Children of God

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

John 1:10-13

When I was a youth, these verses changed everything for me; this is where I began to comprehend the truth of Jesus Christ. Don’t get me wrong, I believed in Him before that, but simple belief isn’t the same as comprehension, and though my comprehension was not, and for that matter still is not as complete as I might like, this was the turning point for me. Yet again, simple John took a major theological concept and boiled it down to a few simple sentences that anyone can understand; it is clear and simple. This “light” who is also the Word-God, came into this world of darkness, and even though He made the world, the world simply didn’t recognize Him for who He really was. He even came amongst his own covenant people, the ones who had received the message of the prophets concerning Him and His coming, yet they for the most part, didn’t recognize Him any more than they recognized the prophets when they came. Yet, for those who did see Him for who He was, He made it possible for them to be reborn as children of God.

Wow!

What could be simpler?

The interesting thing about a text like this is that while I’d like to write on and on, I’m pretty sure that I would either resort to being redundant, or I would translate simplicity into complexity, and neither of those are very good outcomes. Accordingly, I think I’ll just leave you with…

Wow!

What could be simpler?

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Shining in the Darkness

John 1:5-9

Verse 5 begins the next little section of John’s text, a section that continues through verse 13. The theme is that of the manifestation of the Word in this dark world, and in this it is interesting to note the transition from the Word, to God and then of Word-God into “light’. We can easily see through this device that the three terms, Word, God and light are being used interchangeably to describe attributes of God thus, they are One in their reference to Christ, who is as yet unnamed in the text.

The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

John 1:5

Once again, John has put into one simple statement a fact that theologians have struggled with for centuries; the world around us just doesn’t “get it”. OK, those poor souls who live in the darkness of this world don’t understand the light; why does this surprise us? At the same time as we are surprised that this world struggles with the message of Christ, some of us are surprised that we should be called to reach out to the world around us to deliver the message of light to them and help them to see it for what it is; grace and truth. Why should we be surprised to be called to help others understand it? Why should we resist this calling?

There was a guy who did not resist the calling, and his name was John. This John is not the same guy who wrote the gospel, yet both of them were only too happy to share the light with a dark world. Verses 5-9 set up what follows by pointing out that this John (the Baptist) was sent to prepare the way for the Messiah who was about to burst upon the scene in the person of Jesus. John was not the light, just as you and I are not the light, yet he was sent to prepare the people to hear the message that would come in Christ.

In our time, the light has already come, and we have received it and received grace as a result. We are sent to share that light, and to help those around us to comprehend it that some should receive it also and share in its blessing. When you think about it, this is an awesome calling.

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In the Beginning

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.

John 1:1-4

John begins his account with the words, “in the beginning” with a very different beginning in mind than we find in Genesis 1:1, for while Genesis begins with the creation, John begins with God alone.  The “God” that John refers to here is first called the Word (logos) God, the uncreated Creator, before the creation of anything… The Word. That “Word” was there first of all… with God; in fact, the Word was and is God.

We throw those terms around in our day, don’t we? “The Word” referring to the Scriptures, and we seem to like to use it to prove our various points in arguments with each other as though the “Word” is our own very precious tool for debating. Yet John, the Apostle of Jesus Christ uses it as a name for Almighty God.

Notice how the Word becomes God, and then in the next verse God becomes “he.” He was with God in the beginning. The Word was with God in the beginning: “The Word” “God” and “He” were all together in the beginning, before anything had been created.

They are One.

Jesus is God’s messenger to mankind, as well as being the embodiment of God’s message (Heb. 1:1-4). It was by His Word that the universe came into being, and it is by His blood that we may enter into relationship with Him, as told in His Word.  Thus, we may say that the Word is not only God’s person, essence and power, but that it is one and inseparable from the person of Jesus Christ, who is entirely one with God. Verse 2 is set up as transition in the sense that it begins the move from “what” to “whom”; from “the Word” to “he”: Jesus was there.

Now it becomes clear and unambiguous that this “he” is the one through whom all things have been made.  This is stated positively “all things” and negatively “without him nothing…”  Within him was life which reminds us of God breathing life into Adam (Gen. 2:7). “He” contained life, was its very source, and this essence will be the light of the world.  Life and light are two themes that carry throughout the entire gospel of John, and will become more and more clear as we go on.  For now, suffice it to say that His very essence is “Truth” and that will illuminate a dark world that carries on without either Truth or God’s presence, since fellowship with God had ceased after the entry of rebellion into the world.

I hope that you have noticed how much theological truth that John has expressed in four simple, clear and easy to understand little verses; scholars write volumes and can’t say so much. This is precisely why I always tell my students that John’s gospel is very much a “Big Boy” book.

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A Private Interview

John 3:1-21

Nicodemus, a Pharisee and member of the ruling council came to Jesus in the night with a question, and although he never actually got around to asking it, Jesus gave him considerably more of an answer than Nicodemus had bargained for.  In fact, Jesus in His answer gave what many commentators believe is an example of His early preaching; a wide-ranging explanation of how a person can be saved through the New Covenant He would make with Man.  He will speak of many things in this conversation, and by the time it concludes He will have set out God’s plan for Mankind.

Nicodemus opens the conversation with a statement; saying that “we” know that Jesus is from God for His miracles have confirmed the fact.  The use of “we” is interesting, for it implies that as of this early date many or all of the Pharisees had come to the realization that Jesus was the real deal.  In His reply, Jesus goes ahead to answer the question Nicodemus is working up to when He tells him that he must be born again.

Nicodemus, as most people would do, has taken Jesus’ statement literally; it seems at first to be ridiculous.  Jesus, on the other hand is speaking of an entirely different kind of life, a life that is entirely apart from this physical realm.  This birth is of “water and the Spirit” rather than from flesh and blood.  Keep in mind that from the OT Jewish point of view, a person is born into God’s Kingdom (earthly Israel) through physical birth.  This is a shadow of things to come, for what will become reality through Christ is “rebirth” into the Kingdom of Heaven.  This will be accomplished through water at baptism and the Spirit through the Gospel message (cf. 1Cor. 4:15 and 1Peter 1:23).  This kingdom is not a small and weak little nation that is living under foreign occupation, but a majestic and ultimately powerful kingdom headed by God Himself that will cover the entire globe forever.

Verse 8 illustrates Jesus’ remark in verse 6: When something is born of flesh, you know where it came from, but something born of the Spirit is like something borne by the wind, you don’t know where it came from or where it is going, because your physical senses can’t quite perceive these things.  Someone or something born of the Spirit can only be perceived by someone else who is born of the Spirit.

Poor Nicodemus is having trouble following this, and so would we in his place… ad so does anyone who is not “of the Spirit” today.  Jesus’ main point here is that He has been teaching the people about earthly things, and they haven’t believed… even though He has been telling them about things that He has witnessed.  Thus, He has been giving testimony.  In the same way, nobody can testify about heaven unless he has been there; Jesus has come from there and is giving testimony of what He has seen, heard and knows for a fact.  It’s as though Jesus were telling Nicodemus: “Come on buddy, you’re a teacher of Israel, you’re supposed to understand this stuff.  If you didn’t know about it before, you’re supposed to be educated enough to recognize reliable testimony and believe it: stay with me here!”

Jesus continues to attempt to communicate with Nicodemus by using an illustration from Israel’s past that he would be familiar with.  This illustration comes from Numbers 21:4-9 when God sent a plague of snakes upon His grumbling and rebellious people.  When the serpent was lifted up before them and they gazed upon it in faith, they would live.  If not… they would die.  In the same way, Jesus will be lifted up before the people (on the cross).  Those who look to Him on the cross in faith will live.

Verses 16-18 are probably the most familiar part of this text of all to Christians; it is the very heart of the Gospel setting out just exactly the whole core of Christian Theology.  God has sent His Son into the world to save Mankind from the consequences of rebellion against God.  Those who believe Him will have eternal life; those who refuse will perish for they have condemned themselves by their refusal.  God loves all Mankind and genuinely wants them to be saved, but He allows them to exercise their free will on the matter: How will you decide?

The final verses of this passage use the illustration of “light”.  Jesus is the light, the truth that shines in a dark world.  The world has done evil, it has rejected the light; it has rejected the truth.  Yet, if we do what is good, if we believe the One who was sent by God as the light of the world, we will move into the light and our testimony will light the darkness and the world will see that we are doing God’s work.  Again, this is a thumbnail of the Gospel message at work in our lives.  In the remainder of this chapter, John has set forth the testimony of John the Baptist about Jesus.  It is interesting to note that John (the author) has put these passages together in this way.  First, you have the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus in which Jesus sets out the whole Gospel plan to a Pharisee, who presumably will report on it, and second you have the Baptist’s testimony that Jesus is the Christ and about the Gospel as a third-party validation.  Jesus’ teaching, followed by a third-party validation: John is pulling out all of the persuasive stops in this section!

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A Brief Introduction to the Gospel of John

Of all of the Gospels, John’s is without a doubt my favorite, just as John is my favorite New Testament author. John just has a certain way with words. His language isn’t the best grammar, and sometimes he has a way of writing in circles, yet as he does so, he leads to major revelations in which he takes the complex and makes it so very simple that it’s not easy to miss the point. Of course, much of the theology written in the centuries that have passed has succeeded in doing so, but it usually takes an awful lot of education and training to miss John’s points!

His Gospel is unique in that it is not synoptic, which is to say that it is the only one of the four that is not always in chronological order. It is a biography of sorts, but it is not merely the story of the life of Jesus, it is a revelation of deeper significance than one would gain from a recitation of narratives as Mark’s contains, for instance. John relates Jesus’ life from a heavenly point of view, while Matthew relates it from a Jewish point of view, Luke from a Greek point of view, and Mark from a Roman viewpoint. As a consequence, John is the only Gospel author who wrote to a universal audience. Why did he write the book? Here is John’s answer to that question:

“These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

John 20:31

Simple enough.

He wrote the book sometime between 85 and 95 AD, with a clear New Covenant orientation, and begins in a way that only John writes about; a deeper view of the birth of Christ. He introduces Jesus Christ to us in a way that is similar to Hebrews 1:1-4 and 1John 1:1-4 which provides us with a Heavenly overview of His nature, position, identity and purpose, beginning with the words, “In the beginning….”  The “Christmas story” is usually told from Luke chapter 2, but in John chapter one you see the theology of that story.  Thus we can easily say that Luke, the historian gave us the facts, but John the Apostle of love gave us the behind the scenes background that gives Luke’s account a significance that is the reason this birth is celebrated 2,000 years later.

So here we go, back to the very beginning…

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Interesting Days

My oh my, it’s been quite some time since I’ve posted; where does the time go?

Just in a short couple of months or so, it seems like the world has gone crazy- certainly life has changed a great deal. I hope that all of you have been safe and healthy during my absence from this blog, and as violence and mayhem spread across the land here in the USA, I hope we all remain sane and safe.

I wanted to let you all know that over these weeks, I have been working on a different writing project; different, that is, from blogging. Those who have followed this blog for a long time may recall that about 4 ½ years ago I did a series of posts about our having been created in the image of God, and that it was followed by another series of posts on nakedness as a metaphor in Scripture. At some point in that process, I then moved onto other, more conventional themes.

Yet I always knew that I would return to that study, for between those two subjects there is so very much that needs to be written about and taught, for the impact of bearing His image speaks to the very nature of life and God’s purpose for humanity.

Even so, there seems to be little that has been written on the subject over the centuries, which is a real shame. Perhaps this is the time to do something about that.

Yet in working on this project, I have come to recognize that I need to do more research and thus, I will be hitting the road at the end of the week on a research trip so that I might meet with and speak with people versed in Christian teaching, communication and writing in the hope of gaining a clearer vision of what would be not only possible but also practical as I proceed. I also hope to meet others with entirely different points of view to add to my own understanding and experience so that my finished product will be both informative and useful; maybe even life-changing for some. In any case, I’d like to produce a work that is and encouragement and a blessing for those who take the time to read it.

Of course, I’ll let you know how I fare on my trip and at some point, I will most likely post some excerpts for your review and consideration.

Finally, yes, I have been absent far too long, so I’ll begin posting daily, and I’ll try to schedule enough to keep going until I return to my desk. In the meantime, keep well and safe, and may God bless you each and every day!

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Romans: A Summation

Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from faith—  to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.

Romans 16:25-27

As Paul moves on from 15:19b-16:24, he makes personal comments about his upcoming plans very similar to what he said in chapter 1, and then gives a series of personal greetings to individuals, finally coming to these verses with which he closes the letter. These verses, considered by most scholars to be a doxology express Paul’s praise to God for his ministry and for the message of the Gospel that he has brought to the Gentiles. I’ve been wondering for a couple of weeks now how best to treat this last section in Romans; how to conclude this study, and until yesterday morning I had no clue what I would do at this point.

Yesterday morning, I was teaching a class from Hebrews 8, and near the end, a woman asked me a question. It was a really hard question, not so much because of its complexity, but because she phrased it in a way that I wasn’t sure what she was asking. It struck me at the time that she was thinking out loud; that perhaps she wasn’t completely sure what she was asking, or of how to put it into words. There was something in it about a rather difficult neighbor and weeding flower beds near his property…

That’s when I had the answer to the question that I wasn’t sure she had actually asked, and that answer really sums up Paul’s message about Jesus Christ here in Romans…

Grace has a twofold effect: It is available to anyone who will accept it and follow Jesus, and when we accept it, our sins are forgiven and taken away entirely, which is the first effect of having received grace. The second effect is that it begs a response, but that response is not simply a legal requirement of some sort, it is a response of love. Our loving response to grace is that we let the ways of this world go and follow Jesus Christ in selfless service to Him and through Him to those around us. This means that we let Him be first in us.

That difficult neighbor was the key in my mind yesterday, so I told the woman that since Jesus is within us through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and we are His Ambassadors, the closest thing to meeting Jesus face to face that the neighbor is ever likely to experience in this life is meeting you: When he meets you, in effect, he is meeting Jesus. If this is our attitude, we need not worry about an encounter with a difficult neighbor, or anyone else for that matter, for it will be Him in us who does the talking, we will know exactly what to do; get out of His way.

I think that more than anything else, this is Paul’s message in Romans, for this is love in action, and it is that mystery that was hidden in ages past, but that has now become known; to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.

Now, dear reader, all we need to do is to let Him reign in our lives.

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