Sapphire Sky

December 8, 2014

God Gives Peace

Filed under: theology — Travis Biller @ 2:58 pm

An advent sermon on the peace that God seeks to give through Christ. To listen click here

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December 7, 2014

The Outcast

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: — Steve Knaus @ 7:14 pm

We have just seen the conversation between Son of God and one of the great teachers of his day (John 3:1-21).  Nicodemus was a highly respected teacher and one of the Jewish rulers in the Sanhedrin.  Nicodemus thought he knew a lot about God, and yet Jesus showed him that he needed to be born from above before he could even see God’s kingdom (see here).

 

The next scene is a complete contrast to Nicodemus. Jesus initiates a conversation with an outcast Samaritan woman, one who would be despised by any “respectable” Jew.  Nicodemus had initiated a secret meeting with Jesus for fear of reprisal from his own countrymen.  Jesus initiates this next meeting with an immoral “foreigner” woman with no fear of reprisal.

 

Jesus’ message to Nicodemus was that the spiritual world is much greater than anything we can see or hear.  Jesus further explains the spiritual world to this sinful, Samaritan woman using water.

 

The Samaritan woman would not have understood the Old Testament metaphor of water’s cleansing and new life [2].  But more importantly, Jesus is bringing her to the point of understanding eternal life.  The well water is temporary, but Jesus is offering something permanent.

Jesus then brings her to the next step, which is to show her that he knows about the details of her life. He knows all about her five failed marriages and that she is not married to her current man. Note that Jesus neither excuses nor corrects her current lifestyle. What is most important is that she needs eternal life.

 

The woman’s response seems strange to our minds.  She almost seems to change the subject, asking about the place of worship.  But her core Samaritan beliefs had been shaken.  The Samaritans did not believe in any other prophet after Moses except for the Messiah [3].  Therefore, she has just acknowledged that this man must be be the Messiah.  And he is a Jew.  Therefore, what else about her Samaritan beliefs were wrong?

 

The Samaritans believed that the the true source of worship was on Mount Gerizim (see here).  If the rest of her Samaritan beliefs were wrong, where was the correct place to worship?  More specifically, how can you come to God?

 

How do you worship God?  Jesus says it twice here: You worship God in spirit and truth.

 

You worship God in spirit.  This is not a reference to the Holy Spirit but in the human spirit, the part of us that communes with God.  As we draw close to God, our worship of God comes from the inside-out.  [4]

 

You worship God in truth.  It is not enough to have great emotions, or to feel close to God.  Our worship of God is rooted in the truth of knowing who he is and in studying his Word.

 

The woman points out that truth will come from the Messiah.  Jesus unmistakably declares that he is the Messiah.

 

It is this faith in Jesus that brings her to eternal life:

 

“The conviction, sudden but firm, that He Who had laid open the past to her was really a Prophet, was already faith in Him; and so the goal had been attained – not, perhaps, faith in His Messiahship, about which she might have only very vague notions, but in Him. And faith in the Christ, not in anything about Him, but in Himself, has eternal life.” – Alfred Edersheim [3]

 

Previous post: What about people who are not like you?


John 4:7-30

A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”


Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”


Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” They went out of the town and were coming to him.


 

 

A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)

 

The previous study (see here) had looked into the deep divisions between Samaritans and Jews.  The two groups hated and despised each other.  Jesus had violated cultural traditions simply by talking with this woman in public, let alone asking her for a drink from her water jar.

 

I often wonder why Jesus opened up the conversation by asking her for a drink.  We know that Jesus was weary from the journey (John 4:6) and he was likely to be thirsty.  But we never have any indication that Jesus actually got any drink of water from this woman.  Instead, Jesus immediately directs the conversation away from his own requests to the woman’s needs.

 

 

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

 

Jesus is using the physical world to teach the woman about the spiritual world.  Jesus had asked the woman for a drink from the well, but he uses the water from well to teach her about eternal life.  What follows is an extended conversation with the woman as she slowly comes to terms with her need for the Messiah and his gift of eternal life.

 

The woman is drawing from a well, but Jesus is offering her a running stream of water (“living water” can also be rendered as “running water”).  Jesus again uses “living water” to describe eternal life and the Holy Spirit in John 7:37-39.

 

 

The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.”

 

Jacob’s well was about 150 feet deep.

 

The woman’s response could be also understood as, “You can’t be greater than our father Jacob, can you?”.  This is a rhetorical question, expecting that this stranger could would never dream of measuring up to their ancestor.

 

Some commentators have seen the woman’s response to be sarcastic and almost bitter.  However, her words can be better read as a simple response.  Here is a woman who has been confronted with a spiritual truth that she doesn’t understand.  She is at the same well which has been dug by her ancestor Jacob (See Genesis 33:19). Jesus has just offered her something better and she wonders what could be greater than Jacob’s revered legacy.

 

 

Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

 

Jesus explains further: the living water that he is offering is permanent and brings eternal life.

 

Jesus uses water again in John 7:37-39. In John 7, Jesus shows further that the living water is life with the Holy Spirit. This once again connects with Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus about the Holy Spirit in John 3.

 

 

The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”

 

Some commentators again see the woman’s response here as a sarcastic but we have no indication that she is being hostile at this point. Other commentators see this as her moment of understanding, but this is not consistent with her comments later on.  A better understanding here is that the woman is slow to understand what Jesus is talking about. Just like Nicodemus, she cannot understand spiritual life until she is born again.

 


Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”

 

Jesus takes a very sudden turn in the conversation. This is no longer an abstract conversation but is now very personal to the woman. Jesus has never met this woman before that day, yet he knows about her life. He knows about all five of her failed marriages. He also knows that she is living with a man who is not her husband.

 

The Samaritans did not hold to the same levels of moral purity as the Jews, yet this woman would be scandalous even for them.

 

Why did Jesus ask for her husband if he knew the truth?  Some commentators believe that Jesus may not have known her marital state when he first asked (but he knew it when she replied). We do know that the Holy Spirit revealed to Jesus the details about the woman’s life at some point. It is most likely that Jesus asked for her husband in order to bring out that he already knew about her immoral lifestyle.

 

 

The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.”

 

At first glance, this looks like the woman is trying to change the subject.  But this question is much deeper than what it looks like on the surface.  Something changed in the woman when Jesus exposed her past and she realized that he was a prophet.

 

The Samaritans did not believe in any other prophets besides Moses [3].  Therefore, he must be the Messiah.  More than that, since this prophet is a Jew, it indicates that the Samaritans were wrong about the Jews.  But the most fundamental difference between the Samaritans and the Jews was their place of worship.  The Samaritans believed that the true place of worship was on Mount Gerizim, not in Jerusalem.  If she was wrong about the prophet, then was she also wrong about the place of worship?

 

 

Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

 

The Jewish temple would soon be destroyed by the Romans.  The Samaritan temple was already destroyed.  It is not about location.

 

The Jews were not necessarily correct in all of their beliefs, but the Messiah would come from the Jews.  Jesus does not pander to the Samaritan beliefs, but points out that they don’t know how to worship.

 

Jesus says it twice here: You worship God in spirit and truth.  In spirit: your worship overflows from your relationship with God.  In truth: your worship is based on your knowledge of God and his Word.

 

 

The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.”  Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”

 

The woman acknowledges that the truth will come from the Messiah.

 

This is one of the few places where Jesus says directly that he is the Messiah. He could not speak as clearly to the Jews because of their misunderstanding and political aims.

 

“It was then that, according to the need of that untutored woman, He told her plainly what in Judea, and even by His disciples, would have been carnally misinterpreted and misapplied: that He was the Messiah.” – Alfred Edersheim [3]

 


Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?”

 

The disciples would be surprised that Jesus was talking with a woman.  Yet they were wise enough to keep silent.  Note God’s providence at work here.  The disciples came back at exactly the correct time: early enough to witness the conversation but late enough to not interrupt the conversation.  [5]

 

 

So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” They went out of the town and were coming to him.

 

The final act of the woman is to go into the town and tell the others about Jesus.  The fact that she left her water jar likely indicates that she intended to return.

 


[1] John MacArthur, MacArthur Study Bible Notes, John 4

 

[2] Water is a common metaphor in the Old Testament and is used to show the cleansing and transformation that is brought by the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 1:16-18, Isaiah 12:3-4, Isaiah 44:3, Ezekiel 36:25-27) [1]. The Samaritans only believed the books of Moses so they would not be acquainted with the books of prophecy.

 

[3] Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Section III, “The Ascent”, Chapters viii.

 

[4] Stephen Davey, “Discovering the Missing Jewel”, http://media.colonial.org/node/578

 

[5] John MacArthur, “Messiah, the Living Water, Part 3”, John 4:27-42, http://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/43-22/messiah-the-living-water-part-3

November 30, 2014

What about people who are not like you?

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: — Steve Knaus @ 2:51 pm

The news is filled lately with reports of racial and political tension across the country.  Sadly, this tension has spilled out into violence, destroying people in its wake.

 

I had an opportunity to visit the Middle East earlier this year, during the time of the recent fighting in Gaza.  It does not take much to find conflict between different groups: Israeli vs. Palestinian, Muslim vs. Christian, Sunni vs. Shiite Muslim, etc.

 

Well-meaning preachers like to tell “what Jesus would do” in these situations.  But most often, their descriptions of Jesus look like themselves, and their view of Jesus is limited to advancing their own agendas.  Their descriptions of Jesus look a lot less like the Eternal Son of God, and a lot more like a noble person out to clean up the world.

 

But Jesus did (indirectly) show an example of dealing with people across racial, political, ethnic, and religious divisions.  I had a chance to study another bitter battle between two different groups this past week.

 

In 722 B.C., the Assyrian army conquered the kingdom of Israel and destroyed the capital city of Samaria (see 2 Kings 17:1-6). The Assyrians removed most of the Jewish inhabitants of the Samaria region and replaced them with foreigners.  These foreigners intermarried with the remaining Jews and also mingled their own religious practices with the native Jewish beliefs.

 

It was almost 200 years later, in 538 B.C., when Jews were allowed to return from exile and they began to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. The native people (known as Samaritans) offered to help rebuild the temple but were refused because of their mixed blood and mixed beliefs (see Ezra and Nehemiah).  Instead, the Samaritans built their own temple on Mt. Gerizim.

 

“On all public occasions the Samaritans took the part hostile to the Jews, while they seized every opportunity of injuring and insulting them.” [1]  During the Hasmonean revolts of the 2nd century B.C., the Samaritans supported the Syrian “oppressors” (The Samaritan temple was destroyed by Hasmoneans).

 

The Samaritans considered themselves descendants of Jacob but believed only the Pentateuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy).  They did not respect the worship in Jerusalem but held to their own worship on Mt. Gerizim. [2]

 

By the time of Jesus, the Samaritans were bitterly hated by the Jews and were considered unclean by the devout Jews.  Many Jews would travel several miles out of their way to avoid going through Samaria and to avoid any contact with the Samaritans. The term “Samaritan” was also synonymous with “heretic” or “foreigner” (see Luke 17:16-18, John 8:48).

 

This is the history of the bitterness between the Samaritans and the Jews.  However, Jesus is most known in this section for ignoring the protocols and the problems between the two groups.  Jesus meets an immoral, outcast Samaritan woman and he has these simple messages for her:

 

Jesus is the Savior of the world (John 4:42).  Jesus is not for our world, not for the Jewish world, but the entire world.  Jesus came for the righteous, upstanding Nicodemus (John 3) just as much as he came for the immoral, outcast Samaritan woman (John 4).

 

We will study the contents of these messages in a later post.

John 4:1-9
Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. And he had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.
A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)

 


 

Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. And he had to pass through Samaria.

 

Jesus leaves the scene of controversy in Judea and heads north to Galilee.  Samaria is located directly between Judea and Galilee, so Jesus either needs to travel several miles out of the way (like the devout Jews) or go through Samaria.  Practically, speaking, the shortest route required him to go through Samaria.  But even more than that, we see in this chapter that Jesus needed to be in Samaria for a meeting that God had set up for him.

So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.

 

Jesus arrives at the Samaritan town of Sychar at about 6:00 p.m. [3], having walked all day.  Sychar (near the ancient city of Shechem) is rich with history, dating back to the time of Jacob.  Jacob had purchased this land from the local inhabitants (see Genesis 33:19) and built a well which was still in use to that day.

 

The well was about a half-mile south of Sychar, where Jesus sat to rest, being weary from his journey. Jesus was fully God, yet in his humanity he can become weary and thirsty.

A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)

 

“Jews have no dealings with Samaritans”. The fact they the disciples have just gone into the Samaritan town to buy food shows that this is a generalization. Jews would trade with Samaritans but avoid social interaction.  A narrower interpretation is also possible, that literally the Jews don’t “drink from the same cup” as Samaritans. The most orthodox Jews also believed that a Jew would be ceremonially unclean if he drank from a Samaritan woman’s vessel.

 

We learn more about the woman later in the chapter. She has been married five times and is now living unmarried with her current boyfriend (John 4:18). Even among Samaritans, this woman would have had a bad reputation.This was not the closest well to town and the woman may have skipped the closer wells in order to avoid the other women of the town.

 

Jesus has violated several rules of protocol by simply by talking to this woman. In that culture, a man would not talk to a woman in public; a Jew would not talk to a Samaritan; most of all, a rabbi would never be near a woman with an immoral reputation.

Previous Post: The Competition

 


[1] Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Section III, “The Ascent”, Chapters vii-viii.

[2] John MacArthur, MacArthur Study Bible Notes, John 4

[3] John’s gospel account uses Roman time reckoning, starting at midnight and noon.  Therefore, the sixth hour would be 6:00 pm.  Note that the other gospel accounts use Jewish time reckoning which starts at 6:00 am.  Therefore, some commentators have interpreted the “sixth hour” here as noon.  However, the Roman time reckoning better fits the narrative in John based on the following:

  • John 1:39 indicates that Andrew and Peter meet Jesus at the tenth hour and spend the day with him. Jewish reckoning would put their meeting at 4:00 pm, when most of the day would have been spent.  Roman reckoning would put their meeting at 10:00 am.
  • The disciples went to buy food in John 4. Food was not bought and sold at noontime so the narrative of John 4 better fits an evening time.
  • John 19:14 indicates that Jesus was led out from Pilate at “about the sixth hour”.  Yet Matthew 27:45, Mark 15:33, and Luke 23:44 tell about the darkness when Jesus was on the cross, starting at the sixth hour.  Therefore, John’s gospel account must be using a different time reckoning than the other gospel accounts.  However, this sequence of events fits well if Jesus was led from Pilate at 6:00 am, and the darkness began at noon.

November 16, 2014

The Competition

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — Steve Knaus @ 2:52 pm

Thanks to John’s gospel account, we have been able to see the Son of God in both words  and action.  He has quietly called his first disciples, and then confirmed their belief in him at a wedding celebration.  He has shown his authority and his opposition to the religious elite as he throws out the corruption at Passover.  We are even able to witness his counsel to one of the elite rulers.

 

But now comes the first competition between ministries.  Jesus has left Jerusalem and his followers have only increased.  John the Baptist, the great teacher who initiated Jesus’ ministry with his baptism, can only watch on the sidelines as Jesus’ ministry threatens to eclipse his own.

 

But John was not idle.  As Jesus was teaching and baptizing, John was sending people to him.  John’s message about the Messiah was now that he was here.  Yet you still see the disappointment in John’s followers.  Their leader was now losing followers to this new teacher.  When they confront John with this news, John does one of the greatest things in his career.

 

He quits.

 

This is the last recorded words of the greatest prophet who has ever lived, as he surrenders to Jesus’ growing influence.  John has no personal hold on his ministry.  Instead, he admits that it was only given him from God.

 

We would do well to put ourselves into John’s words here: “He must increase, but I must decrease”.

John 3:22-36
After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized (for John had not yet been put in prison).
Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification. And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.”
He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.

 

After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing.

 

The “after this” refers to Jesus’ recent conversation with Nicodemus. We don’t know exactly how much time had elapsed but this was during a transition of about 6 months [1]. After the Passover showdown with the Sadducees, Jesus now retreats to the countryside where he begins to gather followers (John 4:2 indicates that Jesus’ disciples were baptizing, not Jesus himself).

John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized (for John had not yet been put in prison).

 

We don’t know the specific location of Aenon but the most likely possibilities are north in Samaria. Jesus is baptizing in Judea and John heads north. John is the greatest prophet who has ever lived(Matthew 11:11, Luke 7:28), yet he readily defers to Jesus.

 

The note that John was not yet in prison gives specific timing of these events.  The Apostle John is letting us know that this is happening before Jesus travels to Galilee (Matthew 4:12, Mark 1:14).

Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification. And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.”

 

The centerpiece of John’s ministry has been his baptism. The various Jewish religious sects had their rules about ritual cleansing, but John may have been the first to employ baptism as a means to identify with his ministry [2]. The implied dispute with the Jew must have pointed out that Jesus was now baptizing and had a greater following than John.

 

The words of John’s disciples show outrage and jealousy. They don’t even mention Jesus by name, but instead only refer to him as, “he who was with you across the Jordan”. They also claim that all are going to him. To these faithful disciples, the fate of their great teacher is at stake!

John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’

 

John’s answer to his disciples shows his true greatness. John has been preaching and gathering a huge following. But it is not about him!

 

Anything we have has been given to us by God. All of John’s ministry, popularly, and following has been given to him (see 1 Cor 4:7 and 1 Cor 15:10). There is no need to be defensive when God reduces it or takes it away.

 

But there is more to John’s reply. John reminds his disciples that they were forgetting his own teaching that he was only the forerunner of the true Messiah. John’s goal has always been to point people to Jesus.

The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.”

 

John the Baptist concludes with the analogy of a wedding.  Jesus is the bridegroom while John is just the “friend of the bridegroom”.  The “friend of the briedgroom” is analogous in our culture to the best man, the master of ceremonies at the wedding, and finally as one who would watch over the bride until the bridegroom arrived [3]. The focus in the wedding was never on the friend of the bridegroom, and his job was complete once the bride and groom were together.  John’s function was to bring Israel to Jesus, as one would bring the bride to her bridegroom.  John’s role is now complete.

 


He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all.

 

This continues the thought from earlier in this chapter (3:13): Jesus alone is qualified to speak of Heaven because he is from Heaven.  Jesus surpasses any religious teacher because he is from Heaven.  A human teacher is limited by earthly boundaries.

He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure.

 

Jesus is a reliable witness of Heaven, yet he has been rejected by mankind.  The one who has received Jesus Christ gives his certification (affirmation) that God is truthful.  Note that the opposite is also true — those who reject Jesus are calling God a liar (1 John 5:10).

 

But here is also a new concept.  God now gives the Holy Spirit without limit.  The Spirit in the Old Testament was only for limited times.

The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.

 

This is the fourth time in this chapter that you are urged to believe on the Jesus Christ.  You are not only encouraged but finally commanded to believe.  Those who refuse to obey this command to believe will not see life, but only the wrath of God.

 

“Unbelief is tragic ignorance but it is also willful disobedience to clear light.” [4]

Previous Post: The Educated Man

 


 

[1] When Jesus was in Samaria, he says that there are “yet four months to harvest” (John 4:35). If Jesus is indicating a specific time of year, then he must have been in Samaria in September-October. Therefore, it would have been about 6 months after the Passover in John 2.

 

[2] It is arguable that John was the first to use baptism.  Some Jewish sects were known to practice proselyte baptism as early as the second century but we don’t know if this was done at John’s time.

 

[3] The “friend of the bridegroom” is notably absent in wedding scene at Cana (John 2:1-11).  The “friend of the bridegroom” was a Judean tradition and was not practiced in Galilee (in the North).  (Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Section III, “The Ascent”, Chapter vi.)

 

[4] John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, John 3, p. 280.

October 26, 2014

The Educated Man

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Steve Knaus @ 2:32 pm

It is the Passover season in Jerusalem, 30 A.D. The province of Judea is led by a council of 70 elders, called The Sanhedrin.  This Council is sharply divided over the teacher who has come into town.  This man has claimed to be their promised Messiah, and then acted on these claims by throwing out the priests’ businesses from the temple courts.  The local priests and Sadducees are enraged, while the devout Pharisees in the council applaud this man for cleansing their temple from these corrupt practices.

 

All of Jerusalem watches in amazement over the next few days as this man teaches and performs miracles.  His popularity grows daily as thousands come to hear him.  The council argues about what to do with him, yet they are unable to reach any conclusion.

 

But there are a few from the council who are different.  These few see more than an enemy, or a spectacular show.  This man must have come from from God.

 

One of these few was a leader of the Council, named Nicodemus.  Nicodemus was a Pharisee, one of the most devout keepers of the law. His Greek name shows that he was from a wealthy family and his title as a “ruler of the Jews” shows that he had wealth, power, and influence.  He is referred later as the “The teacher of Israel”, showing that he was famous as a teacher of the law [1].  In summary, Nicodemus was wealthy, educated, prominent, and very devout.  Yet Nicodemus was missing something very important.

 

Nicodemus comes to visit Jesus at night, probably to keep his meeting secret.  The conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus is recorded in John 3:1-21.

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”

 

Nicodemus has seen Jesus’ signs and miracles and knows that he is from God.  But as we see in Jesus’ immediate response, that is not enough!

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

 

Nicodemus has accomplished a lot in life.  Nicodemus is a good man, but he is totally lost.

 

There is something much greater than your physical world.  The kingdom of God exists beyond what we can see, hear, or touch.  But unless you have a new life, you cannot even see this kingdom of God.  The term, “born again”, can be better translated as “born from above”.  You need to be given this new life from above.

 

“There was only one gate by which a man could pass into that kingdom of God – for that which was of the flesh could ever be only fleshly.” – Edersheim [2]

Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”

 

Nicodemus does not understand.  Here is a man who has done everything possible in this physical world.  But it is not about the physical world — Jesus is showing Nicodemus that he needs something more.

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’”

 

How can you be born from above?  You need more than a physical birth (“born of water”), but you also need a spiritual birth (“born of the Spirit”).  Your physical being (flesh) will never give you life in the Spirit.  (See the bottom of this post for a detailed discussion about “born of water”).

“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

 

Nicodemus is sitting with Jesus in an upper room of the house.  The Springtime winds would be blowing through the the narrow streets of Jerusalem, and Jesus uses this example to explain the Holy Spirit.  Both “wind” and “Spirit” are translated from the same Greek word: pneuma. The work of the Spirit is invisible and mysterious just like the blowing of the wind.  You don’t see it and you don’t know where it comes from, but you know when it is there.

 


Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?

 

Nicodemus still does not understand and Jesus replies with a rebuke.  Nicodemus is the premier teacher in Israel and he is having difficulty grasping the life in the Spirit.  The Old Testament scriptures teach that the Spirit of God will renew you (see Ezekiel 36:24-27).  Just like many of the other Jews of his day, Nicodemus did not understand this new life.

Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.

 

This is why Nicodemus does not understand.  It is not a matter of intellect but unbelief.  Nicodemus does not understand because he does not believe.  Nicodemus is not ready to hear about heavenly things until he first believes what Jesus tells him about what is on earth.

 

The final sentence shows that only Jesus is eligible to talk about heaven.  No one is able to talk about heaven except for he who came from there.

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

Jesus uses Nicodemus’ role model as a further example.  As a Pharisee and a teacher of the law, Nicodemus deeply revered Moses and the law that he gave to Israel.  But the Israelites did not obey and God sent poisonous snakes to kill them (see Numbers 21:5-9).  When the people cried out to God, God instructed Moses to make a bronze snake and raise it up on a pole.  Anyone who looked at the bronze snake would live.

 

Jesus uses the bronze serpent as an illustration of himself.  The bronze serpent represented God’s judgement. All a dying person needed to do was to look and be saved. Likewise, Jesus will be lifted up.  All a dying person needs to do is to believe in him and they will be saved.  Jesus will be lifted up when he is on a cross to to take God’s judgement for the entire world.

 

We are all dying in this physical world (Hebrews 9:27-28).  Jesus has come to offer us a way to be saved from this world, and to be born a new life in the Spirit.

 

What does it mean to believe?  Believing in Jesus is much more than intellectual assent.  It is more than knowing the facts.  Believing in Jesus means that you realize that you are totally helpless and you trust him completely.

 

“If the uplifted serpent, as symbol, brought life to the believing look which was fixed upon the giving, pardoning love of God, then, in the truest sense, shall the uplifted Son of Man give true life to everyone that believes, looking up in him to the giving and forgiving love of God, which his Son came to bring, to declare, and to manifest.” – Edersheim [2]

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

 

Why would God give us eternal life?  Because of his love for the world.

What did it cost God to give us eternal life?  It cost him the life of his only Son.

What do we need to do to gain eternal life?  We need to believe.

Nothing else.  Just believe.

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

 

The world is already dying.  Jesus came into this dying world so that we might have life.  God does not delight in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:23,32) but he desires that everyone be saved (1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9).

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

 

We don’t need to do anything to be judged because we are judged already.  We already are in this sinful, dying world and we need to be rescued in order to be saved from it.  Those who don’t look to Christ are like the dying Israelites who refused to look at the bronze serpent.

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.

 

Here is our final choice.  The contrast is between darkness and light.  When we think of evil people we think of murderers, thieves, etc.  But every one of us has done wicked things (compare Romans 3:23) and we are all in darkness.  We now have the choice: we can hold on to our sin or we can come to the light.

Previous post: The Corrupted Worship


 

Water and the Spirit

 

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (John 3:5-6)

 

There are several interpretations of the statement, “born of water”. Many seek a deep theological point from the comment about water.   However, the text is contrasting the physical (flesh) with the spiritual.  Jesus has just told Nicodemus that he must be born again and Nicodemus does not understand. The simplest explanation is that the “born of water and the Spirit” indicates that both a physical and a spiritual birth are needed.

Many commentators have seen a greater image of redemption, or repentance in the word “water”.  However, this word is never used again in this passage.  This entire passage is about being born again and it is highly unlike John (the author) to bring up an essential point and not to elaborate on it.  John’s style is the opposite: he will repeat and re-emphasize the important points (compare 3:15 with 3:16).  In addition, Jesus has not started discussing how to be born again at this point in the conversation.  He is still explaining what it means to Nicodemus and the “how” comes later on in the passage.

 

However, it is important to note that there is no theological error in proposing different interpretations for “water”, provided that all conclusions are consistent with the rest of Scripture (for example, it would be wrong to say that the “water” implies action on your part to be born again since it is inconsistent with other parts of Scripture — see below).  I list the most common interpretations below:

 

Invalid interpretations:

  • The water refers to baptism as an essential act of salvation. This contradicts the free gift from God in Ephesians 2:8-9, Titus 3:4-5.  Most importantly, this is also the opposite of what Jesus says later (3:15, 16).

 

Other interpretations:

  • Water indicates natural birth.  This is the view that is proposed here.
  • The water is the cleansing of the word of God (Ezekiel 36:24-27, Ephesians 5:26).  The problem with this view is that it is trying to extract a point from a single word.  It is as if Jesus interrupts his points to Nicodemus to introduce a new topic.  The application of Ezekiel 36:24-27 would be better applied to later in the passage (3:10) when Jesus rebukes Nicodemus for not understanding these things.
  • The water is a symbol of the Holy Spirit (John 7:37–39).  This is confusing though, to say “water AND the Spirit”.
  • The water is a reference to the repentance ministry of John the Baptist.  This is again an attempt to interrupt the current discussion with a new topic.  A lot has happened since John the Baptist was baptizing in the Jordan and there is no indication that Nicodemus was thinking of John’s baptism.

 


 

[1] Stepen Davey, “Reborn…The Declaration”, http://media.colonial.org/files/PDFs/CBC/Face%20to%20Face%20Encountering%20the%20Messiah%20Part%20II.pdf

[2] Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Section III, “The Ascent”, Chapter vi.

October 19, 2014

The Corrupted Worship

Filed under: Uncategorized — Steve Knaus @ 3:13 am

John 2:13-22

The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.


Malachi 3:1-2

Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap.

I am often reminded of a familiar picture of Jesus: he is wearing a spotless robe with a purple sash, looking sweetly and serenely into the distance.  These next events in John’s account show Jesus to be anything but sweet and serene. One of Jesus’ first public acts is to go into the temple and directly confront the corruption within the current religious system [2].  Jesus also fulfills the prophecy of Malachi 3:1, where the Messiah is promised to “suddenly come to his temple”.

 

Passover was the greatest of the Jewish celebrations.  Jews from all over the world would congregate in Jerusalem in order to make a sacrifice in the temple at this time.

 

The temple was led by a ruthless group of priests at this time.  Led by Annas, the former high priest (and father-in-law to the current high priest), they had devised a system to make a massive profit off of the Passover pilgrims.  Most notably, their profit came in two ways:

  • All sacrifices must be certified as clean by the priests.  The priests would sit in the outer court of the temple and check each animal that was brought in for a sacrifice.  At this time, the priests would require the pilgrims to buy or trade their animals from only the local certified merchants.  The certified merchants would charge a huge markup, thus forcing the pilgrims to pay much more for what they already had.
  • All Jewish men were required by law to pay a temple tax.  This tax must be paid in the local currency and with exact change.  The traveling pilgrims would have a large variety of different currencies (both local and foreign) so the money changers would be available to convert to local currency and make change.  The abuse of this tax came in with the hume fees that the temple changers would charge in order to both convert currencies and to make change.

 

It is important to know that many of the local Jews hated the temple priests and they way they had corrupted their system of worship.  When Jesus cleansed the temple of these abuses, he gained instant popularity with the local Jews who also despised the corrupt priests in the temple.  While he had made enemies with the priestly leadership, his fame among the people would have protected him from any revenge from the priests for his actions. [1]

 

In this brief scene, Jesus makes the statement twice that he is the Messiah.  First, he does the actions of the Messiah as predicted by Malachi.  He comes suddenly and purifies his temple.  This statement would not have been lost on his religious listeners, who knew the Old Testament prophets very well.  This was already a sign for the Jews yet they demanded more.

 

His second statement would only be understood by his disciples, and only much later.  Jesus promises that if they destroy this temple, he would raise it up on the third day.  The will try to destroy him, yet Jesus will triumph [1].  Even here at the start of his ministry, we see Jesus giving a message of hope that will only be received much later.

 

John 2:23-25

Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.

 

The same original word Is used here for both “believe” and “entrust”. A better translation of this second sentence would read, “But Jesus on his part was not committing himself to them…”  Many people believed in Jesus when the saw his signs in Jerusalem. But Jesus knew that their beliefs were shallow and short-lived. Therefore he did not commit to them.

Jesus is reserving the core of his message to only those who believe.  This happened earlier in Cana (John 2:11), but it happens even more in this scene.  Jesus provides an invitation for all men, but he is looking for more than those with a passing fancy, or for those who are merely excited about what they have seen.  Jesus is looking for those who truly believe him and will completely trust him.

Previous Post: The Wedding Miracle


[1] Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Section III, “The Ascent”, Chapter v.

[2] Some commentators have tried to combine the events in John 2 with the scene of Jesus cleansing the temple in the other gospel accounts (Matt 21:12–17, Mark 11:15–18, Luke 19:45–46).  However, the cleansing in John’s account occurs at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry while the cleansing in the other gospel accounts occur at the end of his ministry.  The events described in the two narratives are different, as are Jesus’ words and the reactions of the priests.  Therefore, these two narratives are best understood as two separate events: Jesus cleanses the temple (John 2) as an opening statement when he starts his ministry and he then cleanses the temple again (Matt 21, Mark 11, Luke 19) as one of his final acts at the close of his ministry.

October 12, 2014

The Wedding Miracle

Filed under: Uncategorized — Steve Knaus @ 5:13 pm

We use the term miracle today to describe something amazing or extraordinary.  Yet the miracles mentioned in The Bible were much more than what we talk about today.  God used a human messenger to deliver his message, but he would then give that messenger some power so that he could prove that the message was true.

Acts 2:22 ” “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know—”

The New Testament uses three words for miracles [1]:

  • Miracles – (δύναμις) dunamis – powers or mighty works; never used in the Gospel of John
  • Wonders – (τέρας) teras – a wonder; used only once in John
  • Signs – (σημεῖον) sēmeion – sign; used several times through John, starting in chapter 2

As we follow John’s narrative to Jesus’ first miracle, let us first point out why:

John 2:11 ” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.”

Jesus performed this miracle so that people could see his glory, i.e. could see who he really was.  Even more specifically, this was so that his new disciples would believe in him.

One of the bright spots for the poor farmers in Galilee was the occasional wedding celebration.  The contracts were already made, the promises already committed, and now it was time for the groom to go and fetch the bride.  He would lead her to the home that he had prepared for them with the entire town following in the procession.  They marriage contract was completed and all invited guests would join in a large feast.  Depending on the wealth of the families, the marriage feast could last for several days.

But the wedding held much deeper meaning to the Jews than just the celebration.  Both the Old Testament scriptures and Rabbinic tradition taught that marriage symbolized God’s relationship with his people.  The more devout Jews would prepare for the wedding with fasting.  Some even believed that the wedding ceremony would forgive sins [3]  All faithful Jews would enter the ceremony with a ceremonial washing.

The narrative of the wedding in John 2 is very concise.  The entire scene of the wedding is more of a summary with few specific details.  Much has been written to try and “fill in the blanks” but this is what we know from the Gospel of John:

John 2:1-2
​ On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples.

The setting is in town of Cana.  Mary is at the wedding in a position of responsibility (v.3).  Jesus is invited and travels up from Judea with his disciples.  (Note that Jesus’ disciple Nathanael is from Cana.) Cana is not far from Jesus’ home town of Nazareth.

John 2:3
When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”

The crisis comes when the wine runs out. This was more than a social failure but a great humiliation to the new couple. This was a culture where hospitality is very important and they have just failed.

Mary comes to Jesus with the problem.  We are not told what she expects of Jesus: Is she asking her oldest son to take care of the problem [4]?  She clearly knows that Jesus is the Messiah, so does she now expect that he will perform a miracle?  Either way, we are not told what Mary is thinking.  Jesus’ immediate response makes Mary’s thoughts irrelevant.

John 2:4-5
And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Jesus’ reply respectfully puts her in her place.  He replies with two brief statements:

Woman, what does this have to do with with me?

Jesus’ response is respectful, but he does not refer to her as his mother.  Instead, Jesus is telling her that he is no longer submitting to her as her son.  They have a new relationship now that he has begun his ministry.  The comment, “what does this have to do with me”, could be translated as “You misunderstand our relationship”. [5]

My Hour has not yet come.

Jesus further emphasizes that he now is taking direction from the Holy Spirit.  He will only act on the Spirit’s timing and not take orders from his mother. [6]

John 2:6-8
Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it.

As mentioned above, it was expected for the Jews to purify themselves (ceremonially wash their hands) before entering the wedding ceremony.  This would have been a very devout family to gather this much water (120-180 gallons) for the guests’ purification.

John 2:9-10
When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.”

John makes a point to note here that the master of the feast was oblivious to what was going on.  All he knew was that now, at the end of the feast, they come out with the best wine.

This is Jesus’ first public act in his ministry and he starts at a celebration.  But as I reflect on this passage, it shows that Jesus is still working through personal connections with people.  In the previous chapter, we see Jesus call Andrew, John, Peter, Philip, and Nathanael through personal encounters.  Now, we see Jesus using a family celebration to show who he is, and to draw his disciples to him.

John 2:11
” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.”

 

Previous post: Introduction to Jesus


[1] Stephen Davey, “A Wedding Sketch”, http://media.colonial.org/files/PDFs/CBC/Wonder-Working%20Power%20Part%20IV.pdf

[2] John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, John 2, p. 278.

[3] Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Section III, “The Ascent”, Chapter iv.

[4] Joseph is never mentioned during Jesus’ adult life and the common consensus is that Joseph must have died before this point.  As the oldest son, the family responsibility now rested on Jesus.

[5] Doug Bookman, Life of Christ, Audio Series, lecture 5. http://www.bookmanministries.com/

[6] At a deeper level, there are two possible understandings of the statement, “My hour has not yet come“.  The most common understanding is that Jesus is waiting on the Holy Spirit’s direction before he will attempt to do anything on his own.  In this way, he had not yet been directed by the Spirit to turn water to wine (yet this direction came shortly thereafter). The other possibility was that Jesus is looking ahead to the time when he would publicly present himself as their savior by sacrificing himself.  In the Gospel of John, Jesus mentions five times during his ministry that his time has not yet come (2:4; 7:6, 8, 30; 8:20).  Near the time of his death, Jesus mentions three times that his time has come (12:23; 13:1; 17:1). [2]

October 4, 2014

True Love

Filed under: Uncategorized — Travis Biller @ 3:04 pm

I just heard former president Jimmy Carter, a self-proclaimed born again Christian, say to a large audience concerning the LBGTQ community, “I never knew of any words or actions of Jesus Christ that ever discriminated against anyone because of who they were…” A long applause followed his remarks.  He went on to say that “…it is best to treat everyone equally in the eyes of God.” He then equated being gay with being of a different race. Essentially he was saying that if Jesus were here now He would be supporting the LBGTQ community as they are. He was using Jesus to support his contentions, but failed to point to any teaching of Jesus that would demonstrate that Jesus supports all gay lifestyles.

The web site that posed his comments wrote, “Even if you’re not religious, it’s hard not to shout ‘Amen!’ after what he says.” And the post was labeled, “Here’s What It Sounds Like When A 90-Year-Old Devout Christian Gives A Fierce Defense Of Gay Rights.”

Devout Christian? Hmmm. I don’t doubt the man’s sincerity. He believes he is a devout Christian. But, our testimony of ourselves is never a good indicator of who we really are. In the book of Acts chapter 11, verse 26 we read, “And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” That last sentence is very important.

According to the Bible a “Christian” is a disciple – specifically a Christian is a disciple of Jesus. The word disciple means “a learner.” This person is one who dedicates themselves to the teaching of Jesus, and then lives their life accordingly. When Jesus gave one of His last commands, commonly referred to as the “Great Commission,” He said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matt 28:18-20.

When the church was first born after Pentecost, the new disciples spent their time learning the doctrine of Christ from the apostles (Acts 2:42). The result of their following the teachings of Jesus put them at odds with the Jewish authorities (cf. Acts 8:1-4), and later with the Roman authorities (2 Peter 1:4). I can’t think of a single verse in the Bible where they were given long applauses for their singular stance on the doctrines they had been entrusted with, and were expected to proclaim from the rooftops.

The reality is that while Jesus was open to sinners, he never once winced at calling sin, sin. There were people who were highly offended at what Jesus had to say (cf. Matt 23), and there were people who were very responsive to what Jesus taught (cf. Luke 7:36-50). And while Jesus never turned away a sinner, if they were the responsive type, He always turned them away from their sin (cf John 8:11).

The reality is that Jesus did discriminate. He discriminated between sin and righteousness. While loving all sinners He taught them, and showed them, what righteousness was. Jimmy Carter said that “it is best not to discriminate in the eyes of God.” But in the Bible God demonstrates what true discrimination looks like:

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! … Therefore, as the fire devours the stubble, And the flame consumes the chaff, so their root will be as rottenness, And their blossom will ascend like dust; Because they have rejected the law of the LORD of hosts, And despised the word of the Holy One of Israel. Therefore the anger of the LORD is aroused against His people; He has stretched out His hand against them and stricken them, and the hills trembled. Their carcasses were as refuse in the midst of the streets (Isa 5:20-25).

Scary, to say the least.

Indeed, the Bible says that “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb 10:31). God’s anger is never directed at sinners who understand they are sinful, and therefor seek repentance. God embraces such people and gives them the ability to flee sin and embrace righteousness. But His anger (as in the passage above) is directed against those who would misrepresent Him and what He commands – and what He commands is not hard to understand.

That’s why a Christian, as defined by the Bible (a disciple), spends much time seeking to know what God teaches, so that he can both follow Him, and teach others to do the same. True Christians have always found themselves at odds with the cultures they lived in precisely because they lived by this standard. And they live by this standard because they are commanded to; and they are commanded to because God loves people enough to call them out of sin.

Today, God’s love is often misrepresented as blind, unconditional acceptance. But that is not God’s love. That is man’s desire for God’s love. We want God to affirm us AND our sin. But God will never give affirmation to our sin. The message of Jesus is that God discriminates against our sin precisely because He loves us. He wants to put enough distance between us and our sin so that we will not be destroyed with our sin:

“Say to them: ‘As I live,’ says the Lord GOD, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?’” (Ezek 33:11).

September 28, 2014

Introduction to Jesus

Filed under: Uncategorized — Steve Knaus @ 10:53 pm
2014-07-26 16.25.26

The Jordan River, near the traditional site of Jesus’ baptism

John’s Gospel narrative opens with the scene of a man preaching in the desert.  He has gained so many followers that he now has the attention of the religious establishment.  Who is this man? This man, John, is leading and baptizing new disciples every day, yet he has no connection to any of the leading religious parties.

I often wonder what it would have been like to be with John at this time. He captivated multitudes yet he had a simple message: “Repent, for the Messiah is coming!” [1]  But John’s excitement has only intensified.  It has been close to 6 weeks earlier [2] when Jesus had come to John, requesting to be baptized.  Here was the coming king that John had been preaching about, and he was requesting that John baptize him.  Jesus had abruptly left after his baptism, leaving John to only reflect on the encounter.

For more information on the promised Messiah, see the link here.

The narrative of John 1 (v. 19-51) gives a very specific succession of days as we see the focus move from John now to Jesus:

Thursday: John is confronted about who he is 

(v. 19-28) At some time during the day on Thursday [4], a delegation reaches John as he is teaching by the Jordan.  This is a group of priests and levites who have been sent from the top religious governing body (the Sanhedrin) in Jerusalem.  Their line of questions is straightforward: “Who are you?”

“Are you the Messiah?”

John’s response is redundant.  He confesses, does not deny, but confesses that he is NOT the messiah (the Christ).

“Are you Elijah?”

Malachi 4:5 promises that Elijah will return before the Messiah.  In Luke (1:17) the angel tells that John will be in the spirit and power of Elijah.  But John is not the answer of Elijah to these people. [5]  His answer is in less detail, “I am not!”

“Are you the Prophet?”

Near his death, Moses promised to the Israelites that God would raise up a prophet like him, who would tell them God’s word (Deut 18:15-18).  The Jews evidently saw in this promise another prophet of Moses’ stature who would come (separate from Elijah or the Messiah).  (Both Peter and Stephen apply this promise to Jesus as the Messiah, Acts 3:22, 7:37). John’s answer is very abrupt, “No!”.

“Who are you”

The delegation needs to give an answer back their senders.  John quotes Isaiah 40:3, saying that he is the voice of one crying in the wilderness.  He is the herald who is to come before the king’s visit to get things ready.

“Why do you baptize, then?”

John replies with, “I baptize you with water but a greater one is among you.”  John has seen the Messiah by this time and is waiting for him to reveal himself.

John seems to become increasingly reactive to all of the questions about him.  It is like he is fighting the temptation himself.

Friday: John sees Jesus

 (v 29-34) John sees Jesus on the next day after the delegation (Friday), and publicly announces him as “The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world”.  The depiction of a lamb would be well known to the Jews who were listening to John.  The sacrificed lamb for sin was an essential part of the Jewish beliefs.  However, John also mentions that Jesus is not only for the Jews but for the whole world.  In case the readers were still unsure what John was talking about, he concludes his message on Friday saying, “this is the Son of God”.

John emphasizes his points about Jesus on that day: Jesus outranks him, John did not know Jesus beforehand, but his entire purpose was to reveal the Messiah to Israel.

Jesus has just been on a 40-day fast and would be on the brink of death by the time it ended.  He is still probably very weak and sickly when he comes up while John is announcing him.  He is already defying the Jewish expectations of the Messiah.  They are looking for a magnificent, conquering king, but instead stumbles in a man who has been ignored by the religious authorities and is only announced by this lone preacher in the middle of the wilderness. [6]

Saturday: “We have found the Messiah!”

(v. 35-42) John is spending time on a Sabbath morning with two of his disciples. They would have been especially close to John if they had come to join him on a Sabbath day. [3][4]  We know that one of the disciples was Andrew and the other disciple is traditionally believed to be John (the author of this book).  John points out Jesus to them and indicates again that he is the Lamb of God.

The conversation is almost awkward between the two disciples and Jesus.  Jesus says to them, “What are you looking for?”  They respond with, “Teacher, where are you staying?”, indicating that they want to spend time with him [7].  Jesus invites them to come and they stay with him that day.

Any doubts that Andrew and John may have had that day are erased after spending time with Jesus.  Andrew gets his brother Simon and tells him, We have found the Messiah”.

Jesus looks at Simon, as if studying him him [7], and then changes his name.  Simon will become one of the Jesus’ closest and most well-known of his disciples, yet he is now better known by the new name that Jesus gave him, “Peter” (or Rock).

Sunday: Jesus calls Philip and Nathanael

Jesus is traveling North to Galilee on the next day.  He first finds Philip and simply directs him to “Follow Me”.  Don’t just follow me once, but continually follow me. We learn later about Philip and find that he is one who wants to carefully measure the facts.  Jesus asks Philip to follow him and to stay with him even when he doesn’t understand. [7]

Philip brings Nathanael, who is hesitant.  Jesus is from Nazareth, but can any good come out of Nazareth?  Nazareth was a wicked city with a reputation for trouble.  Jews of his day did not believe that any prophet would come from Galilee (John 7:52), and there was no prophecy pertaining to Nazareth.

Jesus commends Nathanael for his frankness, but Jesus goes further.  Jesus tells Nathanael that he knows that he has been meditating on God, and about the way to God.  Sitting under the fig tree was a colloquial term for spiritual mediation. The reference to angels ascending and descending would be connected to the common thoughts of his day, that Jacob’s ladder was the way to God (See Genesis 28). [7]  Jesus tells Nathanael that he knows what he was doing, what he was thinking, and that Jesus is the way to God!

Jesus commonly referred to himself as the “Son of Man”.  The “Son of Man” was a recognized Messianic title from the Old Testament (See Dan 7:13-14) [8]  Note that Nathanael is called Bartholomew in the other gospel accounts.

Jesus may have been given divine insight into his other disciples as he called them, knowing the right words to say to bring them.  However, Nathanael’s response alone shows that Jesus is given divine insight into this latest encounter.

Previous post: The Word


[1] See Matthew 3, Mark 1, and Luke 3 for the detailed account of John’s early ministry.  It appears that Jesus was not recognized as the Messiah by any others besides John at the time of his baptism.

[2] The 6 weeks time frame (42 days) is a rough estimate of the 40 days that Jesus was being tempted in the wilderness, plus whatever time would be needed for Jesus to physically recover and make his way back to John.  The events of John 1-2 must have occurred after Jesus was baptized and tempted in the desert, since:  (a) John 1-2 give a very specific timeline of days (John 1:29, 1:35, 1:43, 2:1) as Jesus starts his ministry, leaving no room for a 40-day gap to be tempted in the wilderness;  (b) In John 1:32-34, John the Baptist is recounting a past event where he had first met Jesus at the time of his baptism; and (c) John 1:26 shows a distinct change in John’s message from “He is coming” (see Matthew, Mark, Luke), to “He is among you”.

[3] Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Section III, “The Ascent”, Chapter 3.

[4] According to Edersheim (see [3]), the marriage in Cana of John 2 would have been on Wednesday.  Jewish custom fixed the marriage of a maiden on Wednesday and a Widow on Thursday.  A widow’s marriage would not have generated the large festivities that are described in John 2.  We use the timeline of John 1-2 to count back the days of the week.

[5] Later on, Jesus tells his disciples that John was the Elijah who came before the messiah (Matthew 11:14, Mark 9:13).  Either John didn’t understand that he was the fulfillment of Elijah, or more likely, John didn’t fulfill the Elijah prophecy because he was rejected (see Matt 11:14).  Elijah could only usher in the kingdom of God when people’s hearts are repentant and ready to receive him.  Therefore, John could never be Elijah for the group of unrepentant Jews that came to him in the desert.  [3]

[6] Doug Bookman, Life of Christ, Audio Series, lecture 4. http://www.bookmanministries.com/

[7] Stephen Davey, “The Test”, 10/10/1993, http://media.colonial.org/files/PDFs/CBC/Face%20to%20Face%20Encountering%20the%20Messiah%20Part%20I.pdf

[8] John MacArthur, MacArthur Study Bible Notes, John 1

September 26, 2014

The Messiah of the Old Testament

Filed under: theology — Tags: , , — Steve Knaus @ 12:36 am

Since the time of Adam, God has promised that one will come who will defeat Satan and restore his people.  As the books of the Old Testament unfold, we see that God gives more and more detail about this promised one.

This promised one was known to the Jews as the “Anointed One” (Daniel 9:25).  To the Hebrew-speaking Jews of the Old Testament times, they would refer to The Anointed One by the Hebrew translation: “Messiah”.  To the Greek and Aramaic speaking Jews of the New Testament times (and in between), they would refer to The Anointed One by the Greek translation: “Christ”.

The information below shows what was revealed about the Messiah through all 39 of the Old Testament Books.  Note that this list is far from exhaustive but I wanted to highlight the most significant themes regarding from Messiah in each book.  Most Jews of the First Century were very educated in their Law and Prophets (these books), and were anxiously awaiting the promised Messiah.

See also an excellent  post here showing how all 66 books of the Bible point to Jesus Christ:  http://sapphiresky.org/2013/11/09/its-all-about-jesus-christ/

Genesis

  • The messiah is an offspring of the woman (Eve).  He will be bruised by Satan and will crush his head (3:15).
  • All the families of the earth will be blessed through Abraham’s descendant (12:3, 18:18).
  • Melchizedek is (briefly) introduced as the great high priest (Psalm 110:4).
  • The royal line of the Messiah will be through Judah (49:10).

Exodus

  • The Passover is instituted as a time to celebrate God’s deliverance of the nation and to sacrifice a lamb.  Jesus is identified as the eternal Passover Lamb in the New Testament (John 1:29, 36; 1 Cor 5:7).  Jesus died on the day of Passover.
  • The office of the High Priest is instituted.  This also foreshadows the ministry of Jesus Christ in the New Testament (see Hebrews 4:14-16, 9:11-15).

Leviticus

  • The ritual of sacrifices is instituted to cover personal and national sins.  However, the sacrifice is only a foreshadowing of the permanent sacrifice made by Jesus Christ (Hebrews 9:11-15).

Numbers

  • Moses raises a bronze serpent so that all who are dying can look on it and be healed (21:6-9).  Jesus compares himself to this scene, saying that he will be lifted up for all to look on (John 3:14-15).
  • From the words of Balaam, “A star shall come forth from Jacob, and a scepter shall rise from Israel” (24:17).

Deuteronomy

  • Moses promoses that God will raise up a “prophet like me” (18:15-19).  In the New Testament, Peter applies this to Jesus (Acts 3:22).

Joshua

  • Joshua himself is a portrayal of the Messiah as he leads the people to both reform and victory.  Note that Joshua’s name is the same Hebrew word as Jesus.
  • Rahab, a gentile prostitute, is part of the lineage of Jesus Christ (Matt 1:5).

Judges

  • There are no direct references to the Messiah in Judges.  However, each of the Judges shows the role of the Messiah in that they rescue, lead, and reform the people.

Ruth

  • The kinsman-redeemer in Ruth portrays Christ in that he is related to the bride and is willing to pay the price of redemption.
  • Ruth is another gentile woman in the lineage of Jesus Christ.

Samuel

  • The kingdom of David is presented in First and Second Samuel.  David’s kingdom is promised to be ultimately fulfilled by the Messiah in his kingdom.  (7:16 – “your throne will be established forever”).

Kings

  • Elijah is presented in 1 Kings, and we are told later that Elijah will precede the Messiah (see Malachi).
  • Through both good and bad kings, God is faithful to his covenant with David to preserve his royal line.

Chronicles

  • The tribe of Judah is given prominence since this tribe holds both the Kingship and the Messiah.
  • God remains faithful to the line of David despite wickedness and treachery.

Ezra

  • God shows his promise to restore the people and to preserve the line of David.
  • The decree of Cyrus starts the 70 weeks to the Messiah as prophesied by Daniel (see Daniel).

Nehemiah

  • Like in Ezra, God shows that he will restore the people.
  • The rebuilt temple restores the priesthood and the sacrifices as they prefigure the Messiah.

Esther

  • God will keep his promises and preserve his people — even in the face of overwhelming opposition.

Job

  • “I know that my redeemer lives” (19:25-27).
  • Job tells of his need for a mediator (9:33).

Psalms

  • Many of the psalms either directly or indirectly tell of the Messiah.  Some examples:
    • Psalm 2 – God declares him as his Son
    • Psalm 16 – He will rise from the dead
    • Psalm 22 – This gives great detail of the crucifixion experience.  He will be scorned and mocked, his hands and feet pierced, and others will gamble for his clothes.
    • Psalm 34 – Not a bone will be broken
    • Psalm 35 – He will be accused by false witnesses and hated without a cause
    • Psalm 41 – He will be betrayed by a close friend
    • Psalm 45 – His throne will endure forever
    • Psalm 69 – Zeal for God’s house will consume him; he will be given sour wine to drink
    • Psalm 72 – Kings of the earth will pay tribute to him
    • Psalm 110 – His enemies will become his footstool; he will be a priest like Melchizedek
    • Psalm 118 – He is the chief cornerstone; “Blessed is he who comes in the name of The Lord!”
    • Psalm 132 – He is the descendant of David

Proverbs

  • Wisdom is personified in chapter 8.  Jesus became the fullness of wisdom (Col 2:3, 1 Cor 1:30).

Ecclesiastes

  • Ecclesiastes shows the emptiness of life without God, who has created eternity in their hearts (3:11).

Song of Solomon

  • The church is depicted in the New Testament as the bride of Christ.

Isaiah

  • Isaiah has more about the Messiah than any other book in the Old Testament.  The central section of the suffering of the messiah is Chapters 52-53.  Some of the specific prophecies about the messiah:
    • 7:14 – He will be born of a virgin
    • 9:1-2 – Light for those who have walked in darkness; his major work will be in Galilee
    • 9:6 – Wonderful, counselor, the almighty God, the everlasting father
    • 11:1-5 – He will be a descendant of Jesse
    • 28:16 – He is the precious cornerstone
    • 35:5-6 – He will make the blind see the deaf hear, and the lame walk
    • 40:3-5 – a voice crying, “In the wilderness prepare the way of The Lord”.  John the Baptist considered himself to be this voice as he prepared the way for the Messiah’s coming (John 1).
    • 42:1-4 – God’s chosen servant will have his Spirit on him.  He will bring justice to the earth.
    • 42:6-7 – He is a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind and to save the prisoners.
    • 50:6 – He will be beaten, mocked, and spit on
    • 52:14 – His appearance was marred beyond recognition
    • 53:1-12 – He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; … and by his wounds we are healed.  He will be rejected and killed.  He will be silent before his accusers.  He will be condemned with criminals and buried with the rich.
    • 59:16 – He will intercede for the people.
    • 61:1-2 – He will bring good news to poor and liberty for the captives.  Jesus personally read this passage in his home town of Nazareth, applying it to himself (Luke 4:16-21).
  • Prophecies about the Messiah that are not yet fulfilled:
    • 11:2-10  -he will rule with righteousness, equity, and force
    • 32:1-8 – He is the king who will reign in righteousness
    • 49:7 – Kings and princes will pay homage
    • 52:13-15 – He will silence kings
    • 60:1-3 – Darkness will cover the earth but brightness will shine from the Messiah
    • 61:2-4 – He will restore and repair the nation
  • Jesus directly quotes from Isaiah 61 when he describes himself to his home town.
  • John the Baptist uses Isaiah 40 to describe himself as the “voice of one crying in the wilderness”.

Jeremiah

  • God promises to raise up from David a Righteous Branch (23:5-6) who will reign as king and act wisely and save the people.  He will be called “The Lord our righteousness”.
  • God promises a new covenant with his people (31:31-34).

Lamentations

  • Jeremiah weeps over Jerusalem, just like Jesus will weep over Jerusalem many centuries later (Matt 23:37-38).

Ezeklel

  • The messiah is the tender twig that grows into a great tree (17:22-24).
  • God will give judgement to him (21:26-27).
  • The Messiah will be the shepherd over his flock (34:11-31).
  • The Messiah rules as the prince over his restored people (chapters 44-47).

Daniel

  • He is the great stone cut out of the mountainside which will crush the other kingdoms (2:34-35, 44).
  • He is presented as the “son of man” and is given a kingdom that will never end (7:13-14).
  • Daniel 9 tells of 70 weeks to the coming of the Messiah.  Specifically, 9:25-26 gives a specific pinpoint of time between when the decree to restore Jerusalem to he coming of the Messiah.
    • Daniel 9 specifically identifies “the anointed one” (i.e. Messiah).

Hosea

  • 11:1 says, “out of Egypt if called my son”.  This is referenced in Matthew (2:15) as referring to Jesus.
  • Hosea’s relationship with his sinful wife (Gomer) illustrates the Messiah’s work of redemption.

Joel

  • Joel 3 tells of the Messiah sitting in judgement over the nations in the valley of Jehoshaphat.

Amos

  • He promises to restore the “booth of David” (9:11).

Obadiah

  • The book culminates with the restored kingdom, which will belong to The Lord.

Jonah

  • Jesus compared himself directly to Jonah.  As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so he would be three days and three nights in the earth.  (Matt 12:38-42).

Micah

  • Micah 5:2 clearly states that the Messiah (ruler in Israel; timeless one) will come from Bethlehem.
  • Micah 4 gives great detail of the Messiah’s reign over the whole earth.

Nahum

  • We see the Messiah judging the nations.

Habakkuk

  • Salvation comes from the Lord (3:13, 3:18).

Zephaniah

  • The Messiah will preside over the restored kingdom (chapter 3).

Haggai

  • The new temple will be part of God’s plan for peace (2:9).

Zechariah

  • He is The Branch (3:8, 6:12-13).
  • He will be the king and priest (6:13-14).
  • He is coming humbly and mounted on a donkey (9:9).
  • He is rejected and sold for 30 pieces of silver (11:4-13).
  • He will be pierced (12:10).
  • He is the shepherd who will be struck and abandoned (13:7).

Malachi

  • The messenger will prepare the way for the Messiah (3:1, Isaiah 40:3)
  • He will purify the nation (3:2-3)
  • Elijah the prophet will come before the day of The Lord (4:5-6)

Primary Source, The New Open Bible, Study Edition, (c) 1990, Thomas Nelson, Inc.

September 14, 2014

The Word

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: , — Steve Knaus @ 1:29 am

John will use several different descriptions of Jesus through the course of his gospel as he introduces us to different aspects of his character.  But he uses a very simple term, “The Word” (Greek: logos), to introduce us to him.  The significance of Logos is lost in our English world, but means far more than just “word”.  “Logos” conveys the entire message, both the said and unsaid.

 

To the Greeks in John’s day, the gods were distant.  The philosopher Plato said, “Maybe one day, a logos (a message or a word) will come from God who will reveal the mysteries and make things plain.” (*)

 

The Jews in John’s day had a clear understanding of God’s word.  The Old Testament contains many references to God’s power and presence expressed through his word.  For example:

By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host. (Psalms 33:6)

 

But John makes this more personal.  Not only does the Word (logos) signify the power and the presence of God, but it is also a person.  This man that John has come to know is more than a mere human!  To the Greeks, he is the one who will reveal the mysteries.  To the Jews, he is the power and the presence of God.  But he is more than a mere force — he became human and lived among us!

 

​ In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
In him was life, and the life was the light of men.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.
(John 1:1-5,9)

 

John starts out his gospel with an extended introduction to The Word (logos).  In many ways, this introduction is a summary of the entire gospel:

  • The Word is fully God (he was with God and he was God)
  • The Word has God’s attributes, including eternity (in the beginning), power (creation)
  • The Word is the source of all life
  • The Word is the source of all goodness.  He stands against evil and is greater than Evil (referenced by light vs. darkness) [1]
  • The Word is the true light.  The real thing!

 

But there are more personal notes about The Word:

 

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
(John 1:6-8)

John the Baptist (not the author) is sent ahead as a witness of the Word.  John only lived to reflect the light back on Him. [2]

 

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
(John 1:9-13)

Sadly, The Word came to his own country, but his own people rejected him.  But therein is also the good news: he gives the right to be children of God to those who do receive him!

This is the core of our confusion about Jesus Christ.  The point here is very clear and very simple: Jesus — the very one who made the world — came into the world.  Yet the world did not know him.  His own people did not receive him.

But the good news is also here: he has given the right to be God’s children to those who did receive him!

This is a critical point: what does it mean to receive him? Jesus came with a message of who he is.  He also came with a call. When we receive him, we yield our allegiance to him.  It means that we believe who he is and have placed our faith in him. [3] This challenge is the same for us in the 21st century as it was for those who lived with Jesus in the 1st century.

 

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
(John 1:14,16-17)

John (the author) has personally seen the glory of the Son of God.  But his fullness and his grace is not only limited to the eyewitnesses: we can all receive his grace.  Not just once, but over and over again (“grace upon grace”).

In case you have any doubts about who The Word is, John concludes his prologue with a very specific ending: “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ”.

Jesus Christ is the Word (logos) from God.  But he is more than a message.  He is more than power.  He is God himself!

 

 

[1]  John 1:5 says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it”.  This allusion of light vs. darkness contains much more truth than can be elaborated on here.  The light vs. darkness is often referenced in the Old Testament as well as the New Testament (see also Isaiah 9:2).  Both light and darkness are personified here.  The light actively invades the kingdom of darkness.  The kingdom of darkness attemts to destroy the light but fails.  Here is a brief overview of the ministry of Jesus Christ as the light: he comes to earth and enters the domain of Satan.  Satan seeks to destroy him and finally to kill him on earth, but Satan ultimately fails.

 

[2] The term “witness” cannot be overstated here.  The original word, martyria (also our root word for “martyr”) is used three times in 1:6-8 alone to describe John the Baptist.  John’s purpose was to be witness of Jesus Christ.  John shows his personal zeal later in the chapter (1:19-28), emphasizing that he is not to be compared with the coming messiah.

 

[3] This is paraphrased from John MacArthur, “To receive him who is the Word of God means to acknowledge his claims, place one’s faith in him, and thereby yield allegiance to him.” (MacArthur Study Bible Notes, John 1:12)

 

Previous post: Who is Jesus?

September 8, 2014

Who is Jesus?

Filed under: praise, theology, Uncategorized — Steve Knaus @ 2:06 am

Who is Jesus?

There may be no one in history with more written about than this man.  Authors have been busy for almost 2,000 years writing pages and volumes that reflect their thoughts of Jesus Christ.

 

Like the people who lived 2000 years ago, everybody today seems to have an opinion.   He is often called a great teacher, a miracle worker, a martyr. Some say that he was God.

 

The more I hear from people, the more I see that most people are trying to reinterpret the life of Jesus Christ into a person that they would like to see based on their own wants and needs. Lonely people want a friend. Hurting people want a miracle worker. Liberals like the one who opposed the religious and political establishment. Conservatives like the one who promised to uphold the law. Everybody likes the message of love, although few agree on what it means. The list goes on.

 

But we have missed the point.  We are looking at Jesus as if he was a cosmic force that exists for our own personal needs. He was a real man. He lived. He died. He came to life again.

 

Even in Jesus’ own day, people were filled with expectations of who he should be and what he should do for them. One thing is for certain: people who came to Jesus with preconceived notions all went away greatly disappointed.

 

So who is this man?  The first four books of the New Testament, known as The Gospels, tell us about the life of Christ Jesus and provide excerpts of his work.  The Fourth Gospel, written by John, provides some of the most personal glimpses of Jesus’ life on earth.

 

John was one of Jesus’ disciples and one of his closest friends. He does not attempt a biography but writes with the point:

 John 20:30-31

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

 

John’s point is twofold: (a) believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and (b) have life when you believe.

 

I have been challenged to write down what I encounter as I study through John’s book over the next several weeks.  I will try to use this blog as a means to share the most significant discoveries.

 

August 29, 2014

Celebrating Life!

Filed under: adoption, marriage and family, Ministry — Anthony Biller @ 11:25 pm

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for times of adversity. – Prov. 17:17

After 23 hours of travel, I turned my phone back on as the plane taxied to the gate.  Within seconds my phone rang, “Are you here?” my friend Allen asked.  He was picking us up in a large passenger van he picked up from the rental lot for us earlier in the day. My brother Travis should be waiting also with his truck to move our luggage.  Allen asked me to give him a 30 second warning prior to exiting the terminal.  He said there were a few folks waiting for us.

Our kids emerged one by one from their various rows on the plane.  We were excited to be back in North Carolina. Some groggy. One son had to be shaken awake; he stumbled toward the door. Then the text messages started pinging.  Same line of enquiry: where are you? Let us know when you’re close to leaving the terminal.  There are a few folks here …

To depart Terminal 2 at RDU, you climb a flight of stairs and walk down a long meeting placepartitioned hallway, about 50 yards long and emerge at a “meeting place” and a Starbucks. After the obligatory airport bathroom ordeal with ten children, we thanked God for our passage, sent the warning text, and ascended the stairs to exit.

We walked about ten yards down the hall and heard them before we saw anything.  It sounded like the vuvuzelas common to southern hemisphere soccer games, but maybe an octave higher pitch. Exiting passengers further ahead looked back, scanning the crowd and grinning.

welcome home1There was a horde waiting for us.  A wonderful, beautiful throng of family and friends, cheering and hooting.  It wasn’t vuvuzelas; it was at least a dozen children running around with birthday whistles blowing as loud as they could.  My brother estimated there were somewhere between one hundred to two hundred people.  Our children were stunned.  Our youngest adopted son was overwhelmed.  I found him and he rested his face against my shoulder.  I would like to say that I was overwhelmed, but I was too tired.10609556_451606891644663_2209963271664009958_n

For three weeks, Lesley and I had counted to ten repeatedly throughout the days, counting to make sure we had all the children with us.  In the past 23 hours, together we probably counted the kids dozens of times as we travelled through several airports.  Now, everyone was lost in the crowd. After the first ten minutes of hugging and embracing, I realized I had no idea where any of our kids were in this crowd.  I didn’t even know where Lesley was.  It did not matter.  We were home, with friends.  We were absorbed into a giant human love sponge.

Welcome home.

On the ride from the airport, I felt great. Home is so much more than a place.  It is where you belong.  It occurred to me that this is a glimpse of what our real homecoming one day will be like.  Surrounded not just by the people of God, but in the presence of the author of life Himself.

welcome home2Our friends were telling us something much more than welcome home. They were celebrating the new lives added to our family. They celebrated our adoption.  They celebrated the wonderful gift of life.  His people love life.  We “get” adoption, particularly those of us that have been close to it.  Adoption is a celebration of the new family, but for believers, it is also a celebration and reflection of the eternal father’s adoption of His children, of those that have placed their faith in His son. Each one of us is adopted.

Sometimes God is not subtle. His holding us up along this way has been so clear in ways big and small.  Even symbolically.  As our friends arrived at the airport to greet us, a giant rainbow showed over the airport. Several friends said that as they approached, the rainbow appeared to end at our terminal.

Rainbow RDU August 20It is good to be home.  The children are doing really well.  In our travels and at home, God has abundantly provided.  He continues to make the way smooth before us.  He strengthens and encourages us, particularly through his people. We are grateful for and continue to covet your prayers. It is humbling. Please keep praying!

There’s still some adjusting.  Our youngest daughter still doesn’t really get “America.”  When we pull into our neighborhood, she still yells “America!” We returned to the start of soccer season, homeschool, co-op and a busy work schedule.  We have little idea of how to figure out the new “normal.” But God is clearly providing, one day at a time. Last night, our “middle” adoptive son proudly recited John 3:16 to us.  Last December, he hardly spoke a single word of English.

God is great.

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May 29, 2014

2010 World Cup Shockers

Filed under: sports, video, World etc. — Anthony Biller @ 11:11 pm

May 9, 2014

World Cup Fever

Filed under: sports, video, World etc. — Anthony Biller @ 8:36 am

June 12 quickly approaches!

April 25, 2014

Deciding to Adopt God’s Word

Filed under: adoption, marriage and family — Anthony Biller @ 12:50 pm

How lovely is your dwelling place,
    Lord Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints,
    for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
    for the living God.
Even the sparrow has found a home,
    and the swallow a nest for herself,
    where she may have her young—
a place near your altar,
    Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
    they are ever praising you.

Psalm 84:1-4

Are you crazy?  I’ve heard that question from others and internalized the question to myself a few times since we decided to adopt six children from an orphanage in Eastern Europe.  And five of them are boys!

Our answer?

It was not our idea.  It’s not that we did not want to do this.  To the contrary, we are excited and eager (in fact frustrated by the tediousness of the process). God has given us a love and passion for these children that only increases over time.

But that’s the thing: this was God’s doing.  Not our own.  As I’ve explained earlier, not only was this not our idea, it was counter to what we had planned and contrary to the little rules we agreed would govern hosting or adoption.  God has made clear to us that He has different plans.

How did we know it was God’s will for us and not an emotional response or reaction to what we ate for breakfast? How can you ever be certain whether God is leading you or whether you are simply rationalizing your desires as being the will of God?

Well, we knew because we heard God talking to us the way He typically does: through His Word, through His People, through the circumstances he put us in,  and by that very quiet urging deep in our souls.  Through the solid convergence of these four, God spoke to us.  The more we prayed about it, the louder all four seemed to speak to us.

His Word on Adoption

I am somewhere in the second year of my one-year read through the Bible program.  Every time I do a read-through the Bible program, I’m surprised how God anticipated my falling behind.  So often the readings (which should have been completed weeks (or months!)) ago coincide perfectly with God answering my then current prayers and questions.

Last Christmas season was no different.  As the orphans were with us, I was much more diligent in my daily readings. And those readings several times reminded and encouraged me regarding God’s heart for orphans and widows.  Some of such passages follow:

Orphans and Fatherless

James 1:27  Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.rembrandt-16

Exodus 22:22-24  You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.

Deuteronomy 10:18 He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.

Deuteronomy 24:17-21 “You shall not pervert the justice due to the sojourner or to the fatherless, or take a widow’s garment in pledge, but you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this. “When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over them again. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not strip it afterward. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.

Psalm 68:5, 34-35  Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation. … Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides through the deserts; his name is the Lord; exult before him! Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.

Psalm 82:3  Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.

Servants

The Bible does not, however, compel Christians to adopt.  Adoption is simply one way to serve in a manner pleasing to God.  We are however mandated to be servants of the living God:

Matthew 20:28 “Even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Romans 13:9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Acts 20:35  In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

Matthew 18:2-5 And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me”

Proverbs 24:11 Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.

John 3:15 That whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

I have also recently been encouraged and reminded that adopting and being entrusted with parenting a child or children is an incredible gift from God. The costs (and frustrations) of adoption are small price compared to the blessing received:

Psalm 127:3-5  Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!

In studying the Biblical rationale for adoption, I was reminded of an interesting historical note.  Who is the most famous person you can think of that was adopted? Moses!

Acts 7:21 And when he was exposed, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son.

Every Christian is Adopted

As Lesley and I approached the “deadline” during hosting to decide whether we were going to pursue adopting our children, someone recommended that we read Adopted for Life by Russell D. Moore.  I bought it and added it to the “top” of my “most urgent” reading pile of books.  In quickly perusing its contents, I was convicted by the fact that each one of us professing Christians are broken orphans who have been adopted.  God quickly reminded us and convicted us of His words in this regard:

John 14:18  “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”

Romans 8:15-17  For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

Gal 4:4-7: But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law,  to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

These passages remind us all who we are. Contrary to what the world might have you believe, you were no accident of nature or circumstance.  You were created by the God of eternity who thought of you before time began.  He has a plan for you. Each one of us, if we’ve accepted Christ as our Lord and savior, each one of us is a child and heir of the almighty, infinite and eternal God.  What an honor and what a gift!

Christ’s Hands – the People of God

The second way we knew this was God moving us was through his people.  Our Christian brothers and sisters came out of the woodwork to love on us and the children.  It was incredible.  The love, encouragement, prayers and material support were continual.  And what a huge difference that made to us.  God provided.  No material needs were unmet.  Friends gave us furniture and bags of clothing for the children. Nearly every meal for a month was delivered, without our having to ask.

I like to eat.  As a result, I work out.  Running is the most accessible way to exercise.  One early morning while the children were with us, I went for a run.  When I returned home, there was a car in our driveway.  A friend had brought us breakfast. I saw the woman bringing a GARBAGE BAG apparently filled with food into our house.  I was amazed.  An entire garbage bag filled with food?  That’s a lot. Kind of incredible.  Even with ten kids, that’s more than we need for breakfast.

I was wrong.  She didn’t bring a bag filled with food.

SHE BROUGHT SIX BAGS OF FOOD!  We’re still eating some of it nearly four months later.

In fact, despite having to feed twelve people three meals a day for a month, I don’t believe we cooked more than two or three times for dinner.  Our friends continually brought food.  And everything and anything else we needed.

When God gives, He gives abundantly.

We wanted for nothing, for which we will remain thankful.

God fed us, through His people.  God encouraged us, through His people.  God provided for us, through His people.  God loved us, through His people.  God’s people prayed for us and our way was smooth.

Even now, as we build a new home and go through the expenses of the international adoption process, God blesses us through his people.  Good friends of ours run the website http://homeschoolmania.com  and are selling adoption friendly clothing and donating 100% of those sales proceeds as well as 50% of all online proceeds towards our adoption effort.  Further, several friends have donated directly to our adoption agency designating their donations towards our adoption costs. God continues to provide for and encourage us through his people.

Circumstances and Urging

The final pieces that confirms this is God’s leading and directing is when our present circumstances and internal feeling of being led align with God’s word and the influence of God’s people. It was not simultaneous, but over time, Lesley and I each felt convicted that we were to adopt these children – to bring these children into our home as our children.  I am convinced and every adoptive we have spoken with tells us: both parents must feel called to this.  If one does not feel called to adopt the children, you should not do it.  Over several weeks, Lesley and I varied back and forth, but as time passed we found ourselves with the same conviction.  We explored several easier alternatives, but each time and in various ways, God closed each of those doors.

We have other friends we’ve made during this journey where they felt led to adopt particular children, but God firmly closed the doors.  In our case, the desire and the circumstances have thus far aligned. One circumstance seemed quite obvious – after it happened. Nearly five years ago we bought a piece of property on which to planned to build a home designed for homeschooling and a lot of books.  We prayed for years that God would bless that effort and use the home for his purposes.  But it never worked out.  For years and for various reasons, we were simply unable to move forward with construction.  Everything came together towards the end of 2013 – finances, design and builder.  While lying in bed on the night we committed to hosting the six orphans, I realized that earlier that day Lesley and I had also signed the contract to build our house on that property – after many years of waiting and prayer.  The design was very easy to modify to accommodate 10 children! The timing and convergence of circumstances did not occur to us until after they occurred.  There have been other events, some significant, that have occurred since to make the way clear for our adoption effort.  It confirms our conviction that this is entirely God’s doing and timing.

Finding yourself in the midst of God’s will and His timing, is exciting. It reminds me of body surfing large waves in the Atlantic.  A very large force moves you in ways and fashions beyond your control and often differently than what you anticipated.

Thank you for your prayers and support. God is Great!

 

 

 

April 24, 2014

What a difference a month makes!

Filed under: adoption, Life!, marriage and family — Anthony Biller @ 10:18 am

Anthony Biller:

Long time Christian friends, fellow triathlete and former Army tell of their first month with adoptive daughter … the pictures show it all … click over to original to see the last picture!

Originally posted on Another Zotter Daughter:

We met our Mia Joy Yu Yan 1 month ago today.

Instead of typing a lengthy update, I’ll let the pictures tell the story…

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Day 1. We had just arrived back at our hotel room. She was still dressed in the clothes that she came to us in. The sadness and fear in her eyes broke our hearts.

The first day we met her.

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Day 2 – she was very sick and slept a lot

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Day 3 – still very sick and sleepy

Day 4 - unsure of these strangers who wouldn't go away no matter how many times she closed her eyes at us

Day 4 – unsure of these strangers who wouldn’t go away no matter how many times she closed her eyes at us

Fast forward to this week at home in North Carolina:

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Easter Sunday

With her sisters and Cousin Jason on Easter Sunday

Ready for the Easter egg hunt with Cousin Jason and her big sisters

Her first egg hunt

Her first egg hunt

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Taking a break from the egg hunt

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Story time before bed

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Sleeping peacefully in the car seat

Laundry is fun!

Laundry is fun!

A smile so big she can hardly see! A smile…

View original 19 more words

April 20, 2014

Jesus Between the Criminals

Filed under: encouragement, theology, Uncategorized — Steve Knaus @ 12:06 am

Commentary from the Desiring God web site for Easter:

Jesus Between the Criminals

Crucifixion in the ancient world was intended to take as long as possible. No vital organs were damaged, so it took two or three days to die, often from shock or asphyxiation, as muscles used for breathing grew weak.

Luke 23:39–43 is a conversation between Jesus and the criminals crucified alongside him, and it is in the Bible because crucifixion was slow. There was time to talk. This conversation is surely one of the most extraordinary in the Bible. It shows us the similarities of these three dying men, and yet, at the same time, how very different Jesus is.

I encourage you to read the rest of the article:

http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/jesus-between-the-criminals

April 12, 2014

If I were the Devil … Harvey 1965

Filed under: culture, marriage and family, politics, economy, etc., video — Anthony Biller @ 9:57 pm

The legendary newscaster saw what was happening as it began to unfold.  He called it.

April 1, 2014

And what about you too?

Filed under: music, theology, video — Anthony Biller @ 2:57 pm

U2’s Bono on Christ.

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