Studies in John’s Epistles – 3rd John

Some Things Never Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sola Deo Gloria!

Come and Eat…

When we are hungry, those three words are music to our ears, and when they carry with them a restoration of lost relationships, they are even sweeter. Some of a family’s sweetest and most cherished memories are made while eating together, and nothing says “family” quite like eating a meal together. Eating a meal together carries an even more special significance in the Bible.

David, the psalmist, points us to this special significance in the 23rd Psalm.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows. (Psalm 23:5)

The prodigal son…
What image comes to mind when a person is described as a “prodigal“? Rebel? Wild-child? Black-sheep? If we are honest with ourselves, there is a bit of “prodigal” in every one of us. No matter how “good” you have been, there is a “prodigal” hidden inside…

11 And He said, “A man had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.’ So he divided his wealth between them. 13 And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living. 14 Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16 And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him. 17 But when he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.”’ 20 So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; 23 and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate. (Luke 15:11-24)

Can you imagine the father laying awake at night worrying about his son? Can you see the father keeping his eyes peeled, scanning the horizon for a glimpse of his son, day after day, day after day?

What did the son look like when he approached? Was he a “sight for sore eyes“, or an “eyesore“? To his father, he certainly was a “sight for sore eyes“. Otherwise, he smelled like a pig-sty and looked like he hadn’t had a bath in months. He was barefoot, and what little clothing he had on had seen better days. He probably looked very little different than the homeless people who wander the cities of America.

By rights, the father could have had his son stripped and flogged, but he didn’t. He celebrated, but the celebration wasn’t the robe. The celebration wasn’t the ring, or even the sandals. The celebration was a FEAST, a BANQUET, a PARTY!!! He was ALIVE! He was HOME!

Peter…
Loose lips may sink ships, but Peter got caught in his own mouth-trap. It was far more serious than “open mouth and insert foot“. Peter did one of those infamous “I will NEVER…”‘s. Do you relate? I sure do, and if I had a T-shirt for every time I said “I will NEVER…“, and did it anyway, I would have to turn my home into a closet. I must have inherited some of Peter’s bragadocious genes.

Peter already had a well-deserved reputation for being bold, brash, impetuous and even a bit arrogant. He was also the “toughguy” of the gang. Don’t forget that Peter was the one packing “heat” (a sword) when Jesus was arrested. Either his aim was a bit off, or his sword-wielding skills were rusty, because he “only” cut off the guy’s ear. So much for “protecting” Jesus from arrest…

Shortly before this, Peter’s tongue had gone from being “golden“:
13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:13-16)

to “talking trash“:
21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”

23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” (Matthew 16:21-23)

What did Peter do that was SO bad?
31 Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written:
“‘I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’
32 But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”

33 Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.

34 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”

35 But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same. (Matthew 26:31-35)

Does this all sound familiar? “I WILL NEVER…

69 Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. “You also were with Jesus of Galilee,” she said.

70 But he denied it before them all. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said.

71 Then he went out to the gateway, where another servant girl saw him and said to the people there, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.”

72 He denied it again, with an oath: “I don’t know the man!”

73 After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them; your accent gives you away.”

74 Then he began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!”
Immediately a rooster crowed.

75 Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly. (Matthew 26:69-75)

Peter blew it – big-time, and he knew it. He had done what he promised to NEVER do, deny His lord. If this story ended with Peter’s denial, all that would have been left would have been a very despondent Peter, but this story DOESN’T end this way. It is time for another meal, time for another restoration.

21 Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: 2 Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. 3 “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

4 Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
5 He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”
“No,” they answered.

6 He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

7 Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. 8 The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. 9 When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.

10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead. (John 21:1-14)

Who could blame Peter for going fishing? He had been a commercial fisherman before Jesus called him, so fishing was the one thing that he DID know how to do. How could Jesus ever trust him with carrying on the ministry after He ascended back into heaven, after he made such a horrible blunder?

15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.

18 Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” (John 21:15-19)

Peter not only was restored to fellowship with His lord, he also received a new commission.

The Last Supper…
27 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Matthew 26:27-29)

This is the meal which we still celebrate, the Lord’s Supper. This is also a meal for restoration. Jesus didn’t say “Drink it when you are perfect“, or “Drink it when you have your stuff together“. He said “Drink from it, all of you“.

We will never be “worthy” to partake in this meal, that is, if we are depending on our own “worthiness“. We will always fall short, but this meal isn’t about us. It is about what Jesus Christ did for us. Only He can restore us to a right relationship with God the Father. I will never understand why He chose me, but He did. All of these meals are truly love-feasts, not because any of us deserves to be restored, but because Someone, who loves us more than we love ourselves, bids us come to His table.

In the presence of my enemies…
No, I didn’t forget that part of Psalm 23:5, although I am not going to touch on the last two phrases of the Psalm. We have an enemy. Satan is our mortal-enemy, and he loves to trip us up, and then make us feel ugly about ourselves after he trips us up.

The prodigal son certainly didn’t feel “worthy” to be taken back into his family, and if his older brother had his way, there wouldn’t have been any restoration, let alone a feast, but he received both. His older brother was the Devil’s advocate, but while the older brother moped, the rest of the family feasted.

Some would say that Peter had committed an unpardonable sin, and I am sure that Satan was having a gay old time reminding him of what he did, but Jesus wasn’t having any part of Satan’s celebration. When Jesus said “Come and eat“, Satan turned tail and ran.

Satan also wants to remind us of how rotten we are. There is just one problem with that. If we are in Christ, we ARE forgiven, and He has given us a permanent invitation to dine at His table. As Jesus dismissed Judas before that special meal, He also has forbidden Satan to interfere with His supper now. Every time we partake of the Lord’s Supper, we are reminded that we can’t fix ourselves, but Satan is also reminded that we no longer belong to him. We can partake because we have been restored.

Come and eat!
Steve

How Human Was Jesus?

Throughout the history of the church, there has been a faction in the church that believed that Jesus only appeared to be a human – a man, and the question of Jesus’s humanity has serious implications for both our life and for our salvation.

This question was so important to the Apostle John, that after he proclaimed Christ’s full deity, he also proclaimed His full humanity. John also devoted large sections of 1st John to Christ’s humanity, and then reiterated it in 2nd John. Let’s start by looking at these pivotal Scriptures:

The Eternal Word

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:1-5)

The Word Becomes Flesh

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

What Was Heard, Seen, and Touched

1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life— 2 the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. 4 And these things we write to you that your joy may be full. (1 John 1:1-4)

Could He have been “the King of the Jews” if He hadn’t been fully-human? So, just how human WAS Jesus?

Christ’s Birth Announced to Mary

26 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”

29 But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. 30 Then 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 bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; 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 of His kingdom there will be no end.”

34 Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”

35 And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. 37 For with God nothing will be impossible.”

38 Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:26-38)

His Conception…

The mystery of the Incarnation, God, in Jesus Christ, taking on human flesh, begins with His miraculous conception. If order for Him to be fully and truly human, He had to have a human parent, who was His mother. In order for Him to be human, yet sinless, required that His Father be divine. We aren’t told anything about the mechanism of His conception, except that it was by the Holy Spirit. Did God create one perfect sperm with human genetics, but without a human source? If so, did God create that sperm to replicate His earthly “father’s” genetics, so that He looked just like “one of the boys“? During His earthly ministry, those around Him had no problem matching Him up with His siblings. What we do know is that His mother Mary was a virgin, and that He had no human biological father. Those are questions which will have to wait for Heaven. Mary knew that what was going to happen was not humanly-possible, since she was a virgin and not yet married.

Christ Born of Mary

2 And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. 3 So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.

4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. 6 So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. 7 And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:1-7)

His Birth…

Jesus came into the world the same way every other human has, with the exceptions of Adam and Eve. The only thing out of the ordinary was His conception, and the fact that His mother was a virgin. She was a young Jewish peasant girl, who had gotten pregnant out of wedlock. His step-father was a Jewish carpenter.

The “Bethlehem Maternity Center” was a stable, a place where animals could retreat from the weather. We are not even told that Mary and Joseph had a mid-wife to help with that special delivery, let alone doctors and nurses. His first “crib” was a feeding trough (manger), and His first set of clothes were “swaddling cloths“, whatever was handy to wrap a baby in.

His life…

Jesus was circumcised eight days after He was born, as all boys who were born into Jewish society were. Circumcision was no sterile medical procedure with all the conveniences of the modern hospital. Knives were crude at best, not exactly Wilkinson Sword quality, so they did more tearing of the flesh, rather than cutting it cleanly. He bled, He cried when it was done, and it hurt. Yes, Jesus was born a fully-equipped male baby, and that fact would become important during His crucifixion.

While we have little information in the Bible about His early life, I believe it is safe to assume that He grew up like any other Jewish boy of His day and time. He played in the dusty streets of whatever town they were living in when He wasn’t in school or learning to be a carpenter. How many times did He skin His knees up? Did He ever trip and fall? Was He a real child…

As a teen, did He ever have a “wet-dream“, or as He grew into adulthood, did He ever wake up with a “morning-glory“? Those things sound too “crude“, too “vulgar” for the Incarnate Son of God, but as the architect and creator of our male bodies, He gave us those physiological responses to help keep ours AND His equipment in good working-order. Have we forgotten that His favorite title for Himself was “the Son of Man“? He called Himself “the Son of Man” more times than all of His other titles combined. I seriously doubt that He ever said “Why, Oh why, did I create men this way?”.

How often did He smash His thumb while learning to drive a nail? How many splinters did He get from the rough-cut wood that they used? We see many references throughout His teachings to things relating to construction and His trade as a carpenter. As He hefted one of those crude, rough nails, could He almost feel it tearing through His flesh? Was His shadow shaped like a Cross, knowing that He created the tree He was going to be crucified on?

Our problem…

Our “Jesus” is too “clean“, too “sanitary“, too “unearthly” for Him to really have been “one of us“. We can’t imagine a “Jesus” with diaper-rash when He was a baby, or that when He was young, He ran around “naked as a jaybird” like real children do if they get the chance. He ate, He drank, He pooped, He peed, just like we do, but those things just don’t seem “God-like” enough for Him. He got tired, He got hungry, He got thirsty, and He even cried. How “unmanly“, and yet Scripture affirms all of these to be true. He experienced the complete “human experience” while He walked this Earth. He was tempted, but He never succombed to temptation. He was sinless, although He always attracted a crowd of sinners around Him, and He certainly enjoyed a good glass of wine.

We have strapped our own body-shame issues to Jesus, as if He had the same kind of body-shame that we carry around. We can’t imagine a “Jesus with a penis” because we have been taught to be ashamed of our own sexual equipment, and yet, had He not been born “fully-equipped“, penis and all, Pilate could not have declared Him to be “The King of the Jews” when He was crucified. No penis=no “king“, not circumcised=not a “Jew“.

Why does His humanity matter?

The short answer is that, if Jesus wasn’t fully-human, He could not have brought salvation to us. His death, burial and resurrection would have been a fraud if He wasn’t fully-human, and we would be miserable, hell-bound idiots for believing this fairy-tale. If Jesus wasn’t human, I, and my fellow Christian bloggers, writers, pastors, teachers, missionaries and evangelists are perpetuating a hoax, a lie, but we aren’t. Jesus was, and still is, as human as you and I, and as we prepare to celebrate His Incarnation, God taking on human flesh, this is the greatest story of the most wonderful event in human and redemption history.

I invite you to kneel before the manger, and bow before the KING of Kings and the LORD of Lords, Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us. He is worthy of ALL of our worship and adoration.

God bless and Merry Christmas!
Steve