered and settled the Promised Land, God divvied-up the territory among the twelve tribes, and each tribe’s territory was known by the name of its patriarch. Bethlehem was in Judah because it belongs to the tribe of Judah. Bethlehem was only about five-miles from Jerusalem.

By the time of Christ, Israel had been conquered and re-divided many times, and each conquering-empire redrew boundaries to suit them. The Romans had divided the territory into three parts, Judea, Samaria, and Galilee. Samaria was ruled from Jerusalem by the Governor of Judea.

We will join Naomi and Ruth next time as they leave Moab and journey to Bethlehem.

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 – Warnings and Assurances

As His “hour” was rapidly-approaching, Jesus was trying to prepare His disciples for what lay ahead. He knew that His crucifixion was the culmination of His mission on Earth, the most important reason He was incarnate by the Holy Spirit, was born of a virgin, raised as an “ordinary” Jewish boy, and had entered His public ministry three or so years earlier.

This is the final teaching-segment of Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse“, and it has four main themes, warnings about what is ahead, another promise of the coming Holy Spirit, reminding His disciples again of His pending death and resurrection, and finally, a promise that their prayers would be heard but tough times are ahead.

Jesus’ Warning
16 “These things I have spoken to you so that you may be kept from stumbling. 2 They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God. 3 These things they will do because they have not known the Father or Me. 4 But these things I have spoken to you, so that when their hour comes, you may remember that I told you of them. These things I did not say to you at the beginning, because I was with you.”

While Jesus was with His disciples, He led and taught them, and even “corralled” them when necessary, but after He ascended back into Heaven, they were going to be “on their own“, or were they? Since we have “the rest of the story“, we know that the Apostles gained fresh boldness, even fearlessness, after Pentecost. In spite of what the Jewish religious leaders did to them, they didn’t back down.

Why are they going to face these kinds of trials? 3 These things they will do because they have not known the Father or Me. As we have seen throughout our studies in John’s Gospel, the Jewish religious-leaders had created their own self-made, self-centered religion. Rather than honoring God with their worship, they honored themselves, and Jesus called them out on it many times. They had elevated their own rituals and religious-observances over doing what was right in God’s eyes, thus they worshiped the creature rather than the Creator. They were as guilty of idolatry as if they had created an image to worship, because they worshiped the “god” of SELF.

The Holy Spirit Promised
5 “But now I am going to Him who sent Me; and none of you asks Me, ‘Where are You going?’ 6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. 7 But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. 8 And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; 10 and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; 11 and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.”

Verse 5 raises the question in the mind of the casual reader of whether or not Jesus is mistaken in saying that they have not asked Him where He was going before, for Peter had asked more or less directly, and Thomas had also done so by implication. It would seem that Jesus was not considering these instances because they were mouthed without understanding of what they were asking, for they had no clue that His journey would be a spiritual one. He explains to them that He must go away before the Holy Spirit can come to them. This is not because they cannot be there at the same time, but because He must pay the penalty for their sins on the cross before they can receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, for this is the eternal purpose of God and His primary mission on this earth. Put another way, Jesus came to the earth to go to the cross; only then does the Counselor come to the redeemed.

In chapter 14, Jesus presented the Counselor as the defense attorney for the disciples. Here He continues the legal analogy with the Counselor being portrayed as the prosecuting attorney against the world. He portrays this in three ways: First, the Holy Spirit will convict the world of its unbelief. Second, the Spirit will convict the world of the righteousness of Jesus. Third, the Spirit will convict the world of its own guilt and coming judgment. Just as the “Prince of this World” is defeated and destroyed by Jesus’ death and resurrection, so the world will be convicted of coming judgment because light has come but they preferred darkness.

12 “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. 14 He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. 15 All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you.”

In these verses (12-15), Jesus continues to teach the disciples about the work of the Holy Spirit in guiding them in the future, here discussing three more works. First, the Spirit will guide them “into all truth.” In the coming apostolic community, truth would not be determined by mere human logic or recollection, but guided by the Holy Spirit. Consider this: God has sent His Son to the earth to teach and testify to the truth. Then the Son must die on the cross for our sins. Will God trust the telling of this story and the teaching of the truth to the faulty memories of men? No, He will provide the Holy Spirit to ensure that the story of Jesus’ life and recitation of His teachings are secure and accurate. Second, the Spirit will pass on “only what he hears” to the disciples (Apostles). Only what comes directly from God will be given to them as the truth. Third, the Spirit will continue the work of glorifying Father and Son by revealing Jesus Christ as the Son of God. This provides a unity of purpose between Father, Son and Spirit with a strong link to God’s original purpose of sending His Son to the earth, a linkage that continues into the eternal future and coincides with our purpose for being born and redeemed as well.

Jesus’ Death and Resurrection Foretold
16 “A little while, and you will no longer see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me.” 17 Some of His disciples then said to one another, “What is this thing He is telling us, ‘A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me’; and, ‘because I go to the Father’?”

18 So they were saying, “What is this that He says, ‘A little while’? We do not know what He is talking about.” 19 Jesus knew that they wished to question Him, and He said to them, “Are you deliberating together about this, that I said, ‘A little while, and you will not see Me, and again a little while, and you will see Me’? 20 Truly, truly, I say to you, that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will grieve, but your grief will be turned into joy. 21 Whenever a woman is in labor she has pain, because her hour has come; but when she gives birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy that a child has been born into the world. 22 Therefore you too have grief now; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.”

See” has two different meanings in this passage, derived from two different Greek words. The first “see” means to “visualize” or physically “see” someone, which in this case, is Jesus. His disciples would be with Him, “see” Him, for only a few more hours. Only John made it all the way to His crucifixion and burial. The rest turned-tail and ran after He got arrested. After His resurrection, they would be able to “see” Him again for a while.

As we have seen throughout our studies in John’s Gospel, His disciples often didn’t “get-it“, and they still hadn’t comprehended His mission and ministry. This is the second meaning of “see“, to “comprehend“, “understand” or “get-it“. From the very beginning, Jesus’ ministry and teachings didn’t always “fit” their “Messianic-paradigm“. Yes, He certainly did many things which fit into their notion of the work of the Messiah, but this “dying on the cross” thing DIDN’Tfit“. Even as they finally seemed to “get-it” that Jesus was the Messiah, there were still some “pieces missing“. A “conquering-king” could NOT be a “suffering-servant“, even though Isaiah had given his “Suffering-Servant” prophesies hundreds of years earlier. Kings don’t DIE, they CONQUER. Little did they realize that Jesus was destined to become a King, but by way of the Cross.

Their “spiritual-eyes” will be opened after the Resurrection, but not before. They will finally understand WHY Jesus has to return to Heaven, once the Holy Spirit has come over them.

While these two words are reasonably close synonyms, the difference here is telling; it’s as though Jesus were telling them that they soon would not be able to see him with their eyes (death, burial) but shortly they will realize who He is and what He has done (resurrection). This double meaning will continue through this passage; it will continue along the lines of He will then be taken from their sight for a time (ascension) and then will return to sight (Second Coming) where even unbelievers will “get it”.

The disciples are buzzing; they are not caught in any great eschatological debate for they still are confused about His imminent departure. Jesus doesn’t wait for the question and asks it Himself. Notice that this is the third time it is repeated in a very short span of verses; this is no coincidence, for it would appear that John is putting great emphasis on the statement. Even today we take comfort from the fact that we will see Jesus in a little while.

In verses 20-22, Jesus combines two contrasting emotions: Grief and joy. Their grief will result in a paralyzing fear that causes them to scatter and hide, but not for very long. They will then be filled with a joy that will remain with them even in times of severe trial, for they will understand His promises. Going a little further, he illustrates this by reminding them of the pain and agony that a woman endures during childbirth. Upon the arrival of the child, her grief and pain are all but forgotten, so filled with joy is she when she sees her baby.

Prayer Promises
23 In that day you will not question Me about anything. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you. 24 Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full.

Now in 23-24 we again have a little problem with English. This time the confusion is in the word “ask.” The first “ask” is translated from a Greek word meaning to ask a question while the second three “asks” are from a Greek word that means to make a request. In the first case, they will not ask Him questions because a) they will comprehend much more, and b) the Holy Spirit will be in place to provide understanding. In the second three cases, He is once again making reference to the fact that they will enjoy a very powerful prayer life. He also mentions the aspect of joy, a joy that will remain with them. It is important to notice the connection between “joy” and the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives. The presence of the Holy Spirit is the ultimate gift of God that cements their full restoration to the Father.

25 “These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; an hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but will tell you plainly of the Father. 26 In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will request of the Father on your behalf; 27 for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came forth from the Father. 28 I came forth from the Father and have come into the world; I am leaving the world again and going to the Father.”

Jesus is admitting to them that He has often spoken to them figuratively, but that time is coming to an end. The Father will not answer their future prayers as a favor to Jesus, nor will they ask Jesus and Jesus will ask the Father. Their petitions will be going directly to the Father, for the Father loves them Himself. After Jesus is crucified and has risen from the dead, they will have a relationship with the Father.

Please understand that this is a revolutionary statement. For those who respond in love to their belief in Jesus Christ, relationship with the Father is restored, thus completing the circle of Redemption History that began in the Garden of Eden. Before the Fall, Adam had fellowship with God: the redeemed in Christ have fellowship with God.

29 His disciples said, “Lo, now You are speaking plainly and are not using a figure of speech. 30 Now we know that You know all things, and have no need for anyone to question You; by this we believe that You came from God.” 31 Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? 32 Behold, an hour is coming, and has already come, for you to be scattered, each to his own home, and to leave Me alone; and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me. 33 These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16)

It seems from verses 29-30 that the disciples have finally understood that Jesus is in fact the Son of God, but Jesus still isn’t so sure. Most translations make Jesus’ statement in v. 31 a question, as does the Greek. He then once more points out that they will have a very rough time, but expresses the hope that they will find peace because of His warnings. He ends the discourse with the great statement that He has overcome the world. Theologically speaking, Jesus overcame the world because He overcame death itself. He arose from the dead, never again to die and in so doing defeated Satan. This is something that we say over and over in Sermons, books, lectures and classes… but how did this defeat Satan? Isn’t Satan still very busy even now? Of course he is. We see his actions every day…

Here is how Jesus defeated Satan: When He died on the cross, He paid the price for our sins; so far so good, right? Then He arose from the dead… yes we all know that as well. Here’s the critical point: Because He paid the price for sin and established a New Covenant between Man and God, He paved the way for us to receive the gift of eternal life. Have you entered into the New Covenant? If so, you have received the gift of eternal life which means that even though you will die one day, you will live forever because the limitations of our physical bodies will not limit our ability to live, we will simply be transformed at the point of separation from our bodies to a new kind of life. As Paul put it: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)

Satan maintains his influence and control over men because they fear death. When a people love God and have no reason whatever to fear death, Satan has no means by which to control them, for even if governments or empires murder and torture, they have no particular reason to change their beliefs or teachings for death has no hold on them. When I was a youth and I read the Gospel accounts, in the back of my mind was the thought that it was all well and good for Jesus to bravely endure the cross because He knew in advance how the story ended. Well, what Jesus is telling us in the last verse is that we also know how the story ends. The result is that even under persecution and death, the community of believers would grow so large and become so influential that the Roman Empire itself would be transformed to Christianity. The same is true today, for even though the world may oppose the church, it cannot destroy it because we know that the grave itself will never be able to hold us. This is how Satan’s grip is lost on Mankind; there will always be a remnant that will refuse to follow him in rebellion against God. Jesus has overcome the world, and in Him so have we.

Those who deal with dying people all the time, such as hospice-nurses, often recount how one person went “quietly” into eternity, while another person went “kicking and screaming” as they saw the horrors of Hell open up to them. My brother was described as having a “face like and angel” as he took his final breaths. That was a great consolation and comfort to me and many others in the family. Uncle Ray also died “peacefully”.

Which one will it be, Heaven or Hell? Only you can answer that question.

Bible Study – The True Vine

This passage is a continuation of Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse” which He gave after the Last Supper and before they went out to the Garden of Gethsemane. There are three core themes in this section, our relationship with Christ, our relationship with one another in the household of faith, and our relationship with the outside-world. Without a strong relationship with Christ, we will not be able to have a proper-relationship with our fellow believers, and without this core “framework“, we won’t be effective ministers of the Gospels or be able to withstand the onslaught of the forces of evil which will seek to destroy us.

Jesus Is the Vine—Followers Are Branches
15 “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. 3 You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. 7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. 9 Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. 10 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. 11 These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.

Today we continue our study of Jesus’ remarks to the disciples in the Upper Room. Our passage is one of the best known in all of Scripture in which Jesus uses the illustration of a vine to describe key relationships within the Christian Life. The text moves to its climax in verse 16 with the word “so that” giving us a conditional statement that if our relationships are working together properly, “then” our requests will be granted.

This is the seventh and final “I Am” statement in the Gospel of John, and it is intended as an illustration of the relationship between the Father, the Son and the Church. Jesus is the vine, the Father is the gardener and the disciples are the branches. Notice that Jesus points out the fact that, in a vine, a branch has the function of bearing fruit, and no fruit can be borne by a branch that has been removed from the vine. His point here is that the disciples must remain in Him in order to accomplish their purpose. The Father, as gardener, will remove any branches that do not bear fruit, and prune the ones that do so that they may bear even more fruit… but what is “fruit”?

It is easy to say that He is referring to the making of new disciples, and certainly this is part of the answer. Considering that the Father will be pruning individual branches as well as the entire vine, however there would seem to be something more involved. In this case, it would be the removal of sin from our lives so that we will not only build new disciples, but that we would live such a life of love and purity that we would produce even more disciples than before. One could say that this pruning involves God’s fine-tuning of our spiritual lives so as to bring about maximum growth, not only in ourselves, but as a result in the entire Christian community.

Here Jesus restates the “I Am” in verses 5-6 and adds that we must remain in Him or we cannot produce anything. Consider what happens when we attempt to produce spiritual fruit apart from Christ, entirely on our own… what is the result? Usually the result is either nothing at all or the entry point for sin and wickedness into the community of believers. One might even suggest that this is the formula for the development of cults in the extreme case. Much has been made of verse 6 in certain circles, and for good reason. Many people claim to have accepted Christ as their Savior and Lord, but their lives don’t show any evidence of truly being “saved”. While we can never know their hearts and we can’t judge them, we are certainly called to be “fruit-inspectors”. Jesus, in Matthew 7:20, said; “Therefore by their fruits you will know them”.

There may be times in our own lives when we may wonder who’s “side” we are on, when we need to “inspect” our own “fruit” and ask God to help us make whatever “changes” are needed. I left a Meetup group I had belonged to for several months because it was counter to what I believe the Bible teaches about intimate-relationships. After doing a LOT of studying the Bible, some “soul-searching”, and asking God for wisdom, I became convinced that it wasn’t good for my “spiritual-health”. It is also incumbent on me, as a Minister of the Gospel, to live a life which is “above reproach”. If I am going to “talk-the-talk”, I need to “walk-the-walk”.

Verses 7-8 establish clear linkage between “remaining” and being disciples. If we remain in Him… we will be seen as His disciples. Remember that a disciple is one who knows what the Master knows (and my words remain in you) and who does what the Master does (bear fruit). Thus, if we are His disciples in reality then He will answer our requests for His purpose. It would go without saying that we wouldn’t be making selfish requests.

Jesus now introduces a second analogy to illustrate this relationship, and that is the relationship between the Father and the Son. The illustration is Father/Son is the same relationship that is between Son/disciple. The Father has loved the Son, and the Son has responded with love and obedience. Therefore, since the Son has loved us, we must respond with obedience. To remain in His love is to have our joy made complete.

Disciples’ Relation to Each Other
12 “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are My friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you. 17 This I command you, that you love one another.”

Going one step further now in 12-13, Jesus tells us exactly what obedience looks like: “Love one another as I have loved you.” This is the command He is talking about, and as we saw a few sections back, this means putting others ahead of ourselves: always. The Christian life has no room for self! Verse 13 goes still further when Jesus mentions that the greatest love is to lay down your life for your friends. In His case, this meant the cross. In our case, who knows the future? One thing is clear however, to lay down our life of selfishness is paramount.

There is an interesting contrast between “servant” and “friend” in the last 3 verses, one that is even stronger than the NIV gives us, for the Greek word rendered “servant” (doulos) is the word for “slave”. The contrast is clear: A slave is an inferior relationship while a friend is an equal relationship. Don’t get crazy just yet, for this equality is entirely conditional. Go and bear fruit. Love one another. These are the conditions, and realize that the first will not happen until we accomplish the second. Then the Father will grant whatever we ask. This is the conditional nature of the Christian life, and the challenge before us today. As our culture continues to crumble and the church falters what will we do? We will remain in Him, love one another and bear fruit!

Disciples’ Relation to the World
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. 20 Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. 21 But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 He who hates Me hates My Father also. 24 If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would not have sin; but now they have both seen and hated Me and My Father as well. 25 But they have done this to fulfill the word that is written in their Law, ‘They hated Me without a cause.’

While the first 17 verses of chapter 15 discuss relationships within the Christian community, verses 18 and following discuss the relationship between the Christian community and the outside world. In the first instance, the relationship is characterized by love, but in the second it is characterized by hate. This is a new reality that the disciples must deal with, one that exists to this day. To begin to understand this phenomenon, we must remind ourselves that the world Jesus speaks of is continuing to live in rebellion against God. Jesus brought this contrast between God and Rebellion into the harsh light of day and the people didn’t like it. His disciples will do the same thing with the same result. We too will make this contrast easy to see if we live according to His teachings. We will also cause some to believe and be saved, but the majority will not appreciate our work. For this reason, Christians in “tolerant” America are ridiculed in the press, movies and television, and are often singled out in the public square for derision.

Christians are not “of this world” but instead “our citizenship is in heaven.” (Phil. 3:18-20) The world we live in today is “post-modern” meaning that the overriding standard of morality is what is right for me. Post-modernism doesn’t allow anyone to say that something is “right” or “wrong” based on some “moral-absolute“, but calls on individuals to seek that which is right for them and demands “tolerance” from everyone else.

Obviously, post-modernism is not the philosophical basis of the Bible, and as we all know people have a hard time listening to anyone tell them differently. This entire philosophy demonstrates that most people do not wish to be reconciled to God, or as Jesus put it, to “know the One who sent me.”

As a result of Jesus’ ministry, the world was left “without excuse.” He has spoken the truth of sin, death, right and wrong, and He topped it all off by confirming His teachings with miraculous signs so that there would be no way for anyone to claim that His teachings were simply another random philosophy: They were the very words of God. As a result, rebellious humanity in large part hated both Jesus and His Father, as the prophets had foretold.

26 “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me, 27 and you will testify also, because you have been with Me from the beginning.”

Jesus reminds the disciples about the coming of the Holy Spirit. Note that this is not a teaching about the Holy Spirit as much as it is teaching about what their responsibility would be. The presence of the Holy Spirit is beneficial in a great many ways, but it doesn’t mean that we have no work to do; our part is to teach people about the Gospel and make disciples.

Jesus, in John 14, promised that when He went away, He would send the Holy Spirit, another “Comforter” and “Councilor”, who would lead and guide them into all truth. It is only through the empowering of the Holy Spirit that we are able to do as Jesus did, and to carry out the ministry He has called us to. As we can’t live the Christian life without Christ in us, we can’t minister without the Holy Spirit.

Blessings,
Steve

God Uses “Insignificant” People

As we read and study the Bible, we are tempted to look for the “heroes“, those people whom we would expect to see in God’s “Hall of Fame“, and yet those great “heroes” are outnumbered by “insignificant” people God has used down through the ages to accomplish His purposes. God called some people out of relative-obscurity to become great heroes of the faith, however, there were many people who passed their lives in relative-obscurity, whose names we only know because God saw-fit to include them in the Canon of Scripture. We are going to look at a few from each “category“, beginning back in Genesis.

Who is THAT?
She was the unloved-wife of a scheming, conniving man who was trying to get what he wanted by hook or by crook, the girl who her father had pawned-off on a man who wanted to marry her younger sister. He had gotten the shock of his life when he woke up next to her on the morning after their wedding-night. Who was she?

She was the daughter-in-law her father-in-law grew to be afraid of. She had buried two of his sons, so he was afraid to give her his third son to be her husband. Her grandmother-in-law was the unloved-wife. Who was she?

She was a prostitute in a city God planned on destroying so that His people could enter the Promised Land. Who was she?

She was a foreign-born widow. Who was she?

There is a common-thread which ties these women together. What is it? Some of them are also mentioned in the New Testament. Any ideas?

She was a captive in a foreign land. Who was she?

She was a young peasant-girl from an obscure village. She was also an unwed-mother. Who was she?

Two of these women have Old Testament books named after them. Which two?

Do you recognize these men?
He was a nomadic sheep-herder. Who was he?

He was a shepherd-boy. Who was he?

He was the son of a slave? Who was he?

He prophesied naked. Who was he?

He married a prostitute. Who was he?

He had to take cold-showers for over nine months. Who was he?

He was a tax-collector? Who was he?

He fled the scene naked. Who was he?

He was a physician. Who was he?

They were fishermen. Who were they?

Who were they?

The unloved-wife…
Leah was the unloved-wife, the girl nobody wanted, including by her husband, Jacob. She was also the mother of Judah, from whom the Messiah was descended, and Levi, from whom the Aaronic priesthood was descended.

The “scary” daughter-in-law…
Tamar was Judah’s daughter-in-law, and after she buried Er and Onan, Judah didn’t want anything to do with her. She conned Judah into having sex with her by pretending to be a prostitute. Their son, Perez, was an ancestor of the Messiah.

The prostitute…
Rahab is described as being a “harlot“, a woman of “ill-repute“, who lived in Jericho. When Moses sent spies to check the land out before they began their conquest of the Promised Land, the spies who checked out Jericho found refuge from capture in Rahab’s home. When the children of Israel captured Jericho, she and her family were spared death, and she ultimately became an ancestor of the Messiah.

The foreign-born widow…
Ruth was the foreign-born widow, who, after she married Boaz, became the great-grandmother of David, whose “greater-son” was Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah. That story is recounted in the book of Ruth.

The captive in a foreign-land…
Esther was a teenage-girl, and a captive in a foreign-land. After she became the Queen of her adopted country, she was instrumental in saving her people, the children of Israel, from annihilation. That story is recounted in the book of Esther. The Jewish festival, Purim, celebrates this event.

The unwed-mother…
Mary was the unwed-mother, and her first-born son was Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us. Without her, our redemption, and the entire New Testament, would not have been possible.

The nomadic sheep-herder…
Abram (Abraham) was an idol-worshiping, nomadic sheep-herder before God called him to become the father of a nation. God told him that He would bless all nations through his seed. That ultimate-blessing came through the shed-blood and finished-work of Jesus Christ.

The shepherd-boy…
David was a young shepherd-boy, the “runt” of the family, before God chose him to be the next King of Israel. God promised David that one of his “sons” would rule and reign forever. Jesus Christ is that “greater-son“.

The son of a slave…
Moses was the son of a slave in Egypt, and even though he was raised in the palace by Pharaoh’s daughter, he was an exile in a foreign-land tending sheep when God called him to go back to Egypt and liberate His people. He is credited with giving us the first five books of the Bible.

He prophesied naked…
Isaiah was one of the greatest prophets in the Old Testament, but few people realize that he prophesied naked and bare-foot against Egypt and Ethiopia for three years. That event is recounted in Isaiah 20.

He married a prostitute…
God called Hosea to marry a prostitute and to have children with her, as symbolic of how the children of Israel had whored after false-gods.

He “took cold showers”…
Joseph, Mary’s husband, kept her a virgin until she had given-birth to her first-born son, Jesus of Nazareth. He took full responsibility for raising Jesus, along with their other children, into adult-hood.

He was a tax-collector…
Matthew was a tax-collector before Jesus Christ called him to be His disciple. He gave us the Gospel of Matthew.

He fled the scene naked…
Mark came to the Garden of Gethsemane clad only in a linen sheet, and when one of the guards tried to nab him, he left his sheet behind and fled the scene naked. Mark became a ministry-companion with Birnbaums. He gave us the Gospel of Mark.

The physician…
The Apostle Paul called him “the beloved physician“, and we are indebted to Luke for the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. He was a close companion of Paul during several of Paul’s travels.

They were fishermen…
Fishing was nasty, tiring work, but someone had to do, and that is what Peter, Andrew, James and John were doing before Jesus Christ called them to be “fishers of men“. It would have been difficult for four men to get a more “obscure” start than by fishing. Peter, who had the habit of getting his foot caught in his mouth-trap, became the spokesman and leader of the church after Pentecost. He gave us 1st and 2nd Peter. John, the “beloved-disciple“, gave us the Gospel of John and the Book of the Revelation. Andrew didn’t write a book, but he introduced Peter to Jesus. James also served in the background.

From obscurity…
As should be obvious from this brief survey of characters from the Bible, God doesn’t always pick the “most-likely” candidates to do His work. He picked many “losers“, people we would have never known of if they didn’t appear in the pages of Scripture, but they all had significant roles in God’s plan of redemption. Some of them continued on in obscurity, while some of them became well-known, but they were all important.

God STILL calls people from obscurity to labor in His kingdom, and even though they may labor in obscurity, their labors are NOTinsignificant“. They are NOinsignificant” people in God’s kingdom. We ALL matter to Him, regardless of what He has called us to do.

Blessings,
Steve