What is the Purpose of Miracles? (“Manager’s Override”)

What is the Purpose of Miracles? (“Manager’s Override”)

© 2021 C. O. Bishop

John 2:1-11

Introduction

We have been working our way through the Gospel of John. There were about a dozen messages from chapter one, and we have finally arrived in chapter two. My first thought, when reading this passage, was to teach about marriage, because it is the account of the wedding feast at Galilee; but it occurred to me that most people reading this passage are probably attracted to the miracle involved. So, we need to address the purpose of miracles. Why does God sometimes override the laws of nature (though He is the author) and do something “outside the rules?” Managers in retail stores often are called to “override the system” when a regular clerk can’t accomplish something or has made an error. Why would God step in and “override the system?”

On the other hand, since He is the Author, with authority to “override the system” as it were, why would He not do it all the time, to make us happy and healthy and blessed? Why does God allow bad things to happen at all? And particularly, why allow bad things to happen to his children, the believers?

So, trusting the wisdom and goodness of God, I have to assume that He has a plan, and that His plan usually involves allowing the normal rules of nature and science to apply without His interference, and usually, to allow us to suffer the consequences of sin in the world. But if that is the case (and it is!) then what would be His purpose in ever going “outside the rules?”

What was the purpose of the Miracle at Cana?

Consider a time when Jesus did not use His authority to benefit a needy person: During His own testing, (Matthew 4:1-11) Satan challenged Jesus with this exact question. He said, “You are the Son of God; prove it! You are hungry; turn these rocks into bread!” But Jesus refused…why?

He answered, quoting God’s Word (Deuteronomy 8:3), “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” He deliberately set aside His own prerogatives as God the Son and subjected Himself to the authority of God the Father. Until God provided food, He chose to continue his fast, or to get food by ordinary means, like other humans. And, when we read the rest of that account, we see that, in this case, when the test was over, God did meet His needs through angelic intervention.

But there is a miracle here at the Wedding feast at Cana, for far less cause: The people had consumed all the available wine, and the party wasn’t over. I have asked Hebrew Christians about this passage, and they assured me that the celebrants at these weddings get fairly far into the cups before the party is over. So, running out of wine was a bad thing. (By the way: yes, it was alcoholic wine, not fruit juice. The word used here is identical with the word in Ephesians 5:18, where believers are warned against drunkenness.)

Is that the real reason for the miracle? Was it just to alleviate poor planning on the part of the people hosting the feast? Or was it just in response to Jesus’s mother being there, and having alerted Him to the fact that they had run out of wine? (Incidentally, when people are elevating Mary to a position of “semi-deity” or beyond, be aware: this is the only command Mary ever gave in scripture…she told some servants, “Whatever He says, do it!”) From Jesus’s reply to Mary’s “nudge,” my guess is that He didn’t do it just for her sake. So, what was the point?

It also looks as though none of the guests ever found out what happened. Mary and the servants and Jesus and His disciples may have been the only ones who knew the secret of the sudden influx of high-quality wine. But, the result was that Jesus was glorified and His disciples believed on Him! The miracle drew attention to the person of Christ and His message. If a miracle does not do these two things, there is something wrong.

What about other miracles?

We see healings, some of which seem to have been done specifically to show the enmity between Jesus and the hypocritical Jewish religious leaders. He healed on the sabbath, at Bethesda, which infuriated those Jewish leaders. He consorted with lower-class people, whom they snubbed. He claimed God as His Father, which they considered outright blasphemy. But He also kept performing miracles in the public view. He fed the five thousand men with their families, by miraculously multiplying the bread and fish. And in every case, He taught: he had a message. And, in every case, the miracles gave credence to the message.

At Sychar, the woman at the well was impressed because He told her about her own checkered past: and did not judge her. She and the others believed His message. In John chapter nine, He healed a man blind from birth, and caused a great division amongst the Jews. They began to realize they had a decision to make: The Pharisees said he was a sinner, because he healed the man on the sabbath… but the people were starting to wake up a little, and they protested, “How could a sinner do such miracles?” (That’s a good question!) The miracles drew people’s attention to the message Jesus was preaching: the Gospel of the coming kingdom, and they glorified Him for who he was…the King!

His unquestionable authority demonstrated who He was. He raised the dead, He healed the lame, He cast out demons by sheer authority, not by any device, nor charms, nor liturgy of magic words. He used real authority…not even the assumed authority of the threat of violence, like the Romans used. He did not have to “threaten” the wind and the waves, in order to bring them to heel. He simply spoke. He did use threats to get the demons to leave: He simply ordered them to go. They knew who He was! They called Him by name! And they obeyed!

He spoke and healed a man sick of the palsy…whatever that ailment was…there have been many illnesses called “palsy.” When I was growing up, they called Parkinson’s Disease “palsy,” perhaps just as a colloquialism…but the fact is, the man they brought to Jesus couldn’t walk, and was permanently bedridden. And, when Jesus commanded him, he got up, picked up his bed and walked home. All this showed Jesus’s authority before His enemies, the Pharisees and Priests.

What was the Purpose?

The message Jesus brought was entirely different than that of priests. Jesus taught the Grace of God under the Law. They only taught judgment, and a phony show of “technical righteousness,” which conveniently made themselves look good, but enslaved the people.

Jesus drove them out of the temple where they had set up money-changing tables and stalls from which to sell sacrificial animals in the court of the Gentiles. This was the specific place that was designated as the place where non-Jews could approach God…and they had defiled it.

The poor people rejoiced to see genuine righteousness. The rich and powerful were offended that He showed them no special respect, but rather rebuked them openly. Jesus invited people to get to know their God. The Priests put up barriers against any such relationship.

When Jesus healed a man, the poor and the sick rejoiced because He offered Hope. The powerful religious leaders only saw the threat to their power. By healing the sick, bringing sight to the blind, etc., Jesus was fulfilling the prophecies showing Him as the Messiah. He used miracles to announce the coming kingdom, as John the Baptist had done, and to introduce Himself as the King. The poor were far more open to receive Him than were the rich and powerful.  The miracles brought Glory to God; they brought Glory to God the Son, and they confirmed the message of the Gospel of the Kingdom which Jesus and John the Baptist were preaching.

But then The Message changed!

There came a point at which the Jews as a nation (not the people at large, or the poor, or the common folk, but the leaders) completely rejected Jesus, so He quit offering them the Kingdom. In Matthew 12:22-42, the leaders accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Satan. Jesus sharply warned them that this was perilously close to blaspheming the Holy Spirit, and He went on to point out the consequences of that sin.

But then in verse 38, in a bizarre twist, they asked Him for another sign; another miracle! And His response (v.39, 40) was that they were an unbelieving generation and that the only sign they would now receive was the sign given by the prophet Jonah: He said, “as Jonah spent three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so the Son of Man (Jesus) will spend three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” He offered His own death and resurrection as the sign! And, of course, we know that when it actually happened, they also rejected that sign. But he was no longer preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom: He was warning of the Tribulation to come.

And, in John chapters 11 and 12, when He publicly raised Lazarus from the dead (after four days in the tomb) the religious leaders (who were right there to see it) responded by plotting to kill both Jesus and Lazarus. They had utterly rejected Him as their King and Messiah.

In every case, the miracles were to bring Glory to God, to prove the authority of Jesus as God in the Flesh, and to prove the truth of His message. They also brought comfort, hope and healing, as a rule (not always…remember the fig tree He cursed.) But Jesus only healed one man at Bethesda. He only fed one crowd with the bread and fish. He could have started the manna falling every morning, again, if it had suited His purpose: but it didn’t!

Even the miracle of feeding the five thousand was specifically to provide the opportunity to preach Himself as “the Bread of Life.” He was the one who gave them the original manna, but He pointed out that the manna was only a picture of the Bread of Life who was The true Messiah: He said that whoever partook of Him (by faith) would have eternal life. Many of the people who had been following Him (possibly for the wrong reasons) were offended by this message, and they eventually walked away and quit following Him. They wanted the fish and the bread…not Jesus.

The Miracles Continued

In the Book of Acts, there were still miracles while the “new” Message, the Gospel of Christ, began to take hold. In Acts chapter 2, we see all the disciples, filled with the Holy Spirit, speaking the glory of God in the languages of the assembled crowd. The miracle drew the crowd, and drew attention to Peter’s message, giving credibility to his words.

Then, Peter actually offered the Kingdom one last time, in Acts 4…but the leaders rejected it again. The miracles continued with essentially the same purpose as before: they brought Glory to God and confirmed the message of the Apostles. As we are reading, the thing we want to notice, is that in every case there were Jews present, and specifically either unbelieving Jews, or, as they began to go to the Gentiles, there were Jewish believers present, who needed to see that the message was valid among the Gentiles as well.

In Acts chapter 10, we see that Peter really did not want to go to the house of Cornelius with the Gentile messengers who were sent to him.. But God made it abundantly clear that he was to go, and he took a group of Jewish believers along with him. The whole household of Cornelius believed the message and God immediately filled them with the Holy Spirit, giving miraculous confirmation by their speaking in languages they had not learned… that is what “speaking in tongues” is, in the Bible…not gibberish, but real, human languages. That was what happened at the day of Pentecost, when the disciples spoke the languages of all the various Jewish peoples that were gathered from many nations, who were there for the feast of tabernacles. They spoke those languages, never having learned them. It drew the attention of the Jewish crowd and gave credence to the message that Peter brought.

So, some of these Jewish believers were now hearing the same thing happen again, with a “bunch of heathens!” (That’s what “Gentile” means.) And their conclusion was that “This is the real thing! These people have been accepted by God!” And Peter proceeded to baptize them all.

Later, (Acts 11:1-18) when Peter was accused by other Jews of having “entered the home of Gentiles” and having eaten with them, this specific miracle was his defense: the Jewish witnesses who had been with him confirmed it. So, everyone had to admit that God was doing a new thing, and bringing in the Gentiles. God used that miracle to confirm the message, prove the Authority of the Name of Jesus, and to shut the mouths of those who argued against it.

But, What about later?

In 1st Corinthians 1:17-25, the Apostle Paul makes several important points about the primacy of the Gospel of Christ—the message of the Cross. But in the midst of it, (22-25) he says something that is very easy to miss: He says that the Jews demand a sign, and the Greeks (Gentiles) seek after Wisdom, but that God’s wisdom is greater, and His power is greater, and that both of them are demonstrated in the Person of Jesus Christ.

Did you get that? We Gentiles want everything to “make sense.” We tend to think that everything should be approachable through human wisdom…and if the message doesn’t fit our Human wisdom, then it is rejected as “foolish.” Meanwhile, the Jews want miracles and signs. They demonstrated that over and over with Jesus, and still in the book of Acts, they were the ones looking for signs and wonders. If they can’t see miracles, they reject the message…but once they have rejected it, even the miracles have no effect. They still reject the Messiah.

We all tend to think either that we are too smart for God, or too good for God. We reject things we can’t understand, and declare them to be foolishness, or we reject the Blood of Jesus at the Cross, demanding that we have the privilege of earning our salvation.  What a pack of idiots we are, as a race! We reject the author of Wisdom because we can’t understand Him, and when the Author of Life proved His authority by raising the Dead, we wanted to kill him…and then asked for more miracles! Amazing!

What about Today?

We are still doing it today! We yearn for the exotic, the miraculous, and the exciting! We are not satisfied to feed on the Bread of Life, the Living Word of God. We are “tired of manna!”

I have come to believe that, while the power of God remains unchanged, there are very few circumstances in which I would expect Him to step in and “override the system.” Those would possibly include situations where the Gospel is first being preached by missionaries in remote places, and/or in the lives of new believers, who need to be encouraged by the evident hand of God in their lives. Yet He really does it fairly regularly if our eyes are open to see it in our lives.

I find less than plausible those who go from town to town claiming to “heal lots of people” or to “perform lots of miracles.” They are not doing the kinds of miracle Jesus did (in public, with lots of unbelievers around…specifically unbelieving Jews.) They never heal someone born blind, or having a major, visible, verifiable illness or injury. It is virtually always in the presence of only believers, and only on issues that were questionable to start with. And they usually seek pay!

Are there exceptions? Possibly… many of us have heard of or even have seen miraculous interventions of some sort, whether great or small. But, in God’s Word, the thing we are actually called to do is to walk by faith! That does not mean we get “miracles and warm fuzzies” all the time! It means that we are called to “endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” Paul did not have the privilege of healing his co-laborers: Epaphroditus nearly died. And he couldn’t even claim healing for himself: God actually told him to stop asking. He said, “My Grace is sufficient for you!” God’s Grace, and the sign of the Resurrection should be sufficient for us, too!

Yes, we serve the God of Miracles! But He is the one to choose when to “override” nature and do something supernatural. As a general rule, we are told to accept what He provides and press on with our job. Let’s get on with the job, but still keep our eyes open to see His hand at work! He is still working, and we are invited to work with Him!

Lord Jesus, we desire to see Your Power in our lives, but we recognize that the Power You are exerting is the Power that raised You from the dead. We ask that we can walk in the newness of Life with You and raise others to life by the Power of Your Gospel and Your Name.

A Triumphal Procession

Triumphal Procession

© 2021 Rick Flemmer

What is a procession?

Procession:
COUNTABLE NOUN

procession is a group of people who are walking, riding, or driving in a line as part of a public event.

…a funeral procession. 

Synonyms: paradetrainmarchfile   More Synonyms of procession

Can we remember any processions in our history?  I think of my daughter Addie getting married soon.  She has a wedding dress and part of the dress is what we call the train an extra-long portion of fabric proceeding down the aisle for the purpose of showcasing or displaying her beauty.

How about in scripture? Can we think of a time when there was a precession?

Matthew 27:27-32 (New American Standard Bible) Jesus Is Mocked
27
Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole Roman cohort to Him. 28 And they stripped Him and put a red cloak on Him. 29 And after twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and put a reed in His right hand; and they knelt down before Him and mocked Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30And they spit on Him, and took the reed and beat Him on the head. 31And after they had mocked Him, they took the cloak off Him and put His own garments back on Him, and led Him away to crucify Him. 32 As they were coming out, they found a man of Cyrene named Simon, whom they compelled to carry His cross.

Satan wants you:

Do you think there is an enemy out there?  Yes! And he wants to parade you around as one of  his captives, trophies, and show how he conquered you.  Paul gives us warning about this.

Colossians 2:8 (English Standard Version)
8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

Jesus wants you:

John 3:16 (New American Standard Bible)
16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.

Romans 6:22-23 (New American Standard Bible)
22 But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gracious gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

John 4:14 (New American Standard Bible)
14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never be thirsty; but the water that I will give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up to eternal life.”

John 14:2-3 (New American Standard Bible)

2 In My Father’s house are many rooms; if that were not so, I would have told you, because I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I am coming again and will take you to Myself, so that where I am, there you also will be.

Questions of a nonbeliever to believers:

How do you protect yourself from becoming captive to philosophy and empty deceit?

2 Corinthians 10:3-6 (New American Standard Bible)
3 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not wage battle according to the flesh, 4 for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. 5 We are destroying arguments and all arrogance raised against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, 6 and we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete.

Our king is the conqueror and triumphantly parades us around as “spoils” to show the world that we have eternity with him. 

Ephesians 4:8 (New American Standard Bible)
8 Therefore it says,

“When He ascended on high,
He led captive the captives,
And He gave gifts to people.

What do you mean “Ascended on high?”

Ephesians 4:9-10 (New American Standard Bible)
9 (Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.)

What is meant by “all things?”

Ephesians 1:21-23 (New International Version)
21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

How did he conquer? 

By beating death on the cross and ascending to heaven.

Matthew 16:21 (New American Standard Bible) Jesus Foretells His Death

21 From that time Jesus began to point out to His disciples that it was necessary for Him to go to Jerusalem and to suffer many things from the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and to be killed, and to be raised up on the third day.

Revelation 1:17-18 (New American Standard Bible)
17 When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, 18 and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.

Ok, so he parades you around as a Conqueror and he beat death: So, what are the gifts?

Ephesians 4:1-14 (New American Standard Bible) Unity of the Spirit
4 Therefore I, the prisoner (or captive)of the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 being diligent to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you also were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. 7 But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.

 8 Therefore it says,

“When He ascended on high,
He led captive the captives,
And He gave gifts to people.”


9 (Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.) 11 And He gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. 14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of people, by craftiness in deceitful scheming;

(The gifts are you!)

Another part about a procession from a triumphal standpoint is: the conqueror will also display the shame that is associated to the defeated.

Colossians 2:14-15 (English Standard Version)
14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

Conclusion:

As I read and understand scripture there is no mention of Satan triumphantly parading around his spoils in a procession or a train for display. You see, Satan loses!

So now the question is:  How do I get to be one of those beautifully displayed captives that Paul was speaking about in Ephesians? You know, the kind he puts on display, where he is proud to show them in victory from the battle as Conqueror and King. You know… the kind who have eternal life with the King.  You know…the kind who receive gifts from the King.

How?  The answer is so anti-climactic, because everything is done! The battle has been won, and all the glory goes to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! We just need to believe in it.

Acts 16:30-31 (English Standard Version)
30 Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

Nathanael: An Israelite indeed

Nathanael: An Israelite indeed

© 2021 C. O. Bishop

John 1:45-51

Introduction:

We have been studying through the Gospel of John and have seen Jesus through a number of different viewpoints: we have seen Him as the Living Word: we have seen Him as God, the Creator; we have seen Him as the Light of the world, and the only source of life. We have seen Him as the Word made flesh…the incarnate God. We saw Him as the only source of Grace and Truth. We have seen Him as the Lamb of God: God’s chosen sacrifice for sin. We have seen Him as God the Son, specifically the “Only Begotten Son.”

These are just the introductory views that the Gospel presents. As He begins interacting with the disciples and others, we begin to see more things that deepen our understanding of Who Jesus really is. In John 1:45-50, we have His initial meeting with Nathanael. Starting in verse 43, we see:

43 The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and findeth Philip, and saith unto him, Follow me. 44 Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. 46 And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see. 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! 48 Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee. 49 Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel. 50 Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these. 51 And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.

Geographic Context

There are some “peculiar” things said in this passage, by both Jesus and Nathanael, as well as a number of other unanswered questions. Perhaps we have some answers, perhaps not. Let’s take it idea by idea: First, remember where they were: they were at a place called Bethabara, beyond Jordan, (John 1:28) This is at least six weeks after Jesus had been baptized by John the Baptist, and about sixty miles north, as John’s continuing ministry moved him from one end of the country to the other. Jesus was baptized near Jericho, at the closest point to Jerusalem (still 20 or thirty miles away…east of Jerusalem, near Jericho.)

They were not far from Galilee, now: They were right across the Jordan, in a province called Peraea, which just means “Beyond,” and about 13 miles south of the sea of Galilee, where most of these men worked as fishermen.

In verse 43, it says that Jesus planned a trip back into Galilee, where His hometown of Nazareth was. He already had called Andrew, and Peter, as well as one other disciple, who was almost certainly John, later to become the Apostle John. (John never referred to himself by name in his Gospel.)

Calling Philip

Jesus found Philip and called him to follow Him as a disciple. We aren’t told much about that exchange, either. Why would Philip want to follow Jesus? Had he heard of Him? Was there some background that we are not given? I can’t be sure…but somehow, Philip knew who Jesus was and was not only willing to lay aside everything else and become his disciple, but he went and found a friend, Nathanael, and invited him to join him, in following Jesus.

Philip was from Bethsaida, the same village where Peter and Andrew lived. Bethsaida means “House of fishing.” We might surmise that Philip was also a commercial fisherman, though we are not told so. We might even assume that he was already friends with Peter and Andrew, and that possibly this was part of why he was easily able to choose discipleship.

Nathanael is named as one of those who followed Peter back to the boats and the fish, in chapter 21. However, Nathanael was not from the same town, but rather from Cana, where Jesus would be going in the next chapter. Cana was about sixteen miles from Bethsaida, as far as I can tell.

(Part of the problem in determining where Bethsaida is in relation to the other places, is that the city of Bethsaida was abandoned after about AD 65, because an earthquake had filled the north end of the Sea of Galilee with silt, putting the fishing village too far from the water, not to mention possibly having buried all the boats. We simply have to accept that things have changed a bit, over the last 2000 years in that area. We have similar occurrences, here: the Salton Sea of southern California is part of what was once a giant inland sea of 2,200 square miles, which today is called “Cahuilla Lake,” But that lake had filled and emptied many times over the preceding millennia, and had been desert again, for centuries, until about 1905, when an accident caused by human meddling diverted the entire Colorado river into that area for about two years, filling it again, flooding towns and much of the local Indian territory. It has dried up again, mostly, but the event significantly changed geography for more than a century.)

But all of these men (Andrew, John, Peter, Philip and Nathanael) were in Peraea, at the village of Bethabara, when Jesus called them: they were 25 miles (or more) away from Bethsaida, and around 20 miles away from Cana or Nazareth, in a different direction. My supposition is that all these men probably had specifically come there because of the preaching of John the Baptist, and all probably had been baptized by him, identifying with his message of the coming Kingdom. And now, in Jesus, they were meeting the King!

Calling Nathanael

Philip either already knew a fair bit about Jesus, or he picked it up from the others very quickly, because he told Nathanael that they had found the predicted King, prophesied by Moses and the prophets, and Philip referred to Him as “Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Joseph.” It is interesting, too, that Philip used the Greek form meaning the heir (huion) of Joseph, not the common “bar-Joseph” which simply means “son of Joseph.” I can only guess that the difference might have specified that Jesus was the eldest Son: the heir. If that isn’t it, then Philip was simply mistaken, as Jesus was not actually Joseph’s son, at all, though He truly was his “Heir-apparent.”

But Nathanael’s response is interesting, too: He asked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” We might assume that he simply didn’t think much of Nazareth, and that is certainly a possibility. Even today, people scorn certain towns as being unimportant and even contemptible. (Consider the various towns called “Podunk”—Podunk, MA; Podunk, NY; Podunk, VT; etc.)

But it seems more likely that Nathanael knew the prophecy regarding Bethlehem as being the birthplace of the Messiah, and the bloodline of David being the ancestry. He may simply have been questioning the possibility of the Messiah originating in Nazareth at all. In that case, he would have been correct, but he simply would not have known that Jesus actually had been born in Bethlehem, and was of the lineage of David, fulfilling that portion of the prophecies. But, Philip’s only answer was “Come and See!”

Come and See!

“Come and See” is a good invitation! We can invite a friend to “come and see the promise of Jesus” in John 5:24, and invite them to deal personally with the promise of Eternal Life: Life to be experienced now, not as a vague, “pie-in-the-sky” hope, but as a present knowledge of the Risen Christ. Philip invited Nathanael to come and meet Jesus personally.

As they approached, Jesus saw Nathanael, and said, “Behold: a true Israelite, in whom there is no guile.” (“Guile” is phoniness: sly trickery, deception.”) Jesus was saying that Nathanael was honest, and that he presented no “false front.” No false “show” of religious piety, as the Pharisees were known to do.

And, Nathanael was startled that Jesus (whom he had never met) was making a statement regarding his character. He asked, “Where do you know me from?’ Jesus answered, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.

What about the Fig Tree?

So…what did He see? Was it just that Nathanael “happened to be” under a fig tree before Philip called him? And, did Jesus simply mean, “Yes, I saw you sitting under that fig tree when Philip called you,” Or did he mean, “before Philip called you, back when you were sitting under the fig tree, I saw you.”?

In either case, what was Nathanael doing there, under the fig tree? Was he praying? Was he meditating on God’s Word? Or was he just having a nap? We aren’t actually told, and if it were not for the following exchange, it might not have mattered:

Nathanael completely capitulated on the idea of whether anything good could come out of Nazareth: He blurted out, “Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.

Now, how could he come to that conclusion with the extremely limited information he had to work with? Jesus asked essentially that very question: He said, “Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these.”

And then He said something really strange:

Prophecy

He said Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.” I had a hard time following Nathanael’s “jump” to faith, but I have an even harder time following Jesus’s prophetic response! What does one statement have to do with the other?

Is Jesus simply stating something special in Nathanael’s and the other disciples’ future? He didn’t say “You will see Me coming in clouds of Glory and setting up My kingdom here.” He did tell others some things of that sort…but what He said to Nathanael is only matched in one place in the scriptures, as far as I can tell:

Jacob’s Ladder

It matches Jacob’s vision in Genesis 28:10-17, where Jacob was at Bethel, andsaw a vision of a “ladder,” whose top reached to heaven, and he saw “the angels of God ascending and descending upon it.” What a strange vision! The only thing that cleared it up (a little) was that The LORD was at the head of that ladder, and He used that vision to reiterate to Jacob the promises given to Abraham and Isaac. Is that, perhaps, what Nathanael was pondering and wondering about, when he was under the fig tree? I really have no idea.

But much has been made of that “ladder.” People have gotten the idea that we are somehow to “climb” that ladder: Songs are written about it, saying “We are climbing Jacob’s ladder…every step goes higher, higher…etc.” But that is simply not true!

Believers do not “Climb” into Christ

The day you trusted in Christ as your Savior, you were placed in Christ, and you already have been seated with Him in the Heavenlies, according to Ephesians 2:6. There is no hint of our “climbing into God’s presence,” or somehow by our works gaining worthiness to enter in. Jesus paid our way, and He has entered in, and we enter in by faith… in Him.

So, for what cause are the angels going up and down? (They aren’t doing home renovation, or maintenance work. They aren’t changing lightbulbs!) If I look at Job, the first two chapters, I see that Satan had to get permission to do all the terrible things he did to Job. God permitted it for two purposes: our edification and Job’s education. But angels (both holy and fallen) do have access to this world.

If Satan had to have permission to act, perhaps the vision of Jacob’s ladder and the comment Jesus made, together allow us a peek at a spiritual truth: angelic intervention on earth is only possible through Christ. So, even the holy angels only work on earth as God’s messengers: they are not free to come and go, and just do whatever they think of. And it is further evidence that the fallen angels have no power over us, except as God allows testing in our lives.

And what else did we see…or not see…regarding that ladder? Were there people climbing that ladder? Nope. There were not. Even the Old Testament makes it fairly clear that when a wicked person confesses his guilt and repents, his sins are forgotten. (Ezekiel 33:14-16, compare Psalm 103:12) And in the New Testament, far from our “climbing” into God’s Grace by our works or piety, we are placed into the Body of Christ by the Holy Spirit at the moment we trust in Him; and as a result, we are already fully accepted by God and we are permanently His children.

Transparency and Honesty

I don’t know all that Jesus saw in Nathanael, beyond what He told us: “an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile” Apparently Jesus really likes transparency in His relationship with us. He is most certainly not impressed with man-made “piety” and “shows” of “righteousness.” He pretty strongly condemned the Pharisees for that particular behavior:

In Matthew 23:25-27, He said “25 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. 26 Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. 27 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.


The English word “hypocrite” comes from the Greek word “hupokrites,” meaning “an actor:” specifically, the kind of actors they had at that time, who literally held up a false-face mask from behind which they read their lines. If they played a “nice guy” they held up a smiling benign-looking mask: if they played a villain, they held up a nasty-guy mask, to show the audience who they were supposed to be. A person who simply fails to do what they really believe is right, is failing, not “acting.” We don’t call a child a hypocrite for falling down when they are trying to learn to walk, nor do we call an adult who has a wreck on a bicycle, a “hypocrite” for failing to maintain his balance…we know he failed. He was in no way “pretending” to ride a bicycle.

The ones Jesus called “hypocrites” were pretending to be Godly men, and hiding a false, evil heart. Nathanael was evidently the opposite of a hypocrite: he was completely transparent, both about his doubts (“How can anything good come out of Nazareth?”) and his faith (“Master, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”) He suffered the same failings as everyone else, but he called them as he saw them. He was not trying to impress anyone. Jesus evidently liked that!

What about us?

Can we be transparent with God, to begin with? Can we then grow in that faith, enough to be transparent with one another? Can we abandon our “Company and Church Face,” and replace it with a Christ-like heart, so that what comes out in the sight of everyone else is genuinely the kind of person Jesus calls us to be?

Believe it or not, people pretty easily see through our “fronts and facades, and fakes” anyway: why not just give up the pretense, confess our faults, and humble ourselves enough to honestly walk with Jesus? Only in that way are we free to love one another, and to help one another, and not suffer shame for who we really are. I may not know, for sure, the connection between Jesus and Jacob’s Ladder; but I can at least lay hold of what Jesus said about Nathanael and try to apply it to my own life. I want to be transparent with God and with my fellow humans, so that the charge of “hypocrite” will never be appropriate.

Lord Jesus, we ask that you open our eyes to the realities of our own lives and allow us to be honest with you and with those around us, about who we are, and the changes that need to happen. Help us to shine as your lights in this world.

The Repeated “Call” of Peter

The Repeated “Call” of Peter

© 2021 C. O. Bishop

John 1:40-42; Matthew 4:18-22 (Mark 1:16-22); Luke 5:1-11; John 21:3-19

Introduction: The Call of God

We have been studying in the book of John, lately, and there is a rather peculiar passage here, in chapter one, regarding the early “call” of some of the disciples, including Andrew, Peter, Philip and Nathanael for sure, and evidently John is the unnamed disciple in 1:35. There are several noteworthy things, here, but the one I want to focus on, today, is the “Call of Peter.”

Usually, when we hear about “the Call” of somebody, say, Isaiah, or Jeremiah, or Saul of Tarsus, we see it as a one-time call, and the person involved responded in faith and obedience, dropped whatever they were doing and went where God told them to go…and did what He told them to do!

Avoiding the Call

There were a few exceptions: Jonah, for example, was called and immediately ran the other way, and booked passage by ship to somewhere far away. Somehow “running away from God” doesn’t strike me as a very smart thing to do: where are you going to go? Even the Psalmist posed the question, 200 years before Jonah’s time: Psalm 139:7 says, “Whither shall I flee from thy presence?” He went on to point out that wherever he could go, God was already there.

In Jonah’s case, of course, we know what happened: God stopped the ship by means of a storm, and gave Jonah a free ride back to land on a specially-prepared “water-taxi.” He even got to ride “under cover” the whole way! He wasn’t happy with the accommodations, however, so, after three days and three nights, Jonah changed his mind about who was in charge (that is called repentance) and the ride ended as the sea-creature deposited him unceremoniously on the beach. Then he headed off to do God’s bidding… but not with a great attitude.

Forgetting the Call

There have been others who were reluctant as well. But Peter seems to be a great picture of the average believer, in that he seems to have frequently forgotten his calling: Jesus kept having to call him again! The rest of the disciples had the same issue, to varying degrees, but Peter seems to have been a prime offender, and the ringleader, of sorts.

First Call: (John 1:40-42)

In John 1:40-42, the call seems fairly informal, and perhaps not so “binding” as, for example, that of the Apostle Paul. Peter was invited by his brother, Andrew, and was renamed by Jesus. Some of the disciples Jesus called seem to have left everything and immediately followed Him, but all had to be called again, later, it seems.

In this text, they are in Bethabara, which is about 13 miles south of the Sea of Galilee, and on the east side of Jordan (See verse 28.) This in itself is a little confusing, as in the Matthew account, where Jesus was baptized, they were in the Jordan river, but closer to Jerusalem. (The closest point is about 20 miles east of Jerusalem…not far from Jericho.) But this exchange is much later, as, we see in the Matthew account, that Jesus left immediately after His baptism and headed off into the desert for a 40-day fast and a time of testing.

New Location

So, the next time John the Baptist saw Jesus (and said, “Behold the Lamb of God…”) was at least six weeks later, and John had moved north in the interim, not far from Galilee, across the river, in the province of Peraea, at Beth-abara. (“Peraea” means “beyond,” and “Beth-abara” means the “house of the crossing.” This was part of the land where Reuben and Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh had settled “beyond” the Jordan, hence the name. The town was named “Bethabara” because there was a ford there, where people crossed the Jordan on a regular basis.)

Jesus was approached there, by the two disciples of John the Baptist (Andrew and John) who were also partners in their work as commercial fishermen, on the sea of Galilee. (This is in both the Matthew and Mark accounts, that they were commercial fishermen, and in the Luke account, that they were partners at it.) Andrew went and found Simon (later called Peter.)  Jesus renamed Simon “Cephas,” meaning, a stone. It seems fairly clear that all of these men were deliberately choosing to follow Jesus.

Second Call: Matthew 4:18-22 (Mark 1:16-22)

In the Matthew and Mark accounts, the location is not made so clear, but the original area where John the Baptist was preaching was named…and it was not the same. It was down near Jericho, somewhere. But, as we said earlier, Jesus had left there immediately, and had disappeared for six weeks.

But what is interesting is that Matthew 4:12-17 seems to match John 2:1-12. In both passages, Jesus ended up in Capernaum (in Galilee) with His disciples. But in Matthew, right after that, we see Him again calling the fishermen to follow Him (Simon-Peter, Andrew, James and John.) So, what had those particular disciples been doing in the meanwhile? Evidently, they had all “gone back to work!” Jesus offered no rebuke, but simply invited them again (possibly this time it was more “formal?”) Whatever the difference, this time He clearly stated that He would make them “fishers of men.”

The Mark account differs only in that it specifies that they went with Jesus back into Capernaum. So we know from Matthew and Mark that Jesus had been in Capernaum of Galilee and that after that, He had walked by the sea of Galilee and called the fishermen…again.  

Third Call: Luke 5:1-11

The Luke account is different, as, for one thing, in Luke 4:14-37 it begins to tell us what Jesus preached in Galilee, including His message at Nazareth, His hometown…and the fact that the townspeople attempted to kill Him! It also included (Luke 4:38-39) the fact that he entered into the home of Simon, and healed his mother-in-law (See Mark 1:29-31.) Then He proceeded to heal everyone who came to Him, casting out demons, and preaching in the synagogues. (Luke 4:40-44) No problem, there…but, in the Mark 1:29-31 account, we can see that she was healed some time after SimonPeter’s second call! (His second call was in Mark 1:17.)

So, Peter and the others had gone back to fishing again, while Jesus had been preaching all over the area, and healing sick people, and casting out demons. (But, hey! Ya gotta make a living, right?) So, all of his disciples who were commercial fishermen had gone back to the boats and the fish! Again, Jesus made no rebuke, but met them where they were, and found them on the beach, washing their nets.

A large group of people were evidently following Jesus, and crowding Him. He asked Simon Peter to row Him out a little way from the beach, so He could preach from the security of the boat, with a water-barrier between Himself and the crowd. Simon Peter did so, but when Jesus finished teaching, He told Simon-Peter to row out into deep water, and “let down your nets” for a “draught:” a draw, or a pull.

Different Nets for Different purposes:

This was a type of “purse-seine” net, called a “trammel” net. It is still used today, in the Sea of Galilee, and it is still used only at night, just as during Jesus’s time. The net was quietly paid out behind a boat, and let down in a semi-circular path, with a weighted line holding the bottom edge down, and a float line holding the upper edge at the surface. They waited a while, after which they pulled the ends of the net together and then began drawing in the bottom line, so as to trap all the fish within the enclosure. This usually took a team effort. Andrew and Simon Peter were working a boat together. James and John were working another such vessel.

The kind of net we saw over in Matthew 4:18 was a “cast-net,” which is a circular net with weighted edges, and a long lanyard. It is thrown so as to land in a circular pattern, and drop down to the bottom, like a giant umbrella, hopefully trapping fish within the net. The fisherman then pulls the net to shore, or into a boat, with whatever fish are inside the “umbrella” of the net. This is usually a one-man job. It can be cast out from a beach, or a dock, or a boat, but it is usually for smaller fish which travel in schools.

So, what Jesus told Peter, here in Luke, was to “let down a trammel net in daylight.” Peter said, “Master, we have worked all night, and caught nothing: but, because You say so, I will let down the net!”  And, of course, the miraculous daytime catch took two boats to bring them in, and both crews to handle the bountiful catch. In fact, there were so many fish, that, the net was tearing, and when they tried to load all of them into their two boats, both boats were in danger of sinking! (This would be very entertaining to watch, but a total panic to experience.)

Simon Peter was shocked to the point of fear, and he fell at Jesus’s feet, begging Him to leave! He was terrified, because he knew that he himself was unworthy to receive God’s attention. He said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” The other fishing partners felt the same way, but Jesus answered, “Fear not; from henceforth ye shall catch Men!” And verse eleven says, that when they had brought the fish to shore, they left it all behind and followed Jesus. (What happened to the fish? There were other fishermen there, according to the Matthew account, so they probably jumped right in there and took the fish…in case it really matters.)

So, was this the end of the calling of the twelve? No, there were at least eight more men Jesus called. Two (Philip and Nathanael) were named in John 1:44-51. The remaining six were picked up later. But my real question was whether this was the last time Jesus had to “call” His disciples. And, again, sadly, the answer is “No!”

Fourth Call: John 21:1-22

We have talked about this passage before, because this is where we clearly see the distinction between the Agapé love and the Philéo love. This is also where we see that there were two kinds of “feeding” or “care,” that Jesus required of Peter.

But this is also where Jesus has to confront Peter about his constant “relapsing to the fish!” The commercial fishing was Peter’s life! He yearned to return to his work. Fishing was his comfort zone, and his area of expertise. This was all he really knew!

But bear in mind, as we look at John 21, that the Resurrection of Jesus was in the previous chapter! Jesus already had risen from the dead, and already had been seen by every single one of His disciples. He had spent time teaching them and giving final affirmation to them as His proteges. And, yet: here they were, headed back to the boats…and the ringleader was Peter.

Peter was with six other disciples: he said, “I’m going fishing!” and they all said, “We are going, too!” Remember that this was not a “recreational” thing for them: it was an occupational choice! But Jesus had already assigned a new “occupation!” He had told them that they were to henceforth be fishers of men…not fish!

Fleshly choices, Fleshly results

So, they worked all night, and again, they had come up empty, lowering those nets and hauling them back in, over and over. Things were not going well, but all of them had experienced such things before…and most of them had experienced something nearly identical, with Jesus.

So, in verses 4-6, Jesus appears on the shore, in the dawn’s light, and called to them, “Did you get anything? Do you have any food?”  They answered, “No!” and He replied, “Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find.” They did so, with whatever kind of net they were using (seems to be a cast-net, now,) and they were not able to pull the net into the boat. John told Peter, “It’s the Lord!” Peter, impetuous as ever, grabbed his fisher’s coat, put it on and proceeded to swim to shore. The other six fellows simply rowed to shore, dragging the overfull net. It turned out that Jesus already had fish and bread, cooked on the coals, ready to eat.

But the question Jesus asked Peter, after they had all eaten, in verses 15-17, was pretty direct:

A Personal confrontation

“Simon, Son of Jonas, lovest thou Me more than these?” What did Jesus mean by “these?” He meant the fish! Peter kept going back to the fish! And what Love? The agapé love: the committed love that pours itself out for its recipient without regard to the effect on the giver. Peter skirted the real issue and replied with the philéo love… “I really like you! I love you like a brother!” And Jesus answered, “Feed my lambs.” (The word is “boske” from bosko “to feed.”)

But Jesus asked the question again, still using the agapé love. And Peter answered again, still using the phileo love! Jesus didn’t argue, but just answered again, “tend my sheep.” (KJV says “feed”, but the Greek is poimaine…shepherd my sheep! Take care of the flock!)

Jesus asked a third time, but this time He changed His own wording to match what Peter had been saying; He said, “Peter, do you even like me? Do you even care?” Peter was grieved because Jesus asked the third time, using the philéo love. He answered, “Lord, you know all things! You know that I (philéo) love you!” Peter would not claim the full commitment that he had boasted before the crucifixion. Peter had denied the Lord after vowing that “though all others leave you, I will stay!” He just couldn’t bear to repeat his earlier claims.

I think Jesus understood: Jesus simply said, then, “Feed my sheep!”  You see, this is the fourth time Peter had been called! It was the third time he had specifically been called away from the fish, and had been given a new assignment! And Jesus was telling him, “If you have any feeling for me at all, get on with the job I gave you! Fulfill the gifts I have given you! Be the man I have called you to be!”

What about us?

It is interesting to see that in Matthew 28:18-20 (which we call the “Great Commission”, Jesus actually set in motion a “spiritual chain-reaction.” The command he gave His disciples included the command that they make disciples and that they should teach them to observe all that He had commanded those original disciples! So…what Jesus told Peter goes for us, as well!

Jesus has called every single believer (Romans 8:28-30) and He still is pleading, “If you have any feeling for me at all, get on with the job! Every one of you knows what the job is: not every one of you knows how you can fit in to that job. We have among us some people who are gifted soulwinners. That is marvelous! We have people among us who are gifted prayer-warriors! That is also a wonderful thing!

But, the fact is, I am neither! I am easily distracted during prayer, and though I have faithfully shared the Gospel with possibly hundreds of people, very few have responded in faith…at least not while I was there. Am I then “released” from the responsibility of prayer and evangelism because I am not richly gifted in either one? Resoundingly, NO!

Personal Responibility

I still am called to share the good news of salvation with anyone who will listen. Evangelism is nothing more or less than one beggar telling another beggar where to find free food! I can do that! If they refuse it, at least they will know where to find it, if they later change their minds. (This does require that I actually know where it is, of course! If I give incorrect, or incomplete information, they will not be able to claim the living bread and living water that Jesus offers.) With practice, I can be more effective! But I still have the job, regardless of how I feel about it.

The same goes for prayer: Every single believer has that command, over and over.

My primary gifts are in teaching: I can feed the flock. There are some parts of the job regarding which I feel pretty inadequate. But, just like you, I am called to use the gifts God has given in such a way as to edify the other believers and strengthen the church.

God says He has already called you! The question now, is, “How many times will He have to repeat that call, before you respond in obedience?” I am not “pointing this question at anyone:” It applies to me just as much as it does to anyone else. But we do need to take this personally, because the fact is; the call is to us!

Lord Jesus, let us hear Your call, once again, and heed the call, daily, to learn to walk with You and serve as Your hands and feet, shining Your light in this dark world.

Power to Become the Sons of God

Power to Become the Sons of God

© 2021 C. O. Bishop

John 1:10-13

Introduction

Last week we considered the implications of John 1:34, where John the Baptist declared Jesus to be “the Son of God.” We extended our focus to include the fact that He is the “Only begotten Son of God, and what that means. But there are many references to other persons being called the sons of God.

In Job, chapters one and two, we see a group of persons (evidently the angelic host) who are called the “sons of God,” and Satan was among them. In Job 38, God says that (earlier) at the Creation of our World, “all the Sons of God shouted for joy!” (That actually gives us a hint as to when Satan must have fallen into perdition: if “All” the Sons of God shouted for joy at the creation, but by Genesis 3, Lucifer had become the adversary, Satan, then his fall into sin and rebellion must have been between those two times.

In Genesis 6:2, we have a somewhat obscure reference to some persons also called the “sons of God,” and whoever they were, it seems that they were doing something bad. We aren’t going there, today, except to point out that the term “Sons of God” is not always in reference to “His cherished offspring.”

When Jesus cast out evil spirits (demons, devils, unclean spirits as they are variously called) they frequently spoke and called Him by name, recognizing Him as Jesus of Nazareth, “thou Son of the most high God” (Mark 5:7) They obviously knew the difference between themselves (who had once been numbered among the “sons of God,”) and Jesus, THE Son of the most high God.

So, it seems a good idea that we learn the difference as well. Last week we saw that Jesus is the Eternal Son, God the Son, fully God, and specifically, the Creator of all the universe, both physical and spiritual. He is the Creator God, but eternally existent as God the Son. So, with that as our starting point, and, knowing that Jesus, in His earthy ministry was the “Only Begotten Son:” born the Son of God, lets address this passage where we are told there is a way for us to “become the sons of God.”

Unpacking the passage

John 1:10-13

10 He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.

11 He came unto his own, and his own received him not.

12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:

13 Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

This is what we call a “packed” verse: there is a lot there, and we want to “unpack” at least some of it. I don’t speak or read Greek beyond just a few words, so I have to laboriously “look up” any words for which I need better understanding. The words I would want to research in this passage would be at least the following:

  1. His own…who were they?
  2. Power…what sort of power?
  3. To Become…how? (Transformation, evolution, what?)
  4. Sons…what kind of “sons?”

“His Own”

So, the first one is pretty easy: Jesus said repeatedly that He had come primarily to reach the Jews. They were the children of the Promise, and Jeusus, the fulfillment of that Promise, was now among them, if only they would receive Him. But, as a nation, they rejected Him. There were thousands who believed in Him, many of whom followed Him and worshipped Him. To those who did receive Him; to them is directed the rest of this passage.

“Power”

There are at least three different kinds of “power” listed in the scripture. The most common, of course, is the one we usually mean: “ability,” raw power to accomplish great things. The Greek word in that case would be “dunamis,” from which we derive our English words “dynamo” and “dynamic.” But that is not the word, here.

Another would be the word “kratos,” meaning rulership, or dominion. This is the word from which we derive our English words, “autocrat, plutocrat, aristocrat, bureaucrat, and democrat, or democracy.” But that is not the word used, here, either.

The third is the Greek word “exousia,” meaning “authority.” This is the kind of power Jesus exhibited when he calmed the storm. There was no “force” exerted by which he stopped the movement of millions of tons of moving water, nor halted the moving masses of wind. He simply spoke and the Creation obeyed. In fact, that is the same “power” by which he originally created the physical universe: He spoke it into existence, according to Hebrews 11:3. He willed it to be so, and it was so. It is interesting and a little distressing to note that we humans and the fallen angels are the only creatures to ever have disobeyed the will of the Creator.

By the way, this is also the word Jesus used when He said, “all Power is given unto Me in heaven and earth: go ye therefore…” The word is “exousia.” Authority. And that is the word here in John 1:12. To those who receive Him he gives the authority to do…what?

“To Become”

There are lots of ways to become something different than one already is: one can grow up into adulthood, physically, so that, physically at least, one is no longer a child. We can choose to learn, to be educated to become skilled or knowledgeable in a given field.

A caterpillar will “metamorphose” into a butterfly or a moth. They do not simply “grow” wings and legs: they build a cocoon around themselves, and a mysterious thing occurs. Their entire body dissolves into a “living soup” which is then reconstructed into a completely new body. Metamorphosis means a change of body. Meta = change. Morphe = form or body. (Interestingly, the word “Metanoia” is translated “repentance,” and it literally means “change of mind.”)

When Jesus became a man, he was born into the human race just as we have been. In doing so, He became a “Son of Man.” But, for us to become children of God, we must be reborn. How do we know that?

Jesus said so: He told Nicodemus that unless a man was born again, he could not see the Kingdom of God. And, interestingly, the word translated “become” in John 1:12 is the Greek word, “genesthai,” which is a form of the infinitive verb “gennao,” meaning, “to be born.” (This was an “aha!” moment for me when I first discovered it!)

So, what we just read is that to everyone who receives Jesus (as opposed to rejecting Him) He gives the authority to be born into His family! We are not the children of God by our natural birth: Paul says (in Ephesians 2:3) that we are by nature the children of wrath. In John 8:44, Jesus told the Jews more pointedly that, “Ye are of your father, the Devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do.” And he told Nicodemus that he had to be born again to change that status. And John is telling us how it is done!

“Sons…what kind?”

Last week we found that there are three different words translated “sons” or “children,” in the New Testament, and that they are not the same. The word used regarding Jesus, in every case, and regarding others in some cases, is the word “huios”(singular) or “huioi” (plural) meaning a fully mature, and universally recognized heir: Not just “offspring.”

Another, less common, is the Greek word “nepioi” meaning “babes…not able to talk yet” which is not translated “sons,” but rather “babes” or “children” in the context that we are not to remain “children” but are to grow up.

But the one used in this case (and in most cases, in regard to believers) is the word “teknoi,” meaning, “offspring: born-ones.” It literally says that if we receive Jesus for who He really is, the master, and the Savior, the Messiah, then He gives us the “authority” to be “re-born” as the “offspring” of God. How do I know that it is by faith? Verse 12 goes on to say it is to those who “believe on His name.” It means those who trust in Him as their Savior. Acts 4:12 says that there is no “…other name under heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved.”   Acts 16:31 says “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved…”

Why does it matter “what kind of son” is in view, here? Because, in the first place, it was possible for someone to be declared an heir who was not the offspring of the one whose heir they had become. (Abram complained that he had no son and that the heir of his house was one of his servants, Eliezer of Damascus.) We will be joint-heirs with Jesus, as we discussed last week, but we are already born again as God’s legitimate “offspring:” His children by rebirth.

Even if you knew nothing about any of the things we are talking about today, if you have trusted in Jesus as your Savior, you were born again that moment, as a legitimate child of God. You are His offspring. Yes, you will also be His Heir, joint-heir with Jesus, and positionally, you are already a Son, and a joint-heir with Jesus. Ephesians 2:6 says you are already seated in the Heavenlies with Him.

Galatians 4:6, 7 states that “because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying Abba, Father. Wherefore, thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.” This is our eternal position in Christ, even though we are not experiencing it yet.

But you are His precious child right now! You are free to experience that tender relationship with Him every moment. He loves you. He counts you as precious in His sight, and He is pleased with your toddling attempts to walk with Him. Psalm 103:13, 14 tells us that He understands our frailty, and He is compassionate toward our weakness, as a loving father is compassionate toward his little children.

He further clarifies our relationship, in John 1:13 by pointing out that it is not the natural birth in question, but rather, being born of God. (“…born, not of blood, not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”) In some translations of the New Testament, it is referred to as being “born from above.”

Sons of God

So, what kind of sons have we become? We are certainly not among the angelic host. And we are in no danger of committing whatever sin the fallen angels committed that resulted in their eternal perdition. We are eternally God’s personal possession, and His holy offspring, whether we feel that way or not.

Obviously, we are also not in the same class as Jesus, who is the Only Begotten Son of God: there is only one of Him. But, He does say that we have been “begotten again”, and that we are His begotten children.

On the other hand, we are also not full-fledged heirs, able to command the elements or whatever things the full-grown heirs can do. The rest of humanity, let alone the rest of the physical creation, does not recognize us as being in authority. Why? Because we have not yet been elevated to that status, in the sense of being able to employ the authority of Sons. Paul explains, in Romans 8:23, that we will receive “the Adoption” (Greek “huiothesis” = placement of sons) when we receive our new bodies.

In the meantime, He calls us “teknoi” (plural) or “teknon” (singular.) We are God’s offspring, His children: and he calls us to behave as His children. He says that we have received the “Spirit of Adoption”, and that we are to act as the sons of God. Every single one of His “born-ones” will eventually receive full “Sonship,” and live through eternity as joint-heirs with Jesus. But we are called to live in the reality of our position in Christ today, acting as His Sons are expected to act.

Living as Sons

When I consider how a Son is supposed to live, and when I see Jesus as my eternal example, I am frequently overwhelmed, and think, “But I can’t! I can’t even come close to that standard!” That is why we have been given the “Spirit of Adoption.” Remember that the word “Adoption,” in Greek, is “huiothesis.” It means the “placement as sons.” If the Spirit who already placed you into the Body of Christ to begin with, according to 1st Corinthians 12:13, is the same one who lives in you to see you grow in Christ, and function as a Son, then the promise that we can choose to walk in the Spirit by Faith makes perfect sense.

Galatians 5:16 says, “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.” 1st John 1:7 echoes that promise, saying “If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, his son, cleanseth us from all sin.”

And that is the only way we can do it! This is not a “self-help” scheme: not a “do-it-yourself” project. In John 15:5, Jesus said, “Apart from Me ye can do nothing.” He meant it literally! The only way we can behave as the Sons we are called to be, is if we allow the Holy Spirit to do it through us. Philippians 2:13 says that “it is God who works in you, both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” Jesus, the eternal Son, lives in you, in the person of the Holy Spirit. He can behave perfectly as a son because He is The Son! And He desires to lead us to do the same, along with Him. He calls us to walk with Him. He calls us to work with Him. He calls us to serve and to suffer with Him.

Choose to walk by faith, allowing Jesus to live through you, so that your priorities become His priorities, and you embrace His agenda entirely. Feed on the Living Word as you learn from the Written Word, and see His nature begin to grow in you. This is the only way for us, as believers, to enjoy the Peace and Joy He has promised. It is also the only way we can bear the fruit in our lives that He created us to bear.

But, day by day, the choice is ours.

Lord Jesus, help us to see you before us as our example at all times, and grant that we may walk with you in obedience and faith. Teach us to live as your children, and let us grow to be Sons that honor you in every area of our lives.

Christ the Son of God

Christ the Son of God

© C. O. Bishop 2011 (revised 2021)

John 1:34 “And I saw and bore record that this is the Son of God.”

Introduction:

We have been reading in the Gospel of John, and have seen several themes, so far; Jesus has been presented as the Word of God, The Creator of all things; the Light of the World; the only source of Life, Grace, and Truth; the Lamb of God, and now, the Son of God.

We have problems with this concept of “Son-ship,” as, in our understanding, it always implies a pre-existing Father, while we have seen from the Scripture that the Son has no beginning—He is the Creator, and He has always existed. To cap our troubles, Jesus is described in prophecy as being called “Wonderful, counselor, the Mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6, 7) How can I understand the concept of a Son who is the exact same “age” as his Father, and who, in fact, IS his Father? And, to further compound my confusion, Jesus stated that (John 14:28) “…my Father is greater than I.” This is the mystery of the Trinity. I do not claim to understand it, nor do I expect I ever will, unless it can be understood in eternity.

Jesus, the Son of God in Eternity past

It seems we must understand the concept in terms of relationship, not “relative age.” Apart from understanding the Trinity, all we can do is see that the concept of the Son of God has been in place since ancient times, though dimly seen. In Psalm 2:7, God says, in reference to the king whom He shall set upon Mt. Zion (Jesus), “Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.”

We see that passage through the eyes of our experience, and think “Aha! There WAS a beginning!” But Hebrews 7:3 states, in comparing Christ to Melchisedec, that the latter had no beginning of days, nor end of life, but, made like unto the Son of God, abideth a priest continually.” I have to conclude that the Christ is the eternal Son of God…that “begotten” is not the same as “sired.” Further, in Micah 5:2, God states not only that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, but that “…His goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting!”

The Hebrew word “yalad”, translated “begotten” in Psalm 2:7, is used over 400 times in the Old Testament—but only in that specific instance is it translated “begotten”. The vast majority of the other usages are translated in the vein of the bearing of children—women in childbirth, or even an egg hatching. In no case is it consistent with the idea of siring a child.

The Greek word used, when that same verse was quoted in the New Testament, is “gennao”—it seems to carry the same idea, but is translated “beget” or “begotten” 49 times, and “born” or related words about 34 times. Most of the time, both words are used in regard to human birth—they are not special “spiritual” words, which were “only to be used in regard to Christ.”

Either way, what has been established is a real relationship. Jesus is really God’s Son…not just called so. When we are born again, we are really God’s children…not just called so.

The Son of God has existed eternally in that relationship with God the Father. The Holy Spirit has existed eternally as God the Holy Spirit. And yet, the Three are One. And yet, they are each individually distinguished from the other by name, and in some instances, by location (consider the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan, with the Father speaking from Heaven as the Spirit is descending in visible form like a dove). The nature of the Divine Trinity does not lend itself to close examination, and simple explanations. I can only tell you that Jesus is and always has been the eternal Son of God, and that he is simultaneously the Creator God who became flesh.

Some weight might be given to the thought that he is the only begotten Son of God—he is the only one so born, physically. He was the Son of God from Eternity, and so, was the Son of God when He finally was born in Bethlehem as well. Further, he is the Chosen Son: born to be King.

I am a child of God, but was not born so, physically. I had to be born again. Jesus is the only one who was born a Son of God. Incidentally, the Greek word for “Son” is “huios”, and denotes a full heir of God. The word translated “child” is “teknon”, and simply means offspring. I am currently a child of God—his legitimate offspring—but will someday be an heir; a Son of God, along with Jesus, the “firstborn”.

Though we will become sons, Jesus is the Eternal Son.

Jesus, the Son of God in Life on Earth

When Jesus was born of Mary, in the Little Town of Bethlehem, we tend to see that as his “beginning.” As we have already seen, that is not the case. That was simply the “right time” in God’s plan, for Him to enter human history as a human. It is possible that this is the day that was referred to when God said “this day have I begotten thee.” But it was certainly not the beginning of the Christ. He is called the Lamb slain from the foundation of the earth” (Revelation 13:8). We saw him appear physically to Abraham, Jacob, and others.

But the Eternal Son set aside the glory of God that had been his for all ages, left behind the worship offered him by myriads of angelic beings, and became a human child. (Hebrews 1:6 tells us that the Angels worshipped Him at His birth…this is the last time they openly worshipped Him on earth.)

He lived out his life in humble submission to the Father. He set an example for us in every way. He was a perfect human, in perfect submission to a perfect God. He had constant fellowship with the Living God. When called upon, he allowed God to work through Him, and miraculous works followed. He healed, taught, corrected, rebuked, and served. He was tired, but kept working; hungry, but fed on the Word; rejected, but not discouraged; denied, but not indignant.

According to Hebrews, Christ the Son was also the ambassador and representative of God. He is compared to the prophets, the angels, the Sabbath, the priesthood, the offerings, the Temple, and the deliverers of the Old Testament. In every case, it is pointed out that the Son exceeds all the earlier emissaries and provisions of God. Ultimately, it is pointed out that to reject the Son is to reject the others as well; and, in fact, to reject the Grace and Mercy of God completely.

Jesus, the Son of God in Death

When Jesus came to live as a Man, though he accomplished many things, he actually came for one specific purpose: He came to die. We see (in Hebrews 10:5-7) that he came in fulfillment of the scriptures, “Lo, I come! In the volume of the book it is written of me.” He further said, “A body thou hast prepared me”, in reference to the sacrifice he was to bring.

Consider the Old Testament figure, Isaac: He walked with his Father, Abraham. There was no dispute between them, but a real love relationship. When God called Abraham, in Genesis 22, and commanded that he sacrifice Isaac as a burnt offering, Abraham did not hesitate. We wonder about that, but in Hebrews 11, it states that he simply assumed he would be raised from the dead, since the promise of God had already singled out Isaac by name, stating that he was the promised seed, through whom the progeny of Abraham would come, and through whom, ultimately, the Savior would also come.

So the two of them walked together, toward Moriah. They left the servants behind (Abraham told them, “I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and return unto you.” and just the two of them approached the place of the sacrifice. Isaac was no dummy—he saw the fire, the knife and the wood, but no lamb. He asked his father Abraham about that lack, and Abraham stated that God would provide the Lamb. So the two of them walked on together, we are told.

When they arrived at the place, Isaac evidently rested from carrying the wood (enough wood to burn up a body) while Abraham built an altar. Then Abraham arranged the wood for the fire, and turned to Isaac. Isaac was no weakling—he was not a little child, but a strong, vigorous young man. Had he not been in complete fellowship with and submission to his Father, he could certainly have outrun him, or overpowered him. But he allowed himself to be bound, and to be lifted onto the altar. Who knows what thoughts he may have had? Isaac was simply a picture of Christ, without protest at his crucifixion. But at the moment Abraham lifted the knife, God stopped him, and “in due time” (Romans 5:6) the substitute was seen and implemented. The Ram was the substitute for Isaac. The Lamb of God was and is the substitute for the world. There is no substitute for Jesus. He is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

Jesus demonstrated full submission to the Father. In Philippians 2 we are told that he set aside his position as God, and became a servant, specifically a man, a poor man at that. He lived in full submission to the Father, and was obedient unto death, even though it was a demeaning, agonizing, shameful death usually reserved for criminals. He died as a criminal, in place of a race of criminals. We do not like to think of ourselves in that way, but God states in Romans 5:10 that we were all enemies of God.

Jesus the Son of God in Eternity Future

As you know, Jesus was resurrected. His resurrected body was no longer subject to death, nor even to the physical laws of nature. He could transport himself, vanish at will, and yet He was physical…he could be touched, handled, and seen. He could eat if he chose.

He spent forty days reassuring and teaching his disciples before leaving to ascend back to heaven. But they were told that he would return in like manner (literally, physically, bodily, and visibly), and as we read the scriptures we realize that the Old Testament accounts of his coming are frequently in specific reference to that coming—the Second Coming—not the first. He will come in victory and vengeance, not meekness and grace. He will set up his kingdom on Earth and will judge the nations. He will reign for 1000 years on Earth, and then turn over all things to the Father. Then eternally, he will be the light of the City of God…and, eternally, the God-Man.

Jesus the Son of God in Us

We who have received Jesus as our Savior are in him, just as Noah was in the ark…and we are eternally secure in that position. He is also in us as a King is in his kingdom, but, he is not always allowed to reign. We do not always subject ourselves to his rule. He is resident there, but not president.  He is seated on the throne, but we rebel frequently—perhaps constantly.

If we are to truly follow his example and allow him to rule, we must submit ourselves to Him, as he submitted himself to the Father. We must set aside our own agendas and embrace the agenda of God. We must drop our own priorities and choose the priorities of God.

What are the priorities of God? Consider Jesus at the well in Sychar of Samaria (John 4:1-42). When the disciples begged him to eat of the food they had purchased for him, he stated (seeing the crowd coming to him) that there were higher priorities—in fact, that there was a higher food—he said, “…my food is to do the will of Him that sent me, and to finish his work.” I would like to be able to say that my priorities are set that way, as well, but I am too frequently caught up in what I want to do or accomplish, not what God wants to do and accomplish. Can there be a balance? Yes, I think so.

God knows what we need to live—and in most of our experiences he has provided the means for support, but it requires our work to bring it to fruition. We use our time partly to reach out to the lost around us, and partly to meet our physical needs. There is nothing wrong with that. Had Jesus felt otherwise, the disciples would not have been off in Sychar, looking to buy food. They could have simply waited with Him. But they had gone, with his blessing. However, confronted with two choices—the opportunity to win souls or fill his belly—he chose to win souls. Therein we see the priority of God.

Conclusion:

There was a woman at Cornell Estates some time ago, Helen Meade, who had lived her life with those priorities. The deacons in her church were men whom she led to Christ as small children when she hosted “Good News club” in her home. She continued to reach out to others with the good news of salvation as long as she was able, at Cornell Estates, and involved other believers, saying “Come! There’s work to be done!” She was still doing so at one hundred years of age, and beyond.

There is nothing preventing us from doing as she did. We can embrace the priorities of God and pray for opportunity and the wisdom to see it. We can share with others, as she did.

We can watch the Son of God as He walked in scripture. We can observe Him as He walks among us in other believers; and, finally, we can imitate Him as we walk with Him.

Jesus the Son of God still lives. He invites us to become imitators of Him and live our lives in submission to the Father.

So, how will we respond? Let us respond with joyful obedience.

Christ the Lamb of God

Christ the Lamb of God

© C. O. Bishop 2011 (revised 2021)

(THCF 2/19/12) Revised 2021

John 1:29 “…Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the World!”

Introduction:

John has already introduced us to Jesus, as the Word of God; the Creator; the Light; the Life; the Source of Grace and Truth. And we have seen him in His incarnation, as the Word made Flesh. Now John (the Apostle) introduces another concept…”Christ, the Lamb of God”.

When I was young (and an unbeliever, by the way), I had no idea what this phrase meant. I knew what a lamb looked like, acted like, and smelled like…and heard people refer to lambs as gentle, or harmless, or cute and cuddly, but I didn’t see how any of those things applied to Jesus, and honestly found the idea somewhat repugnant—silly and sentimental at best.

What I did not understand was that to the Hebrew culture, a Lamb was primarily a sacrificial offering, and that they understood perfectly what kind of Lamb was meant when John the Baptist pointed to Jesus and said, “Behold the Lamb of God!”  They probably did not understand how it could apply to a Man, but they definitely knew what a Lamb was all about.

Further, they probably doubted the second clause: “…which taketh away the sin….” They knew that the blood of the lambs they sacrificed only temporarily covered their sins: so the idea that sins would be permanently removed was somewhat foreign, although we will see that the Old Testament scriptures predicted just that.

Finally, I am sure they completely balked at the idea that the blood of the Lamb could take away “the sins of the World”. It was their idea that the Messiah was to come and save Israel—not the world. And yet, the Prophets had predicted that he would be the savior of the Gentiles as well, and that the Gentiles would be given to Him as His inheritance.

So, John the Baptist really said a mouthful:

  1. He said that a Man would be the sacrificial Lamb.
  2. He stated that that Lamb would take away sin; and
  3. Finally, that He would take away the sins of the World.

Let’s see how that holds up in the light of God’s Word.

Jesus in Genesis

In the Beginning, we saw the creation (and Christ was the Creator), and we saw the Fall of Man into sin. The curse that fell as a result of sin included the prediction of the destruction of the Serpent—not the snake specifically; the Serpent— later identified as Satan. (Genesis 3:15, cp. Revelation 20:2) The One who would fulfill that promise was someone called the “Seed of Woman.” And the only one in History who could qualify as being specifically the Seed of Woman was Jesus, in the virgin birth.

Adam trusted God’s promise of a coming Savior, and God sacrificed animals to cover the nakedness of Adam and Eve. This was the first blood sacrifice: it was conducted by God, not Man. The first recorded blood sacrifice brought by a human was by Abel, in Genesis chapter 4. God accepted that sacrifice, and told Cain that if he, too, would do right, then He (God) would also accept his offering. But, Cain refused, and was lost.

Later, in Genesis 23, Abraham was commanded to offer his son Isaac. Abraham had no way to know that this was “only a test.” But he passed the test: he built the altar, laid the firewood, bound Isaac, and lifted him onto the wood. When he picked up the knife, to actually kill Isaac, God stopped him, and provided a substitute…a ram, which had been there all along, but unseen by Abraham or Isaac until the proper time.

Isaac had earlier asked Abraham, “where is the Lamb?” Abraham had answered with a statement of faith: “God will provide Himself a lamb”. God certainly did provide the Lamb, and He has done so once for all time, at the Cross. But, in Genesis, in the cases of Adam, Eve, Abel and Isaac, there was one lamb for one individual.

Jesus in Old Testament History

In Exodus 12, Israel was in bondage in Egypt. God was about to take them out of that bondage and remove them to another land. Pharaoh had refused permission for them to leave, so God sent ten plagues on Egypt—the last being the death of the firstborn of every household. But He offered an escape from that judgment, through the blood of a lamb.

Every family, house by house, was to choose a flawless lamb from their flock: they were to kill that lamb. They were to catch his blood in a basin, and then dip a bundle of hyssop in the blood and strike that blood onto the lintel and the two doorposts of the house. (try these motions—you are making a cross in the air.) They were to stay inside their houses that night, under the protection of that blood. When the destroying angel went through Egypt, He would pass over that house, sparing all who were under that blood. One lamb died for each family, though each individual was to eat of that lamb, personally. In every house without the blood, someone was dead. The blood of those lambs looked forward to the Cross.

The Passover was to be celebrated every year. They celebrated it as a commemorative feast, every year, with one lamb per family. There were other sacrifices, as well: each to cover sin. The Day of Atonement (“covering”) was observed once every year: one animal for the whole nation. Individual lamb offerings were brought for both individual sins, and for the covering of the firstborn.

In every case, these blood-sacrifices looked forward to the one Lamb of God that would come into the world and bear the sins of the human race. One lamb for the whole world. Judgment has fallen on the whole world, because of sin. We are given the option to place ourselves under the blood of God’s sacrifice and be saved. Every soul who fails to place himself under that blood is lost.

Romans 5:6 says that “in due time” Christ died for the ungodly. Revelation 13:8 says Jesus was “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the Earth”—he was there all the time, like the Ram in the story of Abraham and Isaac, but we had not seen him. He died at the proper time in history.

Why So Many Lambs?

Over the centuries, millions of lambs had died sacrificially, in hope of the salvation of Man. Obviously, some were offered by unbelieving hearts, only following a “form.” That is true today as well. Many recite catechisms, or creeds, without applying that truth to their own case. They say the words, but they don’t believe. In those days, the lambs died, but to no advantage. In a sense, that is true today, as well. Jesus truly died for the sins of the whole human race (1st John 2:2,) but for those who do not believe, it is to no advantage.

The lambs, bulls, and goats of the Old Testament sacrifices had three major flaws:

  1. Not being human, (unrelated to the sinner) they could not be the Redeemer—and could not cleanse the sinner. The Law of the substitute (and the Kinsman-Redeemer) required a willing, voluntary substitution of a free individual who was a close relative of the sinner.
  2. Even as a “covering,” though ordained by God, the animal sacrifices could only cover sins temporarily. The Day of Atonement was yearly, by necessity. The sin offerings were repeated every time someone sinned. We need a permanent solution for sin, and animals simply cannot serve that purpose.
  3. Though they truly were ordained by God, the animal sacrifices were only effective until the “Real Deal” came through. Once Jesus was offered at the cross, the animal sacrifices no longer covered the guilt of the sinner. If we reject the offering of Jesus at the Cross, then the animal sacrifices are no more acceptable than the sacrifices offered by pagans.

But there was definitely a time of full forgiveness coming, when God said he would remember their sins no more (Jeremiah 31:34.) And, in Isaiah 1:18, God promised that He would cleanse them from their sins: that though their sins had been red like crimson, they would be clean as newly washed wool. Covering and cleansing are two different things. Maybe the Jews thought that this would only happen in the Messianic Kingdom. They were partly right—it only happens in the Messiah!

And when Messiah comes, God promises that the gentile nations would rejoice in his presence. (Isaiah 11:10, 60:3) These things had evidently been passed over or ignored by Israel. I can understand that—I have frequently found passages that I know I must have read dozens of times and suddenly I see it clearly, as if it had not been there before.

Jesus in New Testament Doctrine

Let’s look at Hebrews chapters nine and ten: In Hebrews 9:19-22 (read it), we see the sprinkling of blood in the Old Testament sacrifices. This was ordained by God. He approved this practice. But, in Hebrews 9:23-28, God goes on to show the superiority of the sacrifice of Christ. (Read this, too). Hebrews 10:1-10 continues the thought, and states that it was impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

Finally, he points out that if we reject Jesus’ sacrifice then the Old Testament sacrifices are no longer valid. (Hebrews 10:26-31 …remember the context: the comparison of animal sacrifice to that of Christ.) The people to whom he was speaking were believing Jews; they had the history of the sacrifices. They evidently felt that they could always go back to the animal sacrifices if they decided they didn’t like Jesus. God warned them that they could not go back: the old animal sacrifices would no longer do any good.

Now: we can compare this with John 1:29, which we read at the beginning, and see that Jesus came to take away sins. He satisfied the holiness of God, as our propitiation (1st John 2:2) and He took away the sins of the whole world, just as John predicted. So, if the sins have all been taken on Christ, and judged at the Cross, why does anyone still face judgment?

In John 3:18, 19 Jesus said,  “He that believeth on Him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that Light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.”

Jesus said that the judgment people now face is for not believing the Gospel…not trusting in the blood of His sacrifice. In effect, just as the Egyptians in Exodus, and Cain in Genesis, they have refused to place themselves under the blood of God’s chosen sacrifice—the Lamb of God—and so they fall under the judgment of God, just as if He had not died for their sins.

Finally, unlike the Old Testament temporary sacrifices, Jesus’ blood has a permanent effect. In Hebrews 10:14-18, God explained that Jesus’ one offering cleansed forever those who trusted in Him. A believer becomes literally a child of God, and as such, begins to demonstrate the attributes of God. The sins of a believer are already purged at the cross, and are not being held against him/her. God sees you, the believer, as being Holy…exactly as Holy as Jesus.

Conclusion—Jesus in You

When John the Baptist said, “Behold the Lamb of God” it raised some questions in the hearts of those who heard. They probably found it confusing: they thought they knew all about lambs and sacrifices. We may have the same response. The questions we should be asking ourselves are:

  1. If Jesus is truly the chosen sacrifice of God, how can I lay my hands on that sacrifice, and endorse it as the one sacrifice for my own sin?
  2. Am I under the blood of that sacrifice?
  3. Do I care about those around me? Are they under that protection as well, or am I leaving them to be lost? What attributes of God do I demonstrate by my choice?

The answer to the first question, (“…how can I lay claim to that sacrifice?”) is simple: You lay hold by faith; by believing that Jesus died for your sins and placing your dependence on His shed blood as full payment for your sins. Jesus said, “Verily, verily I say unto thee, he that heareth my word, and believeth on Him that sent me hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but has passed from death unto life.” (John 5:24)

The second question is one that only you can answer. Either you already have trusted Jesus as your Savior, believing that his blood alone can take away your sins, or you have not. If there was ever a time in your life when you believed that Jesus was your only hope for salvation, and you trusted in Him, then you are under the blood of His sacrifice, and you will be there forever!

The answer to the third question must be addressed daily: Will I show the love of God, and reach out to the dying lost world around me with the hope of the Gospel? Or will I just let them stay lost? What possible excuse could I offer the Lord for having allowed those around me to perish without my having at least made the effort to reach them?

It seems to me that if I am truly under the blood of that sacrifice, and have become literally a child of God, and if am to be displaying the attributes of His character, as His ambassador, then the care that He extends to the world should be mine as well. Sadly, I have to confess that it frequently is not. I am frequently too caught up in my own issues. Yes, I have shared the Gospel with those with whom I work. I have led a few to the Lord, but not many. And usually, when I pray, I am not praying for their souls, but only that I can “get through the day without collapse or anger.” My first concern should be for the salvation of their souls, not my own comfort and happiness.

When I hear John the Baptist’s cry, “Behold the Lamb…”, I need to consider these things, and remember that his blood was shed not for just my sins, but also for the sins of the whole world. This is a call to faithful service, and evangelism, all to be tempered by humility and love, which are also attributes of God.

Please consider daily the challenge of John the Baptist, and behold the Lamb from the perspective of those who have been born again, and who owe our allegiance to the Cross.

God help us as we step forward by faith.

What Seek Ye?

What Seek Ye?

© 2021 C. O. Bishop

John 1:35-39

Introduction:

The passage we are reading, in John chapter one, is really about the initial introduction Jesus had with the men who would become His disciples, and eventually His Apostles. So, it may seem a bit of a “stretch,” to apply it to believers today.

But I think it is appropriate to remember that, except for Judas, these men were already believers, as far as we can tell. They believed the Word of God, even if they didn’t understand it all…just like we do. They were only transferring their worship from a distant, poorly understood God, whose judgment they feared, but whom they timidly “loved from a distance,” to a personal, right-there-with-them Lord who they also did not really understand. And they learned to Love Him personally, fiercely: and, in spite of all their failings, He loved them back.

So, let’s read the context: beginning in verse 35: John the Baptist was standing with two of his disciples…men who had believed his message of the coming kingdom, and had heard him proclaim Jesus to be the “Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the World.” We aren’t told how anyone responded to that first announcement, in verses 29-34. But in verses 35-46, we see things beginning to happen: the next day, John the Baptist saw Jesus passing by again, and gave his disciples a bit of a “nudge.” He said, “Behold the Lamb of God!” And that was all it took! Those two men left John immediately and followed Jesus. But Jesus turned around and asked them, “What Seek Ye?” Now, if I had been the one asking that question, my intent would have been to challenge the persons following me to give account for their actions: “Why are you following me?!”

But that does not seem to be Jesus’s intent at all: He was God in the flesh, and He knew their hearts. He knew why they were following Him! So why would He ask? I must conclude that He wanted them to answer for their own benefit: “What am I doing? Why am I following this man? What do I hope to gain by it? What do I hope to learn?

And their answer was a question, as simple as an answer could be…and necessarily vague: they really had no idea what to expect. They simply asked, in return, “Master, Where dwellest thou?

What Questions should we ask?

I think that is an appropriate “first question” for each of us to ask as well, but I think we also should ask ourselves, “What am I seeking?

Why am I seeking to fellowship with God? What am I trying to accomplish? Or, what do I hope to gain? Do I really want to Know Him better, or is this some sort of religious “self-help” experience? Am I just hoping to find some peace and happiness? Am I looking for exciting supernatural experiences? Entertainment? Increased social standing?  “What am I seeking?”

If what you are seeking boils down to a genuine need for a real relationship with Jesus Christ; the Biblical Jesus, who is the Real, Eternal God, living in human form, then the next question truly could echo the Disciples, saying, “Master, Where Dwellest thou?”

“What you are seeking” will direct you to seek in an appropriate place. You have already placed your trust in Jesus as your Savior. But, can you learn how to consciously find His presence on a daily basis and repeatedly come back to that closeness, rather than it being a random experience that “just happens?”

Where does Jesus Dwell?

Looking back in the Old Testament, we have found that every time God showed up in visible form, especially in human form, it was the pre-incarnate Christ. In fact, we were able to determine that the God of the Old Testament who met with Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, and others, was none other than the One we address as Jesus!

With that in mind, let’s look back and see where He says He dwells:

When Jacob saw the ladder, or staircase, leading into Heaven, upon which the angels were ascending and descending, he thought that he had somehow stumbled into God’s House, the Gate of Heaven! He named the place “Bethel,” meaning “house of God,” and offered God a rock to dwell in. Does that mean that God chose to actually live in that Rock? Nope. Honestly, that whole story makes me feel embarrassed for Jacob. How naïve does one have to be, to consider it appropriate to approach the eternal God, the creator of all things, material and immaterial, and suggest that He might like to live in this rock?

1st Kings 8:27 says that the entire Creation, including Heaven proper, cannot contain God. How much less a human-built structure? Isaiah 66:1, 2 says, “The Heaven is My throne and the Earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? And where is the place of my rest? For all those things hath My hand made, and all those things have been, saith the LORD:” (we will address the rest of this verse in a moment…)

Acts 7:48 confirms that God does not live in temples made by Humans.

But God has chosen to live in a few places: One such place was the Tabernacle we read about in Exodus 25:8…but it was long gone by the time of Christ. Another was the Temple Solomon built at Jerusalem (2nd Chronicles 7:1,) also long gone, by Jesus’s time but rebuilt twice over. And Jesus still referred to the temple proper (as rebuilt by Herod the Great, as “My Father’s House.” And that one was torn down completely in AD 70, leaving no Temple in Jerusalem. So where does God dwell, then? Exodus 19:9 and 2nd Chronicles 6:1 say that God dwells in thick darkness.

Psalm 99:1 says that God “…sits between the cherubim.”  The cherubim to which it refers were the two golden images of angelic beings, that were situated on the cover of the Ark of the Covenant, facing one another over the Mercy Seat, so that their wings were touching in an arch over the seat: And God said He sat there! (By the way, that was the only seat within the Holy of Holies: so, when Hebrews 1:3 says that “when He had by Himself purged our sins He sat down at the right hand of the majesty on High…” Where could he sit? In Revelation 7:17, we see the answer: He is seated in the throne with God the Father. The Mercy seat is His place!”

In Psalm 15:1-5, we are told what kind of person can join Him where He dwells: the psalmists asks, “LORD, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? Who shall dwell in thy Holy Hill?” At some length, then, He describes a righteous man. But Jesus spoke to the Thief on the Cross, and said, “Today you will be with me in Paradise!” How could such a one be acceptable with God? How could he abide in the tabernacle? How could he dwell with a holy God? He was not a “righteous man: he was in the process of being executed for his sins!

As we readbefore, Isaiah 66:2 continues the question of “where does God dwell,” by stating that all the things with which we might build a house were all created by God, and that none are anything special to Him…but then he says, “…but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my Word.” The thief on the Cross satisfied that description! And with that idea, we are getting closer to the answer!

The Answer Jesus Gave

When the two disciples of John asked “Master (Rabbi…a “master” from whom to learn) where dwellest thou?” Jesus gave a simple answer to a simple question: “Come and see!” That has been His continuing invitation, throughout all the ages: “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest! Ho, everyone who is thirsty! Come ye to the waters! Come buy wine and milk without money and without price! If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink! Whosever will, let him take of the Water of Life, freely.”

Did those two disciples know who they were dealing with? Nope. Clearly, they did not: but He invited them to come and spend time with Him, without asking their “credentials.” He did not take them back to Psalm 15 and demand to know whether they were “worthy” to abide with Him. He took them at face value, invited them without further questions of any sort, and they went with Him! Furthermore, it says that they saw where He dwelt, and they abode with Him that day!

If you want to see where Jesus dwells, then walk with Him! Just walk with Him! He isn’t demanding that you “jump through hoops” or “run an obstacle course to get to Him:” He isn’t demanding that you “clean yourself up” before you can walk with Him. He will do the cleansing, as needed, and when obstacles come, He will guide us through that trial. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me!

When we walk with Jesus, we find out where He dwells…and, if we are willing, we can abide with Him that day, just as those first two disciples did. Abide with Him! Stay and learn from Him. Find out what sort of God He really is! Bask in His presence; don’t just “pop in and touch base:” stay there!

When Moses went into the tabernacle to receive God’s instruction for the people, he also had to leave, to go tell the people what God said. But Joshua had been there with Moses, and Joshua was not tasked with telling the people what God said, at that point in his life. Later, he also was called as the mouthpiece of God. But at that time, when Moses left to go do the bidding of God, Joshua stayed behind in the tabernacle, alone with God! That relationship was becoming central to who he was. And, it had permanent impact on his ministry, as he turned out to be absolutely faithful in his walk with God. We only see two times in his life when something wasn’t right, and in both cases, it was because he made a “snap decision” without first consulting God. Both were fairly minor, as such things go, and he was never “rebuked” by God for sin: God only corrected his error and told him what to do next. I can’t help believing that those early times, alone with God in the tabernacle, must have shaped the years to come, and resulted in the fruit we see in his life.

In John 15:4, Jesus said, “Abide in Me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine, neither can ye except ye abide in me.” Lots of people try to use this passage to teach that a believer can lose their salvation. The passage has nothing to do with salvation: It has everything to do with fruit-bearing! Joshua bore fruit because he had “abided” with God in the tabernacle. The Disciples bore fruit because they had stayed with Jesus and had been shaped by His presence and teaching. They did not do so because they were great students, or because they were clever theologians, or talented individuals, or well-educated. They were none of the above! Jesus had deliberately chosen very average men to be His disciples: what they had in common was faith. Faith is an obedient response to a revealed truth.

Those first two disciples had just two things revealed to them:

  1. Jesus was “the Lamb of God,” and
  2. He invited them to come with Him.

They responded in faith: they took that gentle suggestion by John, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus invited them to “Come and see,” they went…and saw! And they stayed with Him.

Where do We find Our answers?

Each of us has had some level of interaction with Jesus: we call ourselves believers because we have trusted in His sacrifice as full payment for our sins. Romans 3:25 says that it was through “faith in His Blood” that we entered into the relationship initially. Each of us has a history, leading from that initial meeting, and resulting in our being wherever we are now: And Jesus is still inviting us to “Come and See!”

So, how do we do that?

Think back to the meeting between Jesus and those first two disciples: What did it take for them to respond? Obviously, they believed what John had told them, and as Jews, they had already believed that the Messiah was coming. But when Jesus invited them to “Come and See,” what did it take for them to respond?

Can you imagine them having said, “OK, maybe later! We were just going off to play games on the computer!” Or, “Let me check my calendar: I’m pretty sure I could “work you in” on Sunday mornings, usually…unless I’m om vacation….” Or, maybe, “I’m pretty busy, but I will try to make time for you someday soon! Thanks for the invitation!” Those are not appropriate responses to the invitation of Jesus, the Eternal King, to spend time with Him in private!

Those two disciples did not even really understand who Jesus was, but they knew they wanted to know Him, and they understood that it required time with Him! I don’t know what they may have had planned for the rest of the day before he invited them over to His place. The scripture says it was “about the tenth hour.” In other words, about four in the evening. What might they usually have done with their evening? I have no idea; but whatever it was, it was set aside as being of lesser importance: Jesus became their priority, from that day forward. (By the way, we can see, by the next day, at least, they were beginning to have some convictions about His identity: in verse 41, Andrew went and told his brother Simon Peter, “We have found the Messiah!” But regardless of what they did or did not understand, He had become their Priority!

Perhaps we ought to ask ourselves, “Is He my Priority? Or just my “Preference?” Would I just “prefer” to know Him…if it works out that way, and if I can find time? Or is He my priority, and everything else will be set aside as needed, in order to deliberately spend time with Jesus?

When Moses went back to speak to the people the words of God, does it seem strange that Joshua “failed to attend?” Or maybe he arrived late? Joshua may not really have even noticed when Moses left to go back to the camp. He was hearing the Word personally, not second-hand!

When the two disciples stayed with Jesus, was someone else already expecting them elsewhere? (Remember, there were no cellular phones! They couldn’t “call home” and cancel plans.) We are not given any information about their previous plans: but the fact is, whatever they had planned was completely postponed or set aside. They had found the Messiah! He is where they would be finding their answers, and placing their priorities, from that day forward.

How will You Respond?

If you have “Found the Messiah,” and have received Him as your Savior, and have recognized Him as your Lord, your Master, then shouldn’t your priorities have changed, too, just as theirs did? Shouldn’t you be seeking to spend time with Him in the Word and in Prayer, not just talking, but also listening to Him? Shouldn’t we choose, daily, to walk with Him, and see where He dwells? If He has not become your priority, then perhaps you need to go back and ask that first question again: “What am I seeking?” If Jesus isn’t the One you really want, then something is seriously wrong: Something else has taken first place in your life.

Only you can choose to “dethrone” whatever that “something” is, and to reinstate Jesus as your top priority. He still sends us to work every day: He still has us go to bed at a reasonable time so we can function the next day in whatever way He calls us to serve: But the priority has to be Jesus, or we are not walking with Him.

God help us to see clearly where our lives are headed, and to respond as the disciples did, seeking to “See the place where Jesus Dwells,” and learning to “Abide there with Him!”

Lord Jesus, continue to invite us and quicken our hearts to desire to spend time with You alone, and to see our priorities change as a result. Draw us to walk with You daily, continually, and to learn from You, feeding on Your Word. Make us the disciples You have chosen us to be.

The Word Became Flesh

The Word Became Flesh

© 2021 C. O. Bishop

The Incarnation (Part Two)


John 1:14; Philippians 2:5-8

Introduction

Last week we introduced the subject of the Incarnation, going all the way back to Genesis, showing that while God the Son had appeared repeatedly throughout the whole Old Testament, until He was actually born as a human, with the express purpose of having a mortal body, so that He could die for us, He could not be the Savior; God’s chosen sacrifice for Sin.

We talked about the concept of the Kinsman-Redeemer, (pictured in the person of Boaz, in the Book of Ruth) who had to:

Jesus became our relative by being born: a genuine human, in a genuine human body, lacking only the sin nature. (Evidently the Sin Nature is passed through the man, as we are all called the “seed of Adam.” But Jesus was born without a human father, as “the Seed of Woman,” sired by the Holy Spirit, and so lacked the inborn slavery to sin—He was Free!) Having that clean Human body, unencumbered by Sin, He possessed the price to be paid. And, finally, He went to the Cross willingly. He told his disciples, “No Man taketh my life from me, but I lay it down of myself.” (John 10:18)

Without the Incarnation, as spelled out in the Scriptures, Jesus could not be our Savior…nor could he be the Messiah, nor the King of the Jews as promised in scripture. But “The Word was made Flesh:” the full, Biblical Incarnation is critical to God’s entire plan of Salvation!

So, we need to consider how that affects our lives. What resources does the Incarnation of God the Son, the Living Word of God, provide for our lives?

The Resources of the Incarnation:

What impact does it have in our lives?

We know Jesus really lived and died, and we know that He really was God in the flesh. So…What now? Is this just “good, fun stuff to know and tell?” No!

The Rebuke of the Incarnation.

The Incarnation, as spelled out by the entire Bible, stands as an eternal rebuke to our wayward hearts, because we have no excuse for our bad responses to our circumstances, or our bad responses to those around us. Our irritations, angers, jealousies, vengeful thoughts, and general self-centeredness have to be set aside if we will embrace the Incarnation of Christ.

His perfect life stands as an eternal challenge to those who follow Him. We cannot surpass Him, but He calls us to emulate Him. Ephesians 5:1 says “Be ye therefore followers (imitators) of God, as dear children.” And, 1st John 2:6 says that he who says he abides in Christ “ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked.”

So, when I am finally able to recognize that my anger, my impatience, and my self-centeredness are all sin, what can I do to change it? If I had been able to clean myself up, by my own efforts, by self-abasement, self-flagellation, self-denial, or other religious works of “do-it-yourself” piety, then I would not need a Savior! Paul said, in Galatians 5:21, “I do not frustrate the Grace of God, for if righteousness is come by the Law, then Christ is dead in vain.”

In fact, Jeremiah 2:22 says that no matter how hard I scrub, and no matter how harsh the cleansing agent is, my sins will still be with me. But Isaiah 1:16-18 says that I can become clean! Psalm 51:7 tells me how: David said, “purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean: wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.

God has to do the cleansing… the “hyssop” refers back to the Passover, where the blood was struck upon the lintel and the two doorposts, using a bundle of hyssop to apply the blood. The means of our cleansing is still through the blood of the Cross. 1st John 1:7 (speaking to believers only)says that “If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanseth us from all sin.”

In John 13:8, Jesus told Peter, “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with Me.” Jesus has to do the washing. But then, restored to fellowship, we are free to stand up and walk in the Light with Him again. And that is what we are exhorted to do!

The Exhortation of the Incarnation: Following Jesus

Paul addressed this truth in Philippians 2:5-8

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:

Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:

But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:

And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.


This is the eternal challenge, or exhortation of the Incarnation: Paul first described how we are to live, in verses 1-4,

1 If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies,

Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.

Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.

Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.


Notice what Paul did, here: He spelled out the key issues of self-centeredness and pride, but contrasted then with the Love, and Mercy, and Comfort, and Consolation, and Fellowship, and Unity in Christ, resulting in peace, humility, and unselfishness. Then he capped the argument in verses 5-8 by saying that we are to live the way Jesus demonstrated in His Incarnation:

I have no idea what the future holds for any of us, whether individually, or as a church, but God says that we are to embrace the mindset of Christ, in His incarnation.

Every single child of God is also called to be His full-time ambassador. Romans 8:28 says “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are the called, according to His purpose.”

You know, it is strange: I have never heard anyone quote that verse and then say, “Well, yeah, but I don’t feel called!” Furthermore, we often forget the next two verses which clearly state that if you belong to Him, then you are called! There is no “special” order of believers who are “the called” and others who are just saved, but not called to function. We are all called to grow into the full stature of Christ, to become His hands and His feet in this sin-ruined World, and to offer Him as the living Bread and the Living Water to all who will receive Him. We are all called to offer our bodies a living sacrifice to God, which is called our “reasonable service of worship.”

Answering the Call of the Incarnation

If you can grasp the fact that you are called by God, then the only remaining question is “How will I respond to the Call of God?”

Isaiah responded (in Isaiah 6:8) with the famous “Here am I, Lord, send me!

Jonah, of course, ran away, and tried to hide: God gave him a “free water-taxi ride” back to the beach, so he could reconsider the call.

Balaam obeyed, initially, but then went and acted as a traitor to God’s priorities, trying to make money in the bargain, and sell out the nation of Israel.

Jeremiah was called by God, but tried to beg off, saying he was too young to serve. God told him, “Before I formed thee in the womb, I knew thee and ordained thee as a prophet to the nations.” And Jeremiah reluctantly obeyed the call. He had a rough ministry, too: very few responded well to his ministry.

Saul of Tarsus got “slapped off his mule” by the vision of Christ and the brightness of his glory: But, when Jesus identified himself, Saul gave the straight-forward reply, “What wouldst thou have me to do, Lord?” He committed himself to obedience, carte-blanche…sight-unseen. He accepted the call unquestioningly and took his marching orders immediately thereafter. He eventually became the Apostle Paul. (Incidentally, the name “Saul” means “asked for:” He was named after the first king of Israel. But he abandoned that name and was called “Paul,” meaning, “little” or “insignificant.” That is an interesting transformation: Paul never sought personal glory or pay for his service: He obviously remembered that it was Jesus whom he served.

So…How will you respond? Like Jonah? Like Jeremiah? Or like Isaiah and Paul? One way or another, each of us have been called to serve the Risen Christ. You have to choose how to respond. God help each of us to consistently respond in such a way as to become the men and women of God we have been called to be.

Lord Jesus, add Your divine Mercy and encouragement to the preaching of Your Word, and raise us up as disciples, honoring you in our lives, acting as your ambassadors, Pouring out your Grace to the World around us.

The Word Became Flesh

(The Incarnation: Part One)

© C. O. Bishop 2013 THCF 8/17/13 Revised 2021

John 1:14 “And the Word became Flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the father) full of Grace and Truth.”

Introduction:

If we consider the question, “What we are to offer to the world around us?” our first answer might be, “The Gospel!” And that is completely correct. But what sort of things are we presenting as part of the Good News of Christ? If people know nothing about who God is, or why we needed a Savior, then why would the death and burial and resurrection of Jesus be good news at all? I would like to present a series of messages regarding the message itself.

The theme today is the Incarnation. Without the incarnation (that is, the real God becoming a real Man, fully human, and living a physically limiting, sometimes painful and often demeaning life on planet Earth) we would have no savior. All the attributes of God become meaningless to us if that God did not also become human, taking on the nature of a servant, and sacrificing Himself in the place of the condemned human race.

The Concept of the Incarnation: Back to Genesis

We can trace the concept of the incarnation back to Genesis, though it is not spelled out there, as such. It is there, but illuminated under a rather dim light, if you will. Genesis 3:8 gives us a tiny glimpse of something unique in the living God: He walked in the Garden in the cool of the day. And, He spoke as he walked, evidently calling to Adam and Eve, the intelligent representatives of His earthly creation. As it is phrased, it seems that His presence there was a normal thing…the guilty couple were not afraid because He was doing something new…it was because they had done something new. They had sinned.

God’s presence in the Garden was normal. His speaking was normal. Sin is NOT normal. And yet, the sin they committed was no surprise. I don’t have to guess about this…I can say it with absolute certainty, because far away in the other end of the Bible, Revelation 13:8 states that Jesus was the “Lamb slain from the Foundation of the Earth”—not “from the Fall of Man”. He knew exactly what they would do, before they did it, and had already moved to correct the damage. The promise of a Savior is first made in Genesis 3:15, concerning a person called “The Seed of Woman.” And Jesus is the only one who could fulfill this as He was the only one who only possessed a human mother…His Father was God.

In Genesis 7:1, which is part of the account of the worldwide flood, a small point is raised that when God instructed Noah and his family to embark, he specifically called them to “come” into the Ark. Not “go”, but “come” (the Hebrew word is “bo” and this is its first use in scripture, though it is used hundreds of times in later passages, and it is usually translated “come.”) The implication was that God was already aboard. In physical form? No… I don’t think so. But He was there.

In Genesis 14:18-20 an interesting character appears: Melchizedek. He was at least a picture of the Christ, and I think there is ample scriptural evidence to hint that he may have actually been the pre-incarnate Christ, already acting as the mediator between God and man…the Priest of the Most High God. (See Psalm 110 and Hebrews 7 for more information.) Most commentators would probably disagree with me on that point. That is OK. I could be wrong, and I would be happy to discover that I am wrong from the scripture, but, in the meantime, I have to preach it the way I see it.

In Genesis 18 God appears to Abram, at Mamre. Initially, Abram did not recognize him as Deity, but thought that he (Abram) was simply exercising hospitality toward a fellow man. He was corrected when God made the promise of a child, a son, to be born the following year. From that point forward, Abram approached Him in a different way, though still with remarkable boldness, as he “dickered” for the life of Lot, trying to dissuade God from destroying Sodom, where his nephew Lot still lived. An interesting point is that Abram addressed Him as “the Judge of all the Earth.” John 5:22 tells me that had to be Jesus.

In these instances, and others, the Lord appeared in either human form or at least a physical form such that no one questioned his presence. He wrestled with Jacob, as we mentioned a few weeks ago; he confronted Balaam, the wayward prophet, and threatened to kill him because of disobedience. In Daniel’s account, He joined Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace, thus shielding them from the deadly flames; and he was seen there by Nebuchadnezzar, and many others.

The Fact of the Incarnation: The Word Became Flesh

So, if God has been appearing on planet Earth since the beginning… what is so different about the incarnation? The answer is simple: He had to be able to die. Hebrews 10:1-10 (read it).

This is primarily a quote from Psalm 40:6, 7 (read it) —with a minor change thrown in. Remember that God is the author of both, and He has inserted a parenthetical remark (“a body thou hast prepared me”) into his earlier statement, thus making it clear what was meant. David was inspired to write Psalm 40. Probably Paul was the human agent used to write the book of Hebrews. But Psalm 40 mentioned nothing about the body prepared for the sacrifice. It only stated that the sacrifices of the animals did not solve anything…those covered by that blood were still possessed of their sins, though the sins were covered. The speaker recognized that the animal sacrifices could not remove sin, and in contrast stated, “Lo, I come! In the volume of the book it is written of me”. It was absolutely not talking about David, or any other son of Adam: it could only refer to “the Seed of Woman”…The promised Messiah…The Promise of the Ages.

The only way that particular promise could be fulfilled was for the Messiah to become a complete human…Gestation and childbirth, physical mortality and all: Flesh and blood. Hebrews 10:9 reiterates the contrast, and states the divine upgrade from figure to reality.

The countless animals throughout the ages that have been sacrificed as substitutes for fallen Man, while their deaths were not “in vain,” were woefully inadequate to complete the job of salvation. The animals only fulfilled a portion of the “law of the substitute;” the law of the Kinsman-Redeemer. They were innocent, all right, but were unrelated to the sinners, and certainly did not voluntarily substitute themselves for the guilty party.

The only true substitute had to be human. He had to be free from sin. He had to have a physical life to offer, and he had to be willing—intelligently willing— to take the place of the rest of the fallen world. Before the Incarnation, the God of the universe had proven himself willing, according to Revelation 13:8. He was certainly sin-free, but (a) he was not yet human, and (b) He had no body—no physical life—to offer.  So, the last two pieces of the puzzle came together in the Incarnation. “A body thou hast prepared for me”…and “Lo! I come! In the volume of the book it is written of me!” The prophecies had been there for hundreds of years…some for thousands of years. Abel’s sacrifice was called a prophecy, according to Hebrews 11:4 (“…and by it, he yet speaks”). That was about 4000 years before Christ. All the prophecies of the Savior were fulfilled in the Incarnation of Christ.

The birth had to be there, and it had to be a virgin birth. There is only One person in history who is truly the “Seed of Woman”…all the rest of us have a human father. His birthplace, his poverty, his travels to Egypt, his growing up in Nazareth, his miracles, the outpouring of wisdom when He taught, the affliction of his soul because of the sins of the Human race, and, of course, his eventual crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection were ALL prophesied in detail, and all had to be fulfilled. The casting of lots for his undergarment was specified. The vinegar they offered him to drink, and the fact that he would die with the wicked, but be buried with the wealthy (now there’s a paradox!) all had to be fulfilled in the same man. You see, the wicked were usually disposed of like garbage: thrown into the city dump to be eaten by scavengers. The wealthy (even the wicked wealthy) were carefully entombed in rock. But crucifixion labelled him as accursed, and he would not usually have been buried at all, let alone in a brand-new hand-carved stone tomb.

“In the volume of the Book it is written of me!”

The Credentials of Christ were in the scriptures he was fulfilling. The Credentials of God and the Pedigree of the Messiah are the fulfilled prophecies of the Bible. Either they are completely true, or we have no hope! God presents the fulfillment of prophecy as being his primary credential, throughout the book of Isaiah. Look at some of the claims he makes: Isaiah 41:4, 46:5-10; 48:16, etc.I am He who tells the end from the beginning. Who else is like me?

This is a unique attribute of the God of the Bible. Others may claim 60% accuracy, or even 90%, but God said that His prophets had to be 100% accurate, or they were to be stoned as a false prophet. Ironically, virtually all the true prophets were ultimately killed by the people to whom they were sent, and the false ones were revered, as a rule. Why? Because God’s prophets brought an unpopular message (the truth) and the false prophets simply told people what they wanted to hear.

Jesus addressed this issue (John 3:19) “And this is the Judgment, that light has come into the world, and Men loved Darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil!” Many false prophets have claimed 100% accuracy, but history (immediately subsequent to their prophecies) has proven them liars, and hopelessly wrong. God’s prophets were accurate to the smallest details… and the Incarnation brought all the promises of God to a focal point. The Kingdom was actually offered to Israel while Jesus was on Earth; had they received Jesus as their Messiah, I have no idea how God would have worked out the rest of the fulfillment of prophecy. But there was no danger of that, as their rejection was also predicted. God knew exactly what they would do when offered the Kingdom. The offer was genuine and sincere. He mourned their rejection even back in Isaiah (Isaiah 48:18). So, the fulfilled Incarnation included the rejection by His people the Jews. It included the beatings, the scourging, the piercing of the hands and feet, and all that was involved in His death. It included the three days and three nights in Sheol—the place of the Dead. But what else did it include? The Incarnation also included the positive side of the story, of course:

It included the resurrection. It included the promise of Salvation by Faith alone. And included the full portrait of his character, his Grace and Mercy and Truth.

The Result of The Incarnation:

He…Dwelt among us… Full of Grace and Truth (John 1:14)

 “…and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of Grace and Truth” Jesus’ life was full of Grace and Truth. We can still read the Bible and see how his life reflected the truth at all times and in every sense, and that Grace was the heartbeat of the incarnate God. But He didn’t do it off by Himself somewhere, or in a monastery, or a desert island. He dwelt among us. He had to live with the same sorts of smelly, rude, frustrating, self-centered, short-sighted idiots as we do (and are). He was with people who had no idea of him being anything special and treated him pretty disrespectfully. He was with those who had already broken his laws too many times to count…and/or those who were actively mistreating others. He lived in the presence of his friends and his enemies…and the friends were unreliable at best.

We can see His Grace extended to the Woman at the Well, a lost, sinful, half-breed Samaritan, seriously confused about God, and seriously soaked in sin, rejected even by her own people.

We can see His Grace extended to the Thief on the Cross, as He responded with encouragement and promise to someone who, a short time earlier, had joined with the crowd in reviling him, but who also, just a moment before, had sought his forgiveness and Mercy.

We can see His Grace, a few years later (I’m not sure of the time frame) on the road to Damascus, when a young man named Saul of Tarsus was recruited. Saul had been severely persecuting the church. If I had been a believer at that time, I am sure I would have been praying for God’s vengeance on Saul, and God’s protection for the believers.

But Jesus went a step further: He made Saul of Tarsus (later known as the apostle Paul) a child of God, and a powerful tool in His hand. Wasn’t that a better solution? Of course! But what about Paul’s sins; shouldn’t they be dealt with? They were! Those sins were purged at the same time as yours; at the Cross. That is one of the results of the incarnation. And we can rejoice in that result in our own lives and the lives of those around us.

Next week we will talk about the Resource that the Incarnation provides in our lives, as well as the Rebuke and the Exhortation, in the Incarnation of Christ.

Jesus, make us alive to you and remind us that we are dead to the world, both as a result of your ministry as God in the Flesh.