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!

Tough Times…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sola Deo Gloria!
Steve

Bible Study – The Crucifixion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simple-faith was saving-faith!

Let that sink in for a moment….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sola Deo Gloria!

Bible Study – Wedding In Cana

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

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

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

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

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

While we might recoil in horror that Jesus called His mother “woman“, in that culture, it wasn’t disrespectful, demeaning or dishonoring to His mother. Women didn’t have the status they have today. They were raised to be wives and mothers – period.

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

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

The need for the stone water-pots takes us back into the Old Testament, specifically the Ceremonial Law. The Ceremonial Law, which is detailed in Leviticus 12-15, touched virtually ever facet of their daily-lives. Something as simple AND normal as a woman’s monthly-period, or a couple having sex, made them ceremonially-unclean, which required that they go through a purification-ritual before they could enter any place of worship. They also didn’t have indoor-plumbing or any of the other conveniences that we take for granted. Some people kept water on hand to take care of their purification needs, as did this family. Others had to go to the public bathhouse or other body of water to bathe and wash their clothes.

We need to pause a moment and understand the difference between something which made a person ceremonially-unclean and something which was sinful. They were not the same, even though some things which made a person ceremonially-unclean required offering a sacrifice in addition to the purification-ritual. Even though the Law of Moses required certain sacrifices when a couple had a baby, that didn’t make conceiving and having a baby “sinful“. Some ancient church leaders used the ceremonial law to “prove” that sex was “sinful” but “tolerable” if a couple was try to conceive.

This “anti-body” dogma grew out of a blending of Gnosticism (spirit=good, body=evil) and Asceticism (all pleasure is evil), two ancient Greek philosophies. Some early church leaders denied that Jesus had a real, human body, something the Apostle John went to great lengths to refute in all of his writings. Even though we don’t see much hard-core Gnosticism today, it is still present in a lesser but more insidious form, such as denying that our physical-bodies are part of God’s image in us. I have run into this latter form of Gnosticism among some members of my own church.

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

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

It appears that Mary was already a widow by this time with several kids still living at home because there is no mention of Joseph in this scene, and Mary will reappear several more times throughout Jesus’s ministry. His sisters may have already been married-off by then, because girls got married much younger than boys in that culture. Whatever the case was, the family was together during the wedding and for a short time afterwards.

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

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

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

In Christ,
Steve

In The Beginning…

We all had a beginning, but before our beginning, someone had to begin the beginning. We find two very important “In the beginning…” passages in the Bible, Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1-3. The first three verses of John 1 explain and expand on Genesis 1:1, so let’s take a look at both of them.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 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. (John 1:1-3)

The human mind cannot comprehend “timelessness” or “eternity” because we are constrained by both time and space, however God is NOT constrained by either time or space. God is timeless and eternal, and the only time He felt the constraints of time and space was in the person of Jesus Christ during His earthly sojourn. When God took on human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, He experienced our constraints with us. Jesus was not able to be in more than one place at a time.

At some point in eternity, God put His finger down on that point and declared it “the beginning“. God started the clock. That fact blows my mind.

In the beginning, God…
John spared no expense in telling us Who started the clock. The divine Word, God’s message to humanity, started the clock. If we substitute “the Word” for “God” in Genesis 1:1, we get, “In the beginning, the Word created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)

We are also told that the Word became flesh, thus the Eternal Word is none other than Jesus Christ. “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 1:14)

I have to conclude that when God knelt in the dust and fashioned the first man, He was creating the “prototype” of the very human-body He would take for Himself in the fullness of time. Is it any wonder that we are created in God’s image? God could not have created us any other way.

Our beginning…
Was our beginning merely a “chance” event, or was it “pre-planned“? Those who believe that God doesn’t have an active role in our lives would call it a “chance” event. They would say that one “lucky” sperm outran all the other 250 million-plus sperm through the gauntlet and got to the egg first and still had the stamina to penetrate and fertilize the egg. If that is the case, we are all products of “chance“, and a I could have just as easily been named “Stephanie“.

If our beginning was a “pre-planned” event, God ushered one chosen sperm to its intended rendezvous, and who and what we are is no “accident“. This passage may shed some light on our beginning…

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:3-6)

I would have to conclude that we are not here by “chance“, and that you are reading this at this moment by divine-appointment also. Oh, and it is no “accident” that I am writing this…

Predestination…
If our beginning was not a “chance” event, neither is anything else about us, including our salvation. There are many God-fearing, Bible-believing Christians who don’t believe in Predestination, believing that “free-will” trumps God’s sovereignty. If that belief is carried to its logical-conclusion, their “god” is a hand-wringing wannabe who just “hopes” that people will accept the free offer of salvation. While they will never admit that their theology must strip God of what makes Him God, that is what they are doing. That must also mean that our salvation is only a “hope“, not a “take it to the bank” reality.

God did give us “free-will“, however, before coming to Christ for salvation, our will is enslaved to our fallen-nature. Many people say “To err is human“, but the reality is “To err is being fallen“. We will not realize our true humanity until we are sinless and glorified, because we then will be able to love God with all of our being and love our neighbor as ourselves. Adam and Eve were truly-human before their fall into sin, and Jesus Christ showed us His true humanity by living a sinless life.

I love and worship a sovereign God who has guaranteed my salvation, along with my own glorious resurrection. He is the God of the Bible.

Eternity…
Many people believe that the end of human history as we know it is near, and that we will soon make the transition from our mortal, earthly existence to our eternal state. Will God stop the clock and still the hands of time, or will He keep time going for our benefit?

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. 10 They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11 Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been. (Revelation 6:9-11)

I get the sense from this passage that the departed Saints in heaven are still aware of time, and that time is passing too slowly. Even as spirit-beings, they are still conscious of what is going on around them. So much for the false-doctrine of “soul-sleep“. Moses and Elijah certainly weren’t “sleeping” when they appeared with Jesus on the mountain during His transfiguration.

And Jesus was saying to them, “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.”

2 Six days later, Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John, and brought them up on a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them; 3 and His garments became radiant and exceedingly white, as no launderer on earth can whiten them. 4 Elijah appeared to them along with Moses; and they were talking with Jesus. 5 Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6 For he did not know what to answer; for they became terrified. 7 Then a cloud formed, overshadowing them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is My beloved Son, listen to Him!” 8 All at once they looked around and saw no one with them anymore, except Jesus alone. (Mark 9:1-8)

Our new-beginning…
We become “new creations” when we are saved, but we will not realize the fullness of being “new creations” until we are resurrected. Our bodies, which in this life are plagued with disease and decay, will be raised in perfection, immortal and eternal. I am looking forward to that glorious day when my body is fresh and new, when I can join David in dancing naked before the Lord.

The same God who created all things in the beginning has promised our new-beginning.

And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” (Revelation 21:5)

I say with John, as he closed out the book of the Revelation; “Even so, come Lord Jesus!

In Christ,
Steve

What is Man?

What is man?” is really a question of our significance. To be fulfilled, and to be complete, we have to know that we are significant…that we matter. We ask “Am I just an insignificant speck in this giant cosmos we call the “universe”?, or “Do I really matter in the grand scheme of things?“. What is man?

These questions beg for answers, because deep in our hearts, we really want to know if our brief existence on this earth counts for anything beyond our immediate sphere of influence. This is not just another study of our creation, although that is a vital part of the answer to these questions, but instead we need to look at what makes us significant as human beings, made in God’s image. What I want to try to answer is “Are we significant?“, and if we are, “Why are we significant?“. This reaches deep into the core of our person-hood.

Looking for significance in all the wrong places…

For a person without the sense of true person-hood, their significance usually comes from the roles they play in society, the things they do, and their achievements and titles. These people often have grown up without any affirmation of their value as a person. Their only value is in what they could do, not in who they are.

Recently I was talking with a friend of my parents, and he told me that my dad had told him that “he was proud of me“. My dad passed away last year, and this was the first time anyone had ever told me that dad was proud of me. Dad had never told me that he was proud of me. I asked mom “Why?“, but she didn’t have any answer. Growing up, I was only what I could do…

Strip all of their “doing” away, and they are an empty shell…with no significance…with no sense of who they are.

My story…

As I have already alluded to, I grew up with no sense of who I was, because all I had was what I could do. Dad was a demanding perfectionist, and I very rarely met up to his high standards. That made every rejection even more difficult, because it stripped me of some piece of “what” I was. Finally, last year, the last vestige of my “whats” was stripped away from me when my wife left me for another man. I was left as a hurting, empty shell…a non-person. I had moved away from the fire department where I was the Safety Officer to marry her, and then my wife had ripped my “husbandhood” away from me. Yes, I often asked God “Do I really matter?“, but all I got was stony silence. Sometimes I thought I would be better off dead, and that if I just disappeared, no one would ever miss me. That was one of the lowest times of my life…

Man…

During the early days of creation, God had spoken and the universe took shape. He had waved His hand, and the galaxies fanned out across the cosmos. He had said “Let there be light“, and the nuclear fires of the stars started burning. God spoke, and plants and animal sprang to life. Then God paused and had a conference…

God said “Let us make man in our image…” (Genesis 1:26), and rather than speaking man into existence, God came down to earth to do this project Himself. Man was going to be a creature like no other…

Imagine with me, if you will, the curiosity of the animals and birds, as God knelt down and scooped up a handful of dirt…cosmic dust. Perhaps they were wondering what God was going to do with that dirt… Then, as God formed a head, the great apes might have thought that it looked a lot like theirs. From the head came a sturdy neck, then broad shoulders, with long, strong arms, and unique hands. As a master-sculptor forms a figure from clay, this being started taking shape. A strong trunk then extended down from the head and shoulders, with a narrow waist, and then long, muscular legs…with unique feet. Between the legs God formed the unique genitals…the creature would have a definable gender. It was going to be a male. God then took a slender twig and started placing openings in the nose, the mouth, the penis, and between the cheeks of that muscular bottom. Each opening had a purpose, but at this point, all it was, was a lifeless piece of sculpture, a body made of clay, but God wasn’t done quite yet…

As the animals watched, God did something else they had never seen before. He bent over and place His face above the face of that lifeless sculpture, and He started breathing His own breath into that nose and mouth. As God’s breath entered that lifeless body, its eyes opened, its heart started beating, its lungs started pumping, and the man became alive. As God stood up, so did the man, and the birds and animals marveled at the resemblance. “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being“. (Genesis 2:7)

As the birds and animals watched, God laid His new man down to rest. They were totally-unprepared to watch God perform surgery on His new man, but God did, taking a rib from his chest. Then they watched as God formed another new creature from the rib, except that the new creature looked different. Sure, there were similarities, but there were differences as well. This new creature was given breasts…something all the mammals recognized, and then the genitals went inward. This one was going to be a female. Even the shape of her body was different, and they had never seen a creature as beautiful as she. God took her by the hand, and she stood up, just like the man. When God woke the man up, He introduced the woman to the man. What a lovely couple.

Man was God’s personal creation…his finest work of art… After God form the man and his wife, He rested, because His creation was finally complete. God had commissioned the man and his wife to continue the creative process, by having children. They were to become “co-creators” with God.

Our search for significance…

As our other sources of “significance” are stripped away, and crumble around us, our search should lead us to the ultimate Source of our significance…the LORD God. Unfortunately He is usually our “source of last resort“, and for many who have lost all hope, suicide seems to be their only way out.

In 1997, my first wife took that way out. With our marriage in shambles, and our family badly splintered, she sat in our living-room, put a pistol to her head, and pulled the trigger. She was dead before she hit the floor. Her problems were over, but mine had just begun… My own kids have refused any contact with me for over sixteen years. She was dead, and I was totally devastated, because EVERYTHING I held dear had been ripped from my grasp. Those WERE the darkest days of my life, because I had lost my home, my job, my wife, and even my own children. I didn’t have any more to lose, except for my own life, and even that was threatened…

I was introduced to “Search for Significance“, by Robert McGee, in a support-group, but its marvelous message never made it much past my eyes. It would take fifteen more years, and three more failed marriages, before my heart was finally ready to start letting go of the old way, the only way I had ever known of gaining my own significance. Fifty-seven years was long enough…actually fifty-seven years too many.

Do you see yourself in my experience? If you do, hang on, because I am going to reveal our true Source of significance momentarily. If you don’t see yourself in my experience, get down on your knees and thank God.

What is man…

If you are familiar with the Psalms, you will immediately recognize those words as the first three words of Psalm 8, verse 4, and to put it in context, here is the whole Psalm.
O Lord, our Lord,
How excellent is Your name in all the earth,
Who have set Your glory above the heavens!
2 Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants
You have ordained strength,
Because of Your enemies,
That You may silence the enemy and the avenger.
3 When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained,
4 What is man that You are mindful of him,
And the son of man that You visit him?
5 For You have made him a little lower than the angels,
And You have crowned him with glory and honor.
6 You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands;
You have put all things under his feet,
7 All sheep and oxen—
Even the beasts of the field,
8 The birds of the air,
And the fish of the sea
That pass through the paths of the seas.
9 O Lord, our Lord,
How excellent is Your name in all the earth! (Psalm 8)

King David, in contemplating God, His excellence and glory, and His creation, was moved to ask “What is man?“. Even though David had many triumphs in his life, his personal life was in shambles. He was a great warrior, but he spent many years on the run, fearing for his life. Even though God had called him a “man after His own heart“, David had committed adultery with the wife of one of his commanders, and then had the man murdered. David had no reason to believe that he had any true significance…apart from the significance God gave him.

David came to discover, as we must, that God has bestowed on mankind a special kind of significance, as His ambassadors and viceroys in His world. As God’s ONLY personal creation, man stands head-and-shoulders above everything else that God has created.

Being human gives us a dignity that nobody, and no situation can strip from us. We are the only creatures in all of creation that bear the image of God…and that includes angels. Satan must have cringed every time he saw the unclothed forms of Adam and Eve, because they possessed the one thing he could never possess – God’s image. I pray that you allow the implications of this Psalm sink deep into your heart and soul.

One more thing…

If you are thinking: “WOW! It doesn’t get any better than this!“, I have some good news for you… the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. If you are in Christ, you are a child of God, and an heir with Him of everything God the Father owns. If you are a child of God, it DOESN’T get any better than this, but it is all you need, for all eternity.

If you are not in Christ, and have not accepted Him as your Savior and Lord, I am pleading with you to do so today, because your future is very bleak, regardless of your earthly successes and achievements. Those things will be forever stripped away from you the moment you take your last breath. You may be a billionaire in this life, but you will die a pauper, because EVERYTHING stays behind when you die.

I may be a pauper on this earth, but I am an heir to riches untold, and when I die, they will be mine for all eternity.

Take your pick…riches now…for a few brief years, and poverty for all eternity, or poverty now…for a few brief years, and untold riches for all eternity. I’ll take mine then.

What is man?

4 What is man that You are mindful of him,
And the son of man that You visit him?
5 For You have made him a little lower than the angels,
And You have crowned him with glory and honor.
(Psalm 8:4-5)

I pray that this is YOUR significance. It is mine, and nobody can take it away from me.

Final thoughts…

I have great worth apart from my performance, because Christ gave His life for me, and therefore imparted great value to me. I am deeply loved, fully pleasing, totally forgiven, accepted, and complete in Christ.

God bless!