Christianity 201

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 3, 2018

I Am

A worship liturgy by Ruth Wilkinson

In the gospel of Matthew, we read of Jesus asking his followers, “Who do you say that I am?

In the gospel of Mark, we read of Jesus asking his followers, “Who do you say that I am?

In the gospel of Luke, we read of Jesus asking his followers, “Who do you say that I am?

In the gospel of John, we read of Jesus giving us vocabulary to help us answer this question. To understand who he is.

Jesus told them, “I am the bread of life.
Anyone who comes to me will never be hungry, and anyone who believes in me will never be thirsty again.

Jesus spoke to them again: “I am the light of the world.
Anyone who follows Me will never walk in the darkness but will have the light of life.

Jesus said again, “I assure you: I am the door.
Anyone who enters by me will be saved. They will come in and go out and find pasture.

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth and the life.
Anyone who comes to the Father comes through me.

Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches.
Anyone who abides in Me, and I in him, produces much fruit.
If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown aside like a branch and he withers.

Jesus told them, “I am the good shepherd.
Anyone who knows me knows my voice. I know My own sheep, and they know Me. I lay down My life for the sheep.

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.
Anyone who believes in me, even if he dies, will live. Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die — ever.
Do you believe this?

✞ ✞ ✞

He tells us to see him:

As the good bread, and the living water: the one who satisfies the most fundamental needs of our souls;
As the light of life: the one who makes our path visible, who gives us understanding, who kills our fear;
As the door: the only way in – to shelter – and the only way out – to freedom;
As the way, the truth, the life: the one who gives us access to the Father;
As the vine: the one who gives us roots and certainty, identity and provision, growth and fruit;
As the shepherd: the one who provides protection and gives guidance;
As the resurrection: the one who gives us hope, not only in the forever, but today and next Monday and right now.

But as with all of God’s promises, there’s a flip-side.

His promises come with the expectation, the demand, that we choose to receive. That we choose to say yes.

Yes, I will hear your voice.
Yes, I will come.
Yes, I will enter.
Yes, I will abide.
Yes, I will produce your fruit.
Yes, I will live.
Yes, I will die.
Yes, I will live again.
Yes, I will believe.

November 7, 2017

3 Books by The Apostle John; 3 Goals in His Writing

We’re paying a return visit to Rick Morgan, who blogs in the UK at Digging The Word. Click the title below to read at source.

Believe, Be Sure About It And Be Ready

John’s advice is still important today

The apostle John was a close friend of Jesus, he was in the inner circle of the disciples, he is the man that took care of Jesus’ mother for fifteen years after Jesus’ death and he was an early leader in the church.

John’s books are very significant part of the Bible, he gives us more of the teachings of Jesus than any other gospel writer, he also wrote the most unique book of the Bible from the vision that he experienced while he was exiled to Patmos.

We can see in John’s books that he wants us to believe in Jesus, be sure about it and he wants us to be ready for his return:

Believe

John 20:31 But these are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name.

John wrote his first book out of a desire to help you believe. It is easy to find something to believe but there is only one belief that is going to get you to heaven. So what are we supposed to believe?

Eternal life is only available by belief in Jesus and his work on the cross as a substitute for the punishment that I deserved.

Be Sure

1 John 5:13 I have written this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life.

John’s next book was written to help you be sure of what you believe. The same man that was unclear and lacked faith in who Jesus was wants to help you with your belief.

What you believe is so important to John because just like every other Jew, John held onto false beliefs all of his life, his beliefs didn’t get straightened out until after Jesus came back from the grave. Nobody understood that Jesus first coming wasn’t going to be his last.

In John’s three letters he wants to reassure troubled believers that they really do have eternal life so that they might enjoy it. (1 John 1:3; 3:18-19; 4:13; 5:13 / 2 John 5)

Be Ready

Revelation 22:20 He who is the faithful witness to all these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon!” Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!

The first coming of Jesus was to give us eternal life and when he returns he will come to give us our eternal reward. Unlike the first time, when he returns again it will be too late to clear up any false beliefs, it is extremely important that you believe and that you are sure about it.

RELATED ARTICLES
10 Things Christ Promises To Reward (unlockingthebible.org)

 

March 16, 2016

The Gospel of John and the Religion Salesman

•••by Clarke Dixon

(read this on Clarke’s blog at this link)

How do we know that John, the writer of the Gospel of John, is not a “religion salesman?” People in sales have a very important function but we all have experience of someone who has tried very hard to sell us something we do not need, or something that does not even work. How do we know that John isn’t that kind of salesman? How do we know he is not trying to sell us on some new fabricated-from-thin-air religion? After all, there is a plethora of books and blogs written by “Jesus experts” who would tell us that indeed Christianity and the Jesus of Christianity is a human invention.

John’s sales pitch starts early. The Gospel of John begins with what is probably the most startling introduction in all of literature:

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 came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. . . . And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-4,14)

John 1The startling nature of these verses may be lost on the Christian reader who has come to love these words and the Lord they point to. But imagine you are one of the early readers of this book, you have heard something about Jesus and have picked up John’s Gospel in order to be introduced more fully to him. John tells us that you start, not with the birth of Jesus, but long before, in fact before Creation. Right from the get go you may well find all this to be blasphemous if you are Jewish, or utter foolishness if you are not. As you read John’s Gospel the claims John makes about Jesus, what he said and did, do not get any less extraordinary. There is no doubt that John is seeking to introduce us to someone who is extraordinary. In fact he is introducing us to God the Son who is risen from the dead. But why should we buy it? Why should we believe John? How do we know he is genuine in his testimony about Jesus and not some religion salesman selling a bogus product?

Those of us who are Christian will appeal to the Holy Spirit’s inspiration of Scripture. God is not going to reveal Himself in Jesus to one generation only for the memory of Jesus to be distorted for the generations to come. But even those of us who are not Christian have good reason to weigh carefully the words of John before trashing him as a mere salesman of religion. Take, for example, these words of John:

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

There is so much theology presented in this verse that we often fail to notice a simple truth: “we have seen his glory.” We, as in, “I, John, have seen personally and am an eyewitness to the things I am writing,” and we, as in, “I am not the only one, there are other eyewitnesses that you can check what I am saying with.” This is eyewitness testimony. Further, the final words of the book:

20 Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them . . . This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true. 25 But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. (John 21:20-25)

These reinforce that the writer was someone who was right in the middle of the life and ministry of Jesus, someone seeing and hearing all that is going on, someone who was close to Jesus. This friend of Jesus is identified in early Christian records as being John the apostle, the same John that wrote the following:

1 We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— 3 we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:1-3)

While the Christian can appeal to the work of the Holy Spirit, both in the writing and the reading of Scripture, we can also appeal to historical documents. The Biblical Gospels were not written long after the events they describe by people far from them in time and place as many people erroneously believe. Two of them were written by men who rubbed shoulders constantly with eyewitnesses, Mark being a companion to Peter, and Luke often being a companion of, and mixing in many of the same circles as, Paul. The other two Gospels were written by eyewitnesses themselves, Matthew Levi the tax collector, and John the “beloved disciple.” Though taking different perspectives and emphasizing different things, all four agree as to who Jesus is. But did these men make up a new religion to sell to anyone who would hear?

It has been said (I think by J. Warner Wallace) that people who tell lies, who engage in fraudulent activity, are doing so in order to get a) money, b) sex, or c) power. The Gospel writers were not getting rich, but getting into danger. Being Christ followers the Gospel writers would have kept to the strict sexual ethics they record Jesus as affirming, so sex would not be a motivating factor. As for power, persecution was more the norm. These were men willing to die for the truth of what they were sharing about Jesus. These men were willing to pick up a cross and follow. No salesman trying to sell a product he knows is bogus will do that.

Who would you rather listen to? The “Jesus experts” of our day, the people who 2000 years after the events would like you to buy their books? Or John, who was right in the middle of the events he relates, who was an intimate friend of Jesus whom he describes, who devoted his life and was willing to give his life for the truth he was sharing? Who is the religion salesman here really?

What do liberal minded authors want you to know about Jesus? All manner of quite diverse theories, but what they hold in common is that you do not need to care about Jesus. What does John want you to know about Jesus? “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16) John wants you to know that Jesus cares about you.

(All references are taken from the NRSV. All emphasis are mine)

 

February 12, 2015

The Beauty of John’s Prologue

This post is from the blog Living the Gospel by Jason Velotta. If you’re unfamiliar with the term in today’s title, it refers to the first 18 verses of John’s gospel; the passage beginning

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  (NIV/KJV/NASB)

and containing that important incarnational verse 14

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (NIV)

To read the whole passage first, click here, and then read the first 18 verses. We’ve chosen a newer translation here, the CEB, or Common English Bible. (But you can select a different one, or even a different language, from the pull-down menu.)

The Prologue of John – Responding to the Word of God

The first 18 verses of John’s gospel (commonly known as the Prologue) represent a literary masterpiece of inspired Scripture. On the one hand, John’s introduction is so simple a child can understand it, yet it is also so theologically deep, the most intellectual scholars could never mine every detail held within its verses.

incarnationThere have been many debates regarding the structure of John’s prologue. The most convincing in my opinion is that the first 18 verses are a narrative which summarize not only the entirety of John’s gospel but make a broad sweep of salvation history. The prologue begins in eternity before creation, declaring that in the beginning the Word already existed. It proceeds through the creation (all things were made by Him) and He is the source of all life and light. Then John skips over the majority of Israel’s salvation history and shows that a final prophet, John the Baptist, came to testify to the light. This light is the revelation of God Himself. He came into the world and was rejected by the world. Yet, those who received Him became the sons of God.

The prologue finishes by showing the culmination of Israel’s salvation in Jesus. The law (which was itself a grace given to men) came through Moses but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. Jesus has completely explained the Father. Jesus is the Father’s final word to man. – This culminates salvation history. So, we see that the prologue begins in eternity past and concludes with God’s final word of salvation and redemption.

What John simply states in the prologue (albeit with great theological depth and nuance) he will elucidate throughout the pages of his gospel. First, we see that Jesus is the divine Word of God.

There is much discussion about the Hebrew and Greek presuppositions regarding the word (logos). Although there is much to be learned from these distinctions, I think John has primarily the Old Testament view of the “Word.” In the Old Testament the Word of God was His creative power, authority, and organizing principle. In Genesis, God created by the word. Repeatedly Genesis one presents God’s creative power in His speech. Over and over again God created by speaking – “And God said let there be…and there was.”

Likewise, the word is personified in the Old Testament when the prophets were given God’s words to speak. Repeatedly the Bible says, “The word of the Lord came to…” whatever prophet to whom God was speaking.

The idea of a divine word was not uncommon for a Jewish person. What is uncommon is John’s assertion that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The idea being that Jesus Himself is the divine person of the Word. In lieu of an extended treatise on the Trinity, I would point you to my discussions on the doctrine here.

The verb “dwelt” is the verbal form of tabernacle. John says that the word became flesh and tabernacled among us – this, taken along side John’s introduction of Moses and the law shows us that Jesus’ incarnation is the fulfillment of God’s promise to dwell with His people. He is truly Emmanuel – “God with us.” Jesus fulfills the types and shadows of the Old Testament. Jesus is the display of God’s glory which can be seen. In Exodus, Moses asked to see God’s glory and was told that it was impossible for man to view Him. Instead, Moses was only allowed to see God’s hind parts. But here John says that we saw His glory. It was the glory of God the Son who is full of grace and truth.

Jesus has perfectly revealed the Father to mankind. The Son of God became a son of man so that the sons of men might become sons of God. Jesus is the word of God that demands a response. To those who received Him, He gave them the authority to become sons of God – yet to those who reject Him, He brings the completion of the judgment of God for there will never be another door of salvation.