From Dark Death to Living Light

October 10, 2019 at 4:21 pm | Posted in John | 1 Comment
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Jesus, having learned of a contingent of gentiles who wanted an audience with Him as He made His way to Jerusalem with His followers and those waving palm branches, began to explain that His death would be the necessary fulfillment of all that He came to do.

Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.

John 12:24

A kernel of wheat – a seed – must be buried away, in the dark, alone, in order to fulfill its purpose, and in its “death” it brings forth not only new life, but “much fruit.” This is a key New Testament theme, present in the Old Testament, but now revealed in a greater light. In order to bring forth fruit to the glory of God, followers of Jesus must die to self, both at the moment of salvation, and in ongoing service throughout our lives.

He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.

John 12:25

It’s not that we hate life itself; it’s that we hate the life that our flesh considers “ours.” We receive a new kind of life – eternal life, “God life” – that is directed unto the service and glorification of God, and the service of others, not self-service. This way, people will recognize God’s greatness and goodness in deeds that He inspires and empowers us to do. This hearkens all the way back to John 3.

And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.

John 3:19-21, emphasis added

It also foreshadows Ephesians 2’s great statement spelling out the distinction between working BECAUSE OF salvation, rather than working FOR salvation.

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

Ephesians 2:8-10

Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour.

John 12:27

This sounds similar to the prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane: “If it be possible let this cup pass from Me, but nevertheless, not My will but Thine be done.”

Father, glorify thy name. Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.

John 12:28 (emphasis added)

“Father, glorify Thy name.” This should be our prayer in even our most extreme trials.

God had already gloried His own name through Christ, primarily through His miracles, and, secondarily, through Christ’s perfect obedience and consistent attribution of His own actions and words as being the same as God’s actions and words. “I will glorify it again” points directly to the Cross.

The people therefore, that stood by, and heard it, said that it thundered: others said, An angel spake to him. Jesus answered and said, This voice came not because of me, but for your sakes.

John 12:29-30

The people did not have ears to hear God’s voice. It sounded like thunder, reminiscent of God’s revelation at Mt. Sinai:

And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off. And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die.

Exodus 20:18-19

This was also a fulfillment of several prophecies throughout Isaiah about God increasing the inability of people who would reject His servant to hear or understand His Words and His teachings, which prompted the Holy Spirit to cause John to close out Chapter 12 with a theological treatise on the cause of the people’s unbelieving response to three-plus years of Jesus’s hands-on in-person ministry, miracles, and manifestation among them:

But though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him:

John 12:37, emphasis added

Jesus cried and said, He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on him that sent me.

John 12:44, emphasis added

I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness.

John 12:46, emphasis added

Big Words of the Christian Life: Illumination (Part 1)

June 20, 2019 at 9:32 am | Posted in big words of the Christian life | 3 Comments
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Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.

Psalm 119:18

But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:

I Peter 2:9 (emphasis added)

Every person comes into this world (which is a dark world, spiritually speaking) in a state of spiritual darkness himself. God’s truth is present in the world and it is the only source of light. Jesus is the Light of the World, but the existence of light – alone – does not bring about spiritual vision or the comprehension of truth. In order for light to be effective, there has to be the ability to see. Blind eyes have to be healed and spiritual blindfolds have to be removed. This can not be done by physical force, nor by debate, nor by fleshly enticement. It is part of the Holy Spirit’s work of regeneration when it happens – when an unbeliever becomes a believer. When a lost person gets saved – when someone who has been born only once (physically) gets born again (spiritually) – the Holy Spirit opens His eyes to the Truth.

That part of illumination is purely a gift of the Spirit. We do not cooperate with it, any more than a thief who is sneaking around a dark house hiding from the cops cooperates with being exposed once they shine a spotlight right in his face, but there is an aspect of the doctrine of illumination which does involve our cooperation – after we are saved.

Illumination is the Holy Spirit’s work in giving spiritual sight to unbelievers, and thereafter teaching believers the Scriptures, helping us to understand them, and empowering us to apply them to our lives.

I. Illumination Indicts Iniquity

It exposes, and makes us aware of, our own sin.

Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance.

Psalm 90:8

We often have trouble seeing our own sin, or understanding the pervasiveness of it. We are like fish who do not understand they are wet because “wetness” is all they have ever known. We are very accustomed to darkness – until we become of aware of how God sees our sin. Nothing is done in secret from His point of view. Once His spirit illuminates our self-awareness, we recognize our guilt and our terrifying position before a righteous Judge.

For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life:

Proverbs 6:23

God’s Word shows us our true condition, and the condition of the world around us. We should be convicted when we read the Bible, but not merely convicted. We should also find hope: reproofs and instruction.

Light helps us see what’s around us, but it also shows us safe paths to take and ways of escape from trouble.

And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.

John 3:19-20

We need the Holy Spirit’s help to come to the light. It hurts our eyes. It shocks us. It throws us into a state of shame or embarrassment. BUT… if we will come to it instead of running away from it, then illumination will expose, and make us aware of, our own sin. It will give us insight into our spiritual nature. It will allow us to discern the sins of others and sin in the world.

II. Illumination Initiates Interest

Evil needs a covering, or an excuse, or a rationalization. People don’t want their deeds exposed along with their motives.

But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.

John 3:21

Those who have been illuminated by God, and who come to the light, want their deeds to be manifested – to be made known – but isn’t this a form of pride, of bragging, of showing off? No, it’s a way of glorifying God – because only His light has made it possible to do these types of deeds and it is obvious they are wrought in God. They are His good works, really, merely done THROUGH us. We are not light sources; we are light reflectors. We’re not the electricity running through the wires; we’re the bulbs: the diffusers of God’s glorious light.

To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Luke 1:79

God’s light gets us moving – it “motivates” us to make peace, to try to help reconcile people to God. Most people, whether they admit it or not, have a nagging sense that they live under the shadow of death – the awareness that life will end relatively soon and judgment awaits. God’s light puts death in the shadow of God’s glory instead of vice versa.

In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.

II Corinthians 4:4

A physical blindfold can be removed by force, but mental and spiritual blindness, like physical blindness, requires supernatural intervention.

For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

II Corinthians 4:5-6

God, in Christ, has illuminated our hearts and minds, but not just for our “enlightenment.” (I prefer the term “illumination” over “enlightenment” because of the baggage and selfishness associated with Eastern mysticism, and to avoid connecting it to the historical period known as the “Age of Enlightenment.”) He has given us His light and placed it in our formerly darkened hearts so that we can shine it into other blind hearts and minds.

Illumination creates in us a desire to read and study God’s Word. Illumination attracts us to God’s Truth.

III. Illumination Implements Instruction

Thankfully, the Holy Spirit’s work of illumination does not stop when a believer receives the gift of salvation.

Unto the upright there ariseth light in the darkness: he is gracious, and full of compassion, and righteous.

Psalm 112:4

Those who are “upright” – who stand before God in Jesus’s imputed righteousness – are given light to know God more and more, in ever-increasing measures. I mentioned earlier that believers participate in it, but it is still a gift of God’s grace and compassion, and it is for the purpose of directing us toward righteousness.

To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.

Isaiah 8:20

Illumination is about understanding and applying the Word of God. It is not about feelings, fantasies, or fables. It is not about private personal promptings. The Holy Spirit inspired the same Scripture for everybody to read, and He illuminates it for each person to study on his/her own with a goal of reaching a common, mutual, and CORRECT comprehension of it. The Holy Spirit gives greater understanding to those who obey what they have already been shown.

Next time we will see that illumination imparts insight.

The Competition

June 7, 2019 at 10:17 am | Posted in John | Leave a comment
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In a previous post I looked at the importance of the word “for” which begins the well-known verse, John 3:16. There is another “for” which continues building on these ideas in the next verse.

For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

John 3:17

In what sense will Jesus – Who we know has been given all authority in Heaven and in earth, including the authority (Matthew 28:18: “all power”) to judge and condemn (Acts 17:31) – not condemn? Answer: In the sense that those who do not believe on Him are condemned already.

He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

John 3:18

After cleansing the Temple in Jerusalem, and after His encounter with Nicodemus, Jesus and His disciples went out into the Judean countryside.

After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judaea; and there he tarried with them, and baptized.

John 3:22

This makes it sound like Jesus was personally baptizing people, but:

(Though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples,)

John 4:2

It seems likely that Jesus authorized His Disciples to baptize new converts, but did not actually do the baptizing with His own hands. The Apostle Paul often left the actual baptizing to others as well (I Corinthians 1:14).

Jesus, in His earthly ministry, fulfilled, but also exceeded, the Old Testament types which pointed to Him.

Then there arose a question between some of John’s disciples and the Jews about purifying.

John 3:25

Jesus had exceeded the Old Testament Tabernacle and Temple water pots when He changed the water into wine at the wedding in Cana. He had exceeded the Old Testament locations of worship as the meeting place between man and God as demonstrated when He cleansed the Temple. He fulfilled the Old Testament prophecy of the necessity of the water-spirit birth as He preached to Nicodemus. Now a specific group of Jews, possibly led by one man, questioned John’s practice of baptizing for ritual cleansing those who were already Jewish by birth, custom, and faith, and, as a part of their challenge, they saw an opportunity to try to drive a wedge of division between John the Baptist and Jesus.

And they came unto John, and said unto him, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to him.

John 3:26

The phrase “all men come to Him” is a provocative exaggeration. Obviously not “ALL” men were going to Jesus, nor had “ALLmen gone to Him instead of John, but the numbers were changing. Jesus’s ministry was growing and John’s was shrinking.

How competitive are you? Just as one spouse is often introverted and the other extroverted; just as one is often neat and the other messy; just as one is often extravagant and the other a tightwad: often the Lord will put together one competitive spouse and one who could care less about “winning.” Do you love to win? Do you hate to lose? Are you happy for others when they succeed where you have failed? Does it bother you that people might think poorly of you in comparison to someone else? Somebody thought that John the Baptist might experience a couple of these reactions when confronted with the rising influence of Jesus’s ministry over his, so they decided to confront him about it.

Competition is not, in and of itself, a bad thing. Sporting contests just aren’t much fun unless both sides are trying to win – to beat the other side. However, as shown in I Corinthians, competition in Christian ministry can be a dangerous and damaging thing. Soulwinning is not a contest. Who has the “best” Sunday School class probably should not be a competition. But human nature, which since the Fall has a strong bent toward pride, likes to be first, to get attention, to get credit, to feel superior – so you can’t look at this group of Jewish instigators and think, “Did they REALLY suppose John the Baptist would be jealous of Jesus??” Even reading it today, we catch ourselves thinking that we couldn’t totally blame him if he was – but remember:

For I say unto you, Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist: but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.

Luke 7:28

Jesus didn’t say this about John as a form of flattery. Here was John’s response to the suggestion that Jesus was better than Him:

John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven.

John 3:27

This may seem to you, in the cold analytical light of merely academic Bible study, to be something of a “duh” statement. In a universe ruled over by a sovereign omnipotent God, OF COURSE we only get what He gives… and we don’t get anything He DOESN’T give us, but does this (true) maxim hold a central place in our minds “all day, every day?” Possibly not. Otherwise we would never get jealous, and we would always only rejoice when something good happens to HIM or HER, and something “bad” happens to ME. Jeremiah 9:23 and I Corinthians 4:7 remind us to ask: “Why do I glory in wisdom or might if they are only gifts?” Every good and perfect gift comes from the Father of Lights (James 1:17).

Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him.

John 3:28

Although John was known as the Baptizer, he could call anyone who had listened to his preaching as a witness to answer the question: “What has been the main thrust of my ministry? What I am all about?” If honest, they would have had to answer that John’s main message was: “The Messiah is coming, and He’s now here, and I’m not Him.”

This would be a great motivation in our evangelism. Any time we go to visit someone who does not know Jesus we can tell them, “I’m the one who came to see you, but I didn’t come to tell you about myself, and I want you to meet someone else that I hope you will soon know, love, worship, and obey. You will like Him a lot better than me, and that’s exactly what I want!”

He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled.

John 3:29

Can you imagine the best man at a wedding trying to steal the bride, or being angry once the couple says their “I do”s? John’s job was almost done, and he had done it in a great way. He had been successful. His mission was fulfilled, so he was full of joy. That’s why we mustn’t read the next verse as melancholy resignation:

He must increase, but I must decrease.

John 3:30

John was not bummed out. He was stating a fact, and he was celebrating the accomplishment of a great momentous occasion.

Lifting up the Son of Man

April 4, 2019 at 12:54 pm | Posted in John | Leave a comment
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Despite Nicodemus’s failure to grasp the concept of the water-spirit birth, Jesus, in His patience, gave him insight into another well-known Old Testament passage of Scripture: the account of the fiery serpents in Numbers 21.

God had sent a plague of venomous and deadly serpents to bite His people in the wilderness. This was because they had been rebelling against Him and complaining about the manna He had provided for them to eat and about the length of time they had been in the wilderness. Every serpent bite was a death sentence, but God, in His mercy, also provided a cure. He had Moses make a snake, of all things, out of brass. Just as the death rate for those bitten was 100%, so the cure rate for those who would raise their eyes in faith and behold the brass serpent was 100%. Many looked and lived, but many also stubbornly refused to look and died.

The brass serpent had been lifted up, just as Jesus would be “lifted up,” an ambiguous term, which at various times could mean physically held aloft, honored, exalted, or even (as in the case of Naboth, who was “set on high”) condemned by the people.

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:

John 3:14

Nicodemus no doubt knew something of the significance of the title “Son of Man” from the Book of Daniel. It was the title of the then-future heir of David’s throne, the Messiah, so he may have understood Jesus to be saying that the Son of Man would be “lifted up” in the sense of being exalted. However, Jesus was actually revealing a greater truth: that He would be lifted up as the Sin-Bearer, the way the brass serpent in the wilderness was lifted up, to be a symbol of death, but also to be looked to for salvation – the ONLY means of salvation.

He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

John 3:18

Just as those snake-bitten Israelites were already as good as dead – whether they took any further action or not – so those who do believe on Jesus are the ONLY ones who escape that condemnation.

The Water-Spirit Birth

April 2, 2019 at 1:48 pm | Posted in John | 8 Comments
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Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

John 3:5

Not all theologians, Bible commentators, or scholars agree on what Jesus meant by “born of water and of the Spirit.” Some theories include:

1. A contrast between the physical birth, with “water” meaning the “breaking of water” (amniotic fluid) from the mother’s womb. The problem with this interpretation is that “her water broke,” as far as we can tell, wasn’t an expression that was used back then. However, it is possible that Jesus could have meant that this second birth – this RE-generation – was being contrasted with the first, physical birth. Lending weight to this application is the obvious fact that Jesus called it being born “again.”

2. So-called baptismal regeneration. This theory, although perhaps the majority view historically speaking, is wrong. A belief that physical baptism through the immersion in, or sprinkling of, literal water is necessary for regeneration and eternal salvation goes against the vast majority of Scripture in describing salvation as being by grace through faith alone. It is not dependent upon any “work,” rite, ritual, or observable or administered (sacerdotal) initiation. When considering whether Jesus was communicating anything having to do with literal baptism when he mentioned being born of water, it is important to recognize that this concept would have been totally foreign to Nicodemus, the Jewish religious leader to whom he was speaking, and to the Jewish theologians who he represented.

There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, WE know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.

John 3:1-2 (emphasis added)

Nicodemus may have come to Jesus alone, by night, but he was clearly a representative of a contingent of Pharisees (possibly the Sanhedrin itself) who thought themselves to be the ultimate authority on salvation – on seeing and entering the Kingdom of God. Despite this standing, Jesus, in the following verses, chastised him for not knowing things which he should have known, because they were indicated in the (Old Testament) Scriptures.

Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.

John 3:7 (emphasis added)

Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?

John 3:10 (emphasis added)

This lets us know that the key to the phrase “born of water and of the Spirit” is found in the Old Testament, and not in some obscure text hidden or tucked away in some genealogy somewhere, but in a major prophecy.

And I will sanctify my great name, which was profaned among the heathen, which ye have profaned in the midst of them; and the heathen shall know that I am the Lord, saith the Lord God, when I shall be sanctified in you before their eyes. For I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land. Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.

Ezekiel 36:23-25

There’s the mention of water, and, according to Psalm 24, who shall ascend to the hill of the Lord and who will stand in His holy place? Only those who have clean (washed by some supernatural metaphorical water) hands AND pure hearts. Ezekiel 36:25 promises that God will cleanse His people from the filthiness of their sin, not by baptism, but by His own divine hand sprinkling/splashing them with His power.

A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.

Ezekiel 36:26-27

This was a prophecy about the New Covenant, and would have been very familiar to the typical Jewish scribe or rabbi, and certainly to a chief theologian of the Pharisees. It appears right before Ezekiel’s prophetic vision of the valley of the DRY bones – bones which needed to be revived – brought back to life – regenerated by some type of supernatural “water.”

And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord God, thou knowest. Again he said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.

Ezekiel 37:3-4 (emphasis added)

Son of Man” was the prophetic title which Jesus used to refer to Himself in John 3:14. Clearly regeneration by water and by the Spirit had been indicated and explicitly referenced in Old Testament prophecies.

And ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves, And shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall ye know that I the Lord have spoken it, and performed it, saith the Lord.

Ezekiel 37:13-14

The water and the Spirit are not two separate stages of the new birth. Jesus was talking about a water-Spirit birth – at once cleansing and giving new life – a true heart transplant surgery with antiseptic poured in – eternal antiseptic which eternally prevents infection/corruption.

Reintroducing John 3:16

February 13, 2019 at 5:02 pm | Posted in John, Salvation | 3 Comments
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For many years the Bible verse that has been generally considered the most popular, or at least most well-known, verse in the Bible is John 3:16. The danger for some of us when studying a very familiar verse is that we become inoculated through over-exposure and make the mistake of thinking we know everything we need to know about it already. Let me encourage you not to make that mistake with John 3:16. Sit down (with your spouse if you are married) and go through it word by word, slowly, considering the import of each word, and looking at the verses before and after it to better illuminate the context.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

John 3:16

I didn’t really need to print it here, did I? Most faithful Christians probably have it memorized. But let’s examine it closely. The first word, “for,” refers back to:

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

John 3:14-15

Lest Verse 15 lead anyone to think that God the Father needed to be changed in His dispositional impassibility by God the Son from not loving us to loving us, the Holy Spirit had John make it clear that the Father’s love was the motivating cause of the plan of salvation.

“For God SO…” If you’ve been attending a Baptist or evangelical church for very long, you’ve probably seen the pantomime of a preacher stretching his arms wide to demonstrate a child’s expression of what it means to love someone SOOOOO much, but John 3:16 does not leave the question of “how much is so much?” open-ended. The word “that” is used to introduce the concept of: “THIS is how much the Father loved us.”

He loved us so much that He “GAVE.” This word, too, is worth closer inspection. God “gave” His Son in at least two respects: (1) In the Incarnation, the Father sent the Son from His Heavenly home to live in a world of sin, the effects of sin, and sinful rebels, and to experience, in His humanity, all the difficulties, pain, rejection, scorn, betrayal, sorrow, and human shortcomings and temptations known to mankind (but in response to which, He, unlike us, never sinned); (2) During His arrest and the events leading up to His death, the Father “gave” the Son into the hands of sinful men to be tortured and crucified, and to experience death as the substitutionary sacrifice for us.

This Son who came to live and die for His people was the Father’s “only begotten Son,” the Monogenes, His special and unique Son. He was the eternal Son of God, not “begotten” in the sense of having been born as touching His divinity, nor in the sense of His having been created (for He was not), but in an echo of the Old Testament type that we see in the episode of Abraham and Isaac.

And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am. And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of. And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him. Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off. And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you. And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together. And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together. And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood. And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. And the angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me. And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son.

Genesis 22:1-13 (emphasis added)

Isaac was not, strictly speaking, Abraham’s “only” son, yet He was the son of promise – the special and unique son promised to Abraham by God. Yet he was designated as a sacrifice to be offered to God, not because Isaac’s loss was something to be lightly borne by Abraham, but rather because he was so precious to Abraham. In John 3:16 we see the ultimate fulfillment of what had been played out and interrupted in Genesis 22, and we learn that God loved us wicked rebellious sinners SO much that He gave His absolute best, His most cherished, His most valuable, His eternally perfect Son for us.

Would you give up your life to save the life of a loved one? Perhaps you would. But would you give up the life of one of your beloved children to save the life of another loved one? I doubt it. What about to save a stranger? Even less likely. Now, what about sacrificing the life of your only, beloved child to save the life of your worst enemy? Unthinkable. The love of the Father for us is too great for us to fathom. It is in a whole different realm of love from anything we can comprehend.

“God so loved THE WORLD… that WHOSOEVER…”

Does this mean that Jesus’s death on the Cross – the gift of the Father – secures the salvation of every single person? A consistent universalist would answer “yes.” He would say that Hitler and Osama Bin Laden, along with everyone else who has ever lived, will one day be in Heaven holding your hands and singing “Kumbaya.” However, this is incorrect, because the “whosoever” in John 3:16 is inextricably linked to the next word: “believeth,” and likewise to “in Him,” meaning Jesus, the Savior. The “world” that is so loved by God includes both Jews and gentiles, which would have been a radically different concept for the vast majority of those who heard Jesus’s teaching for the first time. The “world” in John 3:16 also means that all people are in fact “loved” by God in a general way, but not that God loves the world’s fallen, sin-controlled “system” that the words “the world” often describe in the Epistles. Not everyone in “the world” experiences the same benefits of God’s love that those who believe on Jesus Christ unto eternal salvation experience. The bronze serpent referenced in John 3:14 was lovingly lifted up by Moses for all to see, but only those to whom God granted faith looked and lived.

As you read this you might be wondering, “Am I a John 3:16 ‘whosoever’ or not? How can I tell?” You can settle this by looking to Jesus in faith right now, believing His Gospel. LOOK and SEE. If you will not look, see, and believe, you cannot be a John 3:16 “whosoever.” And there is only one other default position. If you will not be a John 3:16 “whosoever,” you must be a Revelation 20:15 “whosoever.”

And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.

Revelation 20:15

“Perish” is what it’s called in John 3:16, but do not imagine it as some peaceful extinguishment. It is not a blinking-out into oblivion. It is eternal death and destruction, never-ending, conscious, excruciating pain, darkness, and torment, as opposed to present tense eternal “have everlasting life.” Everlasting life is the opposite of perishing: light instead of darkness, joy instead of pain, peace instead of torment. I beg you to trust Jesus this very moment.

Here’s Your Sign

January 30, 2019 at 4:25 pm | Posted in John | 3 Comments
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Then answered the Jews and said unto him, What sign shewest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things?

John 2:18

The temple leaders almost sound reasonable (rather than the responsive anger we might expect from them) as they ask Jesus, in effect, “What gives you the right to regulate Temple practices?” Their criteria for someone who exercised authority without a history of being a priest or even a known and respected rabbi was that He would perform a “sign” – give them a display of miraculous power that would demonstrate He had Heavenly authority. Of course, He had recently given such a “sign” at the wedding in Cana, so we (the readers of John Chapter 2) know He has the ability, and the apparent willingness to demonstrate it, but Jesus would not be provoked into showing off when such signs, though miraculous, would not engender true saving faith in Him, nor serve to heal or help someone who was in distress.

Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days?

John 2:19-20

This is a somewhat common occurrence in the Gospel of John, where Jesus reveals a spiritual truth, and the listeners misunderstand and think He is talking crazy or at least expressing earthly and material, rather than spiritual, ideas. Plus, we have, in this instance, the benefit of an editorial comment from the Holy Spirit through John:

But he spake of the temple of his body. When therefore he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this unto them; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said.

John 2:21-22

This makes for a good segue into how Jesus thought about those who believed in Him merely because He could do miracles, rather than because of His teaching and divine revelation.

Now when he was in Jerusalem at the passover, in the feast day, many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did. But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men, And needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man.

John 2:23-25

These verses look forward to issues that are about to be addressed in John Chapter 3. First, Jesus had divine omniscient knowledge of what other people thought and what was in their hearts. He could read minds, and He knew people better than they knew themselves. He did not “entrust” Himself or “commit Himself” to superficial “believers” the way He did to His true disciples. This helps to understand a little more about Jesus’s famous encounter with Nicodemus which begins Chapter 3.

There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews:

John 3:1

The idea is that Nicodemus was a chief teacher.

The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.

John 3:2

There are various theories as to why Nicodemus came to Jesus by night, other than the possibility that it might just be noted for us as an instance of accurate reporting. Perhaps he was embarrassed, ashamed, or afraid to be seen consorting with this non-Pharasaical rabbi – or with the dangerous loose cannon who caused a scene in the Temple. On the other hand, perhaps Nicodemus merely wanted to speak to Jesus without the interruption that was more likely to occur during a daytime visit. In either case, the darkness of night is most likely a metaphor for Nicodemus’s spiritual darkness, located here in close proximity to passages of Scripture which highlight Jesus as the Light of the World. Nicodemus can probably be classified (because of his statement about teachers who are truly from God being able to do miracles) as one of those who “believed” only because of those miracles.

Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

John 3:3

Why does Jesus basically ignore Nicodemus’s initial statement? Because He “knew what was in” Nicodemus. Nicodemus’s real need wasn’t to find out whether Jesus was a true prophet, or truly sent by God to do miracles, or even to learn from His teaching. His real need was a new hearta new birth – some basis on which He could enter – or even see! – the God of the Kingdom of Whom the Pharisees and their chief leaders thought they were the closest and the best representatives!

Or in Which a Christian May S.W.I.M.

January 25, 2019 at 11:04 am | Posted in Quotes | Leave a comment
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Scripture is a brook from which a lamb may drink and an ocean in which an elephant can drown.

Wilhelmus á Brakel

But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.

John 4:14

Is not my word like as a fire? saith the LORD; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?

Jeremiah 23:29

The Father of Lights

October 9, 2018 at 3:04 pm | Posted in John, Q&A | 8 Comments
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Question: I can understand why God would be called the “Father of Light,” but why is He called the Father of lights (plural) in James 1:17?

Answer: That’s one of my favorite verses.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.

James 1:17 (emphasis added)

Although the word “light” is found frequently in the New Testament, the plural “lights” is used only four times.

The first time, it is a translation of the Greek word lychnos, which was the generic word for mobile lights. Back in Bible times it would have been used to describe candles or lamps, which could be carried around to light up dark areas or rooms. I imagine it would be the ancient equivalent of our modern flashlights.

Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning;

Luke 12:35 (emphasis added)

The second time, “lights” is from lampas, meaning torches. These could have been for outdoor or indoor use, including traveling at night, or to illuminate meetings where people gathered after dark. Think of the angry villagers who came after Frankenstein’s monster to terrorize him with fire.

torches

And there were many lights in the upper chamber, where they were gathered together.

Acts 20:8 (emphasis added)

The third time plural “lights” is used, it is a translation of the word phoster, which has a connotation of objects that burn with their own, self-generated light.

That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world;

Philippians 2:15 (emphasis added)

The word you are asking about – “lights” in James 1:17 – is a translation of the Greek word phos, a shorter form of phoster, and which emphasizes lights that are used for the express purpose of revelation – revealing through illumination that which was previously hidden by darkness.

In its context, James 1:17 supports the truth that, although Christians will be tempted severely by the lusts of our own flesh, we may not blame God for these temptations. He – and every gift He sends down to us from on high – is perfectly good, and His immutability makes it impossible that He could fail to do what is right.

Therefore, although I can’t say for certain exactly why the Holy Spirit inspired James to use the plural “lights” when describing our Heavenly Father’s perfection, benevolence, and blessed immutability, I suspect it has to do with all the different types of light – both literal/physical and spiritual/metaphorical – we see in Scripture as coming from, or representative of, Him.

For instance, God is the Creator-Father of all the celestial bodies, including the Sun and the stars which light up the sky both at night, and in the day.

And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:

Genesis 1:14 (emphasis added)

God is the Father of all wisdom, which is symbolized by light, even to the extent that we refer to an exceptionally intelligent person as “brilliant.”

I have even heard of thee, that the spirit of the gods is in thee, and that light and understanding and excellent wisdom is found in thee.

Daniel 5:14 (emphasis added)

God is the Father of Truth itself (Himself).

But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.

John 3:21 (emphasis added)

God is the Father of the Light of the World.

In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.

John 1:4-9 (emphasis added)

Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.

John 8:12 (emphasis added)

God is the Father of our inheritance, as His children, of light.

Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light:

Colossians 1:12 (emphasis added)

God is certainly the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and His chosen, redeemed, and sanctified people, and in that sense, among many others, can it be said with joy, reverence, awe, and praise that He is the Father of Lights.

Reunion, Restoration, Regeneration, Reconciliation, and Rejoicing

August 29, 2018 at 1:21 pm | Posted in Jeremiah | 4 Comments
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In Jeremiah Chapter 31 there is a promise of reunion – of God reuniting His people. Judah (the southern kingdom – consisting of only two of the twelve tribes) would be restored after 70 years, but Israel (the northern kingdom, consisting of the other ten tribes) would one day (a day which is still in the future even for us) be reunited with Judah and also restored.

At the same time, saith the LORD, will I be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people. Thus saith the LORD, The people which were left of the sword found grace in the wilderness; even Israel, when I went to cause him to rest.

Jeremiah 31:1-2 (emphasis added)

You will note that division and separation and factions do not generally make God happy. The casting out of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden had an element of protecting grace in it, but it was not a blessing. The dispersal at the Tower of Babel was deemed necessary by God, but it was also a judgment against the people’s sin. Unity must be unified around Truth, but God does desire a true unity among His people. I hope you are more of a uniter than a divider.

The LORD hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.

Jeremiah 31:3

God’s love is revealed to be the motivating attribute behind His “call.” To “draw” is a more forceful term than it sounds like in modern English. It has the connotation of dragging something along by force, or pulling back the string on a bow-and-arrow. However, it is tempered with lovingkindness. How can someone be forcefully dragged into a covenant or relationship with God and experience it as not only “kindness” but “lovingkindness?” The answer lies here:

Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.

Jeremiah 31:31-33 (emphasis added)

The creation of a new heart makes God’s irresistible drawing into an act of lovingkindess, and He loves with an everlasting love (v. 3) because His attributes include immutability, and He is making an everlasting covenant.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

John 3:16 (emphasis added)

What sort of emotions and attitudes will this New Covenant usher in?

Again I will build thee, and thou shalt be built, O virgin of Israel: thou shalt again be adorned with thy tabrets, and shalt go forth in the dances of them that make merry.

Jeremiah 31:4

There will be dancing.

Therefore they shall come and sing in the height of Zion, and shall flow together to the goodness of the LORD, for wheat, and for wine, and for oil, and for the young of the flock and of the herd: and their soul shall be as a watered garden; and they shall not sorrow any more at all. Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance, both young men and old together: for I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow.

Jeremiah 31:12-13

There will be singing (the kind without sorrow).

This sounds like real joy. We who are blessed to know the reality of the fulfillment of the New Covenant probably don’t express our joy in the Lord as often as we should.

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