by J. Christian Andrews
November 2, 2015
"These things I command you, so that you will love one another." – Jesus (John 15:17 ESV)
There is a great deal of talk about love “out there.” The slogan d’jour is “Love wins.” It’s on signs in love parades and has been widely shown and seen in popular culture love fests and rallies. What most of this chatter misses, though, is a clear definition of love.
In popular culture, love is more than likely a fluffy, cosmic ball of good feelings. Under this definition, love is the sentiment that says everything that feels good is good. To be loving is to allow anyone to create their own definition of good according to the good feelings that well up inside a person. There is a great subjectivity to this ideology. If you make me feel good or if you allow me to feel good then you love me. When I am allowed to feel good, then clearly love is winning.
Conversely, this subjective interpretation of love can lead to negativity when there is any questioning or criticism of those good feelings. If I feel excluded, if I feel condemned, or even if I feel like someone is even questioning my good feelings and the conclusions I draw about those feelings, I am not being loved. In such cases it is not love that is winning. Instead bigotry or hatred is winning, and by implication love is losing. The fluffy, cosmic ball of good feelings is being challenged.
That the idea of love fills the pages of Holy Scripture is without question, but how do we understand the love of the Bible, the love of God, the love we are commanded to have for one another? Is God telling us to jump on board the cosmic ball of good feelings band-wagon?
A deeper look at God’s word for love will reveal a completely different idea than the one advertised on the “Love Wins” placards. The word God uses for love is a rare one in the popular literature of the ancient Greeks. It is a word that is really unique to the Holy Writings. It differs considerably from the contemporary idea that love is about feelings at all. God’s word is actually about self-sacrifice, and it is exemplified in what God has done for us. First God saw our desperate need, a need caused by our inborn desire to rebel against His laws, against His standards for life. This rebellion caused a deep rift between us and God, a rift which we cannot span no matter how hard we try. To span the rift, God became a human being so that a perfect human being could suffer the consequences of our rebellion for us and thus also span the rift we cannot span. God came to us in Jesus who died willingly for us, experiencing for us the punishment our rebellion deserves. Jesus actually became our sin so that we could become His righteousness. God showed His love, and that He is love, by this cosmic act of self-sacrifice. There are really no feelings involved and certainly no condoning of those acts that “make us feel good.” Instead there is condemnation that is relieved by God’s self-sacrifice.
This then is the attitude we, the redeemed, are called to emulate. When we are told to love, we are not told to condone everyone’s ideas about what makes them feel good. When we are told to love, we are called to a life of self-sacrifice. Instead of hanging on to what we want and demanding to get our own way, we are called to do right for each other. This is where, indeed, love wins.
September 29, 2015
“And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, ‘If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.’ And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.’” Mark 9:35-37
It occurs to me that we adults are at the core selfish. Well, we are all at the core selfish; but since it is we adults who “run the world,” I am choosing to address these comments to us, the adults. It is the nature with which we are born, and it is the nature with which we too often make decisions.
My children did not participate in childhood sports outside of their physical education classes at school not because I asked them what they wanted or not but because I didn’t want to be a “soccer mom.” It may seem a minor concern, and it is not in essence different than the parents who make their children do things because the parent is living vicariously through them. What I wonder, though, is how often the choices we make say or don’t say to our children something about what we believe about God. We may say we love Jesus, but do our actions show we love Jesus?
Do we give generously of our time, talents, and wealth (10%), or are these our gods?
Do we use God’s name to pray, praise, and thank Him for His generosity toward us?
Do we regularly attend the services of the Church not because we like or dislike the pastor or like or dislike the sermons but because we want to remember the Sabbath and gladly hear and learn God’s Word?
Do we actively protect life?
Do we uphold God’s Biblical institution of marriage, loving sacrificially, and showing honor to our wives and husbands?
Do we gain honestly that which we possess, both physical and intellectual property?
Do we speak kindly of all, and “don’t say anything if you don’t have something nice to say.”
Do we desire only that which God has graciously given us? How we make a living? What we own?
Is God really our Father?
Do we really let Him have full control and reign in our lives?
Do we study to know His will and really want in our lives what He wants for us?
Do we trust that He will provide graciously for us when we seek first His kingdom?
Do we hold grudges, or do we forgive as we have been forgiven?
Do we stay away from things and situations that would temp us to think, speak, or do evil?
The reality is that in our selfishness, we cannot do right. But…
There is a but in the Gospel, But now apart from the Law, God reveals Himself to us in Jesus. God comes to us with love and grace and forgiveness. God, in Jesus, died to take our selfishness away, to transform us through repentance (the renewing of our minds).
It occurs to me that we don’t have to live selfish lives. Well, we can’t in our own strength or reason not live selfish lives; but God transforms us when He forgives us, and He gives us a new desire and a new purpose. Instead of being held captive by our selfish desires, we can now, by the power of the Holy Spirit in us, live lives that are transformed. We can now live lives that show our children, our grandchildren, our nieces and nephews, our students, that we do indeed love Jesus and can make decisions according to God’s purpose for us.
August 26, 2015
"And He was saying, 'That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.'" Mark 7:20-23 NASB
These happened in just the last few months. A well-known, admired comedian admitted to using drugs and his influence to get his groupies into bed though from the sounds of things plenty of them were willing and eager without those. The pastor at a prominent Florida church and evangelism center resigned because of an affair. He was on leave of absence prior to that because his wife had an affair. A recently released list of Ashley Madison customers revealed that a son of a Christian family of reality show fame and former executive officer of a Christian think tank had a paid account with the website and organization which promotes sexual affairs. In his confession, he admitted to both an addiction to pornography and to having committed adultery. I don’t call out these three men to be a gossip or to maliciously smear their names further across the internet. I reference them only because they are three current and prominent examples of how the mighty fall, how sin and particularly sexual sin has a unique power to captivate and destroy, and how it is true that our sins will find us out. I also want somehow to find that place where there is grace and forgiveness and where there is strength for tomorrow.
The Holy Scriptures are full of warnings both in commands and in examples against sexual sin. These commands witness to the power ungodly sex can have over us. I suppose we men are more susceptible to this power; but as we see from all three cases above, women are not exempt. The Ten Commandments warn us against committing adultery. The rest of the Mosaic Law warns against incest, bestiality, and homosexuality. David, Israel’s second king, stands as a prime example of the destructive nature of adultery and how his sin brought death and chaos to his family. Solomon, interestingly enough the second son of David and Bathsheba, warned against the allure of the adulteress. In a conversation Jesus had with His disciples, He listed thirteen evils that emanate from the defiled human heart. Of the thirteen, three—fornication, adultery, and sensuality—are of a sexual nature. (NOTE: I chose to use the NASB because I think it translates fornication best. However, the word sensuality might better be translated lewdness or licentiousness.)
There is no question that when we confess our sin, He who is faithful and just will forgive us our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). But is it also true that there are consequences to sin, consequences that more often than not cause great pain to those around us affected by our sin. So it is right that when we sin we confess, and it is better that we confess without being caught first so that the confession does not just look like something we do because we got caught. Men, if we are involved in pornography or adultery or before marriage in fornication or any other form of sexual sin, we need to own up to our sin. We need to repent, and we need to do whatever it takes to restore the relationships we break because of our sin.
And whether we are in sexual sin or not, we also need to protect ourselves against the temptations that so easily entangle us. Here again we need to man up. It is no one’s fault but our own when we fall, when we fail. So it is also no one else’s responsibility to keep us faithful to our vows, to our promises, and to our faith. We need to take the steps that make it hard to fall. Maybe we need internet filters like Covenant Eyes; or if we are not able to stay away from nudity and pornography, we need to use our computers only with others around us or be off the internet completely. Maybe we need accountability partners. At the very least, we should all have safe browsing turned on so that when we are surfing the internet, we are not bombarded with tempting imagery. More than likely we need to give our wives all our passwords and information about all our memberships and internet activities: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram. We need to be vulnerable and transparent. The only secrets we should have are what we are getting her for her birthday and for Christmas.
Ladies, if you are a wife, we need your help. Please understand the battle that we face, as one author has called it "every man’s battle." Please be our partners against the temptations that assault us from every side, from every magazine cover at the grocery store, from every beer commercial, from every scantily clad teenage or twenty something girl that crosses our view, and from the assaults so prevalent in social media. For example, I recently read a blog where Pinterest was referred to as “Satan’s scrapbook.” You can help us who have Pinterest boards by holding Pinterest accountable to their own nudity and pornography policies. Do a regular scan of the public boards and report offenses; they are in the multiples of thousands, probably even millions. If enough of you helped police Pinterest, they might get the idea that they need to clean up their site. Know how to check the bowser history on your computers and ask questions if you find large chunks of deleted history. Partner with us in how we spend our time and how we use our money. Another idea is that you engage with us in a discussion of how sexuality in marriage can be healthy and wholesome. I will not be among the voices demanding that you be hyper sexual as a means of protecting us against temptation. It is not your responsibility to use sex to protect us. That is demeaning and demanding and in my opinion a wrong way to approach the beauty of the sexual union in marriage. There may however be something to say about how partnering with us in healthy marriage sex helps us keep a proper perspective about sex and its allure. Consider a site like …to Love, Honor, and Vacuum as a place to start engaging in healthy Christian marriage conversations. Without being mean or overly suspicious, hold us accountable for how we live out our Christian witness. Be our helpmates and confidants as we walk this life together.
The allure of sex is powerful, the temptations are strong, and the technology of our day has made it ever so much easier to sin. If and when we do sin, we must own up to our sin so that we can experience the grace of forgiveness and the wholeness of healing. And so that we do not sin, we need to remember first that “no temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13 NASB). Secondly, we can remember that we are a family, a community of believers who are called to bear and to support. While sin is individual and the responsibility not to sin is individual, we can help each other stay pure by encouraging each other and holding each other accountable to right living.
June 29, 2015
A great number of articles reacting to the United States Supreme Court decision requiring marriage licenses be issued in all fifty states to couples of the same gender have been written and published since that decision was handed down on Friday, June 26, 2015. Much has been said about judicial activism, endowment of rights, and adherence to constitutional principles or lack thereof. I, wanting to add my two bits to the discussion, have wrestled with what can be said that others are not saying. I have wondered what it is that I can constructively add to the conversation. I have certainly not read everything that is out there, nor do I pretend no one else has voiced what I have here to say; but I do wonder if what is missing in the discussion is the foundation. If we are to adhere to a higher calling based on principles we believe come to us from God, it seems that we ought to know why it is we should hold firmly to the position that marriage is given to us by God as a covenant between a man and a woman. A theology of marriage must come from the creation purposes for that institution which include creation in God’s image, the command to fill the earth, the provision for one flesh companionship, and God’s desire for relationship with us.
From the beginning we find that God crowned His creation with humanity. “And God created the man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27 NASB). No one verse in Scripture explains what it means to be created in God’s image, but from the whole story of God’s interaction with His human creation we can deduce that the first couple were created perfect, immortal, and with a will. Their holiness or perfection is seen in that after they disobediently ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, after sin came into their lives, they hid from God and covered themselves when God game to the Garden in the cool of the day. They were ashamed, a sentiment with which they had not been created, because they were no longer innocent but guilty. They had sinned by disobedience and had lost the holiness with which they have been gifted in creation.1 Their immortality, God’s design that they should live forever, is seen in the coming of death. God had caused to grow in the Garden a tree which He called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He told Adam and Eve they could eat from all the other fruit bearing trees but not from this tree. He warned them that eating from this tree would result in death, so we conclude that in their original creation God intended that they would not die.2 God willed and spoke and crafted and breathed all creation into being; and when He made the man and the woman, He also gave them a will. We see this again in the narrative of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He gave them a choice in the very command that they not eat from it. They could choose to obey and live or to disobey and die. We were created, then, male and female, first to reflect the very image of God: His holiness, His eternal nature, and His will.
Secondly, the blessing and injunction on humanity in creation is procreation. The first thing God did after making man and woman in His own image was to bless them and enlist them in the continuing process of creation. “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’” (Genesis 1:28 NASB). “Be fruitful and multiply,” He said. God imbued His human creation with His own image. God created a man and a woman to whom, in partnership, he gave the honor and task of joining in continuing creation. In their knowing each other, God would take of the man and God would take of the woman and combine them to make another man and another woman on and on for all the generations of humanity. It was God’s intent, we might say, to fill the earth with His image; and He created the man/woman relationship and institution to accomplish this grand design.
Thirdly, we find in the creation account that we, the man and the woman, were made to be in relationship. According to the telling, God sought from among the created beings a suitable helpmate for the man; and finding none, He fashioned the perfect helpmate from the man’s rib. Taken from the man was his mate, the woman, bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh, the woman from the man. And God gave this couple and every couple after a union in their relationship that would surpass and supplant all other unions. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:24, 25 NASB). There is a mystery here that defies reason. God takes two, a man and a woman, and joins the two into one. Jesus later affirmed this union and added to it: “And He answered and said, ‘Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE, and said, ‘FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate’” (Matthew 19:4-6 NASB caps denote text quoted from the Old Testament). The oneness of marriage, the union of two, a man and a woman, into one flesh, is not of human design or human making. That we, the man joined to the woman, the husband joined to his wife, become one flesh is of God’s design and God’s making. So it is that Jesus himself in affirming the marriage union also ordained its lifelong permanence. He maintained first that the two become one flesh and commanded secondly that this union made by God was not to be undone by anyone. God’s intention for marriage is the propagation of His image in a relationship and union that makes one out of two and is binding for life.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Biblical marriage is a metaphor of God’s relationship to His people. Throughout the Old Testament, God spoke of His relationship to His people as a husband and wife relationship.
“For your husband is your Maker,
Whose name is the LORD of hosts;
And your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel,
Who is called the God of all the earth” (Isaiah 54:5 NASB emphasis mine).
“‘Behold, days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,’ declares the LORD” (Jeremiah 31:31, 32 NASB emphasis mine).Highlighting the relationship between God and His people as marriage relationship is the accusation of adultery when His people whored after false gods:
“‘Then those of you who escape will remember Me among the nations to which they will be carried captive, how I have been hurt by their adulterous hearts which turned away from Me, and by their eyes which played the harlot after their idols; and they will loathe themselves in their own sight for the evils which they have committed, for all their abominations.This metaphor is carried through into the New Testament as well. There is in Ephesians 5 a parallel of the love of Christ for His bride, the Church, to that which a husband is to have for his wife. These same verses parallel the commitment a wife is to have to her husband to that which the Church is to have to her Groom, Christ. In this regard, we read the Pauline conclusion to the one flesh union: “This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church” (v. 32). There are also betrothal and marriage stories, many in parables, others in reference, that show a parallel between marriage and the relationship of Jesus to the Church. The practice in first century Palestine was for a man and a woman intending to marry to become betrothed. It was much like our engagement, but was a union of much greater importance as to break a betrothal was equal to divorce. There was no sexual union during the time of betrothal. However, during this time the groom returned to his family property where he added a room or rooms to the family home to which he would bring his bride. It was expected that she would be watching the progress of his construction project so she would be ready to be taken home when the project was finished. Upon completion of the addition, the groom would go unannounced to his bride’s home and get her. There would be a grand procession back to their new home and a great wedding celebration. It was at such a celebration that Jesus performed His first sign, changing water into wine. This betrothal and wedding tradition was alluded to by Jesus when He told His disciples that there were many rooms in His Father’s house, that He was going to His Father’s house to prepare the rooms, and that He would return for them when the rooms were ready.3 Paul referenced the Church as the wife of Christ being prepared to be presented to Christ Himself perfect and without blemish. 4 John saw the Bride in his revelation and heard the invitation to the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.5 Marriage is a metaphor of the relationship God has with His people.
‘Then they will know that I am the LORD; I have not said in vain that I would inflict this disaster on them”’ (Ezekiel 6:9, 10 NASB emphasis mine).
If we are to continue to hold firmly to a Biblical understanding and purpose for marriage, it is important that we build that understanding on a firm foundation. Regardless of what the world has or will say about the institution we call marriage, God was the first to establish the institution and God’s Word does not change. His purpose includes showing His image, filling the earth, providing a one flesh lifelong relationship, and illustrating His relationship with us, his people. Only in a man/woman marriage is God’s creation design fulfilled.
1. Genesis 3:8-13
8They 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. 9Then the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” 10He said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.” 11And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12The man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.” 13Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”
2. Genesis 2:16, 17
16The LORD God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; 17but 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.”
3. John 14:1-3
1“Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. 2“In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. 3“If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”
4. Ephesians 5:25-27
25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.
5. Revelation 21:9
9Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and spoke with me, saying, “Come here, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.”
“Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” 8It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.
9Then he said to me, “Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’” And he said to me, “These are true words of God.”
May 8, 2015
Be Dressed and in Readiness
“Be dressed and in readiness, and keep your lamps alight. And be like men who are waiting for the master when he returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the door to him when he comes and knocks” (Luke 12:35, 36 NASB).
Without knowing something about first century wedding practices, this text seems odd and maybe out of place in our 2015 context. It is not my purpose here, however, to expound on those practices. I think is it reasonable, regardless of what we know of weddings in Jesus’ day, to take from these words Jesus spoke something about urgency in being prepared. It does seem obvious that a return is expected and that the servants (or slaves) spoken of in the verses that follow need to be ready for that return even if the specifics of the return are in question.
Ever since the angels promised the disciples that just as Jesus had been taken up into heaven from them so would he return, believers have been waiting and watching for that return. There is some Biblical evidence that the apostle Paul thought that return might be in his own lifetime. There is also evidence that believers in the early church thought it certainly possible then that Christ’s return was eminent. So has it been throughout history, especially in times when the Church has been under duress.
It may also be true that particularly in these last days when the western Church and particularly the Church in these United States of America has experienced decades of unrivalled life, it has lost sight of the need to be ready. Life for US Christians has been easy and comfortable, so it is possible that in our ease and comfort we have become lax in our readiness?
Now, however, almost as by surprise, we have been caught off guard by events that are challenging our orthodox and conservative understanding of God’s imperatives in our lives. Partly perhaps because large portions of the so called Church have been lulled into sleep and deceived into accepting the world’s view, and partly because we have become complacent in our faith, we find ourselves unprepared. When our core values, when our core beliefs, come under attack and when we suddenly find ourselves facing dire possibilities thought unimaginable just a few decades ago, we are somehow shocked that these events would dare transpire among us.
How then should we, the Church, react to the signs of the times? I suggest the following.
1. Pray for revival and remember that revival begins with me. It is one thing to pray for the power of the Holy Spirit to be made manifest anew. It is quite another to let that power overwhelm us ourselves, to submit ourselves to repentance and renewed faith, to be revived. Both need to happen, both our own revival and the revival of our land.
2. Stay faithful. Faithfulness probably goes hand in hand with revival, but faithfulness also calls for a deliberate and willful hanging on to truth. Faithfulness calls for a deliberate and willful living in truth. Faithfulness is the embodiment of a tenacity to hold on come what may. There will be challenges in the times ahead. There will be conflict in the times ahead. There will be divisions in the times ahead. By the power of the Holy Spirit who revives us, we must stay faithful regardless of the consequences, even prison, loss of personal property, or death.
3. Challenge the marketplace. We should not be deliberately offensive, but we should also not shy away from speaking the truth in love. We must walk in Christ in such depth of relationship that we are always ready to give a defense for the hope that is in us. We must be gentle as doves but wise as serpents. We must be salt and light. We cannot just let the world crumble around us; but we must, even if it is just one person at a time, draw people to a renewing and transforming relationship with Jesus.
4. Be ready. We do not belong to this world. We are aliens here. And yet here we are with a purpose to glorify God and be witnesses to what He has done in our lives. We do this, however, knowing that there is something far greater, even beyond what we can imagine, on the other side of death. They may take all we own, but they cannot take away our hope. They may lock us up, but they cannot imprison the spirit. They may kill the body, but they cannot kill the soul. But, the soul must be ready to meet whatever challenges may be ahead and its Maker.
I am certainly not about to predict that these are the last day, but they might be. I am certainly not going to claim with certainty that we are the divided nation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, the final one at the end of the statue which is shattered by the rock rolling in to establish a new kingdom, but we may be. The signs certainly seem to be pointing in that direction. Whether the end is near or not, however, we must be ready waiting for the Master’s return.
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