by J. Christian Andrews
April 10, 2015
The Power of Words
“In the beginning was the Word...And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:1a, 14
I suspect my parents taught me the childhood rhyme “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me” to try and toughen me up sometime or over the course of early childhood on occasions when I was being teased. I suppose there is some value in being a little toughened up. We need to learn that not all of life is easy and people are going to say things. I don’t know that it is particularly healthy to cry “bully” every time someone says something that get under our skin.
There is, however, real power in words; and we should recognize that power especially so that we ourselves are careful about how we use them.
We are confronted with words at the very beginning of the Bible, when God retells for us the narrative of creation. We only need get to the third verse to find that God said and with each successive day of six He again said, and all that is came into being: light; the heavens; earth and sea and vegetation; the sun, moon, and stars, fish and birds, and the earth’s creepers.
On the second part of the sixth day, God spoke again; but this time it was not to create but to have a conversation with Himself to proclaim a special creation: “Let Us make man in Our image…” As the narrative continues we find that “in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”
There is no time indicated in the narrative, but it would seem not long after the special creation of the man and the woman, first forming the man from the dust and breathing life into him and then crafting the woman from one of his ribs, another voice spoke. This time the voice was deceptive, and it questioned God’s words and planted doubt. Sin came into the creation as the man and the woman listened to the deceptive voice and broke trust with God. The relationship was destroyed, and death came.
Fast forward to the beginning of a new era, and we again encounter the word, except this time it is the Word (logos), not just any word but the whole wisdom and counsel of God. This Word already was when our beginning began. This Word was with God and was God. This Word was active in creation. This Word became flesh.
This Word Become Flesh came to mend the breach in the trust and relationship that God wants to have with His creation. So God, who loved the world, gave His only Son, the Word Become Flesh, so that anyone who puts his trust in the Word, so that anyone who believes, will not continue in separation ending in the death which is eternal separation but will instead have life which is the forever restoration of relationship with God.
In God’s plan, then, the Word who became flesh was sent to a Roman death cross. From that cross, He spoke. His first words gave voice to His purpose: “Father, forgive them.” Again when He cried out, He quoted an ancient hymn, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1) and revealed to us that “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 6:21). Then, as He died, His words once again echoed across the ages, “It is finished.” The redemption of creation, the reconciliation of humanity planned before the foundations of the world, had been accomplished; and humanity was invited once again into the whole and eternal relationship with God for which it had been designed.
There is power in words, but there may be no greater word than that which the Word spoke with His life, with His death, and with His resurrection. It is this Word which calls us to faith, to believe that the promises are true, to trust in the forgiveness of sins, our resurrection from the dead, and the gift of life everlasting. Amen.
March 13, 2015
A number of years ago, we adopted a miniature schnauzer. We named him Clive Staples because of his academic pose on the front seat of Susan’s car on the way home from the adoption kennel. Little did we know how neurotic he would turn out to be. I suspect much of his psychosis is earned. It appears he was quite abused in his early life. He came to us with an eight inch burn mark on his side. There are numerous BB pellets imbedded beneath his skin. He is terrified of fire, cords, newspapers, and popping sounds. It seems as he ages he gets worse instead of better. When he is frightened, he will find a corner in the house as far away from the fear source a possible to hide. Now it seems he has developed some sort of separation anxiety. He does not like it when the suitcases come out and packing begins. Even though it is just I going away on a short trip with Susan staying home, he gets freaked out and behaves in ways out of his odd norm.
One of the most known Bible verses is John 3:16. Even if it cannot be quoted, a great many people are able to name it when asked to name a verse from the Bible. On its surface, John 3:16 has a wonderful feel good message. After all, who does not want to know and believe that God loves us: “for God so loved the world”? And following that, what is not good about hearing of God’s sacrificial gift of His own Son? These facts about God make this verse not only the most know, but also possibly the favorite.
At the risk of minimizing God’s love, there is, however, more to this verse. The whole story really presents us with an awful option. God’s love is real, so very real. God’s sacrificial gift is also real, so very humanly and painfully real. God, the creator of the universe knew, knows, that there is a very real problem with the human heart. He is keenly aware that the human heart would rather follow its own leading, would rather find pleasure in the things of the world, would rather create its own code for life than desire and savor the things of God. God is keenly aware of the separation between Him and us that results from this rebellious broken nature, but He also loves us too much to just let that separation continue. To heal the divide and to bring us back into relationship with Him, He did give His Son to be the final and perfect sacrifice to take away sin.
There is, however, one requirement in the gift. There is nothing we can do to earn the gift. There is nothing that our reason can assent to make the gift real for us. There is however a need for faith to exist. The message in the verse asserts that the giving of the Son becomes effective when we believe: “that whoever believes in Him…” There is no work or reason in believing. It is simply “to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place confidence in.”
It is in the believing that we are presented with the awful option. The option word is most often read “perish.” “…whoever believes in…should not perish…” The implication here is that a failure to believe results in perishing. It is a word we seldom hear outside the context of this verse. I suppose we might say that the unused vegetables in the refrigerator, when they begin to grow decomposing organisms, perish. Or we may say that produce that will keep for an extended period of time is nonperishable. The word Jesus used, however, is much more sobering than rotting vegetables or meat gone rancid. The word Jesus used is a compound of the preposition meaning separation (sort of like an emphatic “from”) and a very strong verb for die or kill. It would be fair, no doubt, so say the result of not placing confidence in what Jesus did for us on the cross results in an absolute death cause by separation from God.
Talk about creating separation anxiety. There may be no greater image of death than one in which the desolation and destruction is so complete because it is a total and full separation from all that is good, a thorough separation from love, an outright separation from God. This is what awaits the unbeliever. This separation is what is in store for the one who does not believe, who has not placed confidence in, the only begotten Son of God.
Should the story end here, anxiety must persist. The story, however, does not end here, nor does its message. There is yet a promise. The one who believes will not perish. The one who believes, instead, in stark contrast and option, has life. Here is where grammar matters. The verb Jesus used is a present subjunctive: it is a “now command.” It is God’s proclamation that in belief there is life now. It is God’s command that in belief there is life that not only begins now but continues without end.
So it is we come full circle. We can indeed say this is a good verse, not just a feel good verse, but a verse with a marvelous message. In John 3:16 we encounter God who in His infinite and sacrificial love provided the only solution to our sin. In John 3:16 we encounter the God who became flesh, dwelt among us, gave His life for us by death on the cross, and proved His power over sin and death by His resurrection from the dead. In is here that we find faith, the capacity to believe and be confident in; and it is indeed here that we hear the commanded that the one who believes is not dead by separation but has life, and not just life, but life that has no end.
January 5, 2015
But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Galatians 4:4, 5 (NASB)
From early on in life, I have heard some explanations for how the coming of Jesus was in the right time, the fullness of the time in Galatians 4. A couple reasons I remember are the unified language in the Middle East and the extensive road system built by the Romans. I don't know that those explanations have been unsatisfying, yet there has been a persistent continuing of the question, “What made the early/middle Roman empire the right time?” This Nativity season has been enlightening for me as I have gained some new insights into the incredible narrative. That all my questions have been answered in inconclusive. I'm not even sure these new insights are directly related to the question. Never-the-less, here offered are three possibilities I've never considered before.
If Jesus had not been born in the time period in which God chose to send Him, we would never have know Him as “the Word.” John began his gospel with the statement, “In the beginning was the Word.” That is, at any rate, how we have rendered his words in English. The term he used, however, is one unique to the Greek of his day. In transliteration, his word is logos. As far as I have been able to discover, this particular term is not found in any other language. Our English term “word” is so very much limited when we use it to translate John's term. The Greeks had another term, rhema, they used when they wanted to say “word”; but logos is so much more than “word.” Logos is about concept, it is about wisdom, it is about knowledge. Logos is about the active breathing forth of God as in Genesis 1 when God spoke and the universe and all it encompasses, save humanity, came into being. (In the creation narrative, God does not speak humanity into being as He does the rest of creation. He formed the human from the humus and breathed His life into His in-His-likeness creation.) Logos very likely has more the sense of the Hebrew word torah when torah means the whole counsel of God as it does in Psalm 1: how blessed are they that meditate day and night on the torah. (An an aside, and at the risk of detracting from the central idea, note also how the Logos in John 1 is connected to God speaking in Genesis 1 and the blessing from immersion in torah in Psalm 1 thus adding evidence to how amazingly crafted the whole counsel of God is as it is presented in Scripture.) It is this Logos, who was in the beginning (note the past tense), who was with God, who was God, and through whom all that is was brought into being, who became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth. Had this incarnation happened at any other time in history, we would not know Jesus as Logos become flesh.
The time frame of this second epiphany may not be as clear, but I find it fascinating that there may be a superlative connection between John the baptizer and Jesus whom he came to announce. The Lucan narrative tells us that John's dad was a priest. He happened by lot (there is a curiosity about how often God revealed His will through lots: Jonah, Zachariahs, Matthias) to be chosen to burn incense in the temple when Gabriel the angel announced to him that his aged and barren wife Elizabeth would conceive a child. Because John's dad is a priest, John then is born into the Levitical or priestly line. Elizabeth, John's mom, was related to Mary, the mother of Jesus. The King James translation of Luke says Elizabeth was Mary's cousin. The text, however, simply says she is Mary's kinswoman or more contemporarily translated relative. Regardless, the point is still there. We know from Luke's genealogy that Mary is descended from David in the tribe of Judah. If Mary and Elizabeth are related, then it could stand to reason that Elizabeth could also trace her lineage to David. This would mean that John, on his mother's side, is also descended from David or that he was born into the kingly line. So, consider this possibility. John, who had from his father the priestly line and from his mother the royal line, was sent by God to announce the coming of the One who would be both Priest and King to His people. The timing had to be just right.
There are certainly many other points in the timeline that point to the fullness of time, but the third epiphany in this season was the events that caused Jesus to be born in Bethlehem. From the surface it may not be a big deal that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. God could have carried out His purposes just as easily had Jesus been born in Nazareth where Mary and Joseph were living. However, there was this thing about prophecy that had to be fulfilled. “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,/Too little to be among the clans of Judah,/From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel./His goings forth are from long ago,/From the days of eternity. (Micah 5:2 NASB)” And then there was that bit about wise men from the east who were directed, because of the prophecy, to Bethlehem where they found Jesus and worshiped Him. There was a problem that had to be solved so that the prophecy might be fulfilled. Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth; and it would seem there really was no reason for them to make the untimely trip to Bethlehem, untimely because Mary was pregnant and traveling would not have been at all convenient. There are other assumptions we might make about the story. Despite the shame that might have come to Joseph because his betrothed became pregnant before the wedding and not by him, he took Mary to be his wife (note his faithfulness and trust in obedience to the angel's message in his dream). We might guess that his standing in the community of Nazareth was such that they were able to overcome the stigma. There is nothing in the telling that would suggest he was anything but respected in the community, someone with a successful business and well liked. But Jesus had to be born in Bethlehem. It may be possible to view the solution to this problem in two ways, but either way it is seen, God's timing is at work. Whether it was God's foreknowledge of the census decreed by Caesar Augustus or whether God laid on Caesar Augustus the inclination to proclaim a census may be irrelevant. The fact is at that precise time in history, “when the fullness of time came,” Joseph and his presumably very pregnant Mary (as if she would be more pregnant at nine months than she was at three) made the eighty mile journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem so that they would indeed be in Bethlehem at the time of both the census and the birth.
How tightly woven God's story (His story – history) is becomes more and more evident the more time I take to look at all the pieces of the narrative. I aught now be surprised, but I can certainly be amazed at how much God has been at work to bring His plan for our salvation into reality. The Logos, the proclamation of Priest and King, and the Bethlehem birth stand as only three small examples of the intervention of Providence. “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son...”
For more on the Lucan geneology, see http://christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/16294/how-is-jesus-descended-from-david