Tempted By Satan

Even though it is not mentioned in John’s Gospel, another important step towards beginning His earthly ministry was when Jesus was tempted by Satan. So, we are going to take another brief side-trip into the other Gospels and pick up that event. The ministry of Jesus has begun… or has it? He has been baptized by John, the heavens opened, the Spirit descended upon Him in “bodily form” and the Father has spoken; now He has one more hurdle before He begins; He must be tempted, and in a sense, “tried” or “proven”, much as gem-stones and precious-metals are assayed for their purity and quality. Was He the “real-deal”? Did He have the “right-stuff”?

Satan tempts Jesus

4 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”

4 But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’”

5 Then the devil took Him into the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning You’; and ‘On their hands they will bear You up, so that You will not strike Your foot against a stone.’”

7 Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

8 Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; 9 and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.”

10 Then Jesus said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’”

11 Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him. (Matthew 4:1-11)

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4 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness 2 for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And He ate nothing during those days, and when they had ended, He became hungry. 3 And the devil said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”

4 And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”

5 And he led Him up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. 6 And the devil said to Him, “I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. 7 Therefore if You worship before me, it shall all be Yours.”

8 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.’”

9 And he led Him to Jerusalem and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here; 10 for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning You to guard You,’ 11 and, ‘On their hands they will bear You up, so that You will not strike Your foot against a stone.’”

12 And Jesus answered and said to him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

13 When the devil had finished every temptation, he left Him until an opportune time. (Luke 4:1-13)

There are a couple of things to note right from the get-go. Jesus was empowered by the Holy Spirit, but He was also led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. He didn’t go into this “unarmed”, because besides being empowered by the Holy Spirit, He had a comprehensive-knowledge of Scripture. His journey into the wilderness was reminiscent of the Jews forty-year wandering in the wilderness, and while the Jews failed their test miserably, Jesus passed His test with flying-colors.

Jesus’ three temptations correspond to temptations common to us today: lust of the flesh, hunger of all types; lust of the eyes, or covetousness; and pride, lust for power.

Turn a stone into bread – The Spirit leads Him out into the desert (Wilderness) where He is to fast for 40 days, just as Moses and Elijah have done before. This is the first of several parallels to Israel’s past in this section. After 40 days, Jesus is terribly hungry, and in this we see His humanity in full force, after He was proclaimed by His Father to be the Son of God. Taking advantage of the situation, the devil comes onto the stage… Because Jesus was fully-human, it was natural and normal that He was hungry, so knowing Jesus’ hunger, the devil points to a stone and tells Jesus to turn it into bread to ease His suffering. Notice how Satan begins this temptation; “If You are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” Satan begins by questioning Jesus’ true-identity as “the Son of God”. Is He who He ways He is?

Of course you’ll recall the ruckus among the Israelites in the Wilderness about their lack of food which demonstrated their lack of faith in the God who had so recently rescued them from Egypt in spectacular fashion. Unlike the Israelites, Jesus’ faith does not bend at this point. Satan tempted Jesus to use His creative-powers to satisfy His own hunger, which He refused to do. That He could have turned a stone into bread is not in question, but He never used His powers for His own self-gratification. Every time He used His creative-powers, it was for the benefit of someone else. He turned water into wine at a wedding. He multiplied loaves and fishes to feed hungry crowds at least twice. He also made breakfast for His disciples after His resurrection on the day that He restored Peter. All of those events, while clearly-displaying His power, were for the benefit of others. Jesus quoted from the Old Testament in response to this temptation.

Jesus was the “real deal”, the true “seed of the woman” (Genesis 3:15), and stands in stark contrast to the Israelites, who had short memories and wanted God to prove Himself over and over in the Wilderness.

You can fly – Satan also tempted Jesus to see if God would really keep His promise. Had Jesus flown that day, it might have been a grand-spectacle, and while it might have jump-started His ministry, it would have violated His relationship with His Heavenly Father. Jesus was not about to use His power and position for His own personal ends, rather He came to be a servant-leader in humility and self-denial. He never had a “road-crew” to make sure that He had a “proper-pulpit” to preach or teach from. He used whatever He had available. When Satan quoted and misapplied Scripture from the Old Testament, Jesus responded by quoting Scripture also.

Become king of the world – Satan shows Jesus all of the world’s kingdoms and offers them to Jesus, if He will only worship Satan. Is the entire world Satan’s to offer? Is a renter authorized to put a property up for sale? Satan was tempting Jesus to bypass the cross and become an earthly-king. The really interesting aspect of the offer is that it would have brought Jesus to His destiny in a sense, while bypassing the cross, for in being the king of all nations, every knee would bow to Him. The irony of Satan’s offer is that Jesus already owned everything in the universe, and once His mission was finished, God the Father was already going to hand the reins of authority over to Him, so earthly-glory wasn’t going to hold a candle to His heavenly-glory, and when He returns, every knee WILL bow and every tongue WILL confess that He is Lord. Jesus once again fended Satan off by quoting Scripture from the Old Testament. In His denial, Jesus has passed another test that the Israelites had failed in the Wilderness, for He refused to bow to another god, while they had not only bowed to other gods, they had actually manufactured gods to bow to.

Could Jesus have failed the test? – Since Jesus DIDN’T fail the test, we will never know if He could have. He was tested so that He can understand our tests and temptations. Those were not the only temptations He faced. There were several times when adoring-crowds tried to make Him their king, but He passed on those as well. Probably His most intense test was in the Garden as He faced the cross and all the suffering that went with it. He did go to the cross, and He endured both the physical-agony and having the full wrath of God for our sins poured out on Him.

In the final verse, Luke tells us that Satan withdrew in favor of a more opportune time, and indeed, we will encounter him again and again in the story. When all of this was completed, Jesus returned to His home town to kick off His public ministry, no doubt to cheers from His friends and family.

Or not.

Why does it matter?

Why does it matter that Jesus withstood these temptations from Satan?

14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. 16 Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)

Jesus has been tried and tempted by everything that we will ever confront, so He understands all of our trials, temptations and struggles. We won’t ever face anything He hasn’t faced and conquered already, so as our great high priest, He is ever-willing to come alongside us to help us face and conquer our trials, temptations and struggles.

Today – While it may be tempting to sell one’s soul to Satan in exchange for earthly-fame and fortune, both of those “rewards” are short-lived, while the consequences are eternal. Many aspiring entertainers have sold their soul to Satan, become shining-stars, and met untimely-deaths.

Satan is still in the business of tempting believers today, because he loves nothing better that to trip us up, tarnish our reputation and cause us to mangle our fellowship with God and other believers. Whether it is lying on one’s income-tax return, perpetrating a shady business deal, or falling into sexual-sin, the results are the same. We become less like Christ and more like Satan. Satan has tripped me up with sexual-sin way too many times. No, I don’t walk on water or commune with angels.

Satan has also infiltrated the church in far more insidious ways. As he tried to tempt Jesus by quoting but misapplying Scripture, he has also gotten church leaders to twist and pervert Scripture by preaching as “gospel” lies from the pit of hell. Many of them have been taught those lies in Bible college or seminary. Unfortunately these lies sound so “right” that many Christians believe that they are true. John the Apostle has given us a stern warning about believing everything we hear from pulpits or read in books. Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1)

God has promised to supply ALL of our needs, but not necessarily all of our “wants“. In the Lord’s prayer, we say “Give us this day our daily bread“, and even though that may not include steak, God WILL provide for our needs. Trust God for your needs and trust God to help you resist temptation. Jesus understands our temptations and stands ready to help us because He was also tempted.

Sola Deo Gloria!

Steve

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John Baptizes Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

Would John the Baptist be welcome in your church?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have you been consecrated for holy service?

Sola Deo Gloria!
Steve

John’s Testimony

Many scholars consider this section to be a second introduction to John’s Gospel, bringing the first section of a Heavenly view down to an earthly witness of the one sent to prepare the Messiahs path. John the Baptist is the first witness of Jesus as the Christ, and his is the first testimony recorded. Witness or testimony is the clear theme of this passage, and in doing so, the Baptist has made a clear link between the Old Testament prophets and the appearance of Jesus on the scene; this is a theological foundation to Jesus’ later claims on this subject.

The Testimony of John
19 This is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent to him priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 And he confessed and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21 They asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” And he said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22 Then they said to him, “Who are you, so that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am a voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as Isaiah the prophet said.” (from Isaiah 40:3)

24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25 They asked him, and said to him, “Why then are you baptizing, if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26 John answered them saying, “I baptize in water, but among you stands One whom you do not know. 27 It is He who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 28 These things took place in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

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 is greater than me, 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 1:14-34)

“Who are you?”
Verse 19 refers to Jews of Jerusalem, priests and Levites. These distinctions should be understood as referring first to what we might call the “powers that be” among the Jewish leadership of the time. The priests are those Temple functionaries who perform the duties of that office under the Law, and Levites refers to those from the same tribe who perform ancillary functions in the Temple, such as being teachers of the Law and Temple guards. This delegation was sent from the city to find out just who this crazy guy was who was dressing badly, preaching and baptizing people in the Jordan. Johns reply to all of their questions was no; he was not any of those

Why did the religious-authorities question John the Baptist? Didn’t he have the “right-stuff“? Didn’t he have the right “pedigree“? His father, Zachariah, was a priest, and his mother, Elizabeth, was a “daughter of Aaron“, so he certainly had the right “pedigree“, but our answer comes in the “who” that questioned him, the religious leaders. Had John followed his father’s footsteps into the priesthood, as he was qualified to do, he would have never appeared on their “radar”, but his calling was much higher than that. They didn’t believe that he had the “authority” to do what he was doing, specifically, baptizing people. John the Baptist had not graduated from the “Jerusalem Theological Seminary“, nor had he gone through the proper steps to become “ordained” by the “powers that be“. John’s “ordination” came from God, not from man. In a nut-shell, he was operating outside their “system“, and they didn’t like it.

So, if John wasn’t the Messiah, Elijah or the Prophet, then who was he and why was he making such a commotion?

The “Elijah” who was to come was foretold in Malachi 4:5, and the “Prophet” was foretold by Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15. The priests and Levites were trying to pin-down who John the Baptist claimed to be. Jesus, in Matthew 11:14, clearly referring to Malachi 4:5, tells the crowd that John is the “Elijah who is to come.” John comes in the “spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17), but he denies that he is Elijah himself.

Why are you baptizing?
John now identifies himself by quoting from Isaiah 40:3. John was Gods word spoken, not Gods word Incarnate; Johns mission was to call for the people to prepare themselves for Gods arrival by repentance and baptism in water. He baptized in water to make preparation, but the One who was coming would baptize another way.

John the Baptist recognized that he was fulfilling the prophesy from Isaiah:

“I am 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)

John the Baptist came as the forerunner of the Messiah, much as a herald announces the imminent-arrival of a king or other dignitary. His job was to “prepare the way of the Lord”.

After me…
26 John answered them saying, “I baptize in water, but among you stands One whom you do not know. 27 It is He who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”

When John the Baptist said that he was not worthy to untie the thong of Jesus’ sandal, he wasn’t demeaning himself, rather he was recognizing the greatness of the very Son of God. After the Jewish delegation had left, at some point, John made his declaration that Jesus was the One for whom he had been preparing the way.

We, not unlike John the Baptist, are also heralds for the King. John announced His imminent-arrival the first time, His “stealth-arrival”, but we are called to announce that He is going to return with power and great glory. He is no longer “the carpenter-from-Nowhere’s-Ville”; He is King of kings and Lord of lords, and nobody will be able to miss or ignore His second-coming. We are also not worthy to proclaim this glorious-news, but we must proclaim it anyway. The message is far more glorious than we can ever do justice to, and we, with the Apostle Paul, recognize that “… we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7)

The Lamb of God…
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!

Behold, the Lamb of God. He calls Jesus “the Lamb of God” making a clear reference to the sacrificial animal used in Temple sacrifices for the atonement of sin. Jesus would take sin away entirely, not merely making a temporary atonement as the lambs in the Temple did.

Who takes away the sin of the world. The sin that the Lamb of God takes away is the sin of the world. Here, the “world” refers to all people without distinction, not all people without exception. That is, Jesus did not take away the sin of every person who has ever lived, only those who trust in Him for their salvation. He made no distinction regarding regarding the kinds of people for whom He died. Jesus, as the Lamb of God, atoned for the sins of rich people, poor people, Africans, Asians, Americans, Europeans, rulers, servants, men, women – all kinds of people. The “world” designates humanity in its hostility to God, as elsewhere in this Gospel. Although not all persons without exception will be saved, His sacrifice is the only atonement necessary for human sin, and its effectiveness is not limited by time or place (John 3:16).

Our understanding of Christ’s atoning sacrifice to “take away the sins of the world” can be further enlightened by remembering God’s promise to Abram; “And in you all of the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3c).

Where else have we seen the promise of God’s provision of a lamb before?

6 So Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife, and the two of them went together. 7 But Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!”

And he said, “Here I am, my son.”

Then he said, “Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”

8 And Abraham said, “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.” So the two of them went together. (Genesis 22:6-8)

Abraham believed that God would provide the lamb for the sacrifice and his faith was rewarded with that provision. God’s provision of that lamb that day was a powerful symbol and foreshadowing of the perfect Lamb of God. Animal sacrifices could only cover-over sin, but could not take it away. Only the perfect Lamb of God could actually take upon Himself our sin and truly take it away.

He was before me…
This is the one I meant when I said, A man who comes after me is greater than me because he was before me. I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.” (John 1:31-32)

John’s statement that he hadn’t known Jesus refers to John’s not understanding that Jesus, his cousin, was the One. John the Baptist also told the people that he himself did not know that Jesus was the Messiah, but that His identity was revealed to him. This does not mean that John had never met Jesus before; after all, they were relatives (Luke 1:26-45). John the Baptist’s point was that his insight was not due to personal acquaintance, but was by revelation from God.

Then John gave this testimony: I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, 10 The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. I have seen and I testify that this is Gods Chosen One. (John 1:32-34)

Even though Jesus and John the Baptist were related, John knew very little about Jesus or His upcoming ministry until God revealed it to him. The clincher was when John baptized Jesus and the Holy Spirit descend on Him in the form of a dove, combined with the Voice from heaven.

When John the Baptist baptized Jesus, all three members of the Godhead were revealed, Jesus, the Son of God, God the Father, by His voice, and the Holy Spirit, as represented by the dove. God had never revealed His fullness in this way before, which led John to say: “I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:34)

This is the Son of God. In making this assertion, John is reporting the heavenly-voice that accompanied the heaven-sent Spirit, as recorded in Matthew 3:17, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” While “son of God” was used variously by Jews (2 Samuel 7:14; Psalm 2:7) and Gentiles (Mark 15:39), the Baptist’s witness, as the last of the old-order Prophets (Matthew 11:11-14), is clear. Jesus is the Son of God, the “only begotten of the Father” (v. 14).

Here, John clearly tells the people how he knows Jesus is the One; John has seen the sign that God told him to watch for. Thus, because John has been made to see the Spirit of God descend upon Jesus like a dove and then remain there, John states positively that Jesus is the Son of God.

John’s statement probably caught his Jewish listeners off-guard, because God didn’t have a “Son”, or so they had been taught, so how could this be? Observant Jews recited the Shema twice a day; “Hear, O Israel! The  Lord  is our God, the  Lord  is one!” (Deuteronomy 6:4).  Would John’s testimony be good-enough to put this notion to rest? No, because, as we will see as we progress through John’s Gospel, many people will be offended by the notion that Jesus is God, and ultimately, that claim, that Jesus IS God, will consign Him to the Cross.

What a marvelous testimony!

In spite of the overwhelming-evidence in the New Testament, there are still people who call themselves “Christians” who deny the Deity of Christ. That heresy has had a devoted-following since the time of Christ, and it isn’t going to go away anytime soon. We need to keep our eyes open to recognize it for what it is – heresy.

Wishing you God’s richest blessings in 2018!

Steve

Who Was John the Baptist?

There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light. (John 1:6-8)

There had been no prophets in Israel for over 400 years. God had been silent, and seemingly absent during this period, but He had promised another prophet, a prophet who would come in the spirit and power of Elijah to prepare the way for the coming Messiah. John the Baptist was called to be that prophet.

John the Baptist was descended from the priestly-tribe of Levi, and his miraculous birth and in-the-womb filling by the Holy Spirit set him apart as someone special, and even though he was only on the scene for a short while, his contribution to the kingdom of God was significant. He was also the last Old Covenant prophet. Before we get into his testimony, let’s look at who he was.

Birth of John the Baptist Foretold
5 In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zachariah, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years.

8 Now it happened that while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, 9 according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering. 11 And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. 12 Zacharias was troubled when he saw the angel, and fear gripped him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. 14 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 he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. 17 It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

18 Zachariah said to the angel, “How will I know this for certain? For I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years.” 19 The angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 And behold, you shall be silent and unable to speak until the day when these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their proper time.”

21 The people were waiting for Zachariah, and were wondering at his delay in the temple. 22 But when he came out, he was unable to speak to them; and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple; and he kept making signs to them, and remained mute. 23 When the days of his priestly service were ended, he went back home.

24 After these days Elizabeth his wife became pregnant, and she kept herself in seclusion for five months, saying, 25 “This is the way the Lord has dealt with me in the days when He looked with favor upon me, to take away my disgrace among men.” (Luke 1:5-24)

Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth were old and well beyond child bearing; they had no children and no hope of ever having children. He was a priest at the Temple, and she was something of a disgrace for being barren. On a certain day, Zechariah was chosen by lot, as was the custom, to enter the Holy Place to burn the incense to God. This of course was the twice daily ritual following the sacrifice for the atonement of sins. It is important to this story for us to understand that the casting of lots was done to enable God to choose which priest was to enter the Holy Place, thus Zechariah’s selection would have been understood as God’s choice, and no accident.

There were many priests in many families in that time, so a priest might only get the privilege to serve in the temple once in their lifetime. Zachariah was an old man by the time his turn came around, and even though he and his wife had prayed for a child for many years, they were still childless. They were no ordinary couple, because they both were from priestly-lineage. We are also told that they were righteous before God.

Imagine being at the altar of incense and having an angel appear out of nowhere. Fear would be a very normal response. This was no “ordinary” angel either, rather he was one of the only two angels mentioned by name in the Bible, Gabriel. He had a very-special message for Zachariah; they were going to become parents, in their old-age. God HAD been hearing their prayers, and was going to grant their wish in a very-special way. Their son would be special, the forerunner of the coming Messiah, in fulfillment of an Old Testament prophesy:

“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,
so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.”(Malachi 4:5-6)

What was the “curse” that was promised in that last phrase if the Jews didn’t turn back to God? As we know from history, Jerusalem fell to the Romans, the Temple was demolished, and the Jews were scattered across the Roman empire in 70 AD. Why?

Because the Jews had rejected the long-promised Messiah.

This would be no ordinary child, for he would be filled with the Holy Spirit even before being born, which was the special favor of God in a time when there was no generally available indwelling of the Spirit. He would prepare the way for the Lord Himself with the spirit of Elijah, the great prophet of old. In the process, he would bring many people back to the righteous ways of the Lord.

Zechariah was to call the boy John.

If you were in Zechariah’s sandals, what would be your reaction? Maybe you’d be overjoyed, or shocked, or terrified, or very proud… or skeptical! Zechariah wanted to know how he could be sure this news was true, a fairly human concern, I’d have to say. It would appear that the angel wasn’t all that impressed with such a reaction, however. He identified himself as Gabriel who served in the presence of God, and informed Zechariah that he would be mute until the miraculous (there’s really no other word for it) birth was completed.

Well, Zechariah asked for a sign, and he got one… right?

Meanwhile, the people outside praying were wondering what had happened to Zechariah; he’d been inside far too long. When he emerged from the Temple, they could tell he had experienced some kind of vision, but he couldn’t tell them anything about it. He returned home and his wife became pregnant; the Lord had taken away her disgrace and she went into seclusion for her term. Yet soon another angelic visit would soon take place…

What did Elizabeth mean when she said; “This is the way the Lord has dealt with me in the days when He looked with favor upon me, to take away my disgrace among men.” (Luke 1:25)? We get insight into just how important bearing children was to a Jewish woman in that culture. Being “barren” was “disgraceful“, and was often seen as a “curse” from God (1 Samuel 1:5-6), and sometimes it was (2 Samuel 6:23), and being childless meant that the family-name and lineage died out. No child also meant no heir, and that was a dire situation, particularly for a widow.

God had instituted the kinsman-redeemer custom in the Old Testament for cases where the husband died before giving his wife an heir (Deuteronomy 25:5-6). That is the theme of the book of Ruth, which was a foreshadowing of our great kinsman-redeemer, Jesus Christ.

The importance of having a child, particularly an heir, in that culture, cannot be understated. Among the miscellaneous laws God gave the Jews is an exemption from public/military service for young men who had just gotten married. “When a man takes a new wife, he shall not go out with the army nor be charged with any duty; he shall be free at home one year and shall give happiness to his wife whom he has taken.” (Deuteronomy 24:5)Give happiness” is understood to include marital-relations leading to conception of a child, hopefully an heir. We can see why this was huge for Zachariah and Elizabeth. We can also see why Jesus entrusted the care of His mother, Mary, to John (John 19:25-27), since He was her firstborn.

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 Zachariah 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)

56 And Mary stayed with her about three months, and then returned to her home. (Luke 1:56)

We see fulfilled the prophecy by Gabriel that John would be filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb, as told to Zachariah.

In a scene reminiscent of 1 Samuel 1-2, Mary arrives at the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth and as the text tells us, two interesting things happen when she enters the house. First, the unborn John the Baptist leaps for joy upon hearing her voice, and then his mother Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit. and Elizabeth herself utters a more or less prophetic message.

Elizabeth became the first human to ever proclaim the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

If nothing else, we see in this scene that Elizabeth, in spite of her joy at conceiving a child in her old age, and in spite of being joyous at the important role her son would play in redemption history, that she was fully aware that Mary was carrying the greater of the two, and that as a result, Mary was the more blessed.

What does this tell us some 2,000 years later?

It tells us that this child whose birth we are celebrating now, was no ordinary child, that he was God incarnate. It tells us that this child was/is the One who would change everything and that this change would be for all time. It tells us that in our celebrations, the birth of this child is not to be treated as an afterthought or an “oh by the way” kind of thing, for it is well and truly The Point.

Everything else is fluff.

John Is Born
57 Now the time had come for Elizabeth to give birth, and she gave birth to a son. 58 Her neighbors and her relatives heard that the Lord had displayed His great mercy toward her; and they were rejoicing with her.

59 And it happened that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to call him Zachariah, after his father. 60 But his mother answered and said, “No indeed; but he shall be called John.” 61 And they said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who is called by that name.” 62 And they made signs to his father, as to what he wanted him called. 63 And he asked for a tablet and wrote as follows, “His name is John.” And they were all astonished. 64 And at once his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he began to speak in praise of God. 65 Fear came on all those living around them; and all these matters were being talked about in all the hill country of Judea. 66 All who heard them kept them in mind, saying, “What then will this child turn out to be?” For the hand of the Lord was certainly with him. (Luke 1:57-66)

Here, we see the fulfillment of Gabriel’s word that Zachariah would be mute until after the birth, and surprise of surprises, once Zachariah confirmed the baby’s name, his tongue was loosened and he was able to speak.

Many names carried special-significance, particularly in the Old Testament. “John” was one of those “special-names“, and it means “the Lord is gracious“. Under normal circumstances, naming their child was a right specifically-reserved to the father, but Zachariah wasn’t going to get that privilege. The angel had given him the name he was to give his son, and he wasn’t going to be able to speak until after John was born and named.

Zachariah’s Song…
67 And his father Zachariah was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying:
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of David His servant—As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old—Salvation from our enemies, and from the hand of all who hate us; to show mercy toward our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant, the oath which He swore to Abraham our father, to grant us that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.”

76 “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; For you will go on before the Lord to prepare His ways; To give to His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, with which the Sunrise from on high will visit us, to shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

80 And the child continued to grow and to become strong in spirit, and he lived in the deserts until the day of his public appearance to Israel. (Luke 1:67-80)

At some point after Mary’s song, it was Zechariah’s turn. His was a prophetic song and though it was primarily about his son, it also included elemental references to the Messiah he would serve…

Notice in these verses the clear reference to his son John who came to fulfill the prophecy of old and “prepare the way of the Lord”. Of particular interest is the ending, Zechariah’s mention of the “tender mercy” of God and the way he uses the example of the rising sun each day as an example of God’s mercy. Where would we be if the sun stopped rising?

As we continue reading it becomes abundantly clear that Zechariah isn’t talking about the literal sun, rather he is referring to God’s Son, coming to shine the light of His presence in a dark world that teeters on the edge of destruction. God’s Son will light the path so that we might avoid falling into disaster and be redeemed by God to find the path of peace.

This is a powerful and gripping image, reminiscent of the prophets of centuries before, and one that should light our hearts still today, for it has come to pass, and we who follow Jesus Christ have received its incredible blessing.

With this, Luke has set the stage for the arrival of God’s Son, but this arrival will have an unusual kind of glory…

Next time…
Next week, we will begin looking at the Old Testament promises and prophesies which pointed to the coming Redeemer, Jesus Christ.

In Christ,
Steve

Preparing The Way – Take Two

In the beginning…
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. 5 The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

The Witness of John
6 There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light.

9 There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:1-13)

The Deity of Jesus Christ
The author starts by affirming both the deity of Jesus Christ and His role in creation. As we saw in “In The Beginning“, Jesus Christ, the eternal Word, was the principal agent of creation, and as such, defines who “God” is in: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1.) The Word was eternally-pre-existant with God and part of the Godhead.

Life and Light
4 In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. 5 The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

We see in verse 4, that Jesus Christ, the Word, was both Life and Light. We often think of Light as a person’s presence, and may say “The lights are on but nobody is at home” when a person seems to be alive but is totally-unresponsive. When a person dies, we think of their “light” having gone out.

Light” is also about spiritual-illumination. As fallen humans, we are in spiritual-darkness because there is no “Light” in us. The Word, Jesus Christ, came to shine His Light into our spiritual-darkness.

Verse 5 begins the next little section of John’s text, a section that continues through verse 13. The theme is that of the manifestation of the Word in this dark world, and in this it is interesting to note the transition from the Word, to God and then of Word-God into “light’. We can easily see through this device that the three terms, Word, God and light are being used interchangeably to describe attributes of God, thus they are One in their reference to Christ, who is as yet unnamed in the text.

The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not comprehend it. (John 1:5)

Once again, John has put into one simple statement a fact that theologians have struggled with for centuries; the world around us just doesn’t “get it”. OK, those poor souls who live in the darkness of this world don’t understand the light; why does this surprise us? At the same time as we are surprised that this world struggles with the message of Christ, some of us are surprised that we should be called to reach out to the world around us to deliver the message of light to them and help them to see it for what it is; grace and truth. Why should we be surprised to be called to help others understand it? Why should we resist this calling?

Sent by God
6 There came a man sent from God, whose name was John.

John came as a forerunner of Jesus Christ to bear witness of His coming. He announced the coming of Jesus Christ much as a herald would announce the imminent arrival of a king. He was foretold by Isaiah and Malachi.

The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord;
Make straight in the desert
A highway for our God. (Isaiah 40:3)

“Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me.
And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple,
Even the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight.
Behold, He is coming,” Says the Lord of hosts. (Malachi 3:1)

There was a guy who did not resist the calling, and his name was John. This John is not the same guy who wrote the gospel, yet both of them were only too happy to share the light with a dark world. Verses 5-9 set up what follows by pointing out that this John (the Baptist) was sent to prepare the way for the Messiah who was about to burst upon the scene in the person of Jesus. John was not the light, just as you and I are not the light, yet he was sent to prepare the people to hear the message that would come in Christ.

Witness to the Light
7 He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light.

John was NOT that Light, but he came to bear witness to that Light, and to begin shining Light into dark hearts and souls. He was not pointing to himself as a a source of Light, but to the coming Messiah, as the one true Light. Once Jesus Christ came upon the scene, John always pointed people to Him.

The True Light
9 There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.

Jesus Christ, the Messiah who was to come, would be the true source of Light. When we see the Moon, it appears to be a source of light, however it is only reflecting light from the real source, the Sun. In much the same way, John reflected God’s Light to those around him until the real source of Light, Jesus Christ came and began His ministry. As the Sun gives light to all of us on Earth, Jesus Christ brought Light into our darkened world.

In our time, the light has already come, and we have received it and received grace as a result. We are sent to share that light, and to help those around us to comprehend it that some should receive it also and share in its blessing. When you think about it, this is an awesome calling.

How did they miss Him???
10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.

The Jews had been set-apart by God as His chosen-people, and when Jesus Christ appeared on the scene, they should have worshiped and adored Him as their Creator and Lord, but the majority of people rejected Him. His own testimony, supported by His many miracles, should have been all they needed to follow Him wholesale, but most who followed Him did so only to see His miracles.

After all, there were dozens of promises and prophesies of the coming Redeemer, beginning all the way back in Genesis 3:15. They were told that He would be the Son of David, that He would be born of a virgin, even that He would be born in Bethlehem. How did they miss all those clues? We will be studying these promises and prophesies more in detail as we approach the Christmas season.

How could they be SO blind? In truth, as we will see later on, they were looking for a different “kind” of Messiah. They were looking for a Messiah who would come in riding a white horse and leading a mighty army. The “Messiah” they envisioned, would drive the Romans out of Israel, set-up an earthly-kingdom and restore the “glory” to Israel. They were also looking in all the wrong places, not really understanding the entirety of the Old Testament Messianic prophesies. That He would be the “Suffering-Servant” (Isaiah 53) wasn’t on their “radar“.

One of the most important “His own” groups of His day was the religious-leadership, the Scribes, Pharisees and Teachers of the Law, and they rejected Him because they couldn’t control Him. As we will see later in John’s Gospel, Jesus Christ had many run-ins with them.

Children of God
He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1:10-13)

Yet again, simple John took a major theological concept and boiled it down to a few simple sentences that anyone should be able to understand; it is clear and simple. This “light” who is also the WordGod, came into this world of darkness, and even though He made the world, the world simply didn’t recognize Him for who He really was. He even came and lived among his own covenant people, the ones who had received the message of the prophets concerning Him and His coming, yet they for the most part, didn’t recognize Him any more than they recognized the prophets when they came. Many of them thought, as we will see later, that their ethnic-heritage, as “children of Abraham“, meant that they had it made. Yet, for those who did see Him for who He was, He made it possible for them to be reborn as children of God.

Wow! What could be simpler?

Salvation is of God
12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

As hard as people try to make themselves right before God, it is impossible. We can’t DO enough good things to merit His favor, nor can we NOT DO enough wrong things to avoid His wrath. That was what the religious leaders were trying to do, and as “good” as they thought they were, their “good” was never GOOD ENOUGH.

The ONLY way we can gain salvation is to accept that we CAN’T do it on our own and accept and receive Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. Only then will God make us His children, with all the rights and responsibilities which go with that high-status.

In Christ,
Steve

 

In The Beginning…Take Two

The Gospel of John

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They are One.

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Steve

Studies in John’s Epistles – 3rd John

Some Things Never Change

3rd John is another personal-letter, which is also his last letter. So short, so telling. John is writing to his friend and brother Gaius. He seems to have been a leader in the church, and even though there are other mentions of men with this name in Scripture, it was a very common name; we can’t be sure if he has other mentions or not. Gaius was obviously serving others, and sharing God’s love with them. He was hosting a group of missionaries, and these workers were people he didn’t know.

You Walk in the Truth
1 The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth.

2 Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers. 3 For I was very glad when brethren came and testified to your truth, that is, how you are walking in truth. 4 I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.

As we saw also in 2nd John, his personal greetings are warm and tender. Wishing “prosperity” and “good health” was a common Greek greeting, so we should not be surprised that John greets Gaius this way, but what wasn’t “common” was tying physical prosperity and health together with spiritual-health, so in that regard, this is no “ordinary” letter. Messengers have brought news to John that Gaius is acting in an exemplary-manner, which brings great joy to the Apostle.

5 Beloved, you are acting faithfully in whatever you accomplish for the brethren, and especially when they are strangers; 6 and they have testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. 7 For they went out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. 8 Therefore we ought to support such men, so that we may be fellow workers with the truth.

Gaius is the kind of Christian who is worthy of imitation. He is serving in love, he is putting others first, he is doing the kinds of things we should be doing. John encourages Gaius to keep up the good work. But there is another guy who comes up in the letter…

9 I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say. 10 For this reason, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words; and not satisfied with this, he himself does not receive the brethren, either, and he forbids those who desire to do so and puts them out of the church.

Uh-oh! Looks like John had a wannabe “big-shot” on his hands, a “big-shot” who thought that he knew more than John, who was an Apostle.

This dude Diotrephes is all too common in our day, and obviously they had this sort of nonsense going on even in John’s day. Did you catch what John said about him at the beginning? He said that Diotrephes “loves to be first.” Well that about sums it up! Do you know others who love to be first? They are the important ones, they are the ones who can’t be inconvenienced, they are the ones who always have the last word, who always get their way, and who must always be in charge. They want to be the bride at every wedding, and the corpse at every funeral. No doubt we are reminded of the words of Jesus when He said “the first will be last and the last will be first!

Diotrephes won’t welcome the Apostle to the church, and kicks others out for welcoming the strangers that Gaius has taken in. Diotrephes seems to have much to say about others. A bunch of nonsense (or gossip) is being spread about people like John himself, who should be given the respect they are due. I wonder if Diotrephes is doing this because he must be in the spotlight, and just can’t handle it when someone else gets attention.

I cringe when I see a ministry named after its founding-father and guiding-light, even though I know that there are many GOOD ministries so-named. All I can ask is “Why?

Maybe we’ll never know the exact motivation, but I think we recognize the person, and John is telling us not to emulate them or their behavior. Who can argue with that advice?

People follow all kinds of “role models” these days, but unfortunately, many people are following the wrong kinds of “role models“. We see big-name sports-stars get rewarded with even juicier contracts after an episode of wrong-behavior. What is wrong with that picture? Who do you know who would be a GOODrole model” for people to follow?

11 Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God. 12 Demetrius has received a good testimony from everyone, and from the truth itself; and we add our testimony, and you know that our testimony is true.

Finally, another good guy is mentioned: Demetrius. So there you have it, two brothers who are serving faithfully, and one bad apple. It seems that the bad apple makes the most noise, but the faithful servants are making a difference for the Gospel. I’d say there might be a lesson in this for us!

13 I had many things to write to you, but I am not willing to write them to you with pen and ink; 14 but I hope to see you shortly, and we will speak face to face.

As we saw in 2nd John, the Apostle had many more things to say, but he wanted to say them in person. We read the words of Jesus in the Gospels, and read the Apostle’s writings, and yet, if Jesus or one of the Apostles walked through the door of this room, we would turn our attention to them and would be all-ears for what they had to say. Nothing beats face-to-face interaction.

Jesus and the Apostles said many things which were never recorded, but as John wrote in John 20:30, we have a very-adequate record for our needs and purposes, and while the ministries of Jesus and the Apostles only reached a few people during their lifetimes; countless millions of people have been reached by the written word they left behind.

15 Peace be to you. The friends greet you. Greet the friends by name.

As John is closing this personal letter, he sends greetings from those who are with him, and Gaius would know who else to greet by name.

Sola Deo Gloria!

Studies in John’s Epistles – 2 John 1

Unlike 1st John, which was very likely a chain-letter, 2nd John is addressed to very specific people, “the chosen lady and her children.” John isn’t breaking any “new-ground“; rather he is summarizing specific teachings into concise “bullet-points“.

Since the “chosen lady” is NOT identified, nor are we told where she lived, any speculation is useless. It IS quite-likely that she had read John’s 1st Epistle, because John only summarizes and reinforces the key teachings of his first Epistle.

2nd John is only one of many “personal-letters” (Epistles) which have been preserved for us in the New Testament. John wrote two, 2nd and 3rd John, Paul wrote four, 1st and 2nd Timothy, Titus and Philemon, and we must not forget that Luke addressed both his Gospel (Luke) and Acts to Theophilus. The New Testament would be much “emptier” without these books.

1 The elder to the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in truth; and not only I, but also all who know the truth, 2 for the sake of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever: 3 Grace, mercy and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.

As we saw in 1st John, John calls himself “the elder“. “Elder” is otherwise known as “Teacher“, “Pastor“, “Bishop” or “Minister” in the New Testament. The Pastor in many churches is also known as the “Teaching Elder“, as distinguished from “Ruling Elders”.

Chosen lady“…”chosen” by whom? “Chosen” by God. John didn’t just pull “chosen” out of thin-air, because everyone would acknowledge that the Jews were God’s “chosen people“. God “chose” Abraham to be the father of the nation whose ultimate goal was to bring forth the Messiah, the “seed of the woman” who would “crush the head of the serpent” (Genesis 3:15), and through whom “all the nations of the earth would be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3). God then “chose” Judah to be the father of the tribe from which the Messiah would arise. Furthermore, God then “chose” David to bear a “greater Son“, the Messiah. If we dig back to the “root” of “chosen“, it will take us all the way back to Adam, and the son God “chose” to be the ancestor of the Messiah, and to Noah’s son whom God “chose” to be the ancestor of the Messiah.

John’s understanding of “chosen” was cemented in his mind and heart by his interactions with, and the teachings of Jesus, the Messiah. “Chosen” and “elect” are used virtually interchangeably throughout the New Testament. That would be an intensive study in and of itself, so I won’t delve into it here.

John not only addresses this letter to “the chosen lady“, but also to “her children“. These “children” may have either been her own “children“, or if she was a “spiritual-mother” to many other people, it could have meant to them too. “Whom I love in truth“, John had a deep affection, a spiritual-affection, for this particular group of people. John then enjoins everyone “who knows the truth” to be part of this great “love-circle“, “for the sake of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever.” As the result of being part of this beloved-gathering, he says; “Grace, mercy and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.” If we know and love the truth, this result will be in us as well, because “grace“, “mercy” and “peace” are ours in Christ. Even though we may have a lot of turmoil and trouble in this world, we are at peace with God through Jesus Christ, His finished-work and shed-blood on our behalf. We have been declared “righteous” before God, and that should give us an unshakable “inner-peace“.

4 I was very glad to find some of your children walking in truth, just as we have received commandment to do from the Father. 5 Now I ask you, lady, not as though I were writing to you a new commandment, but the one which we have had from the beginning, that we love one another. 6 And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, that you should walk in it.

The glad-news had reached John that some members of this family were practicing what he had taught them earlier. How disappointing would it have been to get news that they had abandoned the truth, as evidenced by their un-Christ-like behavior? John reiterates his admonishment that they KEEP on loving one-another. Jesus, in John 13:35 said “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

7 For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the Antichrist. 8 Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward. 9 Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; 11 for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds.

7 For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the Antichrist.

Where have we seen this theme before? Didn’t John just address this theme in a significant-portion of 1st John? He is reiterating the point that our Christology (doctrine of Christ) matters, a LOT. It is easy to have a “soft” or “faultyChristology. All we have to do is “follow-the-crowd” and not study the Bible for ourselves. Having a strong and robust Christology is even counter-cultural in some religious-circles.

I think that many people who have a faulty-understanding of the Imago Dei (image of God in man) also have a “soft” or “faultyChristology, because, if they look upon our human-bodies with disdain, it is quite easy for them to disdain Christ’s full-humanity as well.

Even as they mouth the words of the Apostle’s Creed; “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.

And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried; He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God, the Father Almighty, from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen!” they are thankful that it doesn’t go into any more detail about His life as a Man, and they certainly don’t want us “filling in the blanks“. Yet, if Jesus Christ wasn’t fully-human, we aren’t saved, and we are wasting our time here. It is no exaggeration that our salvation hinges on the full-humanity of Jesus Christ. These are warnings we still desperately-need today.

8 Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward. 9 Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; WOW! Another bold-warning. Tenaciously cling to the TRUTH so that you get your full-reward, but what was “the teaching of Christ“? Have we forgotten about the two “Great Commandments“? Have we forgotten how Jesus commanded us to love one-another? Jesus said; “Love God above all else“, “Love your neighbor as yourself“, and “Love one another as I have loved you“. That is where “the rubber meets the road“. Do not forsake the truth that you have received, because, if you do, you DON’T EVEN HAVE GOD. We are to demonstrate, by our actions, that we are obeying “the teaching of Christ“. That is why, in addition to teaching sound-doctrine, I believe that our “greatest-asset” as a community of Believers is that we also having a “loving-community“. While others here at the Cove may reject the Gospel, it won’t be because we don’t love one another.

9b The one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. If we abide in the “teaching of Christ“, we have the assurance that we are in Christ, and are accepted by the Father also. We have ASSURANCE OF OUR SALVATION. It is as simple as that.

10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; 11 for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds.

WOW!! We aren’t to even associate or fellowship with these false-teachers, because, if we do associate and fellowship with these false-teachers, we are PARTICIPATING IN THEIR EVIL DEEDS. We are to shun and dis-fellowship them from our church-family, i.e., excommunicate them. I know from experience that they DON’T want to have their “eyes-opened” to the truth. They are so “set in their ways” that, no matter how much “evidence” you give them from the Bible, they will STILL refuse the truth. Some would even prefer that there was no “bodily-resurrection“, that they could spend their days in Heaven as “disembodied-spirits“, because they DISDAIN OUR HUMAN-BODIES THAT MUCH.

12 Though I have many things to write to you, I do not want to do so with paper and ink; but I hope to come to you and speak face to face, so that your joy may be made full.

In this day of “instant-communications“, there are still many things we CAN’T do “long-distance“. “Virtual-hugs” are better than none at all, but we all need real hugs, or try eating together – long-distance. I am a member of the CNA Board, and because we are geographically spread-out, we have had to have our Board meetings by phone-conference. Yes, we planned the CNA Spring Conference by email and phone-conference, but we also scheduled a Board meeting during the Conference when we could all meet face-to-face.

We may not have done any more business than we would have done by phone-conference, but there was something extra-special having the five of us gathered in a circle, in the same room, doing the business of CNA. That meeting will be long-remembered for being our first face-to-face meeting as a Board.

John understood this too, and he was looking-forward, as we did, to being with those he loved and cared deeply about. We were created for personal-relationships with one-another. I love this quote from Eugene Peterson, “Wonder can’t be packaged, and it can’t be worked up. It requires some sense of being there and some sense of engagement.”

13 The children of your chosen sister greet you. (2 John 1)

John is sending greetings from the children of another “chosen sister“, because everyone who is a child of God IS a “Brother” or a “Sister“. It is quite common for visiting-Pastors to bring greetings from their home-church, and when I speak at other venues, I always bring greetings in the name of the Lord from Cypress Cove Bible Fellowship. That reinforces the truth that, while we are geographically-diverse, we are still a part of the same body of Christ, the Church.

Sola Deo Gloria!

Studies in John’s Epistles – 1 John 5

John continues with his theme of “Love God and love one-another” which began earlier in this Epistle. He is no doubt recalling what Jesus said: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

This is where “the rubber meets the road“…

Overcoming the World
5 Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. 4 For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.

5 Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 6 This is the One who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood. It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. 9 If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater; for the testimony of God is this, that He has testified concerning His Son. 10 The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has given concerning His Son. 11 And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.

This Is Written That You May Know
13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. 14 This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.

16 If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this. 17 All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death.

18 We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him. 19 We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. 20 And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.

21 Little children, guard yourselves from idols. (1 John 5)

Keep His Commands
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. (1 John 5:1-5)

As we begin the final chapter of John’s letter, John continues to tell us that we must love God and love each other. He’s been doing this for dozens of verses now; for some who read this, John is going to throw you another curve!

The curve is in verse 2: This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. I’ve never heard anyone argue with the loving God part; that seems easy, almost abstract, but carrying out His commands is often a sticking point. As we have stated many times going through this letter, God’s commands can be summed up very easily. We are to love God, and love one another.

John just gave us a way for us to do our own “spiritual-checkup“. You have probably heard the old axiom, “the proof of the pudding is in the eating“. It may look good and even smell good, but whether it actually IS good is if it TASTES good. It is easy for us to SAY that we love our brothers and sisters, even that we love our neighbor, but talk is cheap if we don’t actually demonstrate love for our brothers and sisters, and love for our neighbor. “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

Oh, hold on, did I forget one? Yes, thank you for reminding me, it is love God, love one another and make disciples. That’s the one many people get stuck on… There are all kinds of criticisms for this, as though I (or someone else) made it up or something, but that is simply not the case! What was Jesus’ overarching purpose?

“For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10)

What was Jesus’ final command?

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

No, I didn’t make this up! Since we have talked about this many times, rather than to explain it again, let’s just try a new approach. First, how can we ever say that we love God, but we won’t follow His command to share that love with others? How can we say we love others, and not share the love of God with them? Come on now, that wouldn’t even make sense, would it? God first loved us, so He sent His Son to die for our sins, so if we don’t share God’s love with others who are lost, are we not sharing because God really didn’t love them as much as He loved us?

OK, fine. We share with the lost and they enter into relationship with Jesus Christ; now they are our brother or sister in the Lord. So what then? Will we just stand by and watch them struggle with their new faith, or will we help them along their way? Which choice demonstrates love in action?

Making disciples” isn’t just evangelism, although it includes evangelism. “Making disciples” involves “discipling” or training them. “Training them” for what? “Teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you“, which includes training them to become “disciple-makers” themselves. “The success of a church must never be measured by its “seating-capacity”, but by its “SENDING-capacity“. We aren’t called to make “pew-sitters“; we are called to make more “disciple-makers“.

Jesus didn’t train His disciples for over three years to be “Bible scholars” or “academics“. He trained them to carry-on the work which He had started. That must always be our goal.

John goes on to mention that obeying His commands isn’t burdensome because in Him, we have overcome the world. Ever wonder what that has to do with anything? What is it that would hold us back from making disciples? Go ahead and make a short mental list of what might hold you back. Got it? OK, good. Does it have things like being afraid they’ll say no? How about not wanting others to think you’re weird? Maybe you’re afraid that you won’t know all the answers. Yes, there are other possibilities, but in my experience, these are the kinds of things people usually say. In Him, we’ve overcome the world, and these are thoughts of the world, not His thoughts. Was Jesus ever afraid of rejection or embarrassment or afraid of anything this world could do to Him? No. Why would we be concerned about such things? We have overcome the world! We have overcome the world because of our faith! Sometimes, like you, I need to remind myself about that!

To carry out God’s commands is not burdensome, because it is a joy! I can tell you from my own experience that there is no greater joy in this life than to see a person I have mentored grow in their faith, and step up to serve God because of their love for Him. Yes, it is by far the greatest joy there is!

Haves and Have Not’s
This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. 1 John 5:6-12

What an interesting text! Do you remember John’s warning about Antichrists in chapters 1 and 4? John was warning the people of his time against the false teachings of the Gnostics, who denied that Jesus came in the flesh, and that He was “from the Father.” John is taking aim at them again in this text when he speaks of the testimony of three witnesses. In our time, while this is still a very important point, we tend to get into arguments about the water and blood part, with various interpretations regarding John’s meaning. For our purposes, I’ll give you my idea on this point, but I’ll spare you the lengthy dissertation on it, since I’d prefer to focus on application rather than systematic theology, and you probably would as well.

One of the main points of contention between Christian teaching and that of the Gnostics was whether or not Jesus came in the flesh; in a human body. The Gnostic approach was that He came more in a spirit form and not in physical form, since everybody knows that the physical body is evil… or so they said. It is always interesting to me to hear Christians who maintain this, since the notion of the human body being evil or dirty is a Greek impulse, not a Biblical teaching… but alas, I digress! That the Spirit testifies that Jesus is from the Father is obviously a reference to the Holy Spirit who testifies about Jesus. The water, in my view, is a reference to His baptism. To be baptized is a physical activity, in which an actual body is needed; a spirit would be rather impossible to immerse in water. The blood, as I see it, is a reference to what Jesus did on the cross, since it would be a difficult thing to nail a spirit to a cross and have it bleed.

The water as a giver of testimony seems to me to refer to the baptism of a new follower of Jesus, who is immersed as a testimony of dying and raising again a new creation. The blood is declared when we partake of Communion, where we declare for all time the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

When you put these three things together, you have an ongoing testimony about Jesus from the Holy Spirit, from millions of baptisms, and from our observance of Communion that Jesus came in the flesh from the Father. You might also note that the Old Testament Law requires the testimony of two or three witnesses, and John is providing three. If your reading of this is different from mine, that’s fine, for the larger point for us is what follows…

Let’s pick up John’s discussion here in verse 9:

We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. (9-11)

His point that we will readily believe a human testimony, but not God’s is a warning to all of us. There are all sorts of human teachings about Jesus, many of which are designed to convince us that He never even existed, and the difference between life and death is whether or not we will accept God’s testimony, given not only by his Word, but by the Spirit. Just think about how crucial this is!

Then comes the most important, bottom-line statement of all in verse 12:

Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

Please take a moment for this to sink in… and recall our discussion about keeping His commands.

Yes, this is what I think we need to consider. Some of John’s writings are a little cryptic; he has a way of meandering around in a circle, and his meaning is vague… until he drops the bomb at the end, and this is one of them. It’s one thing for us to say that life is in Christ, but the other side of the proverbial coin is that outside of Christ there is only doom!

Jesus has commanded that we make disciples, and that begins with leading the lost to Him. There is a great deal at stake with this process, and John has made that abundantly clear in verse 12, wouldn’t you agree? Maybe there was a time when you could share the peril and doom with a person who didn’t know Him, but if there was such a time, it is long gone. I am aware that many Christians have been impressed with this, and out of their misguided love, they have run out and shared the warning… and driven off those whom they had hoped to save. The world around us, our culture, and our society has picked up on this, and rather than be flattered that someone cared, they became enraged at the affront of it all, causing no end of trouble.

When Jesus Christ is involved, there is always hope! In this case, there is a simple, if not always easy, answer: Share His love in grace. In loving relationship, many will respond to His love. We must be sensitive to the fact that so many have a negative image of Christianity, whether it is fair or not. Approaching people in love means that we bother to actually care about them, it takes time, and it is a kind of investment in people, without judgments, without threats, without doom. Even the most hardened hearts can be mended by the love of God… and I think it is especially important to bear in mind that it is God’s love that we must display in sharing with others.

His Will
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him. 1 John 5:13-15

These three simple verses are encouraging ones, for they assure us of two wonderful things. First, we have eternal life. Second, anything we ask for in prayer will be done, if we ask in God’s will. This is our focus here: God’s will.

The whole idea of tacking “in Jesus’ name, Amen” has always struck me as trying to work the system just a little bit. Of course, we do that because Jesus is recorded three times in John’s gospel telling His disciples that anything they ask for in His name will be given them. Never mind that all three times were firmly within the context of doing God’s will, all we need to do is tack on the magic words… Only it doesn’t work like that!

Yeah, I hate to be the one who has to tell you that God thought of that one already.

Our prayers that are outside of God’s will aren’t guaranteed to be answered, because God is all about HIS purposes, and we are HIS servants, not the other way around. So, the question really is what is within God’s will? It isn’t always in God’s will that nice things happen, that the sick are always healed and that the bad guy loses the game. In fact, it can be quite difficult to discern His will in some situations, especially when we are emotionally invested. There are some things that are always within the scope of God’s eternal purpose, can you guess what they are?

Yep, that’s right, you got it! Things that pertain to saving the lost and making disciples are always within His will. Not things that just make it easier for us, or that make us look like heroes, but things that get those “Kingdom things” done. In this area, prayer is so powerful it can be scary… in a good way.

We must pray big prayers, with boldness, and with the sure expectancy that God will do great things with them, but we need to ensure that our prayers are to advance God’s priorities, according to God’s ways of doing things.

OK, here we go… big bold “God’s will” prayers and no more little “me” ones. Just watch and see what amazing things He can do!

Thrill-packed Ending
If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray and God will give them life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that you should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death. 1 John 5:16-17

As we move along through this letter, we think we have John all figured out, and then we come to these two verses, so near to the end of the letter. At first, they don’t seem to belong, what is John talking about? Where did this come from?

So let’s see if we can follow him… if a brother sins, we are to pray for him, and God will give him life. OK, I think I get it; God will forgive the sin, and straighten the guy out. Hold on, that is if the sin isn’t a sin that leads to death; but I thought death was the price of all sin! John’s making it sound like any sin can be forgiven, except one; and this one sin can be committed by our “brother or sister.” Obviously old John needs to brush up on his Calvinism!

All kidding aside, John could have at least mentioned what that sin is… leaving that little detail out makes this hard to follow, at least for me. I wonder why he would do that. Maybe he didn’t think he needed to mention it, maybe he thought he’d already covered that somewhere; could that part have been lost over time or something? Let’s think.

What was the letter about? Oh, yes, it was about false teachers, in fact it was about a certain kind of false teacher, Gnostic false teachers, who claimed that Jesus didn’t come in the flesh. Hold on, John came up with a special word to describe them: Antichrist! Aha! Now this is beginning to make sense, the Antichrist is not to be forgiven; you don’t need to pray for this. When your brother stumbles, pray for him, when you stumble ask God and He will forgive. Stay away from the Antichrist.

We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them. We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. (1 John 5:18-20)

John is winding up the letter now, as he recounts some basic facts of Christian life. A follower of Jesus is not to continue in the old ways. He or she has been buried with Christ, and arisen again as a new creation, leaving the old behind. The “One who was born of God“, which is to say the Lord Jesus, keeps us safe from the evil one. This is a pretty important statement for us to keep in mind, especially when we are looking for somebody to blame for our mistakes. John points out that the whole world is under the control of the evil one, and you will no doubt recall that he has already warned us not to love the world, now you know why.

Now, John drops in a comforting and powerful thought: Jesus has given us understanding so that we may know who is true; it is Jesus who is true. If we have the understanding to know who is true, we can also discern who is not. Maybe this is why the arguments and understanding of this world can be so attractive to the world, and appear so idiotic to a follower of Jesus… and vice-versa. Hmmm, might want to ponder that for a bit. God is the one who is true, and the giver of eternal life.

Idolatry
21 Little children, guard yourselves from idols.

Idolatry is rampant and insidious in our society, and even though John wrote this almost two-thousand years ago, it is as valid today as it was when he wrote it.

Do you have an “idol” in your home? Do you have a shrine to your favorite “deity“? Do you have tributes to your favorite “idol” in your closet, dresser or on your hat-rack? Maybe you are wondering what I am talking about, because you would NEVER worship another “deity” besides God, and yet idolatry wasn’t just a problem in the Old Testament or when John wrote this letter, it is a real problem today, even among Christians.

Virtually every city or town in America has at least one shrine, and many major cities have dozens of shrines and grand temples to their favorite “deities“. Some of those temples have even been built with tax-payer money. Sometimes one of those “deities” will threaten to move somewhere else unless the city builds them a new temple.

Very few homes in America are without at least one altar to the family’s favorite “deities“, and many homes have one of those altars in every room in the house. Usually the biggest altar is in the living room or family room so the whole family can worship together, and the bigger the altar the better.

People spend hundreds, and even thousands of dollars to worship in their favorite temple, and many buy season-tickets to those temples so they don’t miss out on anything. They will stand in line for hours, and some have even been known to camp out overnight so they can get the best seats. Some people take expensive vacations to go worship in their favorite temple and bring homage to their favorite “deity“.

They throw elaborate parties to worship at the altars of their favorite deities, and it isn’t unusual for there to be lots of liquor involved also. People go crazy over their “deities“.

God said, in Exodus 20:3-6;
3 “You shall have no other gods before me.

4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Another “god”…
Yes, maybe I have finally lost my mind, or maybe I haven’t. The reality is that the vast majority of Americans spend way more time and money on entertainment than they do in the worship of God. That, my friends, is idolatry.

We have “American Idol” and “Dancing With The Stars“…

The shrines…
In most homes, their shrine is their entertainment-center, and the altar, and most important part of the entertainment-center, is their television. Feeding that altar is usually a satellite dish or cable-TV provider, and we can’t forget that DVD player and the Digital Video Recorder. People are paying some serious money for those “special packages” which include subscriptions to all their favorite “deities“. They can worship all their favorite “deities” right in their own home, in the comfort of their own living room or family room. I have a friend who used to pay her Direct-TV bill even if she didn’t have enough money for her rent and utilities. She goes ballistic if she can’t watch TV. She also thinks that I am “deprived” because, even though I have a TV, it isn’t hooked up to anything. A recent Red-box movie rental ended up costing her over $100 after she paid the late-return fee and the overdraft fees on her bank account. NO movie is worth that much to see.

How many towns don’t have a movie theater? Sometimes there is even a movie theater in one of those “one-horse” towns, because movies are big business. New-release movies will rake in a hundred MILLION dollars in just a few short days. That is insane.

The temples…
If there is a major sports franchise in your city, you have at LEAST one temple to the city’s favorite “deity“. If there are several major sports franchises in your city, there will be temple for each, because, heaven-forbid, they share temple space with each other. A nice sports-temple costs a half a BILLION dollars and up.

The grand-daddy…
The grand-daddy of all of the entertainment venues in my neck of the woods is Disney World. That place rakes in money so fast it would make your head swim. It may be the “happiest place on earth“, but it is also the greediest. Tens of thousands of people flock there every day to empty out their wallet and be entertained.

The tribute…
Virtually everywhere I look, I see someone wearing some item of tribute to their favorite “deity“, a jacket, a shirt, a T-shirt or a hat. People love to advertise their favorite “deities” and pay tribute to them. Regardless of which “deity” is on display, the item cost way more than it is worth.

The real problem…
We have become “children of a lesser god“, the “god” of pleasure, the “god” of entertainment, and while we spend BILLIONS of dollars on entertainment, many churches have trouble coming up with enough money to cover their bare-minimum budgets. Our Senior Pastor had to take a ten-week, unpaid sabbatical about three years ago because the church didn’t have enough money to cover its expenses. Our Associate Pastor was also paid way less than what he should have been for the same reason.

We have a serious problem with our priorities. “Self” has taken the place of God, and pleasure has trumped responsibility.

When was the last time you took vacation to go to a church retreat? Are you more faithful at your favorite sports venue than you are to your church? Do you skip church to watch the Superbowl, or are Sunday-evening church functions cancelled because of the Superbowl? Some churches even have Superbowl parties…

We have turned entertainment “stars” and sports “heroes” into our IDOLS and pay them millions of dollars a year, for what, while our REAL heroes can’t even make a decent living and they do their work largely-unnoticed. Our value-system has been turned on its head.

Many of these “stars“, “heroes” and “idols” are also horrible role-models, and it seems like the worse they are as role-models, the more they get paid. There is something seriously-wrong with that picture.

John admonishes us; “Little children, guard yourselves from idols.”

How about you?
Are you a “child of a  lesser-god“? Do you worship the idols of entertainment and pleasure?

If you do, God has a few words for you:

3 “You shall have no other gods before me.

4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Sola Deo Gloria!

Studies in John’s Epistles – 1 John 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simple! Test the spirits!

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

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

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

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

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

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

See how simple this stuff is?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. We loved God and responded to the Gospel.

4. God loved our brothers and sisters in Christ.

5. Therefore, so do we.

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

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

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

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

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

Are you sitting down?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sola Deo Gloria!