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.

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.

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.

Gifts and Goals

Gifts and Goals

© 2021 C. O. Bishop

2nd Peter 1:1-15

1 Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ:

Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord,

Introduction:

We completed our study of 1st Peter, and we are moving on into 2md Peter. I always enjoy reading what the apostles say about themselves, in the epistles. Usually it is very straightforward: none of them claim to be anything special, though once in a while they may refer to something special that happened in their walk with Jesus.

Peter, the “famous fisherman apostle” simply introduces himself as “Simon Peter, a servant.”(This is a combination of the name he had before he met Jesus, and the name Jesus gave him.) He also introduces himself as an apostle, but it is secondary to the fact that he is a servant. Perhaps we should also notice that he is simply a servant and an apostle: he is just one of many. He does not remind us of his fame, or his attempted heroics, or his earlier desire for preeminence, either. He’s simply a servant and an apostle (a “sent one”) of Jesus Christ.

Grace and Peace

He addresses himself to all other believers: those who have obtained “like precious faith”—the same trust in Jesus as savior, resulting in the same eternal life and the same permanent position in Christ. (That includes us!)

He says that we all have obtained that faith and that position in Christ through the righteousness of God and of our Savior Jesus Christ. That is an interesting idea, because we always think of it as having been conferred upon us by Grace (which it was), but we forget that the holiness and righteousness of God is what oversees the application of His Grace and Love. They are all one package. If God is involved, then His righteousness is involved, and His holiness. If we are involved with God, then His Grace has to be involved, because, on our own, we do not have and cannot produce the righteousness of God or the holiness of God. God demands that holiness and righteousness in any relationship with Him; so He has to offer it to us by Grace. We never will have it by any other means. So, the very next verse addresses how we are involved with His righteous holiness: By Grace, resulting in Peace.

In every epistle except Hebrews, James, 1st John, 3rd John and Jude, the apostles open with the need for Grace and Peace in our lives as believers, in that order. Jude replaces “Grace” with “Mercy.” Which is simply the “flip-side” of Grace. (Grace is unmerited favor—God giving us what we have not earned and do not deserve. Mercy is God not giving us what we do deserve and have earned: He has transferred that judgment to Jesus at the Cross.) Paul’s epistles to Timothy and Titus include Mercy as well as the usual Grace and Peace: “Grace, Mercy and Peace to you…”

There is no room left for us to doubt our need for the Grace of God in order to experience His Peace. In the few epistles which do not begin with that phrase, the principle is strongly taught, later on. Every true follower of God has come to grips with this truth. I need God’s constant grace in my life if I am to function at all, in a manner that is to His glory. I simply don’t have the wherewithal to produce such a life on my own. This is why Jesus taught in John 15:5, “Apart from Me ye can do nothing.” There is no arrogance or condescension in that remark: it is the simple truth. That is why the entire context of that passage is surrounded by the idea that the branches of a vine are unable to produce the fruit of that vine without the sustenance of that vine flowing through them. That is true of us as well.

The Gifts and the Goals

According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

God has already given us a number of gifts: some He gave to the whole human race, whether believers or unbelievers. Some He gives specifically to believers, irrespective of whether they are actually walking in obedience…all the gifts are theirs because they are in Christ, and, whether they are aware of them or not.

But there are some gifts He wants to “add to the mix,” which must be diligently pursued by a believer, in order to appropriate them. They are still gifts, but in a matter of practical application, they are goals. So… What is the difference?

Verse three says that God has already given us all things that pertain to life and Godliness. No believer is re-born a “spiritual cripple,” who is “lame from re-birth.” In your new self, you have been given the ability to choose to walk with Jesus. Because you have come to know Him, you have access to all the rest.

How? Verse four tells us how we are to see these realities worked out in our lives: “Exceeding Great and Precious Promises!” Peter says that by means of those promises in God’s Word, we have the privilege of beginning to partake in the character, and nature of God, Himself…and that in so doing, we escape the corruption that is in the World through the ungodly desires of our old natures. In reality, this is part of our inheritance in Christ: we are His real children, and we should expect to grow into His likeness.

Collectively, the desires of the World and those of our old natures are completely in opposition to all that God is. His Righteousness and Holiness are utterly repugnant to them. We escape the corruption of the world and the flesh through the application of God’s Word to our lives. Diligent application of His Word produces further results: We could think of them as goals.

The Goals

Diligence in applying the “exceeding great and precious promises” as well as the rest of the admonition and correction and encouragement in God’s Word will produce the following things:

And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.

So there are seven things to look for:

  1. Virtue
  2. Knowledge
  3. Temperance
  4. Patience
  5. Godliness
  6. Brotherly kindness
  7. Charity (Agapé love)

Please note that all of these things are still under the condition Jesus spelled out in John 15:5, saying “apart from me ye can do nothing.” Is it possible to produce a “cheap imitation” of each of these things by our own efforts? Certainly it is! But all these things, if produced by the flesh, (our old sin nature) are contaminated by the flesh. The Old Self is not only corrupt, but is continually being corrupted. So, for the realities of each of these values to be born in us, they have to be coming from an ongoing walk with Jesus, in full fellowship with Him. Let’s look at each of them individually:

  • Virtue: (Greek: arête…force or strength) It is strange: all my life, I thought that the word “virtue” meant something similar to “piety.” But it does not: it means “strength of character.” God wants to produce that strength of character in each of our lives.
  • Knowledge: (Greek: gnosis…experiential knowledge: not just “stuff to know and tell.” This comes from an ongoing relationship with Christ, on a daily, moment by moment basis.)
  • Temperance: (Greek: ephrateia…self-control, or continence. We are not to just be tossed around, by every thought, or circumstance, but we are to be controlled by our new nature.)
  • Patience: (Greek: hupomonē… endurance…pressing on. It doesn’t mean just “waiting,” but rather, persevering, in the face of hardships and disappointments.)
  • Godliness: (Greek: Eusebiapiety or reverence. This is the person and character of Christ “seeping out” all over the life of the believer, so that we literally “smell like Jesus.”)
  • Brotherly kindness: (Greek: Philadelphianactually, this is the “brotherly love” word. This is the general friendliness and kindness and care that we are to have toward others.)
  • Charity: (Greek: agapé…Agapé love…the unconditional, committed love expounded upon, in 1st Corinthians 13:1-8.) Not feelings, but actions, in every case.

So, the idea is that by diligently applying God’s Word to our lives, these changes should be the result: and that all of them (the real thing) are from God, not “drummed up” by self-effort or self-improvement schemes.

The Results

For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. The idea behind all of these virtues in a believer’s life is to make us fruitful. Orthodoxy only means “having right opinions.” If these character traits are missing, then the “correct opinions” have never gotten out of the “library” into the “living room.” They have not become a practical, living reality. A person may have strict adherence to a creed of some sort, and even a form of godliness, but Jesus warned that this can be counterfeit. The Pharisees had all of that and they hated Jesus. James pointed out that the demons are “monotheistic,” too! They know there is “only one God!” They have seen Him face-to-face! As we can see, then, “having all your doctrinal ducks in a line” is not the real issue: Having an ongoing, faith-based, obedient walk with Jesus is always the issue, and it is evidenced by the fruit of that relationship: the agapé love coating all aspects of our lives.

So, while we can see two possible extremes (one who is not a believer at all, but whose opinions and behavior patterns are pretty good, versus one who actually does know Jesus as his Savior, but whose life does not reflect that reality, nor is he well-schooled in theology) we need to see that Peter is addressing those who definitely are believers, and who have begun to grow in their faith: He exhorts them to press on and grow more! He also gives them things to look for in their own lives to see whether the “growth” is genuine.

[Remember, James did much the same, giving us clues by which to recognize Godly wisdom, as opposed to the wisdom of the world, the flesh, or the devil. (James 3:13-18. “13 Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. 14 But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. 15 This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. 16 For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. 17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. 18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.”)]

These fruits are what we should look for to see how we are progressing. He also warns that a believer who lacks these attributes has forgotten that Jesus purged him of his old, sinful way of life, and has become judicially blind, through the willful disregard for God’s Word.

But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.

We really do not want to be blind to God’s Word, or deaf to the voice of the Holy Spirit.

10 Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: 11 For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

So…if we know that we have received the Lord, then we need to give diligence to be “digging in” and growing in Him. God’s Word is what will make us grow: remember 1st Peter 2:2 “…desire the sincere milk of the Word that ye may grow thereby.”

This is the constant invitation (and command) from God: that we draw near to Him in Bible-study and prayer, so that He can draw near to us, by His indwelling Holy Spirit, and help us to walk with Him in obedience. We know that. As believers, we will eventually be in the new heaven and earth with Jesus. But He asks that we enter in now: not being lax, and just figuring that all of it will eventually happen. Hebrews 10:19 calls us to enter into the holy place now, by faith, through the person and work of Christ. This is not about Salvation: it is an invitation (and command) to believers: people who are already saved.

12 Wherefore I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though ye know them, and be established in the present truth.

Peter shows that he knew these people were already believers: he says that he is reminding them of something they already knew.

13 Yea, I think it meet, (fitting) as long as I am in this tabernacle (physical body), to stir you up by putting you in remembrance; 14 Knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath shewed me. 15 Moreover I will endeavour that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance.

Peter is especially concerned for their well-being, because the Lord had revealed to him that he was soon going to die (He was to be executed, tradition tells us.) so he wanted to be sure they understood and would be able to remember the central truths of their relationship with Jesus. He was going to give them a “review lesson,” specifically so that after his death they would be able to remember these things. That’s what the book of 2nd Peter is: a review lesson. (The first point in that review, actually, is the manner by which God’s revelation is given to Man: And we will look at that next, in our study of second Peter.)

Lord Jesus, teach us to look to you for all things, and not to depend upon our own wisdom but to look to you for godly wisdom to guide our lives. Raise us up as your servants and allow us to shine in this dark world.

Peter’s Closing Admonition

Final Encouragement

© 2021 by C. O. Bishop

1st Peter 5:5-14

Introduction:

We have been studying through the book of 1st Peter, since October of last year. We have finally arrived at Peter’s closing admonition in this first epistle. I hope we will continue into 2nd Peter, next, unless something more pressing arises. For the last three weeks, we have focused on the teaching regarding elders and church leadership. Now, I realize that a preacher is supposed to speak to exhortation, edification and comfort: I am primarily a teacher, so perhaps the messages have lacked in the “exhortation and comfort” departments. I ask your forbearance: bear with me, and perhaps you will ultimately find the teaching encouraging.

However, as we approach this last passage, I must begin by confessing that I do not knowwhat the first sentence of this passage is intended to convey: (“likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder.”) I realize that some people would try to use it to give themselves authority over anyone younger than they, but the very next sentence undermines that idea, by declaring that we all are to be subject to one another; and it then introduces what seems to be the key idea in the rest of the entire passage: humility.

Humility

Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.

ALL of you be subject one to another! This is not a hierarchy of authority. We are all to be clothed with humility: God resists the proud, and gives Grace to the humble. Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God that He may exalt you! Don’t be looking for authority: look for service, and if God puts you in a position of responsibility, so be it. Remember Joseph the patriarch, who humbled himself as a slave, and was falsely accused of a crime, and still humbled himself in the prison; the dungeon into which he had been cast. He rendered thirteen years of humility under God’s hand, knowing that he had been chosen for something better! And we know what eventually happened: he was raised out of the prison directly into the throne room of Pharaoh, where he continued to faithfully serve for many decades.

Interestingly, the word “clothed” in this passage is completely different than any of the other words for clothes, or for clothing oneself: The Greek word “egkomboomai” means to “bind onto oneself” and it is only used this one time in the scripture. It is not meaning “in contrast to nakedness,” as the word “enduo” is used to convey, over in 2nd Corinthians 5:4, where the contrast is made that a human spirit not having a body would be “unclothed” but that we are destined to be “clothed upon” by God, in the interim between our deaths and the resurrection of our physical bodies in 1st Thessalonians 4:13-18.

Rather, this phrase seems to be an admonition to take to ourselves this particular “garment” of humility, and put it on, as if it were part of the armor of God, or perhaps part of the “uniform” of God’s army! Choose it! Embrace it, and dress yourself in it. Why? Well, for one thing, He says that if we “choose humility” now, not seeking to place ourselves more highly than God may want us, and not “looking down upon” others for any reason, then He will raise us to our proper station at the appropriate time, just as He did Joseph. In contrast, on a day-by-day basis, we can see that if we indulge our pride and self-will, then God will resist us: but if we choose humility, as He says, then He will supply us with His Grace within which to live. This is not about His Grace in salvation, but rather about the Grace that we need moment by moment, daily, in order to walk with Him. If we hope to walk with Jesus, it has to be done in humility, not self-will.

But there is another reason to “choose humility” that is extremely practical for the “here and now:” Turn back to James 4:6, 7, please. This is a companion passage:

James says “God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble: Submit yourself to God! Resist the Devil and He will flee from you!” You cannot resist the devil if you are not in submission to God. When we were working through the book of James, we used the illustration that coyotes are not particularly fearful of horses, as a rule…but they will flee from a human on a horse. If you are self-directed rather than submitting to God, then nothing you can do or say has any effect upon the evil one. But if God is “the one in the saddle,” so to speak, then, under His control you can resist the Devil and he will flee. So Peter goes on to say nearly the same thing. Let’s turn back to 1st Peter 5:6:

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.

Notice he says that, part of “humbling oneself under the hand of God” is to cast one’s cares upon Him. If we are reluctant to cast our cares upon Him, then we are disobeying a clear command, and we are choosing self-sufficiency over the Grace of God. In 2nd Corinthians 12:9, when God told Paul, “My Grace is sufficient for thee,” Paul could have said something like, “Oh! Well, then, I guess I’ll have to take care of it myself!” or, “God is not answering my prayer! I will just have to suffer on alone!” But, He did not: he submitted himself to God’s will in his life. And, on the basis of that willing submission to God, he was kept and sustained by Grace. That is the nature of Godly humility. We see that the next verses clearly tie to the passage in James as well: Peter described our active enemy, the devil; and says that we are to resist him.

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.

We are to take this fight seriously, not lightly: with sobriety, not silliness. He says that we are to be sober, and vigilant: watchful, not lax! If you think that an enemy of some sort may be near, you are alert at all times, keeping your eyes open against a sneak attack. But we don’t just think that the enemy may be around: we are assured by God that he is around, prowling, searching for an unwary believer whom he can subvert, and make ineffective and unfruitful. He can’t take us away from Jesus, but he can take away our joy and peace, if he can trick us into unbelief.

Further, Peter says that the whole body of Christ faces this same enemy, and that we are to resist him together as well as individually. We pray for one another, as Jesus did for Peter. Jesus said that Satan had desired to “sift” Peter like wheat… but that He himself had prayed for Peter.

Testing and Trials
It would be easy to think that somehow we ought to escape such testing, but we are told repeatedly that this sort of testing and trial is for the whole body of Christ. Notice it says that we are to resist Satan. Hebrews 12:4 chides the Hebrew Christian recipients, saying that they “have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.” This may have been in comparison to the many martyrs who had been listed in Hebrews 11.

But we are given three different commands in regard to three different types of trials:

  1. Resist: We are to resist sin, and resist Satan. (Hebrews 12:4; James 4:7; 1st Peter 5:9)

  2. Flee: We are to flee sexual immorality (1st Corinthians 6:18), flee youthful lusts (2nd Timothy 2:22) and flee temptations (1st Timothy 6:11.)

  3. Endure: We are told to endure hardship, and trials and suffering, and injustice, etc. (Hebrews 10:34; Hebrews 12:1, 2; 1st Peter 2:19; 1st Peter 4:12, 13; 2nd Timothy 2:3)

10 But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.

The word “suffer,” here, means to endure: to allow these realities to have their effect. When Jesus assured John the Baptist that his baptism was the right thing to do, he said “suffer it to be so, now…” (allow it to be so!) Provided we respond well, God uses such trials and testings to stabilize us, and strengthen us, and settle us in our faith. Greenhouse plants have to be gradually exposed to the harsher realities of life out in the open air, in a procedure called “hardening off.” The gardener exposes them to direct sunlight and the breezes and the unregulated air temperatures for longer and longer times, each day, until the plants are mature enough to survive planted in a garden or orchard. Otherwise they will not be strong enough to survive. But we have to allow the trials to have their desired effect.

As baby Christians, we were not particularly stable: any strange doctrine or rumor could shake us in our faith. Any apparent “lack” of what we thought we needed made us doubt the character of God. But Ephesians chapter four says that we are to grow up out of that babyhood, and become mature believers.

The epistles of Hebrews, James and Peter all tell us how God chooses to bring about that stability. Part of it is through feeding on the Word of God. (And you have been doing that, to varying degrees!) We are told to feed on the sincere milk of God’s Word. We are also told that through the exceeding great and precious promises of God’s Word we are to become partakers of the Divine Nature. And all of that is true! But part of it is by going through hard times with Jesus. When we walk with Jesus, we go where He goes. And he doesn’t often take the easy way. He doesn’t take the easy path! And we are called to walk with Him!

Closing Comments:

11 To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.

Peter is beginning his closing comments, here: his benediction to the recipients of the letter. He begins by glorifying God for His Grace, as mentioned in verse 10, and the incredible gift of the calling of God. He offers eternal Glory and dominion to the God of Grace. Then he “says his goodbyes.”

12 By Silvanus, a faithful brother unto you, as I suppose, I have written briefly, exhorting, and testifying that this is the true grace of God wherein ye stand.

Apparently Peter did the same thing as Paul did: he used another person to scribe his writings. In Paul’s case, as an educated man, he was certainly able to write well, but there is scriptural evidence that his eyes were bad: possibly affected by the stoning he received at Lystra, or possibly an ongoing infection. The one time when he wrote the letter with his own hand (Galatians 6:11), he wrote in very large letters, as (perhaps) one whose vision did not permit him to write normally. Also there were several other remarks in other passages, which make us think his eyes were failing.

In Peter’s case, I have no idea why he was using a scribe. But remember that the Jews were astonished at his supernatural wisdom, saying that he was too uneducated to have learned it normally (Acts 4:13). So perhaps he was really not able to write the letter himself. That is a possibility; however in the second letter, no such credit is given to the scribe. Did he use a scribe and simply not mention him? That also was very common. So we just don’t know. In any case, he was sure that the readers knew the scribe, and counted him a faithful brother. We know nothing else about the man.

Agape Love

13 The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Marcus my son.

Peter closes with an interesting salutation from the church at Babylon. Some try to say that Peter was not actually referring to the “real Babylon,” but was using a euphemism for Rome. That is not at all indicated by the scriptures: Babylon had a small but thriving community up through the time of Christ. The fall of the Babylonian kingdom did not bring about the destruction of the city of Babylon, proper. The ruins are still there, though essentially uninhabited, and it currently being rebuilt. The destruction promised to Babylon in Isaiah 13:17-20 is yet to come! It will evidently happen during the tribulation. The primary reason for the decline of Babylon over the years was the fact that the Euphrates River was gradually changing course, and their only source of water was just too far away, now, to be reliable. So, they finally gave up and moved away.

But there had been a population there, and a good church at one time; and they sent their greetings to the Jewish believers to whom Peter was writing.

“Marcus” is probably in reference to John Mark, the author of the Gospel of Mark. He was not Peter’s literal son, but apparently they had that sort of relationship. Remember that Paul had been displeased with Mark’s unreliability as a young man, and refused to work with him anymore. But Barnabas took him and trained him, so that he became a valuable servant of God, recognized as such by Paul, and apparently held in high esteem by Peter.

14 Greet ye one another with a kiss of charity. Peace be with you all that are in Christ Jesus. Amen.

“Kissing” is still a proper form of greeting in many societies. Our culture has moved to handshakes, over the last several hundred years, and is now in the process of devolving further into “fist-bumps,” supposedly to prevent the spread of disease.

I do not believe that the means of the greeting (kissing, handshakes or fist-bumps) is the issue: the central issue is the motivation of the greeting: Agapé love is to be the core value in our lifestyle. We are to maintain that sort of relationship with all the believers in our sphere of experience. Disunity is not acceptable with God. Telling someone else “I don’t need you,” even if you are only thinking it, should be a real cause for alarm in your thinking. 1st Corinthians 12:21 makes it clear that we do need one another. We cannot be dismissive toward one another. We need to value one another as fellow members of the Body of Christ.

When one part of our physical body is in pain, the whole rest of the body tries to help, by compensating, shifting loads elsewhere, etc. We may see that as limping, or something, and wonder what is wrong: but what we are seeing is the body attempting to care for its own members. We are to do the same for one another.

The “Love one another, as I have loved you!” is the Law of Christ! That is the one law that encompasses all the others. We may learn many things as “rules for living”, but this one trumps them all, and if it is missing, then no matter what else we may be doing, we are failing to live as Jesus commands! That is the bottom line!

For the last ten years or so, in my observation, this little church has done very well in this department. You have loved one another, and prayed for one another, and rejoiced with one another in victories, and wept with one another in shared griefs. Well done! Press on! Keep loving one another with the Agapé love! And God says that, as we continue to walk with Him, we are to have His Peace, as His gift.

Lord Jesus, in these uncertain times, we truly desire your peace. We see the deep need we have for your guidance, and we desire to walk with you in humble submission to your wisdom. Guide us by your Word, and protect us by your Grace and power, so that we may serve as your witnesses, here on earth.

Rejoicing in Persecution

Rejoicing in Persecution

© 2021 C. O, Bishop

1st Peter 4:12-19

Introduction:

We have gone through several passages dealing with how we are to live, as believers. But Peter now acknowledges that persecution is coming, and he gives instruction regarding how we are to view it. Are we to flee? Fight back? Conform to the World so as to escape their notice? What is our response supposed to be when the World hates us, or when we are essentially “outlawed?” When the moral and spiritual climate around us changes to the point that we are clearly “out of step” at every level with what the World sees as acceptable, how are we to respond?

The first thing we are to remember is that Jesus warned us about this in advance:

John 16:33 These things I have spoken unto you, that in Me ye might have peace. In the World ye shall have tribulations, but be of Good Cheer; I have overcome the World!” So, at the very least, we should not feel shocked that such things happen. And that is what Peter says:

Don’t be Surprised!

12 Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you:

The first thing Peter tells us is that we are not to see it as “strange” that persecution should come. We are to anticipate it, though we are to do nothing to precipitate it. As a general rule, when we treat others well, they will tend to see us as “friendly” and not mistreat us, simply because we do not mistreat them. That is common even among the lower animals. But we mustn’t forget that we are in a war! Be aware that the enemy will not allow his “troops” to maintain friendly relations with the people of God when it really matters. The same enemy who sought to destroy Jesus will also seek to destroy us, beginning with luring us away to sin, but always pursuing the goal of literally destroying us. He would rather destroy our fellowship first, so as to make us unfruitful, and our testimony, so as to bring shame to the Lord Himself. If He can destroy those things then we will be without Joy and without Peace, so no one will have a reason to desire what we have in Christ. We will be utterly ineffective as His ambassadors. Then, if he can trip us up and influence us to sin in some very public way, and destroy our physical life in the process, he will consider it a victory. He will have rendered us useless to the Lord Jesus, and ended our service on such a negative note that we will only be remembered as a phony.

Remember Balaam: this is exactly what happened in his case. He was a genuine prophet of God, but he desired the things of the world and its rewards so much that he “sold out” and served the enemy. He is only remembered for his bad behavior. Whatever he may have accomplished as a man of God, earlier, has been forgotten by us humans years ago: we only recall the sin. God remembers Balaam as the man he was supposed to be. His position was secure, but his condition was terrible! Whatever believers were supposed to do regarding the World, during that time, Balaam did not do it! We do not want to follow his example. In fact, that is specifically warned against in 2nd Peter 2:15 where God mentions the way of Balaam, Jude 11 where He mentions the error of Balaam, and Revelation 2:14, where He calls out the doctrine of Balaam.

Rejoice!

The next thing Peter says is that we are to Rejoice.

13 But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. 14 If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified.

“Rejoice” is a verb: an action word: It does not say “feel happy,” although that could be the result of choosing to rejoice. Instead, it says “rejoice,” because you are partaking in Jesus’s sufferings, so that (future tense) “when His glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also, with exceeding joy!” This parallels what Jesus said: “…but be of Good Cheer…”

The feelings of gladness are to follow the obedience of choosing to rejoice. In Acts 16:22-34 (turn there, please) Paul and Silas were not “feeling glad” when they were sitting in the dungeon, with still-bleeding wounds and their feet clamped in the stocks. Their clothes had been torn from them; they had been savagely beaten, without cause, and imprisoned without a trial. But they rejoiced anyway, praying and singing praises together, to God. They rejoiced in spite of the pain and the filth, and the shame. The “gladness” came later!

They were freed at midnight, by miraculous intervention, and they were then privileged to lead the Philippian jailer to Christ, along with his entire family. Psalm 30:5 says, “Weeping may endure for a night, but Joy cometh in the morning.”

We go through periods of “night” in our lives, especially during times of sickness, or in crushing disappointments, or as we near the end of our life, or that of a loved one. But the times of tribulation, too, can be seen as a “passing cloud:” a temporary period of deep darkness, beyond which we earnestly look to see the light of God’s countenance. In John 1:4, 5, it says of Jesus, “In him was life and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not.” The contrast between light and dark can only be seen where there has been some darkness. Remember that darkness has no “substance” in itself: it is only the absence of light. Many jewelers display their best gems against a black-velvet background. The velvet absorbs light, reflecting little or no light back at the eye, while the gemstone reflects light, and we are attracted to its beauty. God displays His light against the backdrop of the darkness of the World. Our light is to shine in that darkness, as a reflection of His glory!

Not all Suffering is Cause for Rejoicing.

15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters.

We all know of situations in which a Christian was shamed, punished, dismissed from a job, or even imprisoned for things they did wrong: things for which anyone would (and should) receive punishment. I knew a Christian man who went to prison for tax evasion, and another, a pastor, who was jailed for shoplifting. A friend of mine knew another man, apparently a real believer, who committed multiple murders. Am I “comfortable” with those facts? No, of course, I’m not! But those two facts line up with what Peter just said!

There is no “invisible fence” set up for Christians, so that they cannot commit horrible sins. Remember that David committed both adultery and murder. Yes, it cost him dearly, but the fact is, he was a man of God, by God’s own statement, and he committed things regarding which I would love to be able to say, “Christians just don’t do those things!” (Sorry! God says it is very possible and a deeply shameful thing when it happens. There is no “suffering for Jesus” in that sort of experience, when it is punishment for crimes that have actually been committed.)

Notice, too, that being a “busybody”…a meddler in other people’s lives (possibly including a general “snoopiness” and perhaps gossip) is included right along with the general term “evildoers” and the specific crimes of theft and murder. We like to categorize sins as being “little” or “big.” And, in terms of the immediate effect of such things, that makes sense. But in terms of long-term effect, we have no idea what the overall result may be of what we may consider to be “minor.” Go back to Genesis chapters 12 through 19, and ask yourself, “What was the long-term effect of Abraham’s just “bringing Lot along with him,” when God had told him to leave him behind?” Could Abraham have predicted that outcome? Perhaps he just thought he was “sharing the blessing” God intended for him. (Sharing is good, right?) But not only did God not want that particular blessing to be “shared” (it was for Abraham and his progeny alone,) but the result in Lot’s life was horrendous; and the long-term result for Abraham’s progeny is a huge number of enemies who still want nothing more than to wipe the nation of Israel off the globe!

What is Sin?

Sin is defined in the New Testament in Four passages:

  1. 1st John 3:4 “Sin is the transgression of the Law” (God’s Law…possibly specifically the New Commandment: “love one another as I have loved you.”)
  2. 1st John 5:17 “All unrighteousness is sin.” (It doesn’t have to be “on a list” somewhere!)
  3. James 4:17 “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.”
  4. Romans 14:23 “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin.”

Are any of those four necessarily crimes against civil law? No! There could be things that the civil law could not even address, such as our thoughts. Human law does not prohibit lust or coveting…and our culture openly encourages both. But, are there things that are declared legal by man, but which God condemns without exception? Absolutely, there are! We see these things flaunted every day! And that has been the case throughout human history. Are there things that the world says are righteous, but which God clearly says are not? Absolutely! We think revenge is a good thing! We say “Yep! There’s some ‘karma’ for you!” And that whole concept (karma) is not only against God’s written Word, but it comes from a false religion; Hinduism.

It was completely legal for Abraham to do what he did with Hagar, the Egyptian woman. Did Abraham “Know to do good?” Maybe. Maybe not…again, it was approved by his society, and he had his wife’s approval as well!  But the direct result of his action was to produce a nation that was, and still is today, the largest group of enemies Israel has ever had! What Abraham did was not against civil law, nor even seen as “unrighteous” by his wife, or himself, or the rest of their society. But it was sin! Why? Because it was not of faith! He could have asked God, and had clear direction, but he failed to do so, and we are still reaping the consequences today!

If Christianity suddenly became Illegal…

16 Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.

There was a poster, fifty years ago, which posed the question, “If Christianity suddenly becomes a crime, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” We want to make certain that that accusation—being a Christian— is the only one that will stick.

Yes, false accusations will always be a possibility. And, in today’s world there exists technology by which people can make what appears to be a “real video” of someone committing a crime (or any other activity) and even their friends and family would be convinced that “that is what they saw.” Movie producers have been using this technology to produce films of people who are no longer alive, and who died before modern cinema technology existed. It is amazingly seamless and convincing. So today, they would not have to “find false witnesses” to testify against you: they can simply “make a video” of you doing something you have never done, with people you have never met, in places where you have never set foot. How’s that for deception?

And, we are told ahead of time that we are to rejoice! We are told to not be ashamed, but to glorify God because of the false accusations and the unjust punishment. If we suffer for the “crime” of believing in Jesus, and for walking in obedience to Him, that is cause for rejoicing! You can rejoice that you are identified with Him closely enough that His enemies consider you to be their enemy, as well, regardless of how well you treat them. I have only had this happen a couple of times for sure, and in those particular cases, it did not result in any “real” persecution: I was simply aware that they hated me and talked behind my back. When I finally found out that it was specifically because I was a believer, it quit bothering me: If you hate me because of Jesus; that is OK by me!

People are (usually) judged in four ways by other humans:

  1. What they do.
  2. What they say. (And whether number one and two match one another.)
  3. Who their friends are: who they are most comfortable around?
  4. Who their enemies are: who despises them, and why?

If their only reason to hate you really is because you are “friends with Jesus,” then that is a good thing, regardless of the result. If you are despised for wrongdoing, or for hypocrisy or inflammatory orungodly speech; a sharp tongue, perhaps: then that is not a good thing. But, if you are seen as “an enemy of evil, both in word and deed,” and a “friend of Good,” as well as a “friend of God, through Christ,” then, come what may, the reward will be good!

17 For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?

The world should see the severity of God’s Holiness along with the deep Grace that He offers and imparts to those who love Him. But frequently the strongest testimony of the saints of God is their response to calamity, and their response to false accusations and unjust punishment.

18 And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?

The World should be able to sunderstand that, if believers must experience the chastening and discipline of God, then they themselves face even worse consequences for their unbelief and sin.

Think of a gymnastic team. They have excruciatingly difficult workouts and practices, and they push themselves to do things that no “ordinary” human can do. Observers are thrilled with what they can do, but they are keenly aware that they themselves cannot do anything remotely similar.

Or, consider any of the martial arts, whether wrestling, boxing, jiu-jitsu or any other such discipline: Like most men, I have cherished the notion from childhood that, “Oh, I can take care of myself!” But I have watched videos of fights performed strictly for fame and prize money, and I have had to confess that “That young man could have hit me a dozen times before I could even get my guard up!” No, I cannot do what they are doing!

In both of the above cases, the participants subjected themselves to rigorous, painful and prolonged training, in order to “get that good” at what they were doing. And any honest observer can see the results of that discipline: Can the world see that in you? The result should be that, when harsh things happen in your life, and your response is good, they will be convicted by the knowledge that, “If that had happened to me, I would have been devastated!” And then, perhaps they will begin to wonder, “What makes them tick? What have they got that I haven’t got?”

Allow God to Work!

19 Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator.

Therefore, we are to submit to the hand of God in all genuine tribulation, looking to Him for direction and release. The patriarch Joseph is a great example of this: He was sold by his brothers; he was enslaved to His enemies; he was lured (unsuccessfully) by an evil woman, and finally imprisoned for a crime he did not commit; but he still trusted in God, and he was eventually raised up, fully prepared for the purpose God had intended all along.

Lord Jesus, give us the wisdom and faith to respond in Godly fashion to the trials we may face in this world. You alone are worthy of all honor and glory, but you submitted yourself to continued abuse, at the hands of your enemies, and have been raised up by the Father, forever. Help us to follow in your footsteps.