A Creational-Approach to Missions

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

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

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

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

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

What jumps out at you in Genesis 1?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What jumps out at you in Genesis 2?

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

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

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

Man needed companionship.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 “You shall have no other gods before Me.

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

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

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

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

13 “You shall not murder.

14 “You shall not commit adultery.

15 “You shall not steal.

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

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

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

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

We will now focus on that second Great Commandment:

You shall love your neighbor as yourself…

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

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

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

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

What is MANKIND’S GREATEST “NEED”?

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

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

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

Sola Deo Gloria!

Studies in John’s Epistles – 1 John 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is it that really jumps out at you here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is where “the rubber meets the road”…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seek His presence and you’ll find out!

Sola Deo Gloria!

Studies In John’s Epistles – 1 John 2

John continues his theme of sin and forgiveness which he began in chapter 1. While it is inevitable that Christians WILL sin, we have God’s guarantee of forgiveness and restoration, mediated through the finished work of Christ on our behalf and Christ himself, as our Advocate.

This passage covers several “mini-topics” which we will examine in more detail as we move through it.

Christ Is Our Advocate
2 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2 and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.

The Test Of Knowing Him
3 By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. 4 The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; 5 but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: 6 the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.

Love and Hate; Light and Darkness
7 Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard. 8 On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true Light is already shining. 9 The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. 10 The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. 11 But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

Their Spiritual State
12 I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you for His name’s sake. 13 I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I have written to you, children, because you know the Father. 14 I have written to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.

Do Not Love the World
15 Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.

Deceptions Of The Last Hour
18 Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that Antichrist is coming, even now many Antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us. 20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know. 21 I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it, and because no lie is of the truth. 22 Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the Antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. 23 Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also.

Let Truth Abide In You
24 As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father. 25 This is the promise which He Himself made to us: eternal life.

Warnings
26 These things I have written to you concerning those who are trying to deceive you. 27 As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him.

The Children Of God
28 Now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming. 29 If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him. (1 John 2)

***********************************************************************Christ is our Advocate
My little children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:1-2)

Here at the beginning of the second chapter, John restates what came at the end of chapter one about the forgiveness of sins, although here, he adds a different vantage point. Rather than simply saying that if we acknowledge our sins, God is faithful to forgive them, thus putting forgiveness in a covenant context, (faithful being a covenant term) now John reminds us of how this is accomplished. It is because of the death and finished-work of our “Advocate“, Jesus Christ.

He has also spoken as the Elder, starting out with the words “my little children.” John is the last of the Apostles of Christ remaining alive in the body, and his writings in this vein are filled with truth, grace and love for his “children.” His desire is that we shouldn’t sin, thus he compares and contrasts light and darkness that we might clearly understand the difference as we journey through this life. Knowing that we will all stumble, he gives us the reassurance that all will be made right, thanks to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ… and this is always a comfort to me, I don’t know about you, for I am prone to stumbling.

I also would mention that at the end of verse two, John tells us that Jesus has paved the way for our sins to be forgiven, just as He has for the sins of the entire world. Sometimes, I think that many of us might have the feeling that Jesus has enabled us to have been forgiven, and then we look at the world, and the forgiveness of the world. We share this with others that they too can be forgiven, and then we stumble ourselves again and forget that our new sin is forgiven also, just like our previous sins. In fact, I have watched many faithful followers struggle with this concept, and if this is ever our plight, take heart with John’s words here in verse 2.

The Test Of Knowing Him
We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did. (1 John 2:3-6)

I read with interest, and sometimes sadness, when people write that we need never do anything as Christians because there are no conditions in the New Covenant. They seem to suggest that since grace is free, if we accept it, and then we’re set for life, so to speak, with no obligation to ever do anything or behave in any particular way. Most of the time, I conclude that they are probably just wording things a little bit wrong, and don’t really mean to go quite that far, but sometimes, I think they entirely misunderstand the Christian walk. John makes it quite clear in these verses that we are to obey the commands that Jesus gave us. In fact, Jesus commanded that we should teach others to obey Him also. (Matt. 28:18-20)

The overriding standard in this obedience is to live our lives as Jesus lived. How is that? Love your neighbor; serve others by putting their interests ahead of our own. Spread the Good News to the lost.

Love God, and place His priorities above our own, and to love our brother. John seems to me to be pretty clear that we must live as Jesus did, and if we are not willing to do so, we may have a serious problem.

Love and Hate; Light and Dark
Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.

Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them. (1 John 2:7-11)

In these verses, John gives one more comparison and contrast. This time it is love and hate, light and darkness. If we are in Christ, then we must love our brothers and sisters. If we claim to be in Christ, yet we hate our brother or sister, then we cannot be in Christ; I think this is a fair summary of John’s point.

In the opening sections of this letter, John has made the point that if we are in Christ, we must live our lives like Christ. In fact he has made this point several times in various ways, but recall in particular 2:3-6. Where in the Gospels can we find any indication whatsoever that Jesus ever hated anyone? Far from it! We see Him showing love in all cases, even when He let the Pharisees have it with the seven woes. Remember, right after that, Jesus is lamenting the fact that despite all that God has done, they insisted on turning against Him; Jesus was clearly grieved by this. (Matt. 23:37 ff.) When you reduce the Christian faith down to its simplest form, and I am a fan of doing this, its central idea is love God; love your neighbor. There is no room for hate in that formula.

Our brother may irritate us now and then, and may even let us down. In truth, our brother may well be every bit as imperfect as we are, but we are to love him anyway, just as he is to love us anyway, just as Jesus loves all of us anyway. Remember that love means that we put the interests of the other person ahead of our own.

To this message from John, I’d like to add my own observation: How much damage do you suppose has been done over the years to the Gospel by people who call themselves Christians, but who fail to demonstrate His love to others? How many thousands have said “no” to Christ because of some so-called believers who show an attitude of hatred for other people? How many have left the faith because of this behavior in the church?

Those who hate rather than love can call themselves whatever they like, they may fool many people, but they cannot fool God, and I would respectfully suggest they repent, and do so quickly.

I Write to You Because…
This is a transitional passage between John’s introductory section and the rest of the letter. In verses 1:1-2:11, John has been going through this comparison and contrast which shows his readers who is and who is not in Christ. Great section, lots of insight! Now, he is giving the reasons he has written the letter, and after this he gets into some very deep thoughts. We often just blow by this little transition and wade into the content that begins in verse 15, but hold on a minute; the transition is amazing!

I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of His name. I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one.

I write to you, little children, because you know the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you know Him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one. (1 John 2:12-14)

Do you see what this is? It isn’t so much about the “who” John is addressing, it’s the “why” that is important, contrary to so much that has been written and discussed over the years! Let’s restructure these verses:

If you are in Christ, John is writing to you BECAUSE:
1. YOUR sins have been forgiven on account of His name.

2. YOU know Him who is from the beginning.

3. YOU have overcome the evil one.

4. YOU know the Father.

5. YOU know Him who is from the beginning.

6. YOU are strong.

7. The Word of God lives in YOU.

8. YOU have overcome the evil one.

Did you notice the tense used here? Each of these “because” statements is either in present or past tense, indicating that they are facts at this very moment, not something to come in the future. I’m sure that I need not mention that there are no “buts” in any of these statements. Now, as for the “who,” there are three “who’s” in the passage, “little children“, “fathers” and “young men.”

Little children“, as we have already seen, is one of the ways that John addressed the community of believers; is an inclusive term. “Fathers” can either be literally a father of children, or it can refer to the heads of the households, and in Scripture this is often the case; certainly it is when referring to a patriarch. In those cases, something that is true of the father is true of the household. It seems to me that here, because of the inclusive reference at the beginning, the inclusive meaning is also true of fathers, particularly since there is nothing in the text that would indicate specificity of intent. It could also refer to those we call “church fathers”. “Young men” are the heads of households yet to be born, and I think we can take this reference to mean that not only are these things true in believing households of today, but they will also be true of future generations of believing households. You might wonder about a household of one, but remember that in John’s day, households of one were extremely unusual if not non-existent; they are actually quite a modern development. Looking at the list of statements again, it seems that we can take them to refer to all of us who are in Christ. That is also the context of the previous and following sections…

Notice that there is some repetition. Numbers 2 and 5 are the same, but 2 comes after a reference to the Son, while 5 comes after a reference to the Father. If you know Jesus, then you also know the Father. Having overcome the evil one is mentioned twice also, numbers 3 and 8. Both are directed to young men, and it seems to me interesting that it is repeated the second time in a series of three statements made to young men. Now if we have an accurate understanding of “young men,” then let’s consider these future heads of household. They are the future, but they are also young. They are the ones who need encouragement and the mentoring of the Elder Apostle the most, and so they, who will bear the spiritual battle in the future need a little more instruction than those who are experienced, the veterans. Here, John gives an extra assurance that they are strong, filled with the Word, and have overcome. I would guess that this is as much comfort to John’s “young men” in their day, as this whole list should be to us in our day. This is particularly true when we get into the rest of this letter; John is getting his readers prepared for what is coming.

What About This World?
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:15-17)

Now that John has shown us who we are in Christ, and what the realities of life in Christ are supposed to be, he turns to the world around us. John isn’t referring to the natural world, God’s creation, rather he is referring to the world of Mankind; the culture, society, the impulses, the way things are here. John isn’t speaking of “culture” in the sense that he is against literature, or art, or music, or opera; the things which enrich our lives. Instead, he is referring to the impulses and ways of men and society. If we were to say that we live in a “dog eat dog world“, we would be referring to the impulses and ways of this world; that is more like what John is getting at. John is telling us that we are not to love the world or anything in it and if we do, we have a spiritual problem for sure.

The “lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” are often cited as the three main categories of sin. Clearly these do not come from God, for as John puts it, they come from the world. If you think about it, so much of what people consider important has more to do with impressing others than with anything else. Why are we so often driven by career advancement? Why do we need so much stuff? Why is your living room fancier than your bedrooms? Why do you need the fancy car instead of the economy car? Must I spend $100.00 on a tie? Why do we want what somebody else has? Our knee-jerk answer to these kinds of questions might be sin, but John goes deeper than that; this comes from the world. Jesus nailed that down when He said that we “prefer the praise of men.”

In the final analysis, this world, its ways, and everything in it will pass away, but the love of God endures forever. Our Lord showed us a life that was lived for the love of God. Isn’t that where our love should be? I’ve heard people say that we are here to fix the world, but I must state clearly that this is a mistake. We were never commanded to fix the world. The world is passing away! We are commanded to share the love of God through Jesus Christ with people, so that they may be saved from the world’s fate.

Deceptions Of The Last Hour
So far in this letter, John has given us a reminder of the supremacy of Jesus Christ; who He is, what He is, what He has done, and His nature. John gave us a comparison and contrast of what the “Light” is, and who is and who is not “in the light.” Then John reminded us of who we are in Christ and how amazing that is. In the previous section, John warns us not to love this world, and now John is taking us to the front lines on a battlefield, where it becomes plain why he has taken us on this journey to show us just who we are, and just who “they” are.

Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many Antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. (1 John 2:18-19)

This is the first mention of the term “Antichrist” in the Bible. It means someone who is against or in place of the Messiah. In these verses, John mentions twice that we are in the “last hour“, which is interesting when you consider that many will suggest today that there are more hours to come.

On the Cross, Jesus accomplished two very-important things; He paid the price of our sins and purchased our redemption, and, He sealed the eternal-destiny of Satan and his followers. In that sense, the “last hour” began at the Cross, because Satan’s days are numbered. “What” and “who” we are in Christ is the result of His shed-blood and finished-work on the Cross. When He said “it is finished”, those results were a “done-deal”.

Whoever these Antichrists were, or are, they appear to have been hanging around us, and then to have gone rogue. If nothing else, in these two verses, we can be sure that these rogues were hanging around, but they were never “us“. Recall the descriptions of in the light and in the darkness in vv. 1:5-2:11… These characters were the ones in darkness.

But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the Antichrist, denying the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also. (1 John 2:20-23)

Now we have a little more information: The rogues John is talking about deny that Jesus is the Messiah. That is a bald-faced lie, and those who are in the truth would never make such an assertion, so these guys were not in the light. No person who denies that Jesus is the Messiah is in the Son, and if a person is not in the Son, they are also not in the Father. They are Antichrist, and there are many of those in the world. Virtually every pseudo-Christian cult that is in existence today has redefined who and what Jesus is. Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses are glaring examples of this heresy. Both cults, NOT coincidently, were formed by disaffected “Christians” who rejected the clear teachings and doctrines of the Bible, so it should come as no surprise that their doctrines of Christ are seriously-flawed.

Let Truth Abide In You
As for you, see that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us—eternal life. (1 John 2:24-25)

These two verses are the warning: Make sure that you hang on to what you know about Jesus Christ. If you do, you will remain in Him and inherit eternal life. Do not listen to the rogues. By the way, this is why I said above that John has taken us to the front lines on a battlefield. It is a spiritual battlefield in a spiritual war, where the Antichrists in our midst will attempt to pry us away from the Truth. Resist, and do not listen to their lies!

Warnings
I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. As for you, the anointing you received from Him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in Him. (1 John 2:26-27)

John invokes the anointing of the indwelling Holy Spirit in urging us to remain in Christ in these verses. Consider this: Here is a warning that there are those who will try to lead us astray, to turn our backs on our Lord. They are fighting against us in a spiritual war, and this can sound really scary.

Take heart! John is pointing out to us that we have within us, at our disposal, greater firepower by tenfold! It is the very Holy Spirit of God, the third Person of the Godhead! If we are focused on our relationship with our Lord, and we take these “battles” to Him, there isn’t even a contest, for “greater is He who is in me, than he who is in the world.”

One of the vital-functions of the Church is to provide a “spiritual-support-system” to us when we engage in spiritual-warfare. No soldier in his right-mind goes into combat alone because he is easy-pickings if he does. Instead, he goes with his unit, even if his “unit” is a rag-tag band of survivors from other units. “Lone-ranger” Christians are also much easier to “pick-off” by Satan and his minions than are well-connected Christians, those who avail themselves of the teaching and means of grace of a local church.

Peter, in 1 Peter 5:8, gives this warning; “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking who he may devour.” Our adversary is vigilant and persistent in trying to trip us up, so we must likewise be vigilant. We have a solution; stand on the truth of the Word of God, and reject the lies. We also have the Holy Spirit to remind us of the truth and apply it to our hearts.

As simple as this is, many will be so creeped out by the stories and the idea of spiritual warfare, that it almost makes me wonder if these stories of myth, legend and popular fiction are actually part of the lie itself, so that we won’t fight back, and our superior firepower will never be brought to bear on our foe. Hmmm… Do you think we need to have a healthy relationship with the Lord? I do!

Continue in Him
And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming. If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him. (1 John 2:28-29)

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I sit back and think about everything involved in following our Lord and it all just seems a bit overwhelming. Thinking about who He is, what He is, His love for us, His call to us… and all of the implications of these things… Wow! I don’t want to mess this all up!

Oh sure, I’m confident in forgiveness for sins, and I understand that He is loving, merciful and not interested in a “gotcha” moment, no that isn’t it at all; I don’t want to grieve Him or let Him down. In the text we’ve been looking at, John seems to sense the same kind of thing. He’s taken us through all of these amazing attributes, and he’s taken us through the facts of life in a spiritual battlefield, and now suddenly, he seems to take a little step back to survey the scene, and just as though he were reading our minds, he writes these two verses.

Wow! What do we do now? John’s answer is “continue in Him.” Yes, that’s right; continue in Him, so that when He appears, we may be confident and unscathed by this world of ours. By “continue in Him,” I think John means that we should simply keep on living in Christ’s image, as He taught us, doing what He did, following His Father’s purpose and not being distracted. We do know that He is righteous; so then, we do know that everyone who does right is born of Him. By “right,” John must mean that they do the things that He would do, so while Jesus is the Model for all of us to follow, when those around us follow His model, we have someone to show us the way when we are confused.

Wow! Once again, even though the answer is simple, it isn’t always exactly easy.

Soli Deo Gloria!

The Incarnation – Jesus is Born

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sola Deo Gloria!

Who Was John the Baptist?

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

1) His arrival was foretold in several prophesies. God had been silent for over four-hundred years before he came, and one of the prophesies of his coming was the last prophesy in the Old Testament:
The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord;
Make straight in the desert
A highway for our God. (Isaiah 40:3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sola Deo Gloria!

Bible Study – Seeing Is Believing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sola Deo Gloria!
Steve

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

Bible Study – Speaking Comfort

Jesus knew that the next few days were going to be some of the toughest in the lives of His disciples, so as He continues His “Farewell Discourse“, He does so by reassuring them that everything is under His control.

Jesus Comforts His Disciples
14 “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. 2 In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. 3 If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And you know the way where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”

14 “Do not let your heart be troubled;” When we are facing a difficult situation, there are times when the best thing someone can do is to come along-side us and reassure us that we are NOT alone and we don’t have to walk this road alone. When I went to my wife’s funeral, after she committed suicide, I faced a very-hostile situation, and had I gone alone, it might have gotten even uglier than it did. She was a “home-town-girl“, and was probably related to at least half the people in the town. Because she had committed suicide, her death was “suspicious“. Some people were convinced that I had murdered her, and the preacher said as much from the pulpit. BUT, I DIDN’T go alone. My parents went with me, as did two friends, who were both pastors. I was sandwiched between those pastors during the service. I was NOT alone, and both of those pastors continued ministering to me for several months thereafter.

“Believe in God, believe also in Me.” Jesus issues this in the form of a command – believe! We have an even-greater source for strength and guidance, God Himself.

2 In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. 3 If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And you know the way where I am going.” THIS earth is NOT our home. Our ultimate-home is with God, in the New Heavens and the New Earth. God has been busy preparing our dwellings, where we will live for all eternity. If you could custom-design your home in Heaven, what would it be, a mansion or a cottage, or something in between? Would it be in a city, or would it be in the country? God knows your deepest-desires. This is far-more than just a promise that God is preparing our future-home, it is also the promise that Christ WILL return to take us “home“. Someday, our wander-lust will be no more, because we will finally be HOME.

5 Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” Jesus had just told them where He was going, to Heaven to prepare everything in His Father’s house, but that must have bypassed Thomas completely.

6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” People are constantly trying to make their own way to God, whether it is by being “spiritual“, obeying God’s Law to the letter, as did the Pharisees, or by other means of their own devising. There is also an insidious form of “Universalism“, which causes even people who should know better, to believe that if someone was “good” or “nice“, God is “obligated” to allow them in Heaven, but all of this is thoroughly-debunked by Jesus’ statement. There is ONLY ONE WAY to God, and that is through Jesus Christ.

Having left off in verse 4 by telling them that they know the way to where he is going, he now responds to the insistence of Thomas that they don’t even know the where, much less the how…Jesus, with evident patience tells them again what he has been telling them for a long time: He is the Way, you can only come to the Father through Jesus Himself. He is the Truth; you can know no other truth, for no other truth is genuine. He is the Life, for there is no other life that is eternal. He expands on this in verse 7 by pointing out to them that he and the Father are one. If we want to know the Father we will see Him revealed in His Son. If we want to see the Father, we will see Him in His Son.

Oneness with the Father
7 If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.” Jesus didn’t just come to earth to talk about God, although He did that many times. Jesus didn’t just come to earth to experience what it is like to be human, although He did that for over thirty-three years. Jesus didn’t just come to earth to perform many sign and miracles, although He did. Jesus didn’t just come to earth to give us wise teaching, although He did that all throughout His ministry. Jesus also didn’t just come to earth to live a sinless life, die on the cross and be resurrected on the third day, although He did that too. Jesus came to this earth to be Emanuel, God with us, God revealed in human flesh. God, whose Presence in the Old Testament, was so Holy and Awesome that the children of Israel shrunk back in terror from Mount Sinai, encased the Holy in human flesh to walk among His people.

8 Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. 11 Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves. 12 Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father. 13 Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.

8 Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” If we didn’t know any better, we might be tempted to conclude that Philip had just joined the “party“, but he hadn’t. He had been with Jesus since His ministry began. Was Philip, like the Jewish religious leaders, still looking for more “evidence” that Jesus was the Messiah?

All of them should know that no one has ever seen the Father (John 1:18). It was considered by the Jews impossible for a mere mortal to look directly upon the glory of God, not even Moses had looked directly at Him. Jesus explains that we see God revealed in him through spiritual discernment. He indicates also that his miracles were revelations of God’s presence in him. In truth, the logic is that since it isn’t possible for a mortal man to look directly at God and live to tell the story, God has been made manifest in Jesus Christ, having become a man so that direct interaction can occur, a foundational premise of Christian Theology.

Jesus mentions that those who have faith in Him will continue to do what He had been doing, and that they will do even greater things because He will grant them whatever they ask of Him in His name. This has been the source of considerable confusion and discussion in our time. Are we doing what He was doing… what was He doing anyway?

The ministry of Jesus on the earth was not one designed to advance my interests, desires, wants or needs. Its purpose was to advance the redemptive plan of God. Are we living our lives to advance the redemptive plan of God? Jesus is not telling us to use the ‘magic words’ at the end of our prayers, “In Jesus’ name. Amen.” He is telling His disciples, soon to become His Apostles that He will do great works through them and in fact He did; they are recorded as answered promises in Acts including many miraculous signs that were performed for the specific purpose of confirming the Gospel message. With that said, it is possible, even requisite that we as Christians have an active and powerful prayer life; I can’t imagine how we can follow Him through life without it. However, in no way did Jesus promise anybody that He would give them a “blank check” to live selfish lives of demanding benefits from Him; this is simply inconsistent with every word of Scripture. He will give us whatever we ask for in His name to accomplish God’s purposes.

15 “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” This is where the rubber meets the road. If we truly love God, we will do as He has commanded, but not out of “obligation“, but in gratitude for what He has done for us.

Role of the Spirit
16 I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; 17 that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.

Jesus has just told the remaining disciples that anything they ask in his name will be given to them. Keep in mind that in context this was no blank check, but was all about doing the things that he had been doing. As we continue with his discussion, we now move into further elaboration of how this will all work: There will be a new Counselor. The word translated “counselor” is parakletos which in the ancient world meant “one who give legal advice”. Today, we often refer to a lawyer as “counsel” which comes from this meaning.

In verses 15-17 Jesus teaches us three things about the Holy Spirit. 1) The Holy Spirit is our Eternal Advocate who intercedes for us before the Father (1 John 2:1). 2) The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth that unveils for us our relationship with God and thus sets us free from sin, death and the traditions of men. 3) The Holy Spirit is within you. It cannot be taken it can only be received. Thus, this world cannot take it away and cannot even comprehend it for it is not compatible with the world of men. Wherever there is a Christian, there is also the presence of the Holy Spirit.

As we go through life, we are tempted to find our “validation“, our “identity” and our “significance” in our achievements, our roles, and even in our relationships, however, these things can all be taken away from us, setting us adrift. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt, and it may be the worst feeling in the world to not even know “who” you are. When we find our “validation“, our “identity” and our “significance” in being Sons and Daughters of God, as attested to by the Holy Spirit, we have an “anchor” that is so rock-solid that we can withstand those “up’s” and “downs” in life. That is one of the most important works of the Holy Spirit, because we can’t ever “lose” what we have in Christ.

18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 After a little while the world will no longer see Me, but you will see Me; because I live, you will live also. 20 In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. 21 He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.” 22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to Him, “Lord, what then has happened that You are going to disclose Yourself to us and not to the world?” 23 Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. 24 He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me.

Jesus goes further still in vv. 18-21 with the concept of his being “in the Father” and being “in you” and “you in me.” By extension of course that means that we are “in the Father” through Jesus. If we have his commands and obey them, then we will be considered to love Jesus. If we love Jesus, the Father will love us. Be sure to catch the “if” here; it goes back to obey. If we obey Jesus’ commands the Father will love us in a special way, and Jesus will show himself to us. Will he literally and bodily do so? No! It’s actually better than that: He will show himself through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

The Judas in 22 ff. is the Thaddeus of Matthew and Mark. His question should sound familiar as it has already been asked by Jesus’ own brothers in 7:3-4. Jesus will not show himself to the world because he doesn’t do things the way the world does. You will never see Jesus as a guest on The Factor or Oprah because he is not out to win the praise of men; he is doing the Father’s work of redemption.

25 “These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful. 28 You heard that I said to you, ‘I go away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced because I go to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 Now I have told you before it happens, so that when it happens, you may believe. 30 I will not speak much more with you, for the ruler of the world is coming, and he has nothing in Me; 31 but so that the world may know that I love the Father, I do exactly as the Father commanded Me. Get up, let us go from here. (John 14)

Finally, he introduces another element of the Christian life: Peace. This is not merely the absence of war; it amounts to the full renewal of fellowship between Man and God. With this peace, we need not be afraid, for no matter what the world may do, we are in a place where our future is assured. The chapter concludes with the urgency of the hour. Satan is busy at work and the time for face to face discussion is very nearly over, yet there is still time for a little more yet to come when Jesus talks about vines and branches in the next chapter.

Final thoughts…
Even though we may not face the same kinds of trials and persecution the Apostles endured, we aren’t promised an easy journey. As our society becomes increasingly secular and godless, Christians may face persecution, even death for our faith. The promises Jesus gave to His disciples before He went to the cross are our promises too. Anchoring our faith in God’s promises may make the difference between being able to endure and caving into pressure to renounce our faith. I pray that my faith, and your faith, may be anchored in our relationship with Christ.

Blessings,
Steve

Christian Naturist Festival 2016 Lake Como Resort

We had another great weekend! Many kudos to Pam and her crew for putting together a delightful and inspiring weekend. While it was called a “Festival“, “Retreat” might be a better way to describe it. In spite of all the evil in the world, it was a time for us to “retreat“, to put aside the cares and concerns of what was going on outside, and concentrate on what the Lord was in our midst to teach us and encourage us with.

For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst. (Matthew 18:20)

We were certainly more than “two or three“, more like 20 to 25, and there was a lot of Christian unity and love in our gathering. Our featured speaker was Matthew Neal, author of The Biblical Naturist, and he came well-prepared. The theme for the weekend was “The Image Matters“.

Friday evening…
We gathered Friday evening for fellowship, ice-cream and to worship and adore our awesome God. Matthew introduced us to the need for Christian Naturists to impact the textile Christian Theology and Culture.

He asked five questions:
* What does the church say about porn?
* What does the church say about sexual-objectification?
* What does the church say about homosexuality?
* What does the church say about transgenderism?
* What does the church say about marriage?

The sad fact is that the church has lost its biblical understanding of mankind being created in God’s image, and replaced that with the Gnostic heresy that the body is “evil“. Thus, a “pornographic“, “hypersexualized” view of the body has arisen from that false doctrine. Is it any wonder that the church has lost its prophetic-voice in our culture, that porn consumption is rampant among church members and leaders, because if there is no “real” reason behind “Thou shalt not…“, why not; “If it feels good, do it“? If there is no “reason” for the rules, why not chuck them in the garbage?

The bottom line is that the church’s answers fall far-short of the truth of the Bible.

Saturday…
Our morning began with a catered breakfast provided by CNA (Christian Naturists of America). After a time for fellowship, we sang a couple of praise songs to get our hearts and minds ready to concentrate on God and His Word.

The topic for the morning session was: The Importance of the Imago Dei as a foundational Theological Concept and the culturally-relevent implications for reclaiming a Biblical understanding in the doctrine of the Church.

1) We have a hole in our Theology:
*We give lip-service to this doctrine
*Imago Dei – in the image of God
*We acknowledge “likeness” – moral, volitional, emotional, intellectual and relational.

2) We have neglected “image
*Image means “looks alike
*Our neglect has caused a big hole in our understanding of Imago Dei.

3) We have actively rejected “likeness
*God has no body??? God is “spirit“???
*We use anthropormorphisms to “explain” God’s appearances
*Imago Dei does NOT restrict God

4) God presents Himself:
*Walking in the Garden: 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. ( Genesis 3:8)

*Talking to Aaron and Miriam: With him I speak mouth to mouth, even openly, and not in dark sayings, and he beholds the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against My servant, against Moses?” (Numbers 12:8)

*Moses: 17 The Lord said to Moses, “I will also do this thing of which you have spoken; for you have found favor in My sight and I have known you by name.” 18 Then Moses said, “I pray You, show me Your glory!” 19 And He said, “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the Lord before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.” 20 But He said, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!” 21 Then the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand there on the rock; 22 and it will come about, while My glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen.” (Exodus 33:18-32)

5) God reveals Himself in human form
*General, special and personal revelation
*If we deny the Imago Dei, we miss what our bodies mean.
*Our Theology is defective

6) We need a Biblical Theology of the Body
*What does the body tell us about God?
*What does the Imago Dei mean to the purpose of our bodies, mankind?

7) The Church does have a Theology of the Body, but it is wrong.

Is the body an aid, or is it an impediment to righteousness?

* Temple of the Holy Spirit: 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? (1 Corinthians 6:19)

* Glorify God with your body: 20 For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body. (1 Cor. 6:20)

* Present your bodies as living sacrifices: Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. (Rom. 12:1)

* Present yourselves to God: But present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. ( Rom: 6:13b)

8) What is the purpose of sex in marriage?
*Procreation
*Strengthening the marriage bond
*Recreation

9) What are we expected to think when we see the exposed human form?
*Disgust?
*Give glory to God?

10) “Modesty doctrine”
*The church has it all wrong.
*Biblical “modesty” refers to carriage and demeanor, not clothing

11) What is the source of the current Theology of the Body?
*Satan loves to twist and pervert the truth
*This Theology of the Body has failed the church
*It has been a failure for many generations

We are called to expose this lie!

12) We must recover the glory of God
*As revealed in our bodies
*We must proclaim this truth

13) Theology of the Body
*Our visible bodies reveal how God has proclaimed Himself

Splendor and majesty are before Him,
Strength and beauty are in His sanctuary. (Psalm 96:6)

Strength and beauty are not mutually-exclusive, which is why God has revealed Himself in the strength of a man and the beauty of a woman. There is also a certain beauty in the strength of a man, because the physique of the masculine body has its own functional-beauty. While nobody will deny that women are the most beautiful of all of God’s creatures, they aren’t left out of displaying strength either. Men who tackle the job of being “Mr. Mom” marvel at how seemingly effortlessly women do what they struggle with. Why? Because God has gifted them with strength also.

Have you ever known any women who were both beautiful and strong? I have.

After the morning session, we had a time of prayer before lunch.

Lunch was provided by Garden of Eden Church, and while we ate, Cameron Bennett presented the Vision, Purpose and Mission of CNA. After his presentation, all of the pastors and ministry leaders who were present gathered around him to commission him to a new ministry at Rock Haven. He was commissioned by the laying on of hands and prayers, and then the pastors and ministry leaders offered him the right hand of fellowship.

The afternoon session focused on how we can impact others in our Christian Communities (without using the N-words), and how we can live the truth in a way that challenges other’s preconceptions.

How to influence the Church
1) Recognize that it is a Theological issue.
* Without a Biblical understanding of the Imago Dei, the Church can’t get its Theology straight.

2) Be alert for the many ways that the lie is expressed.
* “Modesty” rules – seeking to “protect” men from lust by laying the blame for men’s lust on women, and shaming them into “mitigating” men’s lust by dressing “modestly“.

* Double-standards – Men can dress almost any way they want, but women have to dress “modestly”.

* Jesus specifically refuted this false “modesty-dogma” in Mark 7:14-21, by teaching that lust and sexual sin come from the heart, not from what a person sees with their eyes.

3) We must remember that NO-ONE can convince ANYONE. That is the Holy Spirit’s job, so all we can do is present the Biblical “evidence“.

4) We must be ready to speak.

5) We must trust God with the results AND the consequences. There may be consequences for believing and proclaiming the truth.

Sunday…
A few hardy souls gathered early to walk come of the nature trails at Lake Como.

Morning worship…
We opened the service with several praise and worship hymns.

Pastor Dan shared some thoughts on 1 Cor. 1:26-31:
26 For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27 but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28 and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, 29 so that no man may boast before God. 30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, 31 so that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

We were NOT wise, we were NOT mighty, we were NOT noble, and we were, in fact, FOOLISH, however God sees us as being “in Christ“, who is everything that we are not. We didn’t contribute ANYTHINGgood” to our salvation, God did it ALL, so our only boasting must be in the Lord.

The topic for the message was: The Body and Redemption
1) To be human is to have a body.

2) We will have a body for all eternity: 20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. 21 For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Cor. 15:20-22)

3) Jesus was fully-human: 9 For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, (Col. 2:9)

Why did Jesus need a human body to redeem us?

* Incarnation: 4 But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, 5 so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4-5)

* Anticipation: 22 And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

23 Therefore it was necessary for the copies of the things in the heavens to be cleansed with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; 25 nor was it that He would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own. 26 Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. 27 And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, 28 so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him. (Hebrews 9:22-28)

* Substitution: 4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. 5 Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, “Sacrifice and offering You have not desired, But a body You have prepared for Me; 6 In whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You have taken no pleasure. 7 “Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come (In the scroll of the book it is written of Me) To do Your will, O God.’” (Hebrews 10:4-7)

* Propitiation: 24 And He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. (1 Peter 2:24), 2 And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. (1 John 2:2), 19 And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 20 And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood. (Luke 22:19, 20)

* Intercession: 11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; 12 and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Hebrews 9:11-14)

* Resurrection: 17 and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. (1 Corinthians 15:17)

* Ascension: 9 And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. 10 And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. 11 They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:9-11)

* This is what Jesus did: 5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ, who, 6 being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)

Communion:
While the Bread was being passed around, one of the ministry leaders served the Cup to each person. After everything was distributed, we all partook together.

We sang two more hymns before we were dismissed with prayer by Pastor Dan.

The worship service concluded another rewarding Christian Naturists Festival, and there is already talk about having another Festival next year.

Final thoughts…
Besides being able to spend two full days au naturel, it was a great weekend. The fellowship was wonderful, and being able to worship our God naturally was an awesome experience. That is the epitome of coming to God “Just as I am”.

Jesus said, “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)

In Christ,
Steve