Christianity 201

October 6, 2019

God: What He Did was Who He Is

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. – Hebrews 1:1-2 (NIV)

In my formative spiritual years, I remember hearing this:

We worship God for who he is.
We praise God for what he has done.

For some, the distinction may not be entirely clear as when we substitute the word thank as in:

We worship God for who he is.
We thank God for what he has done.

I was taught this in what we might call, for lack of a better term, an ecclesiastical setting; in other words, the intent of the speaker(s) was to communicate the difference between simply saying “thanks” versus bowing our hearts in total adoration for who God is; his power, might, majesty and… wait for it… his merciful love.

I get that.

But I think it also needs to be said that, long before the foundations of the earth were laid, it was part of God’s plan all along to make a way of atonement.

God didn’t simply wake up one morning (!) and say, “This sacrificial system isn’t working, we need to try something else.”

The broad story arc of the Bible points to the coming of a Savior. He didn’t simply know that this is where the story was going to lead, rather he had planned out that the opportunity for humankind to experience forgiveness that was both full and free was the direction of the story — the plot line — from the beginning. Dispensationalists call this “the age of grace.” I would call it the “age of atonement.” We went from having to cover our sins to having our sins be covered.

And here is my point:

This whole plan is a reflection not only of what God did — though it is certainly that — but also indicative of who God is.

His actions and his act of mercy toward we who are sinners are indistinguishable from his nature.

He is a God of love.

He is a God of mercy.

He always has been.

The LORD passed in front of Moses, calling out, “Yahweh! The LORD! The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.  Exodus 34:6-7a (NLT)

When we consider God’s nature, we often end up at the big O-words — omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent — and can forget he is loving and merciful and in his ways that are far above our ways has devised a plan none of us could ever imagine.

For that we offer thanks; we offer worship; we offer ourselves.


Here are some thoughts on thanks from Ruth’s worship set this morning:

 

August 1, 2019

Take the Initiative, or Leave it To God?

Travel schedule forced me to have to interrupt this four part series on the Book of Ruth of which this is part three. To catch up, or read everything in continuity, visit Clarke’s blog at this link.

by Clarke Dixon

Do we trust God, or do we work things out for ourselves? Do we wait on God, or take the initiative? Do we leave everything in God’s hands, or do we take things into our own hands? Do we wait for a sign, or go ahead with a decision? The Book of Ruth gets at the heart of these questions. Right in the middle of the book Naomi takes a bold step:

 Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, I need to seek some security for you, so that it may be well with you. Ruth 3:1 (NRSV emphasis added)

Naomi then puts a plan into action which sees her daughter-in-law Ruth request marriage to Boaz, their “guardian-redeemer.”

We are not told if Naomi spent time in prayer in formulating this plan. The Book of Ruth does not tell us about Naomi’s prayers, her devotional times, or if she ever sought counsel from godly people, or God himself for that matter! It simply tells us that she took the initiative to solve a problem. She saw an opportunity to make a difference. She saw a practical solution to a practical problem.

While God is very involved in our lives, we have the opportunity to work out practical solutions to practical problems. God gives us the opportunity to grow in knowledge, skill, and wisdom. Finding solutions to problems is a thrill we get to share in. Some have the opportunity to share in finding a cure, a vaccine, a better way to help people, a more efficient car, or a faster motorcycle. Human ingenuity is something to celebrate. Being created in the image of God, we reflect the creativity of God.

Your ingenuity is something to be celebrated, and developed. God does not desire for us to be like infants forever, but to learn to walk on our own two feet. No parent wants their child to never take a first step. We celebrate the growth and development of children. However, no parent wants to come home to find their child has completely disassembled the car. There is a time to celebrate initiative, and there is a time to defer to God who knows best!

While Naomi could take the initiative, the closing verse of the Book of Ruth reminds us that God is sovereign. Only God could establish David’s reign. Only God could make and keep the promises that would lead to Jesus and salvation. Naomi’s initiative had potential impact on the DNA of Jesus, but only God could do what he did through Jesus. There are spiritual problems for which there are only God solutions.

Only God can bring salvation. There is no initiative you can take to reconcile yourself to God. No amount of effort, work, or deep thinking, can reconcile you to God. It is a gift from God. Our salvation is his initiative, his effort, his work on the cross. When it comes to salvation, we celebrate God’s initiative, not ours.

But when it came to finding security for Ruth, Naomi takes some credit. In fact, if Naomi had not taken the initiative, perhaps things may have not turned out as well. We don’t know, but perhaps Naomi might still be bitter by the end of chapter 4, just as we found her at the end of chapter 1. Instead, the Book of Ruth ends with joy and hope. This possibility is instructive. It is possible that looking for purely spiritual solutions to practical problems can lead to spiritual problems.

Many years ago I worked with some people in a Bible study specifically for those with mental illness. A well meaning church in town was willing to pick such folk up for programming they offered at their church. That was all very good, however, some were told that if they could find the sin that led to mental illness and repented of it, they would be healed from their mental illness. If anything, many of these people were much closer to Jesus than the “sound-minded” Christians in the churches! Perhaps some mental illness can be chalked up to spiritual problems, but much mental illness comes from practical problems, for which doctors continue to work on practical solutions. While we pray for miracle cures we also pray for those who work toward practical helps.

There is something else we can notice about Naomi’s initiative. She was keeping in step with God. Naomi saw an opportunity provided by the guardian-redeemer laws that God set up for His people of that time and place. We don’t live by those laws today as Christians, but we do live by the Spirit. We are to keep in step with God’s Spirit. Our initiatives and practical solutions should, and can, be in step with God. To give an example, our neighbour might find a practical solution to the problem of our barking dog. A well aimed bullet would do it. But that is not a good solution. There are better solutions that would keep in step with God!

So do we trust in God, or take initiative? Naomi devises a plan and advises Ruth to take a practical step, a step which lead to a positive outcome. However, in reading the whole book of Ruth, we understand that God is working everything out for good from beginning to end. It is not either/or, but both/and. We take initiative where it makes sense to do so, keeping in step with God, while always trusting in God. God, in his wisdom and power is able to accomplish his purposes despite, and often even through, our initiative. Perhaps this helps us take the initiative to pray. We don’t how our prayers could impact a sovereign God, but we have a wonderful opportunity to participate with God’s activity through our decisions in prayer. Mysterious, yet wonderful!

 

 

June 25, 2019

Light Has Come Into the World!

Today marks six months to Christmas, and we tend to focus on different scriptures at certain times of year, but not at other points on the calendar. Today is different. I ran this 3½ years ago, but in the busyness of the season, many may have missed it…

The Voice BibleSeveral years ago we were introduced to The Voice, a new Bible translation which we’ve used here a few times at C201. One of the interesting things about The Voice is the use of explanatory or transitional passages — they call them narrative links — which add commentary and context to what you’re reading. Further, in John 1, the phrase ‘the Voice’ is used where we are accustomed to hearing ‘The Word.’ Following our tradition here, I’ve left the Bible verses themselves in green, but the other sections which form part of the excerpt are in teal. (If too many Christmases have left you feeling you’ve heard the standard texts too many times, then just read the teal sections, but I assure you that you haven’t heard these texts themselves in exactly this manner.)

We start with John’s prologue in chapter one:

Before time itself was measured, the Voice was speaking.

The Voice was and is God.
2 This celestial Word remained ever present with the Creator;
3 His speech shaped the entire cosmos.
Immersed in the practice of creating,
all things that exist were birthed in Him.
4 His breath filled all things
with a living, breathing light—
5 A light that thrives in the depths of darkness,
blazes through murky bottoms.
It cannot and will not be quenched.

6 A man named John, who was sent by God, was the first to clearly articulate the source of this Light. 7 This baptizer put in plain words the elusive mystery of the Divine Light so all might believe through him. Some wondered whether he might be the Light, 8 but John was not the Light. He merely pointed to the Light. 9 The true Light, who shines upon the heart of everyone, was coming into the cosmos.

Jesus as the Light does not call out from a distant place but draws near by coming into the world.

10 He entered our world, a world He made; yet the world did not recognize Him. 11 Even though He came to His own people, they refused to listen and receive Him. 12 But for all who did receive and trust in Him, He gave them the right to be reborn as children of God; 13 He bestowed this birthright not by human power or initiative but by God’s will.

14 The Voice took on flesh and became human and chose to live alongside us. We have seen Him, enveloped in undeniable splendor—the one true Son of the Father—evidenced in the perfect balance of grace and truth. 15 John the Baptist testified about Him and shouted, “This is the one I’ve been telling you is coming. He is much greater than I am because He existed long before me.” 16 Through this man we all receive gifts of grace beyond our imagination. 17 You see, Moses gave us rules to live by, but Jesus the Anointed offered us gifts of grace and truth. 18 God, unseen until now, is revealed in the Voice, God’s only Son, straight from the Father’s heart.

Before Jesus comes along, many wonder whether John the Baptist might be the Anointed One sent by God. But when Jesus appears in the wilderness, John points others to Him. John knows his place in God’s redemptive plan: he speaks God’s message, but Jesus is the Word of God. John rejects any messianic claim outright. Jesus, though, accepts it with a smile, but only from a few devoted followers—at least at first. Of course John is crucial to the unfolding drama, but he isn’t the long awaited One sent to free His people. He preaches repentance and tells everybody to get ready for One greater to come along. The One who comes will cleanse humanity in fire and power, he says. John even urges some of his followers to leave him and go follow Jesus.

We also read from Hebrews 1:

Long ago, at different times and in various ways, God’s voice came to our ancestors through the Hebrew prophets. 2 But in these last days, it has come to us through His Son, the One who has been given dominion over all things and through whom all worlds were made.

3 This is the One who—imprinted with God’s image, shimmering with His glory—sustains all that exists through the power of His word. He was seated at the right hand of God once He Himself had made the offering that purified us from all our sins. 4 This Son of God is elevated as far above the heavenly messengers as His holy name is elevated above theirs.

Most images of angels are influenced by art and pop culture—and are far removed from the Bible. The word “angel” literally means “messenger,” and it can refer to either a human being or a heavenly being. The Hebrews author is writing about heavenly messengers.

In the Bible, heavenly messengers have several functions—executors of God’s judgment, guardians of God’s people, heralds of God’s plans. They appear at critical moments to chosen people who play important roles in God’s salvation, such as arriving to announce the birth and resurrection of Jesus and to transmit God’s law to Moses. They are no more than messengers, created beings, who serve the will of God and His Son. Recognizing their place, they bow before the Son in loving adoration.

And also Luke 2:

Around the time of Elizabeth’s amazing pregnancy and John’s birth, the emperor in Rome, Caesar Augustus, required everyone in the Roman Empire to participate in a massive census— 2 the first census since Quirinius had become governor of Syria. 3 Each person had to go to his or her ancestral city to be counted.

This political background isn’t incidental: it is crucial to the story. Conquering nations in the ancient world work in various ways. Some brutally destroy and plunder the nations they conquer. Some conquer people as slaves or servants. Other empires allow the people to remain in their land and work as before, but with one major change: the conquered people have to pay taxes to their rulers. The purpose of a census like the one Luke describes is to be sure that everyone is appropriately taxed and knows who is in charge.

4-5 Mary’s fiancé Joseph, from Nazareth in Galilee, had to participate in the census in the same way everyone else did. Because he was a descendant of King David, his ancestral city was Bethlehem, David’s birthplace. Mary, who was now late in her pregnancy that the messenger Gabriel had predicted, 6 accompanied Joseph. While in Bethlehem, she went into labor 7 and gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped the baby in a blanket and laid Him in a feeding trough because the inn had no room for them.

Finally, here is a short excerpt from Matthew 2, after Jesus has already been born:

9-10 The wise men left Herod’s chambers and went on their way. The star they had first seen in the East reappeared—a miracle that, of course, overjoyed and enraptured the wise men. The star led them to the house where Jesus lay; 11 and as soon as the wise men arrived, they saw Him with His mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped Him. They unpacked their satchels and gave Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

These are exceptionally good gifts, for gold is what is given a king, and Jesus is the King of kings; incense is what you expect to be given a priest, and Jesus is the High Priest of all high priests; myrrh ointment is used to heal, and Jesus is a healer. But myrrh is also used to embalm corpses—and Jesus was born to die.

12 And then, just as Joseph did a few months before, the wise men had a dream warning them not to go back to Herod…


Read an excerpt of what we call the Palm Sunday passage in Luke 20 from The Voice.

Below is a page sample of the end of Mark 1 and beginning of Mark 2 showing the dramatic script translation style, and two types of transitional notes.

The Voice Bible - Sample Page

 


Related: Romans 5 in The Voice

June 6, 2019

A Compelling Perspective on Humanity

How the Christian Perspective on Humanity Points to the Reality of God.

by Clarke Dixon

Does Christianity lead to a beautiful perspective on humanity? Or is it ugly? If the God of the Bible is real and is love, then we should expect beauty and not ugliness. Some would say it is ugly, setting up some people as better than the rest, creating a people who look down on others. It sets up a hierarchy of worth and value. There is no doubt, that we who are Christians, have sometimes acted or spoken like this is so. But is that accurate? What does the Bible teach that our perspective on humanity should be?

Let us turn first, to the beginning;

26 Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. . . . .
27 So God created human beings in his own image.
In the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them. Genesis 1:26-27 (NLT)

All people are created in the image of God, without exception. This fact unites us in our humanity.

It might be suggested that while this was true of Adam and Eve, it has not been true of anyone since the Fall, that we no longer bear the image of God because of sin. However, consider this early appeal to justice;

5 “And I will require the blood of anyone who takes another person’s life. If a wild animal kills a person, it must die. And anyone who murders a fellow human must die. 6 If anyone takes a human life, that person’s life will also be taken by human hands. For God made human beings in his own image. Genesis 9:5-6 (NLT)

To paraphrase, “how dare you lift a finger against another person in violence, for people were created in the image of God and that still matters.” Every person has worth and value, even with sin in the equation.

Now let us turn to the ending;

9 After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. 10 And they were shouting with a great roar,
“Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne
and from the Lamb!” . . . .
14 Then he said to me, “These are the ones who died in the great tribulation. They have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and made them white.
15 “That is why they stand in front of God’s throne
and serve him day and night in his Temple.
And he who sits on the throne
will give them shelter.
16 They will never again be hungry or thirsty;
they will never be scorched by the heat of the sun.
17 For the Lamb on the throne
will be their Shepherd.
He will lead them to springs of life-giving water.
And God will wipe every tear from their eyes.” Revelation 7:9,10,14-17 (NLT emphasis added)

The Book of Revelation speaks of an incredible diversity of peoples gathered together, redeemed by God through Christ. From this we learn that all people are redeemable, all people have the opportunity to wash their clothes in the blood of the Lamb.

To sum up what we learn at the beginning and at the end, we will never meet a person who was not created in the image of God, we will never meet a person for whom Jesus did not choose to bear the cross. All people bear the image of God without exception. Without exception, Jesus bore the cross for all people. That is the starting point point of relationship with God, though there is much we could say about where it goes from there and what allegiance to, and trust in, Christ looks like. It is also the perspective on humanity for the Christian and the starting point for our relationship with others.

We see this humanity valuing perspective in the Bible, not only at the beginning and the end, but also from beginning to end. For example,

  • When Abraham is called, that calling is ultimately for the sake of all nations, not just Abraham’s descendants.
  • In the Old Testament there are laws that provide for the well-being of the foreigner.
  • Foreigners were welcomed into the community, as exemplified with The Book of Ruth. We should note, however, that the community was to keep its worship pure from foreign religious influence. While foreign religion was unacceptable, foreign people were accepted.
  • God’s concern for the foreigner is explicitly made clear in The Book of Jonah. Jonah shrank back from God’s call to preach to the enemy, the people of Ninevah, knowing that God would be kind to them. God did indeed show His kindness to them.
  • Jesus loved all kinds of people, even touching “unclean” people, whom no one would touch, before healing them.
  • Jesus taught the importance of love for thy neighbour, then emphasized that the neighbour is anyone and everyone. Your neighbour could even be those dreaded Samaritans, who can act better than the religious elites by the way, as told in the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
  • God called Phillip for a special mission to the Ethiopian eunuch, who was from a different land, likely had a different skin colour, and, being a eunuch, could be described as having a different sexuality.
  • God gave the Holy Spirit to all kinds of people beyond the Jewish people.

From beginning to end, the Bible promotes the value and worth of all people. This covers more than just race, it covers any kind of difference. Consider that in a very patriarchal time and place, there is an emphasis on the equality of the sexes;

27 So God created human beings in his own image.
In the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them. Genesis 1:26-27 (NLT)

Speaking of gender, there is a lot going on with gender in society these days.  Many of us may struggle to understand why a man identifies as a woman, or a woman as a man, or some don’t identify as either. The starting point for relationship, even when people are beyond our understanding, is this: they are created in the image of God and Jesus chose the cross for them. What will we choose to do for them?

All people bear the image of God without exception. Without exception, Jesus bore the cross for all people. This is true for people who are unique for any reason. With each of our pregnancies, my wife and I were offered the opportunity to test for Down syndrome. This would lead to an opportunity to have an abortion. In our minds people with Down syndrome have as much worth and value as any other person. They are created in the image of God. Jesus chose the cross for them. Therefore should a Christian carry on with such a test? Speaking of abortion, in my mind, people in the womb has as much value and worth as people outside. This is why Christians often tend to be pro-life. We should understand that nothing is as simple as it seems, that there is a great need for sensitivity on this topic, and people need reminding of the grace of God. Also we should understand that some people are pro-choice based on their Christian ethic, based on love and concern for Moms and women in difficult circumstances. Nevertheless, every person has value and the question is valid; is a fetus just “tissue,” or a person created in the image of God and for whom Jesus bore the cross?

Given that all humanity bears the image of God, the Christian cannot not look down on people as being worth less for any reason. Rather, we are called to love others with the love of Christ who bore the cross for them. The starting point is not “you are so different from me,” but “we are so much alike, in our creation in the image of God, in our need for grace, and in being given the invitation to a relationship with God.” All people bear the image of God without exception. Without exception, Jesus bore the cross for all people. This is Christian view of humanity, and it is beautiful.

Now consider what can happen when we take God out of the picture. Without the Biblical perspective on humanity, we can easily fall into racism, sexism, or looking down on people because they are different.  If we are indeed evolved, if there is no God, then what is to stop us from thinking that one race has greater value than another? The rat has had just as much time to evolve as the human. We naturally give the human more value and will call exterminators to deal with rat infestations so as to protect humans from disease. What is to stop us from giving greater value to one type of human, even going as far as exterminating other types of humans to protect the more valuable? Indeed this kind of thing happened with Nazi Germany. It was not Bible study and a hunger for God that led the Nazi machine to commit atrocities against the Jews. It was philosophical thinking that applied evolution to society. “We are more highly evolved than you” is ugly. In contrast, “You bear the image of God, Christ bore the cross for you,” is beautiful.

Every single person bears the image of God, regardless of colour, culture, medical conditions, gender, sexuality, or anything else. Jesus bore the cross for every person regardless of colour, culture, medical conditions, gender, sexuality, or anything else. We share this same starting point with every other person without exception. This is a beautiful perspective on humanity which is also helpful to humanity. This is what we should expect if the God the Bible points to, the God the Bible portrays as love, is real. This is yet another reason that Christianity it compelling.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada and is featured here each Thursday. This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here.

February 20, 2019

God’s Plan and Purpose

About a year ago I noticed that one of the most frequent post tags here was “trials and tribulation.” I went back through past posts and created a scripture medley of all the verses which appeared in the various articles.

Another one which occurs in various forms is “God’s Plans and Purposes” or “God’s Plan and Purpose.” This can include God’s overall plan; the master story arc that he is writing. This can also include the purpose for which Christ came. Or we can also think of it in terms of what God is doing in my life; his plan for my life; his purpose for my life. Remember though, that his will for each of us individually must conform to that broader, master plan.

Today we’re doing the same thing as we did with “trials and tribulations” but this one is tagged several different ways, plus I wanted to be able to limit the number of verses.

As yourself, (a) what is specifically being referenced and (b) how do I live my life in the light of God’s greater plan; God’s master plan.


God, for whom and through whom everything was made, chose to bring many children into glory. And it was only right that he should make Jesus, through his suffering, a perfect leader, fit to bring them into their salvation. Hebrews 2:10


But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir  Galatians 4:4-7


For who has known or understood the mind (the counsels and purposes) of the Lord, so as to guide and instruct (Him) and give Him knowledge? But we have the mind of Christ, the Messiah, and do hold the thoughts (feelings and purposes) of His heart. 1 Corinthians 2:16 Amp.


But he said to them, “It is necessary for me to proclaim the good news about the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because I was sent for this purpose.”
 – Luke 4:43  Christian Standard Bible


In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. Heb. 1:1-2 NIV


For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Romans 8:18-25 ESV


Likewise the Spirit also helps our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searches the hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because he makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.
Romans 8:26 27 KJV


But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter, and we all are the work of thy hand. Isaiah 64:8  KJV


When David had served God’s purpose in his own generation he fell asleep; he was buried with his fathers and his body decayed. Acts 13:36


I pray with great faith for you, because I’m fully convinced that the One who began this glorious work in you will faithfully continue the process of maturing you and will put his finishing touches to it until the unveiling of our Lord Jesus Christ! Phil. 1:6 The Passion Translation


…for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. Philippians 2:13


For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:9 NLT


But as it is written, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined the things that God has prepared for those who love him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9 ISV


And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. ESV Rev 21:3

 

 

February 12, 2018

When My Plan Isn’t God’s Plan

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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We were sorry to see that the Ask the Pastors website has been dormant since October. Readers would send in questions and different pastors would reply. The one below was the final item appearing at the site.

What if God’s plan doesn’t want something important to me to go right?

Question: The Bible always says that God will make everything all right in the end, and if something doesn’t go right, it’s because God’s plan says it’s not supposed to go right. I know that’s supposed to make you feel better, but it does the opposite for me. What if God’s plan doesn’t want something important to me to go right? Please help, because this is one of the main reasons why I feel my faith is weak. For some reason, just “trusting the plan” doesn’t make me feel any better.

Answer:  There is an entire book in the Bible devoted to the search for some guarantee that our lives will go right.  It is the book of Ecclesiastes.  The author sought to “gain” a bright future through various means including wisdom and folly.  He discovered that folly is sure to bring pain and misery, but that even wisdom and behaving wisely cannot keep things going right.  And the ultimate proof of that is death.  We’re all going to die.  God will not rescue us from that negative future.  What he finally counsels is to enjoy the happy moments of life but prepare for the unhappy ones, especially death.  And above all, keep God’s commands.

The author of Ecclesiastes is applying the truth Paul gives us in Romans 8:18-25:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (ESV)

God purposely subjected the world to futility.  That means it is always going to be characterized by frustration.  Things are not going to work out the way they should.  There is a tragic undercoating to all of life.  God did this in the garden of Eden after Adam and Eve sinned.  He made the most beautiful experience in a woman’s life, child bearing, a thing accompanied by pain.  He made growing food a fighting against the land growing weeds.  He banned Adam and Eve from the tree of life so that they would not live forever.  Death became the reality of life.

Paul says God did this in hope of creation’s being set free from this bondage when His kingdom is restored and we are fully redeemed.  We are groaning just like creation is.  Our relationships were meant for perfection but fall sadly short.  Our work was meant to always be fruitful but falls sadly short.  Our lives were meant to be pain and death free, but fall sadly short.  We are hoping for the redemption of all things and will not experience it until Jesus returns.

The author of Ecclesiastes says God did this, made the world this futile place, “so that people fear before him” (Ecclesiastes 3:14).  He put eternity in our hearts yet so that we cannot find how He will work things out from the beginning to the end (3:11).  God knew that if Adam and Eve and all their offspring were allowed to live forever as He intended originally, and if the world always worked the way He originally intended it to work, people, sinful people, would be satisfied with life in this world instead of coming to know the One who alone brings real satisfaction.

This is a long way of answering your question.  Yes, God will make everything right in the end.  The world must remain a frustrating place until then.  There is no guarantee that He will make your life go right in a way that is important to you.  Jesus told us not to fear those who are able to destroy the body, but to fear Him who is able to destroy both body and soul in hell (Matthew 10:28).  God has let many of His saints be persecuted to death (Stephen and James are prime examples, Acts 7 and 12).  The apostle James and the apostle Peter were imprisoned by Agrippa (Acts 12) and the church was praying for their release.  James was beheaded but Peter was miraculously released.  God’s plan for James was different than for Peter.  Each was righteous and useful to the kingdom, but only one escaped death.  We could say that living was something important to James to go right, but God did not grant that.

So we’re not asked to simply “trust the plan” if by that is meant trust that it will always go right for us.  We trust God, who loves us more than anything and yet still may not choose to spare us pain.  The apostle Paul experienced tremendous pain (read 2 Corinthians 11 for some examples).  I may never know how or why God used the pain in my life for good (Romans 8:28 does promise that He does) and the “good” does not mean that which is pain free or not tragic.  Life is tragic.  He has made it so on purpose to make people unsatisfied with this life as their answer.

But in the tragedy He teaches us to trust Him and to share in His sufferings.  He gives us empathy for others suffering.  As we show that we have hope despite the tragedy, He sends us people who want to know the reason for our hope.  Jesus was a man acquainted with sorrow (Isaiah 53:3), and so will be those who follow Him.  Yet he was also full of joy by the Holy Spirit (Luke 10:21), and so will be those who follow Him.

December 22, 2017

The Four Mysteries of the New Testament

This a rare encore presentation here at C201. This original devotional first appeared here in December, 2013.


Psalm 139:14

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.

There are some things that are just neatly tied up with a bow. Unlike a sitcom where all the subplots are resolved in 30 minutes, the realm of trust, faith, and belief is a realm of mystery.

The NIV translates Greek into English as “mystery” four times in the New Testament. The first has to do with the relationship between Gentiles who become followers of Christ (spiritual Israel) to those who originally carried God’s promise (ethnic Israel or national Israel). Not surprisingly, the passage is in Romans:

11.24 After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!

25 I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, 26 and in this way all Israel will be saved. As it is written:

“The deliverer will come from Zion;
he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.

The transfer of God’s favor to such a broader, wider number that occurs with the coming of The Messiah (and the subsequent revelation to Peter that Gentiles are to be part of the Messianic promise) is really much of the major theme of Romans, and while it is relatively easy to be a partaker of such grace, it is relatively challenging to begin to understand it in the context of God’s master plan. “‘Tis mystery all.”

The second instance, also in Romans occurs in the book’s closing chapter and reiterates this aspect of its theme:

16.25 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, 26 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— 27 to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.

The third instance occurs in I Cor. 2 and also refers to a widening or a broadening of God’s disclosure to His people through the Holy Spirit:

2.6 We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7 No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

Some brief comments from Matthew Henry are helpful in this passage:

  • Though what we preach is foolishness to the world, it is wisdom to them. They are made wise by it, and can discern wisdom in it.
  • [T]he wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom of God—what he had a long time kept to himself, and concealed from the world, and the depth of which, now it is revealed, none but himself can fathom. It is the mystery which hath been hid from ages and generations, though now made manifest to the saints (Col. 1:26), hid in a manner entirely from the heathen world, and made mysterious to the Jews, by being wrapped up in dark types and distant prophecies, but revealed and made known to us by the Spirit of God.
  • [H]e had determined long ago to reveal and make it known, from many ages past, from the beginning, nay, from eternity; and that to our glory, the glory of us, either us apostles or us Christians. It was a great honor put upon the apostles, to be entrusted with the revelation of this wisdom. It was a great and honorable privilege for Christians to have this glorious wisdom discovered in the gospel…

The fourth and final use of the word in the NIV is in relationship to days to come, what some call the afterlife as found in I Cor. 15:

15.50 I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.


Related Song: You are Mystical (audio only in 50px window; click arrow button in center to play)

August 15, 2016

An Earlier “Great” Commission

As we did last year at this time, we’re going to spend two days at the website GCD (Gospel-Centered Discipleship) and this time around the featured writer is Virginia Pastor Joey Tomlinson. Click the title below to read at source, and spend some time visiting the rest of the website.

Dominion Commission

As Christians, we understand that every single person on the planet is created in the Image of God. The Genesis account of man’s creation communicates this truth (Gen 1:26-28).

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Even though most Christians are familiar with this passage, many are confused about what it actually means. In other words, what are the implications of being a man or woman created in the Image of God?

According to Genesis 1, God’s image bearers were called to express their identity by having dominion over the earth. This dominion commission is accomplished in two ways—filling the earth with children (28) and by subduing the earth (26, 28).

Dominion Commission
Think for a moment about this place in history. God created man and woman in his image and they are unhindered by sin and enjoy perfect fellowship with God, each other, and all of creation. God gives them the gracious task of ruling, and they found joy in the opportunity to procreate little image bearers and subdue the earth. They had everything they needed to be obedient to God’s dominion commission. And they were to do it for the glory of their Maker.

Think about this commissioning in light of Psalm 8:4-9:

What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?
Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
You have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen,
And also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
Whatever passes along the paths of the seas. O LORD our Lord how majestic is your name in all the earth.

Therefore, as Image bearers we are to have dominion and this is good. However, man’s ability to be obedient to this commission to have dominion has been paralyzed because his relationship with God is severed.

Christians are all too familiar with the dreaded Genesis 3 account of the fall of man:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, You shall not eat of any tree in the garden? And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’ But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate and she also gave some to her husband who was with her and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

In three short chapters, Adam and Eve go from being naked and not ashamed to being naked and ashamed and unable to enjoy a relationship with God and fulfill the task God has given them to have dominion over the earth.

The story doesn’t end there, though. God does something incredible.

Pay close attention to Genesis 3:15:

“I [God] will put enmity between you [the serpent] and the woman [Eve], and between your [the serpent’s] offspring and her [Eve’s] offspring; he [Jesus] shall bruise your head, and you [serpent and his offspring] shall bruise his heel.”

What is God doing here?

God is preaching the gospel. In one verse, we come to understand that God has graciously saved the newly depraved Eve (puts enmity between her and the serpent); he divides the world up into two communities: those who love God and those who love self (Eve’s offspring vs. the serpent’s offspring). He foretells of a Deliverer we know in this verse as the snake-crusher, which is Christ.

Ephesians 1:7 states, “In him [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.” God through Jesus Christ has and is restoring the image of God to his church. This restoration was his plan before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4).

After Christ died on the cross and bodily and eternally rose from the grave, securing salvation for his church, he gives this commission to his disciples:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:18-20

Do you understand the significance of this truth? Because Christ has secured our salvation, we now have the ability to be obedient to the dominion commission.

The Great Commission is a dominion commission just as Genesis 1:26-28 is a dominion commission. Because of the authority of Jesus and the Holy Spirit indwelling believers we can joyfully make disciples of all nations, baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and teach them obedience.

God through Jesus has restored his image to his church and has reconciled us to himself for his glory. Furthermore, he has reasserted our purpose to have dominion on the earth—for his glory. We do this by faithfully heralding the good news of the gospel in the authority of Jesus Christ.

Christ won’t return until all of his children from every tribe, tongue, and nation proclaim his kingship (Ps 110:1). He has appointed that glorious day, long ago (Mk 13:32; Acts 17:31). Our commission to spread the glory of God to all nations will be successful. Christ died so that it would be. Embrace your identity and find fulfillment and joy in the task that God has graciously called and equipped you for.

 

March 3, 2016

When Peter Gets It

Last month several churches in my area held their annual meetings. Part of this is required by law and is intended to include the election of officers. Because one church has a rather unique take on this, I looked into the choosing of Matthias (to replace Judas Iscariot) in Acts 1, but ended up with a completely different takeaway.

First, the text (all scriptures today are NLT)

20 Peter continued, “This was written in the book of Psalms, where it says, ‘Let his home become desolate, with no one living in it.’ It also says, ‘Let someone else take his position.’

21 “So now we must choose a replacement for Judas from among the men who were with us the entire time we were traveling with the Lord Jesus— 22 from the time he was baptized by John until the day he was taken from us. Whoever is chosen will join us as a witness of Jesus’ resurrection.”

23 So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. 24 Then they all prayed, “O Lord, you know every heart. Show us which of these men you have chosen 25 as an apostle to replace Judas in this ministry, for he has deserted us and gone where he belongs.” 26 Then they cast lots, and Matthias was selected to become an apostle with the other eleven.

Some commentaries believe that they cast lots because they had two equally viable candidates and there was no clear consensus for choosing one or the other.

But it was verse 20 that got my attention; and I left the other consideration aside. Sometimes that happens when you’re reading scripture; you’re looking for topic “A” and find topic “B” jumping out at you!

First, some background. In Matthew 16, Peter starts the chapter doing really well. As the lead follower of Rabbi Jesus, he’s got the right answer.

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

14 “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”

15 Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?”

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

17 Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being.

But then things fall apart for Peter a few verses later:

21 From then on Jesus began to tell his disciples plainly that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, and that he would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day he would be raised from the dead.

22 But Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things. “Heaven forbid, Lord,” he said. “This will never happen to you!”

I think you know what happens next.

23 Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.”

What I think is clearly stated here is that Peter is unaware that everything Jesus is doing is following a divine script. It’s “necessary for him to go to Jerusalem.” This is all part of God’s plan. But Peter doesn’t see it that way.

Now, flash forward to where we began, in Acts 1. Peter is invoking two prophetic passages from the Psalms foretelling of the replacement of Judas:

Ps. 69:25 Let their homes become desolate
    and their tents be deserted.

and

Ps. 109:8 Let his years be few;
    let someone else take his position.

Suddenly, Peter realizes that he and the other disciples are following a divine script. He sees it as equally necessary for them to appoint a 12th apostle. He gets it!

At first, I thought this was even more remarkable considering Pentecost had not happened. I mistakenly concluded they were not yet filled with the Holy Spirit. This is, after all Acts chapter one, not Acts chapter two where we read:

Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. 4a And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit…

But in terms of The Twelve (and any others that were with them at the time) that’s not the case. If we backtrack to the time before Christ’s ascension, John 20 points out:

19 That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

The point is that Peter is now a changed person, and he recognizes the fulfillment of the Messianic Psalms in everything he is experiencing in his lifetime.

There is another example of the Psalm connection I want to end with. In Matthew 27, we see Jesus on the cross:

46 About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

This one verse is so rich and contains much we could discuss as to Jesus being abandoned by The Father. But one preacher I heard said that in saying what he did, it was like a giant, neon, flashing billboard saying “READ PSALM 22.” (The people of the day knew the Psalms by their first lines, the numbering system wasn’t around then.)

This is the clearest Psalm in terms of predicting the crucifixion which is taking place at that exact moment:

Everyone who sees me mocks me.
    They sneer and shake their heads, saying,
“Is this the one who relies on the Lord?
    Then let the Lord save him!
If the Lord loves him so much,
    let the Lord rescue him!”

14 My life is poured out like water,
    and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart is like wax,
    melting within me.
15 My strength has dried up like sunbaked clay.
    My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.
    You have laid me in the dust and left me for dead.
16 My enemies surround me like a pack of dogs;
    an evil gang closes in on me.
    They have pierced my hands and feet.
17 I can count all my bones.
    My enemies stare at me and gloat.
18 They divide my garments among themselves
    and throw dice for my clothing.

Imaging being there and knowing you are right in the middle of everything spoken prophetically in the Psalms.

Peter figured that out, and from this point on his ministry moves on a new trajectory, with confidence and power.

August 9, 2015

The True Lord’s Prayers — Part Two

This is the second of three parts of an original C201 devotional study.

We said yesterday that we would look at some instances of Jesus offering prayer on our behalf. Probably the best example of this is in the extended section of his life and ministry found only in the Gospel of John, the section that begins at the conclusion of what we call “The Last Supper” in John 13, taking place in and around the Garden of Gethsemane. The entirety of chapter 17 is probably most deserving of the title “The Lord’s Prayer.”

I believe that some of this clearly falls into the category of something meant to be overheard. The IVP Commentary notes:

This chapter contains the most extensive and profound prayer of Jesus we have. When Jesus prayed at Lazarus’s tomb he made it clear that he had no need of expressing prayer because he is one with God in his whole life, the union true prayer expresses. Nevertheless, he prayed for the benefit of those present (11:41-42), and the same is true here as well (17:13).

Although it’s out of the chronological order, we’ll look at the example of Lazarus tomorrow.

We don’t know how John recorded all this; the standard stereotype at this point of the narrative is of The Twelve (minus Judas) having a hard time staying awake.

Big Picture

In the first few verses, Jesus reviews the “master plan” that we looked at yesterday.

NLT John 17:1 After saying all these things, Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son so he can give glory back to you. For you have given him authority over everyone. He gives eternal life to each one you have given him. And this is the way to have eternal life—to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth. I brought glory to you here on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. Now, Father, bring me into the glory we shared before the world began.

“I have revealed you to the ones you gave me from this world. They were always yours. You gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything I have is a gift from you, for I have passed on to them the message you gave me. They accepted it and know that I came from you, and they believe you sent me.

I’ve omitted verse 9 here for the moment, the passage continues:

10 All who are mine belong to you, and you have given them to me, so they bring me glory. 11a Now I am departing from the world; they are staying in this world, but I am coming to you. Holy Father, you have given me your name;… 12 During my time here, I protected them by the power of the name you gave me. I guarded them so that not one was lost, except the one headed for destruction, as the Scriptures foretold.

13 “Now I am coming to you. I told them many things while I was with them in this world so they would be filled with my joy. 14 I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.

Then jumping a few verses:

22 “I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. 23 I am in them and you are in me.  23a I am in them and you are in me…

And finally:

25 “O righteous Father, the world doesn’t know you, but I do; and these disciples know you sent me. 26 I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so. Then your love for me will be in them, and I will be in them.”

Specific Petitions

Now I want to gather up the other parts of this text; the sections clearly prayed on our behalf:

“My prayer is not for the world, but for those you have given me, because they belong to you…

11b …now protect them by the power of your name so that they will be united just as we are…

15 I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. 16 They do not belong to this world any more than I do. 17 Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. 18 Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. 19 And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth.

20 “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. 21 I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me…

23b … May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. 24 Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see all the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began!

I could have fine-tuned this a little more, but I hope you see the distinction between the internal focus of the Father and Son commiserating over the master plan that is drawing to a conclusion, and the outward focus of Jesus praying for his disciples and us; also the interweaving of both types of prayer.

If you want to know what is God’s will for the capital-C Church, read the last section of his prayer again; this spells it out very clearly. If you haven’t already done so, make a point of committing verse 21 to memory.

December 21, 2013

Some Questions are Not Resolved

 

Psalm 139:14

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.

There are some things that are just neatly tied up with a bow. Unlike a sitcom where all the subplots are resolved in 30 minutes, the realm of trust, faith, and belief is a realm of mystery.

The NIV translates Greek into English as “mystery” four times in the New Testament. The first has to do with the relationship between Gentiles who become followers of Christ (spiritual Israel) to those who originally carried God’s promise (ethnic Israel or national Israel). Not surprisingly, the passage is in Romans:

11.24 After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!

25 I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, 26 and in this way all Israel will be saved. As it is written:

“The deliverer will come from Zion;
he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.

The transfer of God’s favor to such a broader, wider number that occurs with the coming of The Messiah (and the subsequent revelation to Peter that Gentiles are to be part of the Messianic promise) is really much of the major theme of Romans, and while it is relatively easy to be a partaker of such grace, it is relatively challenging to begin to understand it in the context of God’s master plan. “‘Tis mystery all.”

The second instance, also in Romans occurs in the book’s closing chapter and reiterates this aspect of its theme:

16.25 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, 26 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— 27 to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.

The third instance occurs in I Cor. 2 and also refers to a widening or a broadening of God’s disclosure to His people through the Holy Spirit:

2.6 We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

Some brief comments from Matthew Henry are helpful in this passage:

  • Though what we preach is foolishness to the world, it is wisdom to them. They are made wise by it, and can discern wisdom in it.
  • [T]he wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom of God—what he had a long time kept to himself, and concealed from the world, and the depth of which, now it is revealed, none but himself can fathom. It is the mystery which hath been hid from ages and generations, though now made manifest to the saints (Col. 1:26), hid in a manner entirely from the heathen world, and made mysterious to the Jews, by being wrapped up in dark types and distant prophecies, but revealed and made known to us by the Spirit of God.
  • [H]e had determined long ago to reveal and make it known, from many ages past, from the beginning, nay, from eternity; and that to our glory, the glory of us, either us apostles or us Christians. It was a great honor put upon the apostles, to be entrusted with the revelation of this wisdom. It was a great and honorable privilege for Christians to have this glorious wisdom discovered in the gospel…

The fourth and final use of the word in the NIV is in relationship to days to come, what some call the afterlife as found in I Cor. 15:

15.50 I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.

December 6, 2012

Waiting on Emmanuel

Hebrews 1 (NIV) 1In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.

Today’s post is a reblog from Benjamin Howard’s site, On Pop Theology. This is writer I was aware of a couple of years ago, but then rediscovered recently. I encourage you to bookmark him for some insightful articles and to click through for today’s look at Advent.

The season of Advent [began] on Sunday. If you’re unfamiliar with the Christian calendar, Advent is a time of waiting that takes place for the four weeks leading up to Christmas. It is a time of anticipation and reflection before we celebrate the arrival of Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God With Us.
 

Advent

It’s one of my favorite times of the year because it’s both optimistic and reflective. It’s weighty, but it’s also beautiful.
 
Even more, I love the season because it allows the Church to focus on the Incarnation. I love talking about the Incarnation. I love talking about why God would become man, what that means for humanity, and how it should affect who we strive to be.
 
You see, I feel like in a lot of Christian traditions they view Jesus as a springboard to salvation. God became human so that he could die for our sins. To be a bit crass about it, the Incarnation was the Emergency Backup Plan for when humanity sinned. Sure, he told some nice stories and undermined the religious tradition for a bit, but the point of Christ was to be a sacrifice for the sins of humanity.
 
But I’m not so sure that’s true. In fact, I’m pretty sure that it isn’t.
 
There’s an idea prevalent in the Eastern Church that the Incarnation wasn’t something that God sketched out after humanity messed up, but was part of the plan all along. Essentially, even if humanity had done wonderfully, God still would have become man, Emmanuel still would have come, because God wanted to be with us.
 
In this telling of the Incarnation, it’s not a story about salvation necessarily, it’s a story about love and proximity. It’s a story that says God made us so that he could be with us and that the best way to be with his creation was to be part of his creation. The best part of being in love is being with the person you love. That’s the story we tell about heaven, in whatever way you describe it, so why shouldn’t it be the story we tell about the incarnation as well.
 
But I think the story is even more rich and beautiful and profound that God wanting to be close to us.
 
When I was a senior in college I did a project on Athanasius and his views of the Incarnation. Athanasius famously says that, “God became man so that we might become God.” This belief, often called divinization or theosis, argues that the reason God became human was so that humanity would have access to God’s divinity. God is with us so that we might share in the divinity of God.
 
Now, I’m willing to go one step farther, and I hope you don’t lose me here. I don’t know if there is a divide between humanity and divinity. We are told in Genesis that man is created in the image of God. Various points in the Bible, especially John, go to lengths to describe God as both human and divine. But what if being fully human, fully embracing what we were created to be is the same as being divine? What if Jesus is fully divine precisely because he is fully human?
 
What if in the Incarnation we are not being provided with a picture of a creator bending down to meet his creation, but of a creation rising up to meet its creator? What if God became man to show us the man could become God by embracing what humanity was created to be?
 
Then, like everyone, Jesus, fully human and fully divine, dies. I think that’s a part of the story we gloss over too quickly. In our need to feel catharsis and redemption, we too often forget that this redemption comes about in the form of resurrection, and that resurrection only comes through death.
 
Through the life and death of Christ we are told a story. It is not the story of how we are saved, it is the story of how we live, die, and live again. It is the story we are living, and it is the story we have yet to live. It is a story of anticipation and waiting and longing and hoping. It is the story of love and embrace and a God who empathizes through experience and not omniscience.
 
It is a story worth telling and it is a story worth re-telling. And so … we begin to wait on Emmanuel.
~Ben Howard

January 2, 2012

The Seed in God’s Plan

This actually appeared as an Advent study on the blog of Del Tackett who some of you know from The Truth Project DVD series.  But the initial verse was one we’d been discussing last night as a family, so I decided to included this here today.

“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.” Genesis 3:15

When God spoke the earth into existence, it was formless and void—a lump of clay, so to speak, ready for the Hands of the Craftsman to begin the creative work of fashioning a garden teeming with flourishing delights: birds and fish, animals and plants, things that flew and swam, wriggled and ran, or simply stuck their roots into the perfect soil and brought forth fruit and vegetables, nuts and berries, nectar and flowers and shade and…well, all kinds of beautiful and life-enhancing stuff. But more than all of this, each of these living things was given the privilege and responsibility to recreate themselves. Birds laid eggs that brought forth baby birds that would grow up to lay their own eggs; animals gave birth to baby animals that would grow up to give birth to their own babies; plants produced seed that would fall onto the soil and grow into mature plants that would, in turn, produce their own seeds.

This was the grand plan of God.

But, something happened…something bad, something evil. Now, the garden produced weeds and thistles and thorns. Rather than delight in life, the Evil delighted in death; rather than beauty, it loved the vile; rather than fruit, it bore poison. It is hard to imagine how instantly a garden filled with light could become so cold and so dark so very, very quickly. And it appeared as if there were no remedy, no fix, no hope to get it back to the way it was before the darkness descended…descended upon everything…everything.

That’s when God told us about the Christmas Seed.

He didn’t say much. In fact, it wasn’t a whole lot more than a hint, a clue, a mere glimmer of hope. But with God, whose power and might is infinite, a whisper of promise is as sure as it gets. If He said He was going to take care of it, then we didn’t need a lot of details.

Was it mysterious? Yes, but it carried the promise that God, through this Seed, was going to destroy the Evil that had turned the light off in the garden. And if that happened, then maybe, just maybe, God also planned on turning the light back on as well.

But for sure we knew that before this Seed came, there was going to be war, and the war was going to rage between the seed line of the Evil one and the seed line of the woman.

And boy, did it ever! Abraham was granted the understanding that the Seed was going to come through him. Later on, David was given the same promise. And the war to destroy that seed line was furious. It came from within and it came from without. There were times when it looked as if the Evil line had won. But it hadn’t. Even at the moment when the heart of the Seed stopped beating, when it appeared to all as if the Promise had died, death itself was insufficient to stand in the way of the plan of God to destroy the Evil one.

But why “the seed of the woman”? Isn’t this backwards? Isn’t it the seed of man that propagates the race? Certainly everywhere in Scripture where it speaks of human “seed” it is used of the man. Why such a strange element to this promise?

Well, hindsight is certainly better than the best glasses or binoculars or microscope. If all humanity was tainted with the “death” of Adam, then the Seed couldn’t come from the seed of man. But if He couldn’t come from the seed of man, how would it be possible for Him to come at all?

Ah! That is why He is the Christmas Seed!

That is why He had to be born of a virgin, born of God.

That is why Matthew and Luke, in their genealogies of Jesus, take care to make sure the reader understands that Jesus didn’t come through “man” but through a “woman”. Matthew begins with Abraham and repeats over and over again the phrase “the father of”…until he gets to Jesus. He does not say “…Joseph, the father of Jesus” which is how one would expect this genealogical treatise to conclude. No. Matthew takes a sharp turn and says “…Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called the Christ.” Luke traces Jesus’ lineage back to Adam, using the phrase “the son of” over and over again. But for Jesus, he states it this way “He (Jesus) was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph.”

The seed of the woman, not the seed of a man.

On Christmas, the mystery was no longer a mystery.

It wasn’t until years later, however, that God would move Paul to write these fascinating words, words that put a final bow on the promise made to Abraham 2000 years earlier and, I believe, connects to the mysterious promise made 2000 years before that in the garden:

“The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ…Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come.” Galatians 3:15-19

God made a promise to mankind that He would bring forth the Seed to destroy the Evil one and eventually restore all things. He protected that seed line from Eve to Mary. He protected it through the flood, with Noah. He protected it from Pharaoh and Ahab and Jezebel. He protected it from the Babylonians and the Assyrians. He protected it from Haman and Herod and Pontius Pilate. And then He protected it from the enemy’s final stand and snatched it from the clutches of death and the grave.

Oh, the wonder and grandeur of God who has given us a Savior, Christ the Lord!

~Del Tackett

December 22, 2010

The “Why” of the Incarnation

A few days ago I was under the impression my wife was doing a single song at the Christmas Eve service coming up on Friday.    Then a few days ago, she informed me we were responsible for the whole service.

Going through some files today, we discovered that a short medley I proposed was something we’d done for Christmas in 2005.   It was built around the worship chorus which perhaps was slightly more popular then than now, but still recognizable…

You came from heaven to earth to show the way
From the earth to the cross, my debt to pay
From the cross to the grave
From the grave to the sky
Lord I lift Your name on high.

The “Why” of Jesus birth is that Jesus was born to die.   There is no particular cause to celebrate a Christmas unless there is an Easter.

Another song in the medley is the first verse of an old hymn,

One day when Heaven was filled with His glory
One day when sin was as dark as could be
Jesus came forth to be born of a virgin
Dwelt among men, my redeemer is He

Living He loved me
Dying He saved me
Buried He carried my sins far away
Rising He justified
Freely forever.
One day He’s coming, oh glorious day.

The medley ends with the third verse of And Can It Be…

He left His Father’s throne above
So free, so infinite His grace
Emptied Himself of all but love
And bled for Adam’s helpless race.

‘Tis mercy all, immense and free
For, O my God, it found out me.
Amazing love!
How can it be
That Thou, my God, should die for me.

This blog post is the reverse of this one a few days ago, which talked about Joy to the World actually being 25% about Christmas and 75% about Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection. There are many verses in other hymns that we don’t think of at Christmas which begin with the birth of Christ, but move us quickly into the “why” of Jesus’ birth.

This is a true saying, and everyone should believe it: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–and I was the worst of them all.

I Tim 1:15 (NLT)