And to bring us all into a perfect attitude of worship, here's "Revelation Song" by Kari Jobe:
1) Every day will be a new devotional. I have enough devotionals for every day for three years
2) Also as I can, I'll be posting on my new political blog (see bottom of page).
Some other housecleaning:
A) If you'd like to just get new postings sent to your email, just submit your address in the box on the left just below. There's just one possible downside, though. Occasionally I'll add a music video at the end that's relevant to the devotional, and you won't get them in the email sent to you. If I add a video though, I'll make sure to mention in the posting, so you'll know to come to the site to see it if you'd like.
B) I actually finished writing new blog posting for the TAWG at the end of 2016. So what I'm doing now is at the beginning of every month, I'll move the earliest month from 3 years ago ahead so that a "new" posting appears every day. That's why you won't find any postings for January 2014, for example.
C) When I started this Blog, I was using the 1984 edition of the NIV, and that’s what I linked to on the Biblegateway site. However, in 2011 Zondervan updated its edition and thus reworded a lot of the NIV translation. Therefore, all the links which went to the 1984 edition now redirect to the 2011 edition, which often has slightly different wording. Thus, part of my editing process has been to update my Scripture quotes in my postings. But I might have missed some, in which case you might see my quote in the posting as a little different from what comes up when you click on my citation link, since that redirects to the 2011 edition on the Biblegateway site. It's a good thing that we realize that the work of translation never ends, but it can be a kind of a pain on a site like this. If you see any difference in verbiage between my quote and what shows up as a link on the Biblegateway site, or if you hover over a link and it has "NIV1984" at the end of it, please notify me and I'll correct it.
D) I can't believe I have to say this, but here goes. At the end of every posting is a suggested short prayer that has to do with what we discussed. This is actually what I've prayed when I finished writing it. In no way am I asking you to pray the exact verbiage of my suggested prayer. It's just a springboard for your own prayer, nothing more. Quite frankly, I've never been a fan of praying rote prayers written by someone else. As with everything else I do here, to the degree it helps, great; to the degree it doesn't, chunk it.
As always, thank you so much for reading, even if it's to read one post. God bless.
And to bring us all into a perfect attitude of worship, here's "Revelation Song" by Kari Jobe:
How does God view you? Have you ever thought about that? Some people have real problems with seeing themselves as fully forgiven and adopted children of the Almighty. Others think waaaaaaay too highly of themselves (actually I think this is a more common problem than the first), and they’re encouraged to see themselves as doing the Almighty a favor by accepting Jesus as their Savior.
I’d like to introduce a new word into this study on Jesus’ exaltation after he ascended back to the Father, a word which can give us perspective on ourselves: Inheritance. Let’s take a look at what the three passages above have to say about this.
In a sense, you belonged to God before the first moment of time. Now, how you interpret such things as “predestination” and “election,” will affect how you interpret the sense in which we “belonged” to God in eternity past. But however you want to try to unravel such mysteries, the Bible clearly teaches it. Before the first moment when God said “Let there be. . .” and no longer was the only Being in the universe, he knew you and loved you and (in some sense) chose you.
And at the right time, the Father “gave” you to his Son. You were a gift to Jesus. And he claimed you as his own. There are lots of terms for this claiming: Salvation, adoption, redemption, etc. But he did.
But the inheritance didn’t stop there. According to the second Psalm, God the Father has promised a much larger inheritance to the Son. What’s this inheritance? Everything seen and unseen. As Abraham Kuyper put it, "There is not an inch of any sphere of life over which Jesus Christ does not say, 'Mine.'"
That includes all the nations of the world. It includes all the “people groups” within those nations, the sub-groups which you can distinguish by language, culture, etc. It includes all organizations, businesses, clubs, and households. Every person on this planet is claimed—in some sense—by Jesus Christ. That’s what the great spiritual war is all about, of course. As Lewis put it, every square inch of the universe is claimed by the Son and counterclaimed by the Enemy.
And it’s ongoing, every moment of every day. Right now, in some sense, Jesus is already ruling from Heaven over all creation. But saying all creation belongs to him isn’t the same as taking possession of it, which is why the Father said to him “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” This turning of Jesus' enemies into footstools is not instantaneous, at least in some sense. It happened officially the moment Jesus sat back down on his throne after the Ascension, but large parts of creation are still in rebellion.
What do you think is happening when someone receives Christ as Savior and Boss? Why do you think the Enemy so viciously works against true evangelism? That’s where you and I step into the picture, onto the grand and glorious stage. There’s a civil war going on, and unfortunately we live in territory occupied by the rebels. And when we share the Good News about Jesus with someone and that person turns to Christ, we're invading Enemy territory and planting the flag of the Lord Jesus in the ground. That’s less territory that the Enemy owns. Talk about whacking the hornet's nest!
And it won’t stop until the end of human history. One day the Lord Jesus will physically return in power and glory, have one last struggle with the Great Dragon, and possess what he’s inherited. Once he’s won the last great battle, all creation will bow before him and acknowledge him as Lord over all.
And what will he do then? Hand it all back to his Father. That includes us.
In fact, we’re his most precious treasure. We’re the brightest jewels in his crown. We’re his most valued possession, his beloved children, bought and paid for by his blood. If you count value by what someone’s willing to pay for something, then we’re of infinite value. But let us not forget, we belong to him, not to ourselves. Please, let’s not forget.
Lord Jesus, once again I feel like imitating Job for a while. Words seem so inadequate sometimes. Thank you. I’m yours.
Have you ever felt like God was distant, that he’s “out there" somewhere? When you pray, does it feel like you’re talking to the ceiling? When you sin, do you still struggle with unresolved guilt?
Then today’s passages and devotional are for you.
I think the ancient Hebrews spoke for the overwhelming majority of humanity when they begged Moses “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.” The vast majority of people who’ve walked this earth knew two things: 1) There's an Almighty God who created everything, and 2) We’re separated from this God for some reason, and it probably has something to do with this sense of guilt we’re feeling. Why do religions have priests and sacrifices and other gods as go-betweens? Most believing Greeks didn’t even try to approach Zeus himself: They worshiped some lesser god who might be able to help them or maybe plead on their behalf. That’s because people don’t feel like they can approach the Almighty on their own.
Of course, this is in stark contrast with the typical American view of God as our buddy. We tend not to have a strong sense of our sin. But as a general rule, the more religious you are, the more you rely on some sort of go-between.
Enter Jesus. Paul tells us that as surely as there’s one God, there’s also one Mediator between God and mankind. Not more than one. If any man claims to be a priest who has direct access to God that you don’t, don’t listen to him. As I pointed out a few days ago, this is why a proper understanding of the Incarnation is so important. If Jesus isn’t God, then he’s not powerful enough to save us. If he’s not fully human, he can’t be our representative before the Father, nor can he be our sin substitute.
John calls him our “advocate.” This was a legal term, literally one “called to walk alongside” someone. Now, knowing how seriously God takes sin, we need to focus our energies on not sinning, on obeying our Father as best as we can. Sin is what nailed our Savior to the cross. But we still do it, and when we sin we have an advocate, sort of like a defense attorney.
And finally we come to the passage in Hebrews, one of my favorites portions of scripture in all the Bible. We have a great High Priest who’s gone into the highest Heavens. He’s sat down at the right hand of God the Father. And this High Priest is perfectly able to sympathize with our weaknesses, both physical and spiritual. He’s not some god like the ones on Mount Olympus who lived on high and who couldn’t relate to us. He was born into poverty in a backwater province of a nation that most people never heard of. He was a blue-collar worker, and he struggled with all the indignities, both small and great, which we do. And most importantly, he struggled with sin. He was really tempted, much more than we’ll ever experience.
Part of the good news, however, is the one way in which he can’t relate to us. He never sinned; he always obeyed the Father in everything, in matters small and great. If he wasn’t perfect, then again that would disqualify him to be our Savior. He couldn’t very well pay our debt if he was in debt himself.
So why is this truth about his priesthood so important? Because of this, our relationship is different from every other creature in the universe. To the rest of the universe, his throne is a throne of power and glory and judgment. And it's that to us too to some degree, but for us it’s primarily a throne of grace. We can approach this throne anytime, day or night, not with arrogance, but with full confidence. What’s the difference? The difference is that he invites us to do this.
When you need mercy and grace to help you in your time of need, approach his throne of grace with confidence, because you know that your High Priest is providing you with complete and immediate access.
He’s paid for it, so use it.
Here's "He Was Heard" by Michael Card
From the moment of his conception, our Lord Jesus’ life was one humiliation after another. Like the skin diver we mentioned a couple days ago, he dove from safety and his home into a cold and somewhat alien environment; He dove deeper and deeper into darkness and then touched bottom as he cried out his final submission to the Father: “Into your hands I commit my spirit.”
But there’s a reason why our message is called the “Good News”—you did know that’s what “Gospel” means, right? Just like the skin diver touching bottom, he then shot up to the top. He was raised from the dead three days later, demonstrating his complete victory and authority over death, hell, Satan, sin and any other forces arrayed against him. He appeared to his followers at various times--over a forty-day period--to his followers to prove it. He wasn’t a ghost or a spirit floating around: He offered to eat some food in front of them, and then did so.
And then came the best part: The Ultimate Hero’s welcome home. He reentered Heaven’s gates to the cheers of those assembled there, and he walked up to his Father’s throne. And he sat down on the right side, the place of greatest honor. Because now his work on earth was done. Our redemption was accomplished.
And he got a new title. Now please don’t misunderstand. He was God before the Incarnation, from eternity past. He was Co-Creator of everything seen and unseen. He enjoyed the worship of angels. But when he returned, the Father somehow bestowed on him greater honor than before.
Now, more than ever, his new title is “Lord.” That’s the “name that is above every name.” Have you ever “name dropped”? You just casually mention that you know someone in order to get better service or better treatment? Why do people do that? Because the name of an important person can carry a lot of weight. If I could credibly claim that I know the President of the United States personally, then that means something. Well, the name of “Lord Jesus Christ” is the name above every other name. That’s the name of ultimate, final authority, above the name of every king, past, present and future. There are other names which are perhaps “behind the scenes,” which you don’t see in many headlines, but which wield power and influence nonetheless. This Name is above those as well.
And one day we’ll see it all. Every knee will bow at that name. Hitler will bow at that name. Stalin will bow. Mao Tse-Dong will bow. Mohammed will bow. Confucius will bow. Buddha will bow. Bill Gates will bow. Steve Jobs will bow. The lowliest guy who held the job of shoveling horse puckey in stalls will bow. Every atheist and mocker who made fun at the name of Jesus, who dishonored his Bride in jokes, and who verbally spat on his word will bow.
And Satan will bow. The great Adversary will be forced to his knees. And with everyone else, he will acknowledge that Jesus is Lord. He’s the Boss of Bosses. He’s the King before whom all other kings will bow.
And this is the best news possible for everyone who belongs to him. Why? Because we’re co-heirs with Christ! Everything he owns (which is everything), we have a piece of. When he comes in power and glory, we’re the ultimate “insiders” in the new Regime.
His victory is ours. In some sense, Paul says we share in his glory (see link above). We call God Father, and Jesus calls himself our brother.
But according to Scripture, your choice to bow is not “if,” it’s “when.” You can either bow to his name on this side of Glory, or on the other side. But as C.S. Lewis pointed out, we wouldn’t be very impressed with a Frenchman who totally collaborated with the Nazis and then switched sides just as the Allies were marching into Paris. The smart thing is to bow now. You think?
Lord Jesus, right here and right now I bow to you. In my heart and in my life.
Our society has always a place of sympathy for the underdog. I mean, this nation started out as the underdog, taking on the greatest empire of the world and thumbing our nose at it. Even after Britain surrendered and recognized our independence, few people in Europe gave us any odds of surviving more than a decade. Movies and TV all love to tell us a story about a scrappy upstart who takes on the giant and triumphs against overwhelming odds. Imagine for a moment a movie about the New York Yankees: The coach at the end of the film tells his team “Well, we’re the richest team in major league baseball, we hired all the best players, everyone thought we would win the World Series in just four games, and here we are! We won, and it didn’t even come close!” Yeah, that’d be a real draw to the theaters.
So how can our story be an underdog story when the hero’s God Almighty? I mean, he’s God. He can do anything he pleases with a thought.
Today’s passage can give us a whole new perspective on this. Paul is talking about our redemption. He’s alluding to a common practice back then in which a notice was placed on prison doors once a convict was set free. Once his debt was paid in full, a paper to that effect was publically displayed for all to see. He forgave us all our sins and took the legal charges against us and nailed them to his cross.
Then he moves to another image. When a Roman officer or Caesar conquered an enemy, he took all the live prisoners of war and paraded them (usually naked) through the city streets. He made a living trophy of them. Everyone could look at the procession and laugh at the foolish would-be enemies of Rome, now reduced to lifetime slavery or death.
That’s the picture Paul wants to convey. Jesus conquered his enemies, which happened to be ours as well: Death, Sin, and Satan. He totally defeated them, stripped them of all power and authority, and led them in a victory parade before the universe. They’re utterly defeated and humiliated before the assembled creation.
But here’s where the supreme irony comes in. You might think Paul would say that Jesus conquered his enemies through his Resurrection. Or maybe when he returns one day. Of course there’s a sense in which his resurrection was the defeat of those adversaries. And naturally his return will be when his victory is completely manifested.
But that’s not what Paul is saying here. What was the victory he’s referring to? When did Jesus conquer these enemies, strip them and parade them like trophies? On the cross.
Let me tell you, my friend, if you were standing there on Golgotha and were a witness of those sordid events, that’d be the last thing you’d be thinking. The last thing going through your mind, as you watched Jesus bleed out and die on that execution stake, would be “Wow, he’s really got ‘em on the ropes now!”
But that’s totally in line with what Jesus said before this all started: “Now the prince of this world will be driven out.” He said this before the events of the Passion began, much less the Resurrection.
How can this be? I’m not totally sure. But I know that our Lord has a tendency to talk about things in our future as if they’ve already occurred. As far as God's concerned, for example, we’re already glorified, and we’re already sitting next to Christ in glory.
But there’s a deeper sense in which the cross was a victory. I wonder, I really wonder, when Satan realized that he was defeated—that each striking of a nail into Jesus’ body was a deadly blow to his own kingdom. But as Jesus was nailed to the cross, Satan’s grasp on humanity was slipping more and more.
That’s the wonder of this story. It would be amazing enough if our Lord conquered the Enemy through the Resurrection. And we look forward to the day in which we get to see with our own eyes the final sealing of our Lord's victory as he casts Satan and all our foes into the Lake of Fire. But when Jesus made his final decision to follow the Father’s plan to the end, that was it.
He won through weakness. He conquered through surrender. And if that’s his weakness, what chance do you think his enemies have against his strength!
Here's Michael Card's "Crown Him."
Lord Jesus, you deserve it all: All power and honor and glory and praise and thanksgiving. You deserve it, and no one else.
So if Jesus is fully God, what’s his relationship with the Father? There are some verses that sound like he’s equal with the Father, while there are others that sound like he’s not.
For example, in today’s first passage, Jesus made some seemingly outrageous claims about his relationship with God. He made a parallel between himself and God: The Father works on the Sabbath, and so does he. He does the same work the Father does. And how did the Jews react? They were ready to stone him for blasphemy, because by calling God his Father, he was making himself “equal with God.” And notice that neither the author of this Gospel nor Jesus correct their basic theology: By calling God his own Father in this sense, Jesus was making himself equal with God.
But what about the other type of passage? For instance, Jesus said that he does nothing on his own initiative; he only does what he sees the Father doing. And then at the Last Supper (our second passage), he specifically says that the Father is “greater” than he is. So how do we reconcile this?
We can do it by distinguishing between essence and position. In essence, Jesus is exactly the same as the Father. Water is made up two Hydrogen atoms mixed with one Oxygen atom; that's the essence of water, and the basic essence of the ice cubes in my glass is the same as that of the water in my fish tank. In the same way, whoever and whatever God is in himself, Jesus is. As the creed we read yesterday put it, in substance he’s the same.
But as regards his position there's a great difference. Once again we’re approaching an ineffable mystery, but in eternity past, God the Father had his plan. And the Son freely submitted to this plan. Jesus did not come up with this plan, the Father did.
And what was this plan? The plan to redeem lost humanity. Jesus left Heaven, came down (so to speak), lived as a human for 33 years, died on a cross, rose again, and now reigns in power and glory back in Heaven.
That’s what Jesus is referring to in the first passage when he speaks about how the Son only does what he sees the Father doing. The Father raises the dead and gives life to the world, so does (or will) the Son. The Father works even on the Sabbath, and so does the Son.
For 33 years, it was the Father’s plan for the Son to humble himself. When someone was walking down the street towards him, the right thing to happen would be for that person to fall down and worship the Son. But as part of the Father’s plan, Jesus’ deity was hidden behind a veil of flesh, and the person could walk right past him and never know who he was. The Son experienced hunger, thirst, tiredness, frustration, pain and finally death.
And that submission to the Father didn’t end when Jesus ascended back to Heaven. He sat down at the right hand of the Father, which is the place of highest honor next to the person who’s at the center.
We’re going to examine this a bit more tomorrow, but I think this is a great stopping point for some practical application. The Son is equal in essence to the Father. This comes with privileges. But in submission to the Father’s plan, he gave those up. It’s the same principle with submission to each other as siblings in Christ. In essence we’re all equal to each other: In Christ "[there] is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." None of us is more important or has more dignity than the other, none of us need Christ more than the other, and certainly this forbids any bigotry based on race or any other background.
But just because we’re all equal in essence doesn’t mean that we all have the same position. The Lord has appointed leaders, both in the home and in the church and even in government. And if the Lord's placed a leader above you, you need to submit to that leader (inasmuch as they’re following God’s instructions). This is not a comment on anyone’s innate dignity (that’s handled by the Galatians verse) but on the position we’re called to take, that position might entail giving up some privileges.
Let me blunt here. The Son of God, considering who he is/was, was perfectly willing to lay aside his rights/privileges and submit to the Plan. So what right do any of us have to assert our dignity and say “That’s beneath me.”? Um, none. If my leader ask me to scrub toilets, I should do it with a smile on my face.
Do I have this attitude in my own life all the time? I wish. But I know what the standard is, and by God’s grace I’m reaching towards it. Who’s with me?
Lord Jesus, when I think about what you gave up, and compare it to what you ask me to give up, there’s no comparison. Take my pride, my self-love, my so-called dignity, and kill it. As ruthlessly as we need to, please kill it.
So I get it. Jesus was—and is—fully God. But what happened at the Incarnation? Was he really human, or did he just look human?
The reason I listed the Gospel passages above is that they unequivocally present him as having human weaknesses. Not sins—he was sinless and perfectly obeyed the Father in everything he did and said and thought. But he was hungry. He was thirsty. He grew in wisdom, meaning he learned things. He grew in stature—this is a fancy way of saying he physically grew from being a baby to a toddler to a child to a young man to an older man. He grew tired: He had a limited amount of energy in his body, and he could exhaust that.
So how is this compatible with him being God in the flesh? Once again I’d like to turn to a creed, specifically the Athanasian. Now, we need to understand that creeds are not the Bible. They aren’t infallible. But here’s what they are: The leaders and teachers of the Church saw that heresy was cropping up. They sat down with the Bible and hammered out their best explanation from the Scriptures as to who Jesus was (and is). And here’s what they came up with:
[Our] Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man; God, of the Essence of the Father; begotten before the worlds; and Man, of the Essence of his Mother, born in the world. Perfect God; and perfect Man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father, as touching his Godhead; and inferior to the Father as touching his Manhood. Who although he is God and Man; yet he is not two, but one Christ. One; not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh; but by assumption of the Manhood into God. One altogether; not by confusion of Essence; but by unity of Person.
You might be asking, “But that’s not Scripture!” That’s right, it isn’t. But it’s a good summary of what the Bible teaches about him. They looked at the Scriptures about his being Divine and also at the Scriptures like the ones above and tried to work out some sort of reconciliation. For around 1500 years we haven’t come up with anything better, and most of the attempts to do so fall into heresy.
But by trying to hammer out exactly how his Divine nature and his human nature interact(ed), we can easily get caught up in theological details and miss the important part of this. The Son of God took on human flesh—for me. He squeezed himself down to a human body—for me. He underwent all the indignities—both small and great—on my behalf. He certainly didn’t do all that because he was bored and had nothing better to do.
He’s just as fully human as he is fully God right now, this very moment. If you and I went to Heaven and came to the throne room of God Almighty, we'd see a Man there. He’s freely chosen to unite himself with human flesh permanently. That means he’s united himself to me—permanently. He’s the new breed of human being, but he’s still a human being.
To rescue you and me.
Lord Jesus, this is a mystery in which I’m seriously out of my depth. I want to know you better, but like David I won’t concern myself with things too wonderful for me.
Part of the problem with working out our Christology (beliefs concerning Jesus) is that the Bible isn't a systematic theology textbook. If you’ve ever picked up one of those (a physically daunting task), you’ll likely see chapters with titles of different subjects: "God," "Jesus," "The Holy Spirit," "sin," "salvation," etc. Each chapter lays out for you what the Bible teaches about a certain subject. Most of the Bible itself isn’t like that. With the lone exception of the book of Romans, none of it lays out for us what we’re supposed to believe and do according to a subject in a tightly organized fashion. The Gospels in particular are really hard to outline: The narratives and Jesus’ teachings are all over the place as far as organization.
So when we look into a subject like Jesus Christ and what the Bible says about him, some skipping around is necessary. Having said that, today’s passage is one of the best about telling us about the nature of Christ, both before and after his excursion on earth. What does it tell us about him?
First, we need to carefully look at the term “firstborn” in order to avoid confusion. Arians (people who deny the deity of Christ) love to latch onto a word like this in order to bolster their case. “See? It says he’s the firstborn! That means he’s a created being!” This fits right into the Arian heresy (of which the Jehovah’s Witness cult is the foremost modern proponent) that says that Jesus is the first created being. No, that’s not what the word means. He’s the firstborn over creation, meaning that he’s the "Preeminent One," which quite frankly is a better translation (in my opinion). “Firstborn” in that culture referred to preeminence, not necessarily a literal birth order. If a king had an illegitimate son who happened to be physically born first, that son was not called “firstborn.” Now, it’s true that normally the physical firstborn and the one called “firstborn” (with all the privileges that entailed) were the same person. But based on what the rest of the Bible tells us about him, that isn’t the case here.
So what else does it tell us about him? He’s the image of the invisible God, referring to God the Father. When Jesus told us “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father," that’s what he was referring to. He made the invisible God visible to us.
Everything was created by him. And when we say “everything,” we mean everything: “things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.” All the kingdoms of the earth? Created by him. All the kingdoms in the spiritual realm? Created by him.
What else? He's “before” all things, referring to the fact that he was from eternity past. There's never been a time in which Jesus was not. And in him all things “hold together.” I remember seeing this cartoon one time in which a student asked his atheist professor a question: “If protons are all positive and like charges repel each other, why do molecules stay together? Why doesn’t everything fly apart?” The professor answered “Atomic forces.” The student replied “And what exactly are those? How is that different from just saying ‘I just don’t know, so I’ll pull a name out from somewhere?’” When the professor finally admitted he didn’t know, the student said “Well, I do. The Bible says here that Christ ‘holds all things together.’ Do you have a better explanation?”
He’s also the head of the Church. The Church is a body, and he’s the head. That means he determines where the body goes and what it does. Also he’s the “firstborn from among the dead,” again proving that “firstborn” is not talking about a literal birth. There were other people who were raised from the dead before, in some sense. But each of these people died again. They got a reprieve from death. Jesus conquered death once and for all, and death no longer has any hold on him. And although he’s the first, he’s not the last of this new “breed” of human being: He’s the pattern for the new humanity, and each of his followers will one day have a new body just like his.
We’ll talk more about his work in a few days, but let’s finish up with 2:9. In Christ the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form. Everything that God is within himself, Jesus is. Again, God is eternal (from eternity past), omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient, and as God, Jesus is all of those things.
Once again, the primary point of this is not to make sure we have right doctrine concerning him. That’s really important, but it’s the means to ends: worship and trust and obedience. You can believe all these things about him—at least in your head—and miss out on the purpose for all this. As the old song says, to know him is to love him.
Lord Jesus, I feel like I’m stepping into very deep water here, deeper than I can swim in by myself. Take me by the hand, please, and keep me on sturdy ground. May my beliefs about you translate smoothly into worship, trust, and obedience.
I know we read this verse yesterday, but I want to focus on it alone for a day, because there’s more than enough here to keep us occupied. As I once read in a Bible Study about the Gospel, John’s writings are shallow enough for a child to swim in and deep enough for an elephant to drown in, and this verse is a prime example.
If you’re already familiar with what I’m about to say, then I apologize. John was a Jew, and his Gospel has a lot of Jewish and Old Testament allusions. The first three words of his Gospel evoke the first three words of the Torah. But he also had a Greek audience in mind as he wrote this. The key here in his prologue (which is verses one through eighteen) is the word "word" (sorry that I couldn’t phrase that better). The Greek word is Logos, and it has a breadth and depth of meaning. It can mean "word" like apple, and it can be used in the sense of “message” or “concept.” The suffix “–ology” which we attach to mean the study of something (like entomology) shows something about it. The Greeks (supposedly) believed in the Pantheon with Zeus and Apollo, but the philosophers believed in a concept they called Logos. Nothing John says about the Logos in vss. 1-5 would be that out of the mainstream of Greek thought. For example, when he says that everything was created through the Logos and it's from eternity past. “In the beginning. . .” means that there was nothing before it (actually him, as we’ll see).
They saw the Logos as the principle that oversaw the order of the universe. Now granted, they didn’t see it as a person with personality. But they were familiar with the term.
But verse 14 is where John says something about the Logos that would make them sit up and take notice: "The Logos became flesh and dwelt among us." Literally it says that he “pitched his tent among us.” Again, this uses verbiage which would be familiar with both Greeks and Jews.
“Became flesh” isn’t just in the sense of skin. The word is sarx, which is the crudest possible word the Greeks used for the human body. The term meant humanity and carried the connotation of all our frailties and stinkiness and bodily functions which we don’t talk about in polite company.
This would've horrified and scandalized the Greeks. They saw the body as something to escape from. They saw spirituality as the higher form of everything. Their dream and goal was to rise above human flesh and become more spiritual. That’s why some of the heresies of the 2nd and 3rd centuries tried to deny that Jesus was really human. He only “seemed” human, like the angels who visited Abraham. That’s not what John says. In fact, it’s quite the opposite of what John says. The term he picked means Jesus sweated. He burped. He did. . . the stuff in the bathroom that we don’t talk about in mixed company. If you think I’m being crude just for shock value, or that I’m being disrespectful to the Lord Jesus, take it up with John. His word is actually a lot more shocking than it sounds in English.
But don’t worry. John’s an equal opportunity offender, and he proves it with the other part of the phrase translated as “made his dwelling among us.” The “tent” referred to here is talking about the Tent of meeting. Remember Moses and his meetings with God? He met with God “face to face” in a tent called the tabernacle. That was where man and God talked together and fellowshipped together.
That’s what happened in the Incarnation. And John specifically used a term which would evoke that image of the Tabernacle, which would provoke either worship or violent anger from Jews.
The Word became flesh—with all its frailties and indignities and crudities--and set up his Tabernacle with us. The Logos that was in the beginning and made everything seen and unseen came down and lived with us. And “we have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
So we’re finished with the book of John, so let’s look at a passage from. . . the Gospel of John?! The reason for this is that for the rest of the year we're going to talk about my favorite subject—Jesus Christ. Specifically we’re going to focus on the nature and work of Christ. As you read today’s passage, you can see that John’s telling us a lot about him.
As always when we discuss a subject this heavy, I approach it with fear and trepidation. Actually I approach it with a lot more fear than normal.
Here’s why. After the 1st century A.D. and all the original apostles and their immediate associates died off, we depended on Scripture to help us understand. And as sure as night follows day, the Enemy always steps in to corrupt and pervert what God has done. A lot of self-proclaimed “teachers” came forward and taught heresies. One in particular was a guy named Arius, who claimed that Jesus was just a created being. To be sure, he conceded that Jesus was the highest and greatest of created beings, but not divine. But the church’s greatest leaders and teachers opposed him. So it went back and forth and back and forth for about two hundred years, until the church leaders got together in councils to figure out what the Bible teaches about the nature of Christ. They came up with the Nicene Creed, in which they hammered out—as best as they could—who Jesus is.
My point is that it took the church about two hundred years to work out who Jesus really is. That’s why I’m going to be veeeeerrrrry careful about what I say about his nature, who he is in his essence. We say that he’s divine and human. What does that mean? How are those two compatible? The Bible never lays out for us exactly how his divine nature and human nature coincided within one body. When discussing this, it’s way too easy to flirt with--and finally fall into--heresy.
So what does today’s passage tell us about the Lord Jesus?
• John very purposefully uses the term “In the beginning,” which brings to every mind familiar with the Old Testament the first verse of the Bible. That’s an intentional parallel to the creation story: Moses told us that the Lord created everything seen and unseen, and John makes it clear that the Son was Co-Creator at every step.
• John seems to make a contradiction or at least a paradox here. The Word is God, and the Word is with God. How can this be? Let’s focus on the first part: Jesus is, in himself, one in essence with the Father. Everything the Father is within himself, the Son is. The Father is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient, and so is the Son. The Father is worthy of all worship and so is the Son. The Father has always been. There’s never been a moment ever in which the Father was not. That’s also true of the Son.
• But the Word is with God. This is referring to God as in God the Father. The Son is distinct from the Father. That’s why Jesus could pray to the Father and address him as “You.” The Father had a plan from eternity past, and the Son freely chose to submit to the plan. It was not the Father who died on the cross, it was the Son. They're one in essence, but distinct in personality.
• In him was life. What does this mean? This means he has life in himself. That’s something that nothing in all creation could ever claim. Each of us--from the mightiest angel and brightest star down to the smallest amoeba—derives our life from another, and ultimately all life is from God. But as God, he has life within himself, and he can give that life to whomever he chooses. All of us are dependent on him, and he’s dependent on no one else.
I really really really hope I haven’t made this boring for you. If I have, the fault rests entirely with me instead of the source material. The point of this, as with John’s prologue, is to inspire worship and commitment to Christ, not intellectual stimulation. Knowing more about him should drive us to our knees.
Lord Jesus, I praise you first and foremost as the eternal and all-powerful Son of the Most High God. Just like the Father, you deserve all worship and praise and thanksgiving. But it starts with praising you for who and what you are.
Now here's "Stranger On The Shore" by Michael Card
I’ve always felt a little sorry for Thomas. I know that there’s good reason to criticize him: He'd heard multiple predictions from his Lord that Jesus would be betrayed, arrested, handed over to the Romans, crucified, and then rise from the dead. As C. S. Lewis pointed out, the problem was that they had seen their Master do a lot of really amazing things and just couldn’t believe that he could do just one more. He’d raised the dead before, so obviously he had authority over life and death. And add on to all this the fact that his fellow disciples were all—without exception—testifying that he'd appeared to them just one week prior.
But do I think I’d do any better? I have to admit that when I hear stories about modern day miracles—and by “miracles” I mean real miracles, like healing the blind and raising the dead—my first instinct is skepticism. I believe that God performed all the miracles attributed to him in Scripture. I also believe that God still performs miracles today. But I also assert that there’s a quantitative, if not qualitative, difference between the miracles in biblical times and today. The vast majority of people who lived during those recorded events never saw an undisputable miracle. They seem to be concentrated around the time of Moses (and his immediate successor), around the time of Elijah (and also his immediate successor), and our Lord Jesus (ditto). Again, I believe that God does perform miracles today, but the vast majority of the time he works “behind the scenes,” not in a direct, unambiguous way. So without him working within me, I’d likely be just as skeptical.
But the Lord graciously decided to show up in front of his disciples, and this time Thomas happened to be there. Thomas had said that he wouldn’t believe until he saw the nail prints and put his finger into the scar on his side, and Jesus accommodated him. It’s not recorded whether or not he actually put his finger on the scar, but I kind of doubt it.
Just a little side note here? When Jesus appeared to him, Thomas called him “My Lord and my God,” and Jesus never corrected him. That’s because it’s true. People who assert that Jesus never claimed to be divine must really hate the Gospel of John, because that’s something the Apostle loved to emphasize repeatedly.
And did you catch the blessing placed upon us? Thomas had to see the resurrected Lord standing right in front of him in order to believe. I don’t. Of course, I contend that the Holy Spirit has to open our hearts; otherwise we’d never believe in Christ. But that doesn’t change the fact that the Lord Jesus places a blessing on us that Thomas missed out on.
Then we come to the stated purpose. John is the only author in the Bible who actually tells us why he’s writing to us. The slightly ironic thing is that this is the only one of the four Gospels which is explicitly written with an evangelistic purpose. He wrote “this book” so that we’d believe that Jesus is both Messiah and Son of God, and that by believing we’d have life in his name. Please don’t get me wrong. I love the other three Gospels. They’re greatly precious to me. And you can find statements in the other Gospels which you can use to share the Good News of Jesus with someone. But when I want to introduce a nonbeliever to the real Jesus (as opposed to our misrepresentations of him), I usually send them straight to John’s Gospel.
But let’s not miss out on the part that applies to us as believers, right here and now. John said he wrote these things so that we’d believe in Christ, but also that by believing we’d have life in his name. That’s not just referring to the eternal life we receive at the 1st moment of salvation. Day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, we receive life from him, just like a vine nourishes its branches. He's our life, and we’d best not forget that.
Lord Jesus, thank you for your blessing on me as my High Priest. You're my life, and I claim no other. I’d be foolish to look for any other.
In discussing the Resurrection of Christ, we need to keep in mind that this was completely unexpected on the disciples’ part. They saw him being led away by soldiers, one of them (John) actually watched him die, and they figured they were next.
So even though John believed in the Resurrection and the women testified to it, most of the remaining disciples were hiding in fear from the Romans. The last thing they were expecting was a visit from Jesus.
I’m really trying to definitively say nothing more and nothing less than what Scripture tells us. They were together in a locked room, and the Gospel says that "Jesus came and stood among them." This seems to indicate that he. . . what? Teleported in, to use a sci-fi term? Looks like it to me, but since John doesn’t give us any more details than that, I don’t want to go further into speculation.
Here’s the best explanation I’ve heard about this. When Adam and Eve were created, they had complete dominion over the physical creation on earth. That’d presumably include their physical bodies. Once they rebelled against their Maker, this control over creation was mostly removed. We still control it to some degree; we have dominion over the animals, but this control is—with a few notable exceptions like dogs--rule by fear and force.
I also believe this changed with Jesus’ resurrection. Paul said that "[We] know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him." He’s not subject to decay, or sickness, or infirmity, or tiredness. We know that he was subject to at least tiredness and thirst and hunger while on earth. Not any longer. For a more complete discussion on this, see here.
I remember this really touching story I once heard. A little girl came up to her pastor and said “Pastor, do you know what will be the only thing up in Heaven that's been made by men?” The pastor told her “My dear, there won’t be anything made by men up in Heaven.” She insisted “Yes, there will be.” He tried to correct her, and finally asked her “So what are you talking about?” She said, “There will only be one work done by men up there: the scars on Jesus’ body.”
I love what I call “throw away” lines: where an author just inserts a phrase or line that’s just casually mentions something I’d really like to examine further, and then just goes on without explaining it. Like when Paul says “Do you not know that we will judge angels?" Um, no Paul, we didn’t. We have something like that here: In order to prove that he is who they think he is, he shows them his “hands and side.” Apparently the wounds he had sustained in his hands (really his wrists, but they considered that part of the hand) and his side still bore the scars of his ordeal. For some reason, the Father has chosen never to erase them. Why? We’ll never know.
His words “Peace be with you!” have real authority when spoken by the risen Christ, don’t they? I can say “I hope you have peace in your life,” or “I really wish for world peace.” But the Risen One, the One who conquered Satan and Death, has the ultimate authority in this universe. And when he declares “peace” to our troubled hearts, he can actually do it.
Keep in mind the importance of context in regards to vs. 22. He breathed on them and gave a taste of the Holy Spirit, but the full, permanent, complete gift of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church would occur at Pentecost. But that is what Pentecost was: The breath of Jesus, breathing life into his followers.
OK, we have to tackle a slightly thorny subject, namely the last verse of today’s reading. Does this mean that if we don’t forgive peoples’ sins, God won’t forgive them either? If we look at the NASB’s rendition of this passage, it actually makes more sense. It’s completely compatible with the Greek—and makes a lot more sense theologically—to interpret it as “If you declare that someone is forgiven their sins, their sins will have already been forgiven.” We don’t forgive or not forgive anyone and thus control someone else's standing with the Lord. He promises that if anyone receives Christ, their sins are forgiven. Based on this, we can proclaim to the believer that their sins are already forgiven. He takes the initiative, and we follow his directions and tell forgiven people that they are, in fact, forgiven. Make sense?
But don’t miss the wonderful part of this. What an awe-inspiring privilege to be able to tell people that they’re forgiven, that their sins will never be brought up again. That’s something we should never forget.
And for your edification, here's "Known By The Scars" by Michael Card
Lord Jesus, what an awesome privilege to be able to tell people that they’re forgiven. Thank you.
After the story of Peter and John’s run to the tomb, we have a very touching scene as Mary was left behind at the grave.
We can only imagine what was going through her mind. She'd watched her beloved teacher/rabbi crucified right in front of her. She'd watched him die a horrible death. She was there when they rapidly did the “preparation-lite” on his body because of the approaching Sababath and then watched as a stone rolled over his tomb. Now as near as she could tell, her beloved Lord’s body had been moved/desecrated (something far more important to them than us), and she was at a total loss as to what to do. The emotional storm she had weathered over the last few days finally overwhelmed her, and she sat down to weep.
This is when our Shepherd loves to step forward, isn’t it? When we’re at our lowest point, he makes his presence more “real” to us than ever before. First he sent some supernatural messengers. But as powerful and awe-inspiring as these creatures are, they weren’t enough to comfort her. What she needed was Jesus, and he obliged.
Why didn’t she recognize him? Maybe grief and a frazzled mind, or maybe it was supernatural work, like with the disciples on the road to Emmaus. We don’t know. But for a moment, her greatest dream was standing in front of her, and she didn’t know it.
I’m fully aware that modern American Christians tend to overemphasize the intimate aspects of our relationship with Christ. Lots of people talk about Jesus as if he’s their buddy or Grandpa. I know that Scripture presents our Lord as sovereign over all creation, the Judge of the universe, and the One before whom angels dare not look in the face.
But he’s also our loving Savior and Shepherd, who gently leads those with young and who carries his weakest lambs close to his heart. In front of him stood one of his wounded lambs, and his heart went out to her.
I’ve been married for several years, and I know quite well how much hearing your name on your beloved’s lips means to you. There are over 6 billion people on this planet, but that special someone can speak your name in a way that no one else can. And that’s what happened here. Something in the way he said it made her heart skip a beat, and her eyes were opened to the Person standing in front of her.
I know that the preceding paragraph sounds like it comes out of a romance novel, and there’s a good reason for that. The Lord chose to include this episode to illustrate the intimate nature of our relationship. It’s the Divine Romance writ small.
Unfortunately, now we need to turn from the poignant reunion of Jesus and Mary Magdalene to a more mundane question of theology: What’s the meaning of verse 17? The older translations rendered it as Jesus forbidding her from “touching him,” which would seem a little strange in the circumstances. The more modern ones translate it as “don’t hold onto me” or some variant, and that actually makes more sense. Now that she had him, she never wanted to let him go (literally). But regrettably he had a mission to perform, the major portion of which would be initiated once he returned to the Father’s side. She’d love to be able to hold him forever, but God’s plan couldn’t go forward if that happened. And she had a part in his plan, however small: Go tell the disciples and give them a special message.
Quite frankly, if you aren’t moved by this passage, I don’t know how to help you.
Lord Jesus, thank you for your intimate loving concern for me. When I need it, you don’t hesitate to carry me close to your chest and tell me it’s going to be fine. That’s the type of Savior you are.
We won’t go into the burial, since I’ve talked about it here. So we get to my favorite part of the whole story. I understand the necessity of the Cross, both in fulfilling God’s plan and for my benefit. It was the only way I could ever be saved. If there were any other way, I assure you, the Father would've done it. Having said all that, I’m always happy to move from talking about the Cross (at least its narrative details) to talking about the Empty Tomb.
I believe that all the accounts of the Resurrection from the various Gospels are true, and they can be reconciled. But they all tell the story in slightly different ways, with slightly different emphases. Luke tells us that Peter ran to the tomb, but he doesn’t mention John there. John almost makes it sound like Mary Magdalene went by herself, but we need to remember an important principle here: Just because a Gospel writer doesn’t mention someone or something, that doesn’t mean he’s contradicting another Gospel. None of the Gospels mention Jesus kissing his mother. Can we then safely assume that Jesus in all his 33 years never kissed his mother?
Another reason to count this as authentic is the strange description of the linens with which Jesus had been wrapped: "The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen." From John’s description, it sounds like the body linens were completely unwrapped, but the piece that had wrapped his head was still intact (at least intact enough to recognize). Why is this so? Why did Jesus unwrap the body linens but somehow intangibly take his head out of its linens? Beats me! But the reason I call attention to it is because this is a sign of an eyewitness narrative.
As C.S. Lewis pointed out, it’s little details in the Gospels which differentiate between a biographical narrative and a mythological story. Ever notice in a TV program or movie how every little detail relates to something later? If someone just casually mentions that they know CPR, that character will be called upon to perform mouth-to-mouth before the end of the story. It’s not that way in the Gospels. Take for example Jesus writing in the sand when confronted with the adulteress. Theologians debate and forth as to why he did it. The Gospel just adds it in without any explanation for it. That’s the sort of thing an eyewitness would include, while somebody making up a story wouldn’t.
I’d like to focus on one more thing before we move on. John, speaking of himself in the third person, contrasts himself with Peter. Verses 8-9 have an interesting take on John’s interpretation of the events. It says that neither of the disciples (and presumably nobody else) “[understood] from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead." But John believed anyway. He didn’t know his Bible as well as he should have. But he'd heard Jesus say—multiple times—that he was going to rise from the dead. And when he saw the empty tomb and what lay therein, he believed that Christ had risen.
This is an important point about getting the right priorities. John had a very incomplete understanding of God’s plan as outlined in his word. It’s there for all to see, at least everything we need to know. But if you don’t understand everything that’s written there, that’s fine. This isn’t to discourage in-depth study. This is to encourage you that if you’re trusting in the plain and simple words of Christ, you’ll end up where you need to be. Certainly it’s true that simple trust in him is better than full understanding with deficient trust.
Father God, I want to understand your word as best as I can, but more than that—MUCH more than that—I want to trust you better.