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!

A Creational-Approach to Missions

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

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

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

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

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

What jumps out at you in Genesis 1?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What jumps out at you in Genesis 2?

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

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

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

Man needed companionship.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 “You shall have no other gods before Me.

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

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

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

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

13 “You shall not murder.

14 “You shall not commit adultery.

15 “You shall not steal.

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

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

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

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

We will now focus on that second Great Commandment:

You shall love your neighbor as yourself…

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

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

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

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

What is MANKIND’S GREATEST “NEED”?

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

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

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

Sola Deo Gloria!

The Incarnation – Jesus is Born

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sola Deo Gloria!

The Incarnation – Promises and Prophesies – Part I

As we look forward to celebrating the birth of Christ, we are going to go back to where it all started, to the Garden of Eden, and over the next two weeks, we are going to look at the Promises and Prophesies which led up to the birth of Christ, “In the fullness of time“, culminating in the accounts in the Gospels of the birth of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with us.

This study will focus; beginning in Genesis, on the first Promises, given by God, to the people He had chosen to advance the lineage of the Messiah.

The Incarnation…
And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us… (John 1:14a)

I believe that the Incarnation is the hinge-pin of redemption-history, and since we are coming into the Advent season, I think that it is appropriate to pause and spend some time contemplating the Incarnation and all it means to us.

The Promise…
Adam and Eve’s fall into sin, which God didn’t accept as the “new-normal“, evoked God’s promise to restore what had been destroyed, man’s relationship with God. God could have “rebooted” His “human-project” after Adam and Eve sinned by simply annihilating them and starting over, but He didn’t. Instead, in His grace and mercy, He promised them a Redeemer who would restore what had been lost.

14 So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,
“Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life.
15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers;
He will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:14-15)

Contrary to what some people believe, God’s promise of a Redeemer was NOT some “Plan-B“. God didn’t simply “react” to what Adam and Eve did, because in His infinite foreknowledge and wisdom, He knew exactly what would happen on the fateful day before He breathed life into them. When He asked Adam “Where are you?” that question was for Adam and Eve’s benefit, not His. God wanted Adam and Eve to realize that they mattered to Him, and that even though they had broken their intimate relationship with Him, He would do what it would take to restore that relationship.

The Prophesies…
Throughout the rest of the Old Testament, God gave periodic word through His prophets about the coming Redeemer. In the coming weeks leading up to Christmas, we will look at some of the Messianic Promises and Prophesies which were fulfilled when “The Word became flesh”

Dwelt among us…
Throughout the history of the children of Israel, God’s “Presence“, His Glory, dwelt periodically in the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle or Temple, but it was not a “touchable“, physical presence, and only the High Priest could enter that sacred space, and only once a year. A huge change in God’s “Presence” occurred when the Word became flesh, because God became visible and touchable. It also wasn’t just an “appearance“, because God, in the person of Jesus Christ, walked this earth for over thirty-three years. The Infinite became touchable, and the Almighty became breakable, when the Promise of Genesis 3:15 became reality.

Promises to Abram…
The next Promise was given to Abram; however, there was one condition…

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; 2 And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; 3 And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1-3)

God was going to make him a great nation, and more importantly, all the families of the earth will be blessed through his offspring. God was also going to make Abram’s name great, however, there was a “fly-in-the-ointment“, Abram and Sarai were childless, and they were OLD

God’s covenant with Abram…
After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; your reward shall be very great.”

2 Abram said, “O Lord God, what will You give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “Since You have given no offspring to me, one born in my house is my heir.” 4 Then behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “This man will not be your heir; but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.” 5 And He took him outside and said, “Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6 Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:1-6)

Notice what God told Abram; “but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.” He and Sarai were going to become parents to a son, an heir. Even though their son would be a “miracle-baby“, this was no “immaculate-conception“. Naturally, Abram wondered how these things were going to come to be, so God made a covenant with Abram in Genesis 15:7-20. God, by making a covenant with Abram, “upped-the-ante“, was basically saying; “As I live, this WILL happen“.

The Sign of the covenant…
17 Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; Walk before Me, and be blameless. 2 “I will establish My covenant between Me and you, and I will multiply you exceedingly.”

3 Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying, 4 “As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you will be the father of a multitude of nations. 5 “No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.

6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings will come forth from you. 7 I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. 8 I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”

9 God said further to Abraham, “Now as for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. 10 This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. 12 And every male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generations, a servant who is born in the house or who is bought with money from any foreigner, who is not of your descendants. 13 A servant who is born in your house or who is bought with your money shall surely be circumcised; thus shall My covenant be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. 14 But an uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.”

15 Then God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16 I will bless her, and indeed I will give you a son by her. Then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.”

17 Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, “Will a child be born to a man one hundred years old? And will Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” 18 And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before You!” 19 But God said, “No, but Sarah your wife will bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.

20 As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I will bless him, and will make him fruitful and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall become the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. 21 But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you at this season next year.” 22 When He finished talking with him, God went up from Abraham. (Genesis 17:1-22)

Birth of Isaac Promised
18 Now the Lord appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, while he was sitting at the tent door in the heat of the day. 2 When he lifted up his eyes and looked, behold, three men were standing opposite him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth, 3 and said, “My Lord, if now I have found favor in Your sight, please do not pass Your servant by. 4 Please let a little water be brought and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree; 5 and I will bring a piece of bread, that you may refresh yourselves; after that you may go on, since you have visited your servant.” And they said, “So do, as you have said.”

6 So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Quickly, prepare three measures of fine flour, knead it and make bread cakes.” 7 Abraham also ran to the herd, and took a tender and choice calf and gave it to the servant, and he hurried to prepare it. 8 He took curds and milk and the calf which he had prepared, and placed it before them; and he was standing by them under the tree as they ate.

9 Then they said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” And he said, “There, in the tent.” 10 He said, “I will surely return to you at this time next year; and behold, Sarah your wife will have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent door, which was behind him. 11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; Sarah was past childbearing. 12 Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have become old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?” 13 And the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, when I am so old?’ 14 Is anything too difficult for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” 15 Sarah denied it however, saying, “I did not laugh”; for she was afraid. And He said, “No, but you did laugh.” (Genesis 17:1-22, 18:1-15)

Isaac Is Born
21 Then the Lord took note of Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as He had promised. 2 So Sarah conceived and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the appointed time of which God had spoken to him. 3 Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore to him, Isaac. 4 Then Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. 5 Now Abraham was one hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. 6 Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.” 7 And she said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”

8 The child grew and was weaned, and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. (Genesis 21:1-8)

God, in His providence, always maintained a line of godly men and women down through the annals of time, men and women who were destined to be part of the lineage of the coming Savior. God hadn’t given up on His human image-bearers, and He was willing to do what it took to restore fallen humanity to a right relationship with Himself. We are privileged to be able to look back in time at these important events.

Sola Deo Gloria!

Bible Study – In the Garden

Jesus has finished His “Farewell Discourse“, and now it is time for Him and His disciples to go to the Garden of Gethsemane, where He will be betrayed and arrested. John’s Gospel gives us very little detail about what happened in the Garden, so we will pick up those details from Matthew 26.

The Garden of Gethsemane was a well-known spot which Jesus and His disciples frequented when they were in the area, so it wouldn’t be strange for Judas to know their whereabouts. It was also outside Jerusalem and quite secluded and far away from the crowds. It was the perfect place to arrest Jesus.

Note that even though it is generally-assumed that only Jesus and the Twelve were at the Last Supper because they are the only ones mentioned in the Gospels, it is quite likely that there were several others of His followers and some of His immediate family there also. Since Jesus was “head of household“, and His mother, Mary, watched Him being crucified and was at the tomb on Resurrection morning, she may have been at the Last Supper too. Several of them may have gone to the Garden with Jesus and the Eleven. Could that be why Peter was so “protective” when Jesus was arrested? (John 18:10)

The Garden of Gethsemane
36 Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to His disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed. 38 Then He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.”

Had Jesus taken Peter, James and John along as “emotional-support“?

While Jesus would certainly have been grieved and concerned about His upcoming death, in some ways, His physical-death, as horrible as it was going to be, was the least of His concerns. He knew that he had to die the “second-death“, be banished to Hell. Jesus, the eternal, incarnate Son of God, who had never experienced even a pico-second of separation from the love, care and presence of His Father, was going to have all of that removed from Him. He was going to die, totally-alone, totally abandoned, totally-forsaken. How could He NOT have been grieved and concerned?

I have felt the sting of rejection and abandonment many times, but Jesus’s experience was going to be infinitely-worse. There would be NOlight at the end of the tunnel“.

Was Jesus already staring into the mouth of that horrible abyss? Could He already feel its heat? Was He hearing the screams of those who were already interned in its inky-blackness? Not only was His Father going to “turn out the lights“; He was going to pour out His wrath on His own Son, ALL OF IT.

Those who think that they will be “partying in Hell” had better think again, because Hell will NOT be a “party“.

39 And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” 40 And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? 41 Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

What if there could have been some other way for Jesus to accomplish our redemption? Would He been given that “option“? Was Jesus not aware of what He was going to go through? Of course He was, He was part of the original Plan, and as our Creator-God, He condemned Himself to death when He made that first promise of a Redeemer in Genesis 3:15. Revelation 13:8 speaks of “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world“. The reality is that there was NO OTHER WAY, and Jesus knew it, so He bowed to the will of His Father.

It had been a very long day for this trio of disciples, because not only had they been on the road for several days, Jesus had sent Peter and John into Jerusalem to prepare their Passover meal, which meant that they had been up since before the crack of dawn. Jerusalem was crowded with worshipers who had come specifically for Passover, so they had to wait in long lines for EVERYTHING. They hadn’t started eating the Passover meal until after sundown, so it may have been after midnight before Jesus and His disciples went to the Garden. The atmosphere in the Garden may also have been dark and oppressive as EVIL was preparing to descend on it. They were bone-weary and had trouble even keeping their eyes open, let alone praying. Human-strength is no match for that kind of evil.

I have experienced that kind of evil, oppressive atmosphere, a couple of times, and it is something I will never forget. The first time, I was with two Sheriff’s Deputies in the mountains east of Albuquerque, in an area well-known for Satanic activity, but the second time, I was alone, on a dark, deserted, country-road in Oklahoma. The evil was oppressive and palpable both times. I don’t even want to experience that again.

42 He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.” 43 Again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 And He left them again, and went away and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more. 45 Then He came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Get up, let us be going; behold, the one who betrays Me is at hand!” (Matthew 26:36-46)

Could Jesus have rejected His mission, to die on the Cross? No, because He has already made it abundantly-clear that His crucifixion WAS His “prime-mission” on earth. His eternal love was so great that, having made a promise back in the Garden of Eden, He was determined to fulfill that promise. 43 Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him. (Luke 22:43)

As His disciples snoozed, Jesus prayed, fervently and earnestly, “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.” The clock was ticking, His betrayer was on his way, and He would soon be arrested. It was a “GO“…

He finally roused His sleepy-headed disciples when His betrayer arrived on the scene. It was time to go.

Judas Betrays Jesus
18 When Jesus had spoken these words, He went forth with His disciples over the ravine of the Kidron, where there was a garden, in which He entered with His disciples. 2 Now Judas also, who was betraying Him, knew the place, for Jesus had often met there with His disciples. 3 Judas then, having received the Roman cohort and officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, came there with lanterns and torches and weapons.

4 So Jesus, knowing all the things that were coming upon Him, went forth and said to them, “Whom do you seek?”

5 They answered Him, “Jesus the Nazarene.”

He said to them, “I am He.”

And Judas also, who was betraying Him, was standing with them.

6 So when He said to them, “I am He,” they drew back and fell to the ground.

7 Therefore He again asked them, “Whom do you seek?”

And they said, “Jesus the Nazarene.”

8 Jesus answered, “I told you that I am He; so if you seek Me, let these go their way,” 9 to fulfill the word which He spoke, “Of those whom You have given Me I lost not one.”

10 Simon Peter then, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear; and the slave’s name was Malchus.

11 So Jesus said to Peter, “Put the sword into the sheath; the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?” (John 18:1-11)

3 Judas then, having received the Roman cohort and officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. Why did the Romans get involved in this boondoggle? What kind of lies did the religious leaders tell the Romans to get them to participate? Couldn’t they have handled this themselves? In reality, the Jewish religious leaders had no authority outside the Temple grounds, which mean that they had no civil authority, and certainly no authority outside Jerusalem. We can only speculate about the lies, but they were probably real WHOPPERS.

Why so many Roman soldiers? Were they expecting resistance, trouble? A Roman cohort was 600+ soldiers, so it is unlikely that there were that many, but certainly more than enough, and headed by a high-ranking commander. Talk about OVERKILL! How about “swatting a fly with the sledgehammer“? There certainly wouldn’t have been anything “subtle” about their arrival in the Garden. It is likely, however, that since Jerusalem was teeming with visitors during Passover, that the Romans had brought in extra troops to help “keep the peace“.

4 So Jesus, knowing all the things that were coming upon Him, went forth and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” Notice that Jesus didn’t wait for the horde to come to Him; He took charge of the situation and went out to meet them. Jesus remained in control all the way to the Cross, and nobody, not even Pilate, could lay a finger on Him without His permission. Jesus had all of Heaven’s Hosts at His immediate-disposal, or He could have struck that motley-mob with blindness and escaped while they were milling-around. So much for their perceived “authority“…

5 They answered Him, “Jesus the Nazarene.”

He said to them, “I am He.”

And Judas also, who was betraying Him, was standing with them.

6 So when He said to them, “I am He,” they drew back and fell to the ground.

Did Jesus catch them off-guard? They certainly were shocked that Jesus would present Himself that way. So to add further to their bewilderment…

7 Therefore He again asked them, “Whom do you seek?”

And they said, “Jesus the Nazarene.”

8 Jesus answered, “I told you that I am He; so if you seek Me, so let these go their way,” 9 to fulfill the word which He spoke, “Of those whom You have given Me I lost not one.”

Notice His continued-concern for the welfare of His followers; “let these go their way“. As we have seen in previous studies, Jesus ALWAYS put others first. That was why He came to earth, not for His own benefit, but for OUR benefit.

10 Simon Peter then, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear; and the slave’s name was Malthus. Was Peter trying to be “Mr. Tough-Guy“? Who was he trying to “protect“, Jesus, or the rest of His followers? Either way, it was an ill-conceived piece of “resistance“, because he was no match for the Roman soldiers. In reality, he was fortunate that one of the Roman soldiers didn’t run a sword through him.

11 So Jesus said to Peter, “Put the sword into the sheath; the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?” Everything Jesus did was in submission to His Father’s will and according to Plan.

Jesus is arrested
12 So the Roman cohort and the commander and the officers of the Jews, arrested Jesus and bound Him, 13 and led Him to Annas first; for he was father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. 14 Now Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was expedient for one man to die on behalf of the people.

It looks like the Jewish religious leaders were going to finally get their way, but only for a while…

Thus ends the drama in the Garden of Gethsemane, and we will look at the farce of a “trial” and gross miscarriage of “justice” next week.

Blessings,
Steve

Bible Study – The True Vine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Disciples’ Relation to the World
18 “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. 21 But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 He who hates Me hates My Father also. 24 If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would not have sin; but now they have both seen and hated Me and My Father as well. 25 But they have done this to fulfill the word that is written in their Law, ‘They hated Me without a cause.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings,
Steve

Moments…

What IS a “moment“? Moment: a) An indefinite, short period of time. b) A precise point in time.

We use “moment” in many ways in our daily speech and lives because it quantifies what we couldn’t quantify otherwise, periods of time or points in time. With that in mind, let’s explore some significant “moments“.

Just a moment…
How many times have you said; “Just a moment” when you were “indisposed” and couldn’t take care of something immediately? That “moment” may last from a few seconds to a few minutes, but it means that you will get to it when you can.

Our first moment…
We all had a first “moment“, and even though our lifespan is usually counted from the time of our birth, our “first moment” was nine months or so before that. God, in Genesis 2:24, said; “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” “One flesh” is far more than just sexual-union, its ultimate fulfillment is in conception, when the man’s sperm and the woman’s egg becomes a single, fertilized unit, able to grow and multiply into a living, breathing, human being. Each half of that conception-equation, the sperm and the egg, contain half of the genetic-blueprint for what the child will become. Either a boy is conceived, or a girl is conceived, and the baby will develop in accordance with that composite-blueprint. As marvelous and wonderful as child-birth is, it pales in comparison to conception, because conception is what makes child-birth possible.

The “hinge-pin” moment…
The birth of Christ was the “hinge-pin” of both human and redemption history; however, it was His conception in the womb of His mother which made it all possible. John the Apostle captured that moment in John 1:14; “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…

God, the Infinite, became a tiny speck, a single cell. God, the Omnipotent, became powerless and fragile. God, the Creator and Sustainer of all things, became dependent on the nourishment of His mother, a young, peasant girl. God, the All-Glorious, became hidden in His mother’s womb, far from His glorious throne in Heaven. That all happened in a moment, when God took on human-flesh.

The Apostle Paul captured that moment in Galatians 4:4-5; “4 But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, 5 so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” (NASB)

4 But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.” (NIV)

The passage gives us the sense that God placed His finger on the timeline of human-history and said; “This is the moment when I will become human“. As with all things that God plans, this event happened right on schedule.

We aren’t quite that good at making things happen when we want them to. Robert Burns captured our inability to make things happen on time with; “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry“.

The most ignominious moment…
Jesus was born to die, and a cross-shaped shadow hovered over Him from the moment He was conceived in His mother’s womb, but that doesn’t make His crucifixion any less horrible, any less ignominious. John the Apostle captured that moment in John 19:28-30; “28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, to fulfill the Scripture, said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar full of sour wine was standing there; so they put a sponge full of the sour wine upon a branch of hyssop and brought it up to His mouth. 30 Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit”.

God’s plan for our redemption, which had been put in place before time began, was fulfilled in the ignominious moment.

The most glorious moment…
If the Crucifixion was the most ignominious moment, Christ’s resurrection was the most glorious moment. While the Crucifixion secured our redemption, His resurrection secured our own resurrection. It took all three “moments” to fully-secure our salvation. Thanks be to God for those “moments“.

Our final moment…
If the Lord tarries until after we pass from this mortal life, we will have a final moment, the moment when we take our last breath, the moment when our eternal-destiny is sealed. While we don’t like to think about our demise, it is a reality which awaits us. It will either become our “entrance-ramp” into God’s presence, or it will become our “exit-ramp” into Hell. There is no “middle-ground“. Either you accept Christ as your Lord and Savior and enjoy the glories of Heaven, or if you reject God’s offer of salvation, you will suffer His eternal punishment in Hell.

Our final glorious moment…
50 Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; 57 but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:50-57)

Think about that “moment” for a moment… In a moment, every person who has ever lived will be resurrected, given new life. Every one of those countless-millions of babies that have been aborted, miscarried, still-born, or died in infancy, will be resurrected, given the life that they were denied on Earth. I can’t claim to know the mind of God, nor can I speak from any real authority, but I believe, based on what I know from the Bible, that those babies will be ushered into the presence of God, to live in His presence for all eternity. Their untimely-demise may have spared them from the difficulties of this life and the tortures of Hell for all eternity.

Thank you for a few moments of you time. I hope you have gained a great appreciation of some significant moments in history and in your life.

Blessings,
Steve

On A Hill Far Away…Take Two

I originally posted this article about a year ago, but I have been reading “Counter Culture“, by David Platt, and he pointed out something in the story of Abraham and Isaac which I hadn’t recognized before. So, with that in mind, I am going to update and revise this article and reissue it.

Two hills… Two fathers… Two sons… Two sacrifices… The first sacrifice was a foreshadowing and promise of the second sacrifice… The second son was descended from the first father and the first son… The first son didn’t die, but the second son did…

The Offering of Isaac
22 Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.” 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4 On the third day Abraham raised his eyes and saw the place from a distance. 5 Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you.” 6 Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son, and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. 7 Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” And he said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” 8 Abraham said, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together.

9 Then they came to the place of which God had told him; and Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood, and bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12 He said, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” 13 Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son. 14 Abraham called the name of that place The Lord Will Provide, as it is said to this day, “In the mount of the Lord it will be provided.”

15 Then the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, 16 and said, “By Myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies. 18 In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.” 19 So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham lived at Beersheba. (Genesis 22:1-19)

The test…
God challenged Abraham to give up his only son, the son of promise, by sacrificing him to the Lord. Either Abraham was a blithering idiot, or he had a faith in God that was unshakable. God had promised that Abraham’s children would be descended from Isaac…

Notice how God said, “your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac“. Had Abraham quit trusting in God and His promises, and started trusting in Isaac, his son, as his hope for the future? Did Abraham “idolize” Isaac, putting Isaac in the place of God?

In that patriarchal-society, it was extremely-important to have a son, an heir, to inherit the wealth of the family and carry the family-name. It was so important to the children of Israel that God instituted the kinsman-redeemer model, which is the primary-theme of the book of Ruth, to make sure that families continued to flourish. Boaz, Naomi and Ruth’s kinsman-redeemer, was a type of Jesus Christ, our kinsman-redeemer. We see this also in the case of Judah, Tamar’s father-in-law, in Genesis 38.

Things really haven’t changed today, even though our daughters now get their share of the inheritance. Our family-name is still carried by our sons, because our daughters usually take the family-name of their husband. Yes, some women keep their maiden-name and tack their husband’s name onto it, as in Marge Bobo-Smith. Marge’s maiden-name was Bobo, and Moe’s family-name is Smith.

Back to those two questions… “Had Abraham quite trusting in God and His promises, and started trusting in Isaac, his son for his future?“, and “Did Abraham “idolize” Isaac, putting Isaac in the place of God?“. Lest we think that this is unlikely, we must remember that this event took place only a few years after God called Abraham to leave his ancestral-home. Abraham was born and raised in idolatry, so even though God had called him to worship Him alone, idolatry was still almost “instinctive” in Abraham. If Abraham did “idolize” Isaac, putting him in the place of God, that was sinful, and required an “atoning-sacrifice“, so to teach Abraham a lesson AND atone for his sin, he commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son. He would be “killing two birds with one stone“.

Things haven’t changed much concerning “idolatry“. Some parents still “idolize” their “high-achieving” children, whether they are academically-gifted, musically-gifted, or talented-athletes. We live in a world where “who” you are is less-important than your “titles” and “achievements“, a world of “stars“, “heroes” and “idols“. I am blessed AND thankful to be past that “achievement-driven” ideal.

Gut-wrenching decision…
I doubt that Abraham slept very much that night, because there were nagging questions in his mind, such as: “What if God does take my only son?“, or “How can I ever come back home without Isaac?“, and maybe “Is this God for real?“, and “Does He actually keep His promises?” If everything went horribly wrong, Abraham would be left without an heir, and this would be the last night Sarah would ever see Isaac, her only child, again. How could he ever face Sarah again?

Abraham’s confidence…
Isaac was a child of promise, a miracle-baby, because Abraham was 100 years old, and Sarah, Isaac’s mother, was 90 years old. Sarah was barren, and well past the age of child-bearing, but Isaac came along anyway. God had also promised that Isaac would be Abraham’s heir, that Abraham’s family would be descended from Isaac. If Isaac died, Abraham would have no heir and no descendants.

5 Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you.”

Notice that Abraham DIDN’T say “We will worship and I will return to you…” Abraham had every expectation that they would both return.

7 Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” And he said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” 8 Abraham said, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together.

The altar…
Abraham built an altar as God had instructed. He also prepared to sacrifice his own son.

9 Then they came to the place of which God had told him; and Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood, and bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.

I’ll bet Abraham was sweating-bullets as he bound Isaac, laid him on the altar, and raised the knife to kill his son. He had sacrificed many animals before, but this was his son, his ONLY son, the son whom he loved. Was God crazy? This was insane, but he still raised the knife… In a few more moments, his son would be dead, and all his hopes would be dashed…

Was Isaac terrified? The air was electric, and he had never seen that look of steely-determination in his father’s eyes before. Isaac had no doubt seen his father sacrifice many animals before, but it was his own life that would soon be snuffed out. Then…

Abraham, Abraham…
Abraham’s heart was already racing, and then… “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”

Did it take a few minutes for Abraham to recover? I am sure that his hands trembled as he untied Isaac.

Substitute sacrifice…
God did provide a substitute-sacrifice, in the form of a ram. Isaac was spared, and that is a foreshadowing of our own substitute-sacrifice, Jesus Christ.

13 Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son.

God provides…
14 Abraham called the name of that place “The Lord Will Provide”, as it is said to this day, “In the mount of the Lord it will be provided.”

God renews His promises to Abraham…
15 Then the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, 16 and said, “By Myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies. 18 In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.”

God gave an incredible promise to Abraham, a promise that we are still seeing fulfilled today. “In your seed ALL the nations of the earth shall be blessed“. Who is that Seed that will bless all the nations? That promised seed was none other than Jesus Christ.

The other Father…
God didn’t have to offer His only Son for my sins and for yours, but He did. Was it a gut-wrenching decision for God the Father to ordain that His only Son would die on our behalf? We may never know, but this we DO know, that God the Father carried out that plan to the letter.

The other Son…
Jesus was the only Son of God, and He became the second sacrifice.

The promised Lamb…
29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)

Jesus was the promised Lamb, the Lamb of God. He was born to die, born to give Himself for us. A cross-shaped shadow hung over Him from the moment He was conceived in His mother’s womb until He was hung on that cross.

Unlike Isaac, who was kept in the dark until the moment he was bound on that altar, Jesus was fully-aware of His mission. He told His disciples beforehand, but the reality didn’t sink in until they saw Him on the cross.

Leaps of faith…
God doesn’t call us to physically sacrifice our children, but sometimes He does call us to step out, to move out of our comfort-zone for our good and His glory. When I got married and moved to the Orlando area, I had no idea that my wife would abandon me less than six weeks later, but God knew. I didn’t know that I would have to step totally out of my comfort-zone and take on missions for which I feel totally-unequipped, but God knew. If God had told me the details, would I have moved anyway?

God needed for me to get out of my comfort-zone so that He could do some hard work on me, because I was too comfortable where I was for God to do what needed to be done. I also couldn’t take on the new missions He had for me while living where I was. Was a “wife” merely the “bait” to get me to move? Perhaps, but she is also totally-responsible for her actions.

God doesn’t call us to hike for three days into the wilderness to sacrifice our child on an altar on top of a mountain, but sometimes He does call us to make leaps of faith that are equally life-changing.

On a hill far away…
On a hill, far away, stood an old, rugged cross…

Because of that old rugged cross, your debt is paid. You may still have mountains to climb and sacrifices to make, and you may face tests of faith, but they are for your good and God’s glory. You will never be called to sacrifice your own flesh and blood, as Abraham was, and as God did, but you can rest assured that you aren’t going anywhere God hasn’t already gone. He understands, and His promises are sure, so whatever leap of faith you are called to make, you won’t make alone.

Are you ready?
Steve

Is “Universalism” Biblical?

When tragedy strikes, such as the recent Orlando Massacre, many people want and need to be comforted and consoled, so it is tempting to quote the first phrase of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world“, while leaving out the equally-vital third phrase, “that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life“. The thinking and narrative goes something like this: “Since God loves everybody, He wouldn’t send anyone to hell, so they must all be in heaven.” It seems inconceivable that someone we knew and loved, and who was such a “good” person, might be in hell. Is that concept Biblical? So, in light of the entirety of John 3:16, we are going to examine whether “Universalism” is Biblical.

I was a Bagpiper for several years, so I piped nearly a hundred funerals and committal-services. If it was a committal-service for a deceased Veteran, and an Honor Guard performed the service, the message went something like this: “He served faithfully and honorably in this life, so he is in the care of our great Commander in the sky. He has joined that great Army in Heaven.” There was just one sad problem with that narrative; nobody really knew the true spiritual-condition of the person when he took his last breath. They were making a comforting, but dangerous, assumption.

One of the most difficult, yet most comforting funerals I piped was for the Chief of a small, rural volunteer Fire Department, which was held at a small country church. I was a Firefighter at another volunteer Fire Department in the area, so I had met and worked with him a couple of times. His pastor described his great faith, how he loved the Lord, and how he loved to read and teach from his tattered, dog-eared Bible. That was music to my ears and comfort to my soul, and if there is a Fire Department in Heaven, he is there when he isn’t teaching others more from the Bible.

Do you see the difference? “Universalism” provides a false hope and false comfort; while we have the true hope of seeing those we knew and loved again if they were trusting in Christ alone for their salvation.

Into John 3:16…

For God so loved the world…
Yes, God DOES love His creation, and we were created to have a relationship with Him, but our sin has separated us from God and destroyed that relationship. Sin has real consequences, and one of those consequences is eternal-separation from God. God could have terminated or rebooted His human-project after Adam and Eve sinned, but He didn’t. God could even have accepted the “new-normal“, but He didn’t. He kicked His plan of redemption in high-gear with the promise of a Savior in Genesis 3:15. It wasn’t going to be easy for God to restore us to a right-relationship with Him. His own Son was going to have to become a human and bear the just-punishment we deserve in our stead. If “Universalism” was true, we would have had no need for a Savior.

That He gave His only begotten Son…
Jesus Christ came to earth with a mission, sent by God the Father, to enter our battle, to stand in front of us in our fire-fight, to take the bullets we would have taken, to stand between us and the wrath of a Holy God, to die the death that we deserve, to become our Savior. He came willingly, even relishing the battle, because He loves us that much. If “Universalism” was true, Jesus Christ would not have needed to come to earth to die in our stead.

That whosoever believes in Him…
This isn’t just passive-acceptance that Jesus is God-incarnate and came to save sinners; it is active-belief, marked by a changed-life and a fresh love for God. It is a heart-felt understanding that we can’t save ourselves, but Jesus Christ came to do for us what we can’t do for ourselves. If “Universalism” was true, it wouldn’t matter what you believe, because even Atheists are going to Heaven.

Shall not perish…
This isn’t some empty-hope; it is an iron-clad promise. If you are trusting in Christ alone for your salvation, your eternal-destiny is secure, guaranteed by Christ himself, but if you are trusting in “Universalism” for your salvation, you are dead in your sins, and when you take your last breath, you will go into eternal-separation from God, Hell.

But have eternal life…
There is an eternal-reward for putting your faith and trust in Jesus Christ, entering into His joyous-presence and being with Him forever. That alternative isn’t pretty.

Is “Universalism” true and Biblical? Don’t bet your soul and eternal-destiny on it, because you WILL lose. There is ONLY one way into Heaven, and that is by accepting and believing the truth, as laid-out in John 3:16.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

In Christ,
Steve