Christianity 201

August 31, 2018

John Knew the Incarnate Christ Better Than Anyone

This is our second time looking at the blog of Laura J. Davis. Click the title below to read at source.

How Well do You Know Jesus?

Have you ever noticed how the Apostle John started his first book? I’m sure you have as it’s not hard to miss. He is clearly making a statement about new beginnings and he does it by using Genesis as his foundation. He is making two points very strongly by using Genesis. The first is a not-so-subtle message to the Jewish people – God has started something new – pay attention. He then follows that up with who he meant by God.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. – Genesis 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. – John 1:1

​He begins when God brought everything into existence, but he makes it very clear that there was someone else at play – The Word. The Word was with God in the beginning. In fact, John says, “The Word was God.” Now that would have had many Jewish people sitting up and paying attention. Who was this Word?

The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. – Genesis 1:2

He was in the beginning with God. – John 1:2

Genesis 1:2 lets us know for the first time a unique aspect of God – He is Spirit and John continues to emphasize that The Word was with God in the beginning. The Word and the Spirit are one with God.

Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. So the evening and the morning were the first day.– Genesis 1:3-5

All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.– John 1:3

God divided the light from the darkness and John uses that example to explain how The Word was similar to the light God separated from the darkness. He explains that The Word was life and that life was the light of men. In other words, His life provided light and hope to all mankind. As God divided the day from night (light from darkness) so the Word acted in much the same way – providing light to those living in darkness. But sadly, not all those living in the darkness comprehended the Light and refused to come near it.

​So, who was this Word that was also the Light and was with God in the beginning?

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. John bore witness of Him and cried out, saying,

This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me.’ And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. – John 1:14

He was Jesus! God incarnate who came to earth in a human vessel to lead us in the way everlasting. To show us how great the Light really is and to prepare a way for us to live eternally in that Light. Sadly, the darkness of this world STILL does not comprehend the love the Father has for them. Many are still trapped in the darkness and fog of not grasping the enormity of what God actually did for them. He came down to earth in human form. He lowered Himself to our level in order to raise us up to eternal life in Him.

Everyone can come into that light and partake of the joy of knowing Jesus. He died for sinners, not saints. In other words, He doesn’t ask you to change before you come to Him, He simply says, “Come to Me.”

I wrote a book many years ago, with that title, Come to Me. It is a novelization of the life of Jesus as seen through the eyes of His mother. It’s available in my bookstore. I wrote it because some people won’t bother to pick up a Bible, but they will read a novel.

If you think Christianity is what you see out in the world today, if you think that is Jesus – you would be wrong. Jesus didn’t involve himself in politics. He didn’t call out specific sins or individual sinners over others. He didn’t protest certain causes either. In fact, if he had any complaints at all, it was not directed towards government officials or causes. It was directed towards religious leaders and their hypocrisy.

So don’t judge Jesus based on the way the media portrays Christians today. Read about him in the Bible or pick up my book and read about him. But find out about him. Get to know him as he is meant to be known. You’ll be glad you did.

 

November 21, 2016

Who Wrote the Gospel of John?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
Tags: , , ,

NIV II Tim 2.14 Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. 15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.

The Voice John 21.24 That very same disciple is the one offering this truthful account written just for you. 25 There are so many other things that Jesus said and did; and if these accounts were also written down, the books could not be contained in the entire cosmos.

Something a little different today…

I hate to reduce it to this word, but it seems like it’s trendy now to suggest that Biblical books weren’t written by the people they’re named after. I know some respected scholars believe this, and I am prepared to admit that in some cases it may be the case. I also want to be clear that while modern academia revels in such pursuits, the authorship question is not entirely new to this generation.

Still, it was refreshing to see cold case detective (and author of Cold Case Christianity) J. Warner Wallace summarize an article he read concerning the gospel normally attributed to John.  Click the title below to read this at source.

The Circumstantial Case For John’s Authorship

I am a big fan of Sententias, the ministry of Max Andrews, although I’ll admit there are times when I have to stop and read (and re-read) his blog posts to get my hands around his impressive reasoning skills. Max recently wrote a post that even I could quickly understand and appreciate, and he did an excellent of illustrating the process and power that results from assembling a circumstantial case.

Max focused on the case for the authorship of John’s gospel. He correctly noted that Clement of Alexandria (c. 150–215) attributed the authorship of the fourth gospel to someone named John: “John, last of all … composed a spiritual Gospel” (quoted by Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 6.14.7). But who is this “John” described by Clement? As Max writes, “Those who doubt apostolic authorship take their point of departure from a quote of Papias (c. 60–130) by Eusebius (c. 260–340). Papias appeared to refer to a John other than the apostle: ‘And if anyone chanced to come who had actually been a follower of the elders, I would enquire as to the discourses of the elders, what Andrew or what Peter said, or what Philip, or what Thomas or James, or what John or Matthew or any other of the Lord’s disciples; and the things which Aristion and John the Elder, disciples of the Lord, say’ (Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 3.39.4–5, emphasis added).”

Max then takes the time to assemble the evidence related to the authorship of this gospel, making the case in a fashion very similar to how I might make a case for a particular point in a criminal trial. Check out his reasoning:

1. The author identified himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (21:20, 24), a prominent figure in the Johannine narrative (13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20).

2. The author used the first person in 1:14, “we have seen his glory,” revealing that he was an eyewitness to the accounts contained in his Gospel.

3. The “we” of 1:14 refers to the same people as does 2:11, Jesus’ disciples. Thus the writer was an apostle, an eyewitness, and a disciple of Jesus.

4. Since the author never referred to himself by name, he cannot be any of the named disciples at the Last Supper: Judas Iscariot (13:2, 26–27), Peter (13:6–9), Thomas (14:5), Philip (14:8–9), or Judas the son of James (14:22).

5. The  disciple that Jesus loved is also one of the seven mentioned in the last chapter: “Simon Peter, Thomas (called ‘Twin’), Nathanael from Cana of Galilee, Zebedee’s sons, and two other of his disciples” (21:2; see 21:7).

6. Peter and Thomas have already been eliminated. Nathanael is also ruled out as a possible author since the author remains unnamed in John’s Gospel.

7. The author must be either one of “Zebedee’s [two] sons” or one of the “two other of [Jesus’] disciples.”

8. Of the two sons of Zebedee, James and John, James can safely be ruled out since he was martyred in the year 42 (see Acts 12:2).

9. This leaves John the son of Zebedee as the probably author of the Gospel. Irenaeus (c. 130–200): “John the disciple of the Lord, who leaned back on his breast, published the Gospel while he was a resident at Ephesus in Asia” (Against Heresies 3.1.2).

Well done. Circumstantial cases are not built on a singular piece of direct evidence. Instead, they are assembled from a collection of reasonable inferences. In our state of California, jurors are instructed, “If a witness testifies he saw it raining outside before he came into the courthouse, that testimony is direct evidence that it was raining.” In essence, this testimony (if it is trustworthy) is enough, in and of itself, to prove that it is raining. But you can also conclude it’s raining on the basis of circumstantial evidence. Jurors are also instructed, “For example, if a witness testifies that he saw someone come inside wearing a raincoat covered with drops of water, that testimony is circumstantial evidence because it may support a conclusion that it was raining outside.”

Max has done a good job of assembling facts that reasonably demonstrate the Apostle John is the author of the fourth gospel. Is the available evidence complete? No, but I’ve never worked a case where every piece of possible piece of evidence was available for consideration. While potentially incomplete, the case for John’s authorship is none-the-less sufficient. It’s reasonable. It’s reliable. It meets the standard I’m most concerned about: beyond a reasonable doubt. Good job Max, you’re a fine circumstantial case maker.


Check out my reviews of two of J. Warner Wallace’s books, God’s Crime Scene and Cold Case Christianity.

June 5, 2015

A Gospel Narrative Unlike the Other Three

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
Tags: , , ,

If readers find a blog or devotional site and end up making it their primary source for daily Bible study, I’m fine with that. Although our motto here is “Digging a Little Deeper;” I recognize some of you want to move from Christianity 201 to Christianity 301. Here’s a jumping off point a few of you might appreciate as they plan on spending a long time in one book. However, it just might be that someone you know who is new to the faith might benefit from this as well. We recently discovered the blog Brothers of the Book, and they have just launched into a detailed study of John’s Gospel. To visit the site, click this link. To simply read today’s article at source, click the title below as usual.

Who Is Jesus?

We begin a slow wander through the Gospel of John today. I have always loved this book and as time has gone by I have come to feel that, contrary to the opinion of many, this is not really a book for the Lost but rather a book for the Saved. I find this book to be all about maturing in Christ. Now don’t get me wrong, people have been suggesting the book of John as a good place for the Lost to begin their investigation of Jesus, and there is much to commend this book for that purpose. John himself says, later in this book, that his reason for sharing a number of Jesus’ miracles is so we may believe the Jesus is the Messiah, and that by believing in Him have life in Him (John 20:30-31). Of course the other three Gospels do this as well. And yet, John is very different from the other three Gospels, also known as the Synoptic Gospels because they are so similar.

A careful reading of John causes us to wrestle with some pretty deep theological concepts; concepts I think may be a little bit much for an unbeliever to successfully tackle. John skips the birth of Jesus; he assumes that his readers know much of this information. If we look at the chronology of the publication of the Gospels we find that the book of John was probably the last Gospel written and that John was aware of these earlier books. While he does repeat a bit of what the other Gospels share, his book skips some episodes and adds new information. More importantly, in my estimation, his book goes deeper.

John’s book also echoes the book of Genesis in that it gives us a peak at the very beginning.

John 1:1 ESV
[1] In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Who is Jesus? This is the most important question a person will ever have to wrestle with. It is an inescapable question that everyone will have to eventually answer, either in this life or in the life to come. Your answer will dictate the quality of your life now and the quality of your life in eternity. If Jesus was just a man who said some nice things and died 2,000 years ago, you can safely ignore and forget Him, for such a man has no power to affect your life. If, however, He is God as He claimed to be, if He is the only way to be forgiven of sin and the only way to enter eternity in Heaven, then you should submit your life to His authority, worshipping and serving Him faithfully to the end of your days.

This is John’s theme; his thesis: Jesus is God. Like any good college paper, the book of John states its thesis at the beginning, goes on to support that thesis with many examples and proofs, and then it wraps things up by repeating the thesis. Here is that thesis.

John 1:1-5 ESV
[1] In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. [2] He was in the beginning with God. [3] All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. [4] In him was life, and the life was the light of men. [5] The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Jesus pre-exists Creation. It was through Jesus everything was made. And life, real life, is found only in Him. Have you ever wondered about whether or not Jesus was just a man, just a prophet, or really God Himself? John leaves no doubt. He makes a categorical statement that Jesus is God. He then goes on to prove it. Jesus as a great teacher is easy to accept. Jesus as a miraculous healer is a little more challenging to accept but we like the idea so it is not really that hard to get our hands around. Jesus as the sacrificial lamb whose blood washes away our sin, Jesus as our Savior, likewise can be a challenge but in the end it is so much to our benefit that we can eagerly accept this at some point. Jesus as Lord, Jesus as God, that is the really hard thing for so many people to accept.

You see we like the idea of someone who loves us and sacrifices for us. We like it when someone gives to us. What we don’t like is someone having authority over us. This is why so many struggle with, the idea of Jesus as God. We all like to be loved. We all like to be forgiven. None of us, however, like to admit that we are not the boss. But brother, you cannot accept Jesus’ love, Jesus’ sacrifice, Jesus’ forgiveness, Jesus’ blessing, without accepting His Lordship. We say Jesus is our Lord and Savior and yet we embrace His role as Savior while, by our actions, rejecting His role as Lord.

If we accept that Jesus died on the cross for us, and that through His blood we are saved, then we have to accept that we are not our own, that we were bought at a high price, that we belong to Him. We have to accept that He is God if we are to truly accept Him as Savior. As God, He has every right to give us commands and we have every responsibility to obey.

Who is Jesus? How you answer that question will determine how you live today and where you spend eternity tomorrow. Don’t you think it is important to look at the evidence so you can make an informed decision? That, among other things, is what we will do as we stroll through this incredible book together over the months to come.

March 11, 2015

When You Need to Know He’s Preparing a Place

Today Clarke Dixon returns to the key passage he introduced last week…

A Messy Story with a Good Ending (or Rather a Great New Beginning)

Watching the news we quickly get the sense that the world is in a mess. Pick up the phone and you can quickly find out that a loved one’s life is in a mess. Get out of bed and you can quickly realize that your own life is in a mess. And people can point and ask how you can believe in God from within such a mess? First, we want to recognize His presence through the Holy Spirit. God is in the mess with us. But we also want to remember a promise:

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. (John 14:3 NRSV)

Here is a promise the disciples would need at the crucifixion of Jesus as they pondered their own failings, and wondered if perhaps Jesus had failed too. And here is a promise they would need to remember once Jesus has risen and ascended to the Father. Troubles plagued the early believers, just as they do believers today. And yes, the early believers and every Christian since has had their share of failures. In the midst of our mess of trouble and failure we remember a promise:

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. (John 14:3 NRSV)

In other words, this is not the end to this story, there is much to come yet! As the first Christian martyr, Stephen, is killed some could have mockingly asked “where is your God to save you?” But Stephen’s story is not finished yet. The thief crucified along with Jesus was in a real mess, and was a real mess-maker himself. Mighty Rome thought it was putting an end to him and his mess. His story is not finished yet though the mess is now behind him. And your story is not finished, no matter how much of a mess you are in, or how much of a mess you are responsible for, your story does not end here. Even when your loved ones place your remains in their final resting place, there is nothing final about it. For the repentant follower the best is yet to come:

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. (John 14:3 NRSV)

While the story is not over, your story of experiencing God’s grace is not one you will want to fast forward through. Yes, the best is yet to come, but we want to savor, value, and be good stewards of each moment between now and then.

I have met Christians who seem to be solely and wholly devoted to the end-times and escape from the mess of current times. Their studies are devoted to the end, as are their prayers. In fact their very lives seem devoted to the next life. They have a finger on the fast-forward button with an attitude summed up by my one of my brother’s favorite sayings: “beam me up Scotty. This planet sucks!” That cannot be our prayer, for Jesus teaches us to pray:

  • “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” – our lives are to lead to the honor of his name, right here, right now.
  • “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” – while God has an amazing kingdom future for us, we are to start living those realities right here, right now.
  • “Give us this day our daily bread” – this speaks to desire and contentment for today.
  • “And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” – this is something we are to do in the here and now
  • “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” – a prayer appropriate for today and every day.

In addition to paying attention to our Lord’s teaching on prayer, living out the Great Commandment, the Great Commission, and the Golden Rule also requires a focus on living in, rather than escaping from, today. This planet may well be in a mess, but that is part of why we are called. We are to be peace makers rather than mess makers. It is not wrong to long for Christ’s Kingdom coming, but we are also to long for God’s Kingdom to be expressed in the here and now.

Then there are others who only value Christianity for how it impacts their future. It is only useful as an assurance of heaven, and is of no earthly relevance to their lives or the messes they live in or create. While Jesus’ promise of eternal life is assuring, your story of experiencing God’s grace is not one you will want to put on hold. You will also want to pay attention to what God can and will do in and through you in the here and now.

It would be interesting to know how many Christians would call themselves Christians if Jesus’ promise, and all other references to heaven and eternal life were not in the Bible. Would people still be Jesus followers? What if the cross was just an example of a Godly life and not a means to an eternal life with God? What if the cross merely pointed us to how to forgive and express grace and love, yet we could expect to die never to live again? Would you still follow Jesus? I hope so, for we do not follow Jesus for reward, but because He is Lord. And when our Lord teaches us how to live in the here and now, full of grace and truth, we should listen. Thankfully, while being an example to follow, Jesus’ death is also an expression and working out of God’s covenant promises to save. Jesus makes the promise, and does what is needed to make it possible:

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. (John 14:3 NRSV)

The promise is made because this is a love story. The language Jesus uses is reminiscent of a wedding. The groom goes away to prepare the home for the couple to enjoy once they are married. Then he comes back to take his bride to be with him in their home together. This is the kind of love God has for His Church. It goes far beyond that of one person rescuing another from a mess. Heroes are typically strangers. This is love that is focused on relationship. It is a commitment to love in a covenant of love. It is the love of the One who is love. It is love from the One who will keep His promise:

And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. (Revelation 21:2 NRSV)

May 22, 2011

The Filthy Part of Incarnation

Came across this illustration today.  The set-up is lengthy but drives home the main point with clarity, so don’t rush through, okay?  This is from the blog, The Heretic Mug Collection, where it appeared in January under the title, Christ in the Sewer.

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to preach. Being close to Christmas time, the subject of the incarnation seemed appropriate, so I chose the prologue to John’s gospel, chapter 1 verses 1-18. I spent a considerable amount of time on verse 14 “And the word became flesh and dwelt among us.” While pondering this verse I was reminded of something I heard about once while visiting in Siberia.


Forgive me, but to get the full effect of this story requires me to be a bit descriptive. Needless to say, if you have a weak stomach you might not want to read this while eating.

In many Siberian villages homes do not have running water. The toilet then, as you can imagine, is included in this little deficiency. Somewhere in the backyard will be a little building that serves this purpose. A hole is dug and an outhouse is placed on top of it. Usually when one walks in he sees nothing more than a floor with a hole cut in it about 18 inches wide. If it’s done right, the hole goes down about 5 or 6 feet to the bottom. Now here’s where I have to get descriptive. As you can imagine, the bottom of that outhouse is probably the last place on earth anyone would want to fall. It’s horrid, utterly nasty filth that smells worse than it looks. It is the stuff that nightmares are made of.

Now you may have noted the width of this hole, 18 inches. While that’s not big enough for an adult to fall through, it’s plenty big for a small child to slip into. Most of the time this isn’t a problem as the littlest kids will use buckets or little makeshift training potties inside of the house, but from time to time a child’s curiosity gets the best of him and he wanders into the outhouse, slips and falls through that hole. Generally speaking, drowning isn’t common as the ground absorbs the water well enough to keep the “water” level low. But falling to bottom of this outhouse the child still will find himself covered in the most foul filth imaginable, most likely spared serious injury from the fall by the sheer fact that he landed on 6 or 7 inches of soft sewer mud.

So what does one do in this situation? I asked this question hypothetically to a Russian friend once. There are no ladders built for the child to crawl out. In many cases the child it too young to understand the concept of grabbing on to a rope, not that he would even be physically able to hold on long enough to be pulled out. To this question my friend answered “You go down there, get him out and clean him off.” Did you catch that? You crawl into a sewer to save your child. You don’t think about the awfulness of it, the nastiness of it all, you go down there and you save the one you love.

This illustration struck me as I pondered verse 14. Up to that point, Christ’s divinity, glory, power and majesty are all laid out by John. The bottom of an outhouse is no place for the King of Glory, the God of the universe. Then we read that Christ became flesh and dwelt among us. It’s easy to miss the weight of this statement because we have so “sanitized” the manger. The hay is clean, the animals, are clean, there is a warm glow of cozy light as the shepherds gather around. But it goes beyond the physical filth that Christ endured in his birth. Christ who was perfect and sinless came to this sinful, broken world full of murder, hatred, envy, wars, jealousy, lying, and every sin imaginable. He descended to us as we wallowed in the sewer of our sin so that he might lift us out and cleanse us of all of it. The “fall” was just that; it was a collapse into utter filth that we are powerless to escape from. Christ crawled into this sewer to save those he loved.

“Let us mark what kind of Being the Redeemer of mankind must needs be, in order to provide eternal redemption for sinners. If no one less than the Eternal God, the Creator and Preserver of all things, could take away the sin of the world, sin must be a far more abominable thing in the sight of God than most men suppose. The right measure of sin’s sinfulness is the dignity of Him who came into the world to save sinners. If Christ is so great, then sin must indeed be sinful!” – J.C. Ryle

July 17, 2010

Saving the Best Wine

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:24 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

I’ve blogrolled and linked several times to Dana at the blog Upwrite many times at Thinking out Loud, but this July 6th post is her first visit to Christianity201.   I really like what she begins to draw out of this familiar passage; you can really take this idea and run with it:

Choice Wine First

I am about to “misinterpret” this passage. But I am doing it on purpose (which makes it okay, ha).

Actually, maybe now would be a good time to explain my approach to the Bible. I believe in the rigorous study of the Scriptures. I think Scripture should be contextualized and understood with attention to the culture and customs of that day, the original audience and purpose of the text, and with attention to the original languages whenever possible. Good lexicons, commentaries, and dictionaries are indispensable for a diligent student of the Word. This type of approach is intellectual in focus and profitable in numerous ways.

However…I think there are other ways of interacting with the Word too.  It is alive. So it moves. And it speaks. In this case, the Word functions to create a space for God to speak to our hearts.  And so it was this morning.

John Chapter 2. I love this story for many reasons. Jesus trying to keep low-key. Jesus keeping the party goin!  Jesus “saving face” for people. There is so much to love about this whole thing. But it was the master of the banquet who caught my attention this morning. He pulls the bridegroom aside and says (and I parapahrase), “Hey man, normally people serve up the good stuff first, and then when everyone’s drunk, they bring out the cheap stuff. But you…you saved your best stuff for last.”  Perplexing and impressive.

You will run out of whatever it is that has kept you going. And when you do, Jesus will supply. And what he supplies will be better than everything you had up until then. The world will offer you its choice wine first, but it will not be enough. Jesus will save the best for last.