Matthew 2:13-23 // Finding the Light in the Dark Side of Christmas

[This sermon was preached on December 27th, 2020 for the Mars Hill Cumberland Presbyterian Church broadcast on their Facebook page.]

Good morning, we’re going to read from the Gospel of Matthew, and we’re just going to read verses 13-23. We’re going to read the violent scene that takes place at the hands of Herod, and we’re going to see what an awful scene like this means for us today.

When you get to Matthew 2:13-23, go ahead and stand for the reading of God’s Word.

TEXT: Matthew 2:13-23, NKJV

PRAYER OF ILLUMINATION:

Almighty and Everlasting God, we have a hard text before us. It looks bleak and we need help seeing the Gospel, the good news, in a text like this. So Father, would you come to us with the power of the Holy Spirit and open our hearts to hear what You have to say to us through this word? Father, send the Holy Spirit to cleanse our hearts leave the other side of this message looking more and more to you than when it began. We ask these things in the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

INTRODUCTION:

Last week, I gave a brief history lesson over what was going on in Rome at the time of Jesus’ birth which made his arrival at that particular time all the more meaningful. Whenever we read the Scriptures, it’s important for us to consider the cultural and historical landscape of what’s going in the world around the writing of Scripture because Scripture wasn’t written in a vacuum apart from what was going on. Scripture was written by a particular people in a particular place in time and they assumed that their audience would know what was going on at the time because they didn’t expect the world to go on into this many future generations. They thought Jesus would have been back within a generation or two perhaps even in their own lifetimes, and a lot of information can be lost in 2000 years so it’s important for us to consider what was going on in the world that surrounds the writing of Scripture so we can see the full context of what we’re reading when we open the Bible. 

This week we’re going to expound more on what’s going on in the world around the time of Jesus’ birth. So many times we prefer the more serene pictures of the nativity that we see on Christmas cards at Hallmark or Hobby Lobby, but I don’t think we consider the darkness of the circumstances surrounding such a holy event. So, this morning we will consider “Where the Light Shines in the Dark Side of Christmas.”

Romans 15:4 tells us that “whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” We apply that principle to stories in the Bible that might be hard to grasp for whatever reason because we’re trusting that by reading those things it will strengthen our hope. 

So, the natural question is: where’s the hope? It seems like evil is running rampant, and Jesus, Mary, and Joseph are on the run. The only good thing about it is that at the end, Herod dies, and Joseph and Family seem to have found a place to lay down roots in Nazareth. So, what does it all mean? 

What I want to do this morning is I want us think about this passage under two headings, I want us to think about: The Suffering of the World, and The Savior of the World.

The circumstances surrounding Christ’s birth are interesting to begin with:

  • First, an angel appears to Zechariah and tells him that he and his wife will have a baby, and we know from last week’s Sunday School lesson that his child going to be John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ.
  • Then, an angel appears to Mary to tell her that she will give birth to Jesus.
  • Then, an angel appears to Joseph to confirm that Mary is in fact pregnant with the Son of God.
  • Then, angels appear to shepherds to tell them that a Savior had been born in the City of David. Now, shepherding was a working man’s job. Remember last week we said that it wasn’t exactly considered a noble profession and the testimony of shepherd weren’t even allowed to be heard in court. Shepherds aren’t the kind of people that anyone would expect to see the angels come to. 
  • Then wise men are guided by a star in the East to the place where Jesus was born. 

Then finally, in our passage, an angel appears to Joseph two more times to show him where to go and what to do. 

THE SUFFERING OF THE WORLD

Meanwhile, in the midst of all this good news and celebration, Herod issues an edict that all male children two years old and younger should be put to death. Why? Because he’s insecure.

  • In his mind, he’s the King of the Jews. Afterall, he’s the one who went before the Roman Senate petitioned to have that title. He’s going to kill anyone who threatens his place in society, including children, and not just children, but his own children as well.
  • Herod had three sons, and one of them framed the other two in a conspiracy to have Herod assassinated, and so Herod, feeling threatened, didn’t hesitate to have his own sons put to death. 

This kind of evil that Herod perpetuates isn’t like a tornado or a hurricane that comes through and kills people, and damages property. Natural disasters like that are impersonal, but the death of these children is an active and decisive act of someone who is evil and bent on retaining control and power. 

  • If modern day psychologists were to peer into his mind they would probably deem him a deranged sociopath.

But this is the world that Jesus is born into. 

“Perhaps no event in the gospel more determinatively challenges the sentimental depiction of Christmas than the death of these children. Jesus is born into a world in which children are killed, and continue to be killed, to protect the power of tyrants… 

The Herods of this world begin by hating the child, Jesus, … [they] end up hurting and murdering children. That is… the politics of murder to which the Church is called to be the alternative.” – Stanley Hauerwas, Matthew

So, this is where we begin to learn about Jesus, the savior of the world. 

THE SAVIOR OF THE WORLD

Jesus is born into a world of suffering. Jesus is born into a world of pain. Jesus is born into a world where children are murdered and where people are fighting each other for control of a world that they only have a few years to live on. 

And the reason Jesus is born into this world is so the world can be transformed and renewed, and in order for that to happen, Jesus has to be better. 

  • First, Jesus has to be the better Adam. 
  • God’s plan for the world was to create a dwelling place for himself, and He gave Adam a responsibility, “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it…” (Gen. 1:28) He also tells him that there’s a tree that he can’t partake of. It’s the tree of the knowledge of good and evil
  • Adam fails in his obedience to God, he partakes of the tree with wife, and they are kicked out of the garden.
  • Jesus has to be the more obedient Adam. He doesn’t disobey God in any way, instead He fulfills the law in every aspect. 
  • Secondly, Jesus has to be the better Moses.
    • Have you noticed that the beginning of Moses’ life, and the beginning of Jesus’ life are very similar? At the beginning of Moses’ life there’s a Pharaoh who feared God’s people. He feared that the Jewish population would get so big that there would be an uprising to Egyptian government, and he would lose his power. So, he sets out to murder their male children, and Moses’ life was spared because Exodus 1 tells us that the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them. (Exodus 1:17)
    • At the beginning of Jesus’ life there’s a king who also fears losing his power, and now he’s hearing about this baby who is supposed to be the king of Jews so he sets out to kill all the male children in his region. Do you see how Moses’ life and Jesus’ life are running parallel?
    • In Exodus 2, Moses kills an Egyptian soldier and takes refuge in Midian because Pharaoh is out to kill him. In Exodus 3, Moses see the burning bush, and God tells him that it’s time to go to Egypt. When we come to Exodus 4, God tells Moses that he can finally go back to Egypt.
      • “Now the Lord said to Moses in Midian, “Go, return to Egypt; for all the men who sought your life are dead.” – Exodus 4:19, NKJV
      • Does that sound familiar? It’s the almost exact same phrase from our passage in Matthew 2:20 where the angel appears to Joseph and says, “…go to the land of Israel for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.” Like Moses, his life is being sought after, and like Moses, God makes a way for him to go back to where He is to lead God’s people.
  • According to Matthew 2:15, this all took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Hosea, “Out of Egypt I called my Son.”
    • When you’re reading your Bible in the New Testament, and you notice that the text says, “this was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet” or “as it is written…” go back in your Old Testament and see what’s being said in context. If you do that, I promise the Bible will open up to you.
    • So, when Matthew says that this was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, we need to see where it comes from. Most your Bibles have cross references, and if you follow your cross-references it should take you back to Hosea 11.

“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son.

2 As they called them, so they went from them; they sacrificed to the Baals, and burned incense to carved images. 3 “I taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by their arms; but they did not know that I healed them. 4 I drew them with gentle cords, with bands of love, and I was to them as those who take the yoke from their neck. I stooped and fed them.” – Hosea 11:1-4, NKJV

  • What God is describing here, is how he pulled Israel from the dust, and he set them on their own two feet, and then in verse 2 it says they sacrificed to Baals. So, what happened was that God brought them out of Egypt (“out of Egypt I have called my Son”), He establishes them as a nation (“I taught [them] how to walk, taking them by their arms”), and then they turn away from God and turn to idols.
  • Matthew is assuming that when he quotes from the Old Testament we’re going to know what he’s talking about it. So, when he quotes Hosea passage here, he’s communicating to us that the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt is a type and shadow of Jesus’ return to Israel from Egypt.

This leads us to our third point about the Savior of the World, he has to be the better Israel. If the world is going to be made right, then Jesus has to lead the charge obediently and faithfully, better than Adam, better than Moses, and more faithfully than Israel. 

  • Going back to the quote from Hosea 11, think about the whole book of Hosea. We have a story where God tells a prophet to go marry a prostitute, and have children with her because this is how God was loving His people.
  • And what happens is that even after being married to a prophet and having children with him, this woman goes back to street corner and returns to prostitution and God tells Hosea to go back and buy her. The cycle continues, and the rest of the book Hosea is God calling out Israel’s idolatry, and promising judgement, but finally the end of the book takes a different turn. The final chapter in Hosea is chapter 14, and it’s there where God calls them to turn back to Him.

“I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, for My anger has turned away from him. 5 I will be like the dew to Israel; He shall grow like the lily, and lengthen his roots like Lebanon. 6 His branches shall spread; His beauty shall be like an olive tree, and his fragrance like Lebanon. 7 Those who dwell under his shadow shall return; they shall be revived like grain, and grow like a vine. Their scent shall be like the wine of Lebanon. 8 “Ephraim shall say, ‘What have I to do anymore with idols?’ I have heard and observed him. I am like a green cypress tree; your fruit is found in Me.” 9 Who is wise? Let him understand these things. Who is prudent? Let him know them. For the ways of the Lord are right; The righteous walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them.” – Hosea 14:5-9, NKJV

That’s how the book ends. 

Everything that Israel went through, all their trials, all their judgements, everything they would face would point forward to a deliverer better than Moses. 

Israel was not true to its identity and was finally cast out of the land. But Hosea saw that God’s anger against His people would not last forever; He would provide a renewed Israel who would serve the Lord faithfully (vv. 2–12; see 2:14–23).

That hope for a new Israel—a true Israel that would embody all that God called Israel to be—persisted all across redemptive history. This hope was finally fulfilled in the coming of Jesus Christ. Matthew tells us that Jesus fulfills Hosea 11 (Matt. 2:13–15). He is the true Israel, the faithful Israel who succeeds where old covenant Israel failed.

Like ancient Israel, He came up out of Egypt, passed through the waters, and was tested in the wilderness. In Matthew 4 and in Luke 4, both of those authors recall Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. He was tempted with the same kinds of things that they were tempted with, and He was tempted with the same kinds of things that we are tempted with, but the difference is that Jesus passed the test where Israel failed. Jesus passed the test in the same areas of our lives where many of us have failed.

  • Because of that, we look to Jesus as the true and better Israel, we look at Jesus as the true and better Adam, we look to see Jesus as the true and better Moses who brings us into the fulfillment of everything that God has promised to us. 

The good news of the gospel is that when we are in Christ we are made members of the new Israel. If we are in Christ, we share in the privileges and relationship He enjoys as God’s true Son… As such, we inherit all of the promises given to old covenant Israel. Those promises of God that Israel would rule over her enemies and enjoy abundant covenant blessings (for example, Isa. 14:1–2)—those promises are for all of God’s people united to Christ by faith alone. In Him we are the true Israel of God, heirs of the destiny promised to God’s old covenant people (Zeph. 3:14–20).

CONCLUSION

The question I want us to ask ourselves this morning is: where are we? 

Are we trying to serve God on our own terms or are we resting in the fact that our lives are hidden in Christ?

This is what Paul has to say about his relationship to Christ, and hopefully we all can say this as well.

“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” – Galatians 2:20, NKJV

Then Paul challenges us even farther in Colossians 3. 

“If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. 3 For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” – Colossians 3:1-3, NKJV

Now, I’ll ask again, are you in Christ? Are you resting in Him, trusting in Him, pursuing Him? Or are you on the outside? Are you wondering why everyone else is so excited, why everyone else takes their faith so seriously, wondering why other people are experiencing a deep joy that goes beyond surface-level happiness? Look to Jesus.

Jesus: The Ultimate Example of Biblical Manhood?

The question was first posed when I read a Twitter thread asking questions about biblical manhood and womanhood, particularly as relates to being like Jesus. Soon afterwards, I heard someone assert that Jesus is the ultimate example biblical manhood. And these things got me thinking…

Christians are called to follow the example of Christ in some ways. We are not God and we are not called to die to save humanity from sin, but we are called to Christlikeness. In 1 Corinthians 11:1, the apostle Paul says, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” And again, Romans 8:29 says, “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son.”

In some ways, it makes sense to say that Jesus could be described as the ultimate example of biblical manhood: Jesus was, of course, the perfect human, and he was a man. Thus it seems reasonable to tell men to follow the example of Christ as a way to live out their maleness in a healthy and holy way.

However, there are at least two potential problems. First, nowhere in the Bible are men in particular called to emulate the example of Christ as an example of godly masculinity. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it is wrong to do so, but it’s important to note that the Bible itself does not make this call. Second, if men are to follow Christ’s example as the ultimate example of biblical masculinity, then who are women to look to as the ultimate example of biblical femininity? To ask it in a different way, if women follow Christ, will they not be walking in obedience? Are women to follow Christ only in some ways?

I don’t have answers to these questions (yet), but I do think it’s worth considering. I’m curious if you all have any thoughts on this.

Here’s what I do know: Jesus Christ, God become human, is not primarily our example; he is primarily our Savior. He knew neither sinful nature nor particular sins, yet he (in some mysterious way) took on our sin and the punishment we deserved for it, so that we could, by faith, receive the gift of the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.That is the most important thing to know about Jesus.

And secondly, we are called, once we are saved, to live out our new identity as ones who are forgiven and adopted children of God. This is possible because of Christ in us, making us new. And it is reasonable in light of the great work of salvation God has joyfully wrought for those who trust him.

So let us all–male and female–press on to know, love, imitate, and serve our Savior today and every day.

A Mental Buffet // 12 January 2018

Mental Buffet

 

Deliver Us from “Dynamic Equivalence” – Charlotte Allen

“So what happened to make a clause that had been understood for centuries as not really meaning that God tempted people to sin suddenly too difficult for ordinary people to take in? Blame a theory known as “dynamic equivalence,” which has afflicted biblical and other religious translations (such as the Catholic Mass) since the 1960s. The idea is that most modern people can’t make heads or tails of ancient diction—so instead of formally rendering phrases of the sacred languages into precise English, French, or whatever, the translator tries to figure out what the authors of those phrases generally meant to say and then puts that meaning into lowest-common-denominator vernacular, even slang, which may in no way resemble the original phrasing. This seems to have been the thinking behind the French bishops’ alteration of the Lord’s Prayer.”

 

A H.A.N.D.S. Approach to Showing Jesus is God – David Graeig

“In conclusion, we should rejoice that Jesus is the one true God. This is the same Jesus who died on a cross for our sins – He knows our pains and struggles and He understands us and is here to help us. This is the same Jesus who rose from the grave and will come again, to take home all who confess Him as He truly is. As such we should have confidence in Him and should share with others the good news about who Jesus is and what He has done.”

 

Thomas Cranmer and the Book of Common Prayer – Simonetta Carr

“Cranmer’s greatest achievement, the Book of Common Prayer, was issued in March 1549. It included a new liturgy in English, as opposed to the old liturgy in Latin. It was also much simpler than the old Roman Catholic missal, giving prominence to the reading of Scriptures, and restoring the Lord’s Supper to a distribution of both bread and wine to the laity. By emphasizing prayer, praise, and study, he was hoping to bring a greater knowledge of God and His Word to a people who were used to delegating those activities to the clergy.”

The Gospel for Cynics, Doubters, and Skeptics

GospelForCynics

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” – John 1:43-51, NRSV

I’m going to have the privilege of teaching over this passage in Bible Study at my church in a couple of weeks and the more I read this passage, the more I can’t help but think about the different personalities that come into play here.

Philip

In the passage, Philip is mentioned first. Jesus said, “Follow me” and that’s exactly what Philip did. Philip followed him without question or hesitation. Now, what does Philip do? He finds Nathanael, and he tells him that they’ve found the Messiah. We’ll touch on Nathanael’s response in a bit, but notice Philip. He seems enthusiastic about telling people about the Messiah. This same enthusiasm is a common personality trait of his. It’s why he’s able to be an effective witness to the Gospel of Christ.

In Acts 8, he witnesses to and baptizes a eunuch and in Acts 21:8 he is given the title of ‘Evangelist.’   I think it’s fair to deduce from what little the New Testament has to say about Philip that he is someone who is optimistic, and he’s someone that we might refer to as a ‘go getter.’

Personally, I can’t relate.

However, pay attention to what Philip says when Nathanael tries to argue with him – “come and see.” I think modern Christendom can learn a thing or two simply pausing and reflecting on this passage. Philip doesn’t try to argue with Nathanael, he just says, “Come and see.” He’s saying, “Alright, find out for yourself.”

You see ads all the time that have money-back guarantees and they say, “If you’re not completely satisfied with the product then send it back and you’ll get your money back.” Now, we know that’s not entirely true. Before you’re able to get your money back, there’s a lot of bureaucratic red tape that you have to go through, but what Philip says to Nathanael is better than a money-back guarantee. He simply says, “Come and see.”

Honestly, I think that’s the most effective way to evangelize. You not see a boost in church attendance by evangelizing like that, but that’s because we’ve defined success by the numbers, but that’s another blog post for another time.

Nathanael

I can relate to Nathanael. Notice his response to Philip – “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Why would Nathanael say this? I would say that Nathanael is being realistic.

As we’ll see later, Nathanael is a student of Old Testament. There’s not anything mentioned about the Messiah coming from Nazareth. Nazareth was also a poor village and possibly known for its moral corruption. Usually poverty and crime go hand in hand so it wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination to think of Nazareth as such a town.

Nathanael is having a hard time conceiving the notion that the Messiah that he believed was going to be coming to bring political revolution to the Jews was going to be coming from a place like Nazareth.

When He sees Jesus, Jesus says, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Before Nathanael fully recognizes Jesus for who He is, he’s probably thinking, “Alright, this guys is trying to sell me something so he asks, “Where did you get to know me?”

He wants to be sure that Jesus is really the Chosen One of God, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting to be sure. Notice what Jesus says – “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” This is where we learn about Nathanael being a student of the Scriptures.

Cultural context is important because things in Scripture aren’t always as they appear on the surface. When we read this without cultural we might, “Oh, Jesus had a vision of Nathanael chilling out under a fig tree.” It’s not that simple.

According to the NIV First Century Study Bible, ‘under the fig tree’ was a euphemism for studying the Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus pointed out that Nathanael was a ‘true Israelite’ because he had been studying the Scriptures. We see this taken a step farther whenever Jesus mentions that they would see “angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” There’s only one other place in Scripture where that phrase is used and it’s in Genesis 28:10-15 where Jacob has a vision of a stairway going into Heaven and angels ascending and descending on the stairway.

In Genesis 28, after Jacob has the vision, God reminds him of the promise to bless his seed. Jesus was communicating to Nathanael the promise to bless his Jacob’s seed has been fulfilled in Himself. He is the stairway to Heaven between God and man.

Jesus

Finally, we come to the personality of Jesus. If I were going to fully talk about how Jesus is, it would take too long so I simply want to look at how He is portrayed in this passage.

First, Jesus is humble. Although His humility is not directly alluded to in the passage, I think it’s something that we can still deduce when we consider Jesus coming from a town like Nazareth. I already mentioned that the town itself was probably a ghetto filled with poverty and moral corruption.

It would’ve been enough for Jesus to put on human flesh and live on earth, but it wasn’t enough for Him. He knew the kind of life He was getting into. He chose to be born to Joseph and Mary. He knew they would live in Nazareth – that little podunk village that nothing good can come from. He chose that life. Jesus is of more value and worth than we could ever attribute to Him and yet, He chooses to live among the meek, the lowly, the humble, and the outcast so that those meek, lowly, humble, and outcast could see that He relates to them.

Second, Jesus is understanding. When Nathanael asks Him how He got to know him, Jesus doesn’t have to give Nathanael an answer. Jesus doesn’t him anything, and yet he understands Nathanael’s desire for an explanation.

Jesus seeks us out as we are, not as we’re going to be. He looks into our souls and He sees us – the real us, not the mask we put on for the others, but the real, broken, insecure us that has a an existential crisis at least three times a week at the most inconvenient times.

Jesus understands us, and that is why the writer of Hebrews says, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16, NRSV)

3 Most Helpful Articles of 2015

The truth is that she is weird, and she is liberal, but when anyone is speaking the truth you can’t disagree with them just because they don’t fit into your cookie cutter mold of what a Christian should look like.

These are some articles that really helped me in my walk with God to understand some key theological concepts. I hope you find them helpful as well.

  1. The Playground of Heavenly Reality: Pneumatological Sacramentalism
    I know this article has some odd words in the title, but I promise that if you’re from a charismatic/pentecostal background like I am and you want help understanding what role the sacraments play in that setting, then this article is really helpful.
  2. What Getting Dumped Says About You
    As someone who got dumped this year, I found this article to be comforting on so many levels. I think it’s interesting someone has finally addressed this issue from a biblical standpoint to let you know that you are not alone, and you are not out of the sovereignty of God just because your relationship didn’t work out.
  3. Want millennials back in the pews? Stop trying to make church ‘cool.’
    On April 30th, the Washington Post published this article written by Rachel Held Evans on the cusp of her new book, “Searching for Sunday.” In the article she tells the truth about all of these huge mega churches that try to make Jesus a ‘cool, relevant, hipster.’ Now, if you know who Rachel Held Evans is then you’re probably thinking, “She’s a weird, liberal, Episcopalian. What are you doing promoting her stuff?” The truth is that she is weird, and she is liberal, but when anyone is speaking the truth you can’t disagree with them just because they don’t fit into your cookie cutter mold of what a Christian should look like.

Now, I found more articles than just these helpful, but I’m constrained for time at the moment and I really wanted to get these out there. So, take a read, tell me what you think, and have a blessed Sunday!

Momentary Affliction and a Merciful Savior

MAMS

“But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. …For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.” – 2 Corinthians 4:7, 17-18, NRSV

“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.” – 2 Corinthians 5:17-19, NRSV

Let’s get one thing clear. I suck at being a Christian. I love Jesus with all my heart. He’s my best friend. I call upon Him as Savior everyday and I pray for Him to be my Lord, and I try to submit myself to what He wants for my life, but sometimes I just blow it. If I weren’t a Calvinist, I would say that I’ve lost my salvation two or three times in the last week. The struggle that I have is real and one of the reasons I believe God allows me to have these struggles is so that I can help others who have similar problems.

You see, this whole sanctification thing is from now until we die. We’ll never be perfect until we stand in the full presence of Almighty God in Heaven. Until that moment, God continually draws us to Himself. He beckons us into a beautiful relationship with Him. And this life is full of ups and downs, unexpected turns in the road, and sometimes we lose our way. Sometimes we make bad decisions. The good news though is that Jesus didn’t lay any terms and conditions in a negotiation with the Father before He came. Jesus didn’t look at God and say, “Now Dad, I’m only going to atone for their sins if they never blow it or mess up again from the moment of their conversion.” That conversation never took place. As a matter of fact, I don’t even believe there was any negotiation because Jesus humbly submitted Himself to the Father’s will.

Spurgeon said, “God came here in human form, not bound to be obedient; but “being found in fashion as a man, he became obedient”; obedient to his own law, and fulfilled every jot and tittle of it. He was “obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” And his obedience is ours, if we believe.” So you see, Jesus was perfectly obedient because He knew we wouldn’t be. He knew we were sons of wrath and disobedience when He saved us, and then He made children of the light.

Now, I’m a secure child of God, but there are days when it feels like the darkness will not lift and I have gone too far and Jesus, in all of His love and mercy, reminds me of the atonement that He secured for me over 2,000 years ago on an old rugged cross. My sins, my mess ups, my mistakes, my depression, my habits, and hangups were nailed to the cross and Jesus had already declared His victory over them.

So if you’re reading this and you’re having one of those days, remember He’s not done with you yet. He loves you and He still says to us, “Neither do I condemn you, go, and sin no more!.”

John’s Love Letters, Part 7: Acting On Our Knowledge

“And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” – 1 John 2:3-6, ESV

The text presents us with a very real truth, we cannot simply claim to know God and do nothing else. We must act on our knowledge of God as Creator, Sustainer, King, Sovereign, Master, Savior, etc. We cannot simply tell people that we know this awesome God without showing them. So, how do we show them? By Keeping His word.

I’m almost utterly rendered verbally paralyzed when I read this passage because I know that I don’t always keep His word. As a matter of fact, I feel like I’m bad at keeping His word. I feel almost as if there’s no way that I can possibly keep God’s Word, and then I realize, I’m right. I can’t keep God’s Word, but God can.

You see, when you and I were saved Jesus came to live on the inside of us through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit teaches us how to live, worship, and even work for God’s Kingdom. He does this by giving us gifts and equiping us for the ministry (1 Corinthians 12-14; Ephesians 4). We can’t do anything in the way of God’s Kingdom unless He sends the Holy Spirit to empower us for the work of the ministry.

When we say we know him, and we simply do nothing but attend church and act like it’s a holy social club, we then prove that we actually don’t know Him. We prove that we don’t actually acknowledge the real Jesus of the Scriptures, but rather a God and a Jesus of our own making.

Even as I write this blog post, I acknowledge that I have done this before. My sin is ever before and I pray God would grant me repentance and empower me to do more for Him. So, today, think and pray over 1st John 2:3-6. Let the Holy Spirit empower you for the service of the Lord.

John’s Love Letter’s, Part 6: Little Children

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” – [1 John 2:1-6 ESV] 

Okay, so I’m not going to lie, in our last installment of the ‘John’s Love Letters’ I guess I was feeling angry at Cessationists decided that it would be a good chance to bash them (which it was) and we ended up getting off track a little, so we’re going to go over the passage again and get down to business about what John is trying to tell us.

In verse 1, he calls us “Little Children.” This isn’t to smack us around about our spiritual immaturity, this is just John’s style. He’s an old man. That’s what old people do. They call us, “Kid,” “Sport,” “Son,” and in John’s case, “Little children.” It is said that as John was dying his final words were, “Little Children, love one another.” To know everything that I know about John and then to read his letters, I think if we listen hard enough we can still hear him call us, “Little Children” and we should feel honored that such a saint refers to us as his children. It means he loves us because the Father has loved us, and for that reason he wants to lead us closer to the Father.

Next, he tells that he’s writing to us so that we may not sin, “Little Children, I am writing these things that you may not sin.” I read that and I thought, “umm… I hate to tell you this, but it’s a little late John.” I’ve messed up big time. I’ve blown it. I’m not talking about once or twice since I got saved, but I’m talking about today. But John didn’t finish there, and I’m glad he didn’t, “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” The word, “advocate” is legal term that says basically means that Jesus is our defense attorney. The Book of Revelation tells us that Satan is the accuser of the brethren. What that means is that Satan tries to stand before God and tell Him everything wrong we’ve done and try to give Him every reason in the book why we shouldn’t be redeemed.

That in mind, I can see Satan telling God, “Logan’s blown it! He really dropped the ball today!” And God in a condescending manner, looks at with sarcastically raised eyebrow and asks, “Well, what did he do?” Satan replies, “He lost his temper and flipped off an old lady in traffic.” God, already knowing the answer to the question, looks to Jesus, His son and my defense attorney, and asks, “Well, did he do it?” Jesus replies, “Nope.” Satan says, “But I saw him do it!” Jesus says, “I didn’t. All I saw was my perfect work accomplished, and my blood poured out over all his sins.” God dismisses the case, and that’s the end of the story. One day, Satan and his angels will be thrown into the lake of fire, and they’ll pay for all the harm that they’ve caused God’s children all the way down through history, and most of all, they’ll pay for offending Almighty God Himself.

I’ll deal with verses 3-6 again from a different angle in the next post. I’m tired. I’m going to get Chinese food, go home, and watch the first season of House. Good night, God bless, and thanks for reading.

John’s Love Letters, Part 3: Fellowship

If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. -1 John 1:6-10 ESV

At first glance, it seems that there is almost a contradiction. John is telling us that we shouldn’t walk in the darkness and say that we are in the light because if we do, we make ourselves liars and the truth is not in us. However, if we say we’ve not sinned, we make God a liar and His Word isn’t in us. Most of our modern interpretations of this passage imply that when we ‘walk in the light’ we never sin, but for those of us that are realistic, we know sometimes we slip and fall.

Walking in the light is our sanctification. It is a continual process of repentance and growing in love and grace as the Holy Spirit empowers are lives for service in the Lord’s work.

This is why John tells us that He is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins. Jesus knows that imperfect human beings are incapable of being perfect. William Barclay offers some insight into what John means here.

“John is laying down the blunt truth that the man who says one thing with his lips and another thing with his life is a liar. He is not thinking of the man who tries his hardest and yet often fails. “A man,” said H. G. Wells, “may be a very bad musician, and may yet be passionately in love with music”; and a man may be very conscious of his failures and yet be passionately in love with Christ and the way of Christ. John is thinking of the man who makes the highest possible claims to knowledge, to intellectual eminence and to spirituality, and who yet allows himself things which he well knows are forbidden. The man who professes to love Christ and deliberately disobeys him, is guilty of a lie.” – William Barclay

As we have fellowship with Him, it strengthens and empowers our fellowship with others. Sin is antisocial. It separates us from God and as a result, separates us from others. Let’s walk in repentance and fellowship and be ever fighting in the war against sin in our lives.

John’s Love Letters, Part 1: For Your Joy

“Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10: 17). And so in the first place the apostles heard the Word of life, and thus were able to apprehend Him.” – F.B. Hole

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. -1 John 1:1-4 ESV

 As we read the beginning of this letter we learn something about John. John is after our joy. That’s what he wants. He wants to complete our joy. He’s not just focused on his joy, and he’s not just focused on our joy, but he’s focused on our joy and his joy corporately. His joy is found in writing us this letter, and it is implied that our joy will be found in reading it.

Now, there is a difference between joy and happiness. Happiness fluctuates like a fair weather friend. Joy is a constant rock in times of sorrow that aids us and comforts us through the fiercest of storms. John desires that we know this kind of joy and he’s persistent that the thing he’s writing about cannot only bring us joy, but can make our joy complete.

So, what’s he writing about? In verse 1, John says, “…we have heard…we have seen with our eyes…we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life.”

A Plymouth Brethren theologian from the 19th Century offers these words concerning this particular passage.

“By the fact of His becoming flesh He placed Himself within the reach of three out of the five senses or faculties with which man is endowed. He could be heard, seen and felt. Hearing comes first, for in our fallen condition it is to that faculty that God specially addresses Himself. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10: 17). And so in the first place the apostles heard the Word of life, and thus were able to apprehend Him.

But then they also saw Him with their eyes, and even “looked upon,” or “contemplated” Him. There had been in earlier days fleeting manifestations of this great Person as “the Angel of the Lord,” only then it was impossible to contemplate Him for He was seen but for a moment. Now, come in flesh, all was different. The apostles spent years with Him, and could scrutinize Him with attention. They gazed at Him long and earnestly, even though they did not properly understand all that they observed until they had received the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Also they came into physical contact with Him. Their hands actually handled Him. This guaranteed that He was no mere Spirit manifestation. He was amongst them in a real human body of flesh and blood. After His resurrection He sojourned among them in His risen body of flesh and bones, and we may remember how He specifically enjoined them to handle Him and see He was not a Spirit after His resurrection.

All this establishes then beyond a doubt that there had been this real manifestation of eternal life before them.” – F.B. Hole

John is describing to us his testimony of the risen savior, Jesus. John had an intimate knowledge of who Jesus is. Matthew and Luke start their gospels with the beginning of Jesus’ earthly life, and Mark starts his gospel with the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. It’s interesting to note that John makes shows us that Jesus has no origin, but always been.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. -John 1:1-3 ESV

 John shows us in his Gospel that God became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). This holy, untouchable, unseeable, magnificent God became lowly flesh because He was on a mission to bring us the ultimate joy, Himself. He knew that only He could fill the vacancy in our souls. Jesus is the only one that can fill the God-sized hole in our hearts.

In the words to ‘O Holy Night,’ the hymn writer says, “Long lay the world, in sin and error pining, till He appeared and the soul felt its worth!” Only Jesus can bring that feeling, the feeling of joy made complete.