Monday, October 16, 2006

What's in a Name?

“Therefore God also highly exalted Him 
and given Him the name which is 
above every name.”
(Philippians 2:9)

Billy Sunday once preached a sermon entitiled “Wonderful,” where he said, “There are two hundred and fifty-six names given in the Bible for the Lord Jesus Christ, and I suppose this was because He was infinitely beyond all that any one name could express.”
Here’s a partial listing of names and titles given to Jesus throughout Scripture, and the operative word here is partial.
Advocate (1 John 2:1)
Almighty (Rev. 1:8; Mt. 28:18)
Alpha and Omega (Rev. 1:8; 22:13)
Amen (Rev. 3:14)
Apostle of our Profession (Heb. 3:1)
Atoning Sacrifice for our Sins (1 John 2:2)
Author of Life (Acts 3:15)
Author and Perfecter of our Faith (Heb. 12:2)
Author of Salvation (Heb. 2:10)
Beginning and End (Rev. 22:13)
Blessed and only Ruler (1 Tim. 6:15)
Branch (Zech. 6:12)
Bread of God (John 6:33)
Bread of Life (John 6:35; 6:48)
Bridegroom (Mt. 9:15) 
Capstone (Acts 4:11; 1 Pet. 2:7)
Chief Cornerstone (Eph. 2:20)
Chief Shepherd (1 Pet. 5:4)
Christ (1 John 2:22)
Creator (John 1:3)
Daystar (2 Peter 1:19)
Deliverer (Rom. 11:26)
Eternal Life (1 John 1:2; 5:20)
Gate (John 10:9)
Faithful and True (Rev. 19:11)
Faithful Witness (Rev. 1:5)
Faith and True Witness (Rev. 3:14)
First and Last (Rev. 1:17; 2:8; 22:13)
Firstborn From the Dead (Rev. 1:5)
Firstborn over all creation (Col. 1:15)
Gate (John 10:9)
God (John 1:1; 20:28; Heb. 1:8; Rom. 9:5; 2 Pet. 1:1;1 John 5:20; etc.)

Good Shepherd (John 10:11,14)
Great Shepherd (Heb. 13:20)
Great High Priest (Heb. 4:14)
Head of the Church (Eph. 1:22; 4:15; 5:23)
Heir of all things (Heb. 1:2)
High Priest (Heb. 2:17)
Holy and True (Rev. 3:7)
Holy One (Acts 3:14)
Hope (1 Tim. 1:1)
Hope of Glory (Col. 1:27)
Horn of Salvation (Luke 1:69)
I Am (John 8:58)
Image of God (2 Cor. 4:4)
Immanuel (Mt. 1:23 & Isa. 7:14)
Judge of the living and the dead (Acts 10:42)
King Eternal (1 Tim. 1:17)
King of Israel (John 1:49)
King of the Jews (Mt. 27:11)
King of kings (1 Tim 6:15; Rev. 19:16)
King of the Ages (Rev. 15:3)
Lamb (Rev. 13:8)
Lamb of God (John 1:29)
Lamb Without Blemish (1 Pet. 1:19)
Last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45)
Life (John 14:6; Col. 3:4)
Light of the World (John 8:12)
Lion of the Tribe of Judah (Rev. 5:5)
Living One (Rev. 1:18)
Living Stone (1 Pet. 2:4)
Lord (2 Pet. 2:20)
Lord of All (Acts 10:36)
Lord of Glory (1 Cor. 2:8)
Lord of lords (Rev. 19:16)
Man from Heaven (1 Cor. 15:48)
Mediator of the New Covenant (Heb. 9:15)
Mighty God (Isa. 9:6)
Morning Star (Rev. 22:16)
Offspring of David (Rev. 22:16)
Only Begotten Son of God (John 1:18; 1 John 4:9)
Our Great God and Savior (Titus 2:13)
Our Holiness (1 Cor. 1:30)
Our Husband (2 Cor. 11:2)
Our Protection (2 Thess. 3:3)
Our Redemption (1 Cor. 1:30)
Our Righteousness (1 Cor. 1:30)
Our Sacrificed Passover Lamb (1 Cor. 5:7)
Power of God (1 Cor. 1:24)
Precious Cornerstone (1 Pet. 2:6)
Prince of Peace (Isa 9:6)
Prophet (Acts 3:22)
Rabbi (Mt. 26:25, John 1:38)
Resurrection and Life (John 11:25)
Righteous Branch (Jer. 23:5)
Righteous One (Acts 7:52; 1 John 2:1)
Rock (1 Cor. 10:4)
Root of David (Rev. 5:5; 22:16)
Root of Jesse (Isa. 11:10)
Ruler of God’s Creation (Rev. 3:14)
Ruler of the Kings of the Earth (Rev. 1:5)
Savior (Eph. 5:23; Titus 1:4; 3:6; 2 Pet. 2:20)
Son of David (Lk. 18:39)
Son of God (John 1:49; Heb. 4:14)
Son of Man (Mt. 8:20)
Son of the Most High God (Lk. 1:32)
Source of Eternal Salvation for all who obey him (Heb. 5:9)
The One Mediator (1 Tim. 2:5)
The Stone the builders rejected (Acts 4:11)
True Bread (John 6:32)
True Light (John 1:9)
True Vine (John 15:1)
Truth (John 1:14; 14:6)
Way (John 14:6)
Wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24)
Wonderful Counselor (Isa. 9:6)
Word (John 1:1)
Word of God (Rev. 19:13)

Portraits of Jesus        

Which of these names has God made most personal to you?

Which of these names have you yet to experience in a personal way?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Kingdom of Heaven

“The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
(Matthew 3:2)

Distinctive to the Gospel of Matthew as we have seen is the idea that Jesus is King. Similarly, it Matthew carries the theme of kings and kingdoms throughout his whole Gospel. Matthew inserts the idea of a king or a kingdom in a number of his stories, accounts and parables, whereas Luke never mentions such terminology, even when telling the exact same account or parable. Luke always say a “certain man” or something of the like, but not so with Matthew, he wants us to see, feel, and hear the kingdom echo on every page. Whereas the other Gospels use the phrase “kingdom of God,” Matthew uses the “kingdom of heaven.” This is a peculiar expression unique to Matthew occurs nearly thirty times throughout his Gospel. Matthew also pays special attention to the characteristics and the attributes of the participants of this kingdom, among which “righteousness” is specially named, this too is distinctive to Matthew’s account.

Portraits of Jesus        

As you read through the interactions and parables found in Matthew, take special not to the usage of words like “king,” “kingdom,” and “the kingdom of heaven.”

In the places where Mark and Luke use the phrase “kingdom of God,” Matthew uses the phrase “kingdom of heaven.” Furthermore, does also use the “phrase “kingdom of God,” but only four times. Whereas, he uses the phrase “kingdom of heaven” thirty-two times. What do you suppose this is? For Matthew, what’s the difference between the two?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

My King

“King of the Jews”
(Matthew 2:2)

“My king was born king,” said the late Dr. S. M. Lockridge in an amazing message preached by him on the matchless Kingship of Jesus. Here’s the rest of what he had to say. You may need to read it out loud and with a little umpf to begin to feel and grasp the depth of what he’s saying. “The Bible says He is the seven-way king. He is the king of the Jews. That’s a racial king. He is king of Israel. That’s a national king. He’s a king of righteousness. He’s a king of the ages. He’s the king of heaven. He is the king of glory. He’s the King of kings and Lord of lords. Now that’s my king.

Well, I wonder if you know Him. Do you know Him? Don’t try to mislead me. Do you know my king? David said, “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth His handiwork.” No far-seeing telescope can bring into visibility the coastline of His shoreless supply. No barriers can hinder Him from pouring out His blessing.

He’s enduringly strong, He’s entirely sincere, He’s eternally steadfast. He’s immortally graceful. He’s imperially powerful. He’s impartially merciful. That’s my king. He’s God’s Son. He’s a sinner’s savior. He’s the centerpiece of civilization. He stands alone in Himself. He’s august. He’s unique. He’s unparalleled. He’s unprecedented. He’s supreme. He’s preeminent. He’s the loftiest idea in literature. He’s the highest idea in philosophy. He’s the fundamental truth in theology. He’s the cardinal necessity of spiritual religion. That’s my king.

He’s the miracle of the age. He’s the only one able to supply all of our needs simultaneously. He supplies strength for the weak. He’s available for the tempted and the tried. He sympathizes and He saves. He guards and He guides. He heals the sick, He cleans the lepers. He forgives sinners, He discharges debtors, He delivers captives, He defends the feeble, He blesses the young, He serves the unfortunate, He regards the aged, He rewards the diligent, He beautifies the meek. Do you know Him?

Well, my king is the king of knowledge, He’s the well-spring of wisdom, He’s the doorway of deliverance, He’s the pathway of peace, He’s the roadway of righteousness, He’s the highway of holiness He’s the gateway of glory, He’s the master of the mighty, He’s the captain of the conquerors, He’s the head of the heroes, He’s the leader of the legislators, He’s the overseer of the overcomers, He’s the governor of governors, He’s the prince of princes, He’s the king of Kings and the Lord of Lords. That’s my king. Yeah! That’s my king.

His life is matchless. His goodness is limitless. His mercy is everlasting. His love never changes. His word is enough. His grace is sufficient. His reign is righteous. His yoke is easy and His burden is light. Well. I wish I could describe Him to you. But He’s indescribable. He’s indescribable. Yes. He’s incomprehensible. He’s invincible, He’s irresistible. I’m trying to tell you, the Heavens cannot contain Him, let alone a man explain Him. You can’t get Him out of your mind. You can’t get Him off of your hands. You can’t outlive Him, and you can’t live without Him. Well. The Pharisees couldn’t stand Him, but they found out they couldn’t stop Him. Pilate couldn’t find any fault in Him. The witnesses [at his trial] couldn’t get their testimonies to agree. Herod couldn’t kill Him. Death couldn’t handle Him and the grave couldn’t hold Him. That’s my king. Yeah!

He always has been, and He always will be. I’m talking about He [who] had no predecessor and He [who] has no successor. There was nobody before Him and there will be nobody after Him. You can’t impeach Him, and He’s not going to resign. Praise the Lord! That’s my king. Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory. Well. All the power belongs to my king. We around here talk about black power and white power and green power, but it’s God’s power. Thine is the power. Yeah! And the glory. We try to get prestige and honor and glory to ourselves, but the glory is all His. Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever, and ever, and ever, and ever. How long is that? And ever, and ever, and ever, and ever, and when you get through with all of the forevers, then “Amen.”

Portraits of Jesus        

Re-read through Dr. Lockridge’s message, only this time turn every declaration into a prayer, thanking Him for Who He is and what He’s done.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

No Small Stir

“Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? 
For we have seen His star in the East 
and have come to worship Him.” 
(Matthew 2:2)

As we saw yesterday, Matthew is on a mission to portray Jesus as the King. We saw the evident and the subtleness of Matthew’s genealogy showing forth the royal lineage and its implications. From the very beginning, he wants us to see Jesus as more than a servant, more than a man, he wants us to see Jesus as the King.

In the very birth announcement we are told, “All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us’” (1:22-23). Not, God sending another prophet to talk to us and declare to us His way, no, this time God Himself shall come and be with you. The King shall come down and dwell with you. He shall be called Immanuel. A name, the witness of the covenant with the kingdom, and also with the His elect people, testifying that He who had redeemed would not forsake His people.

Without understanding the context of the day when this pronouncement was made, we cannot fully understand what Matthew is saying. For Israel, it was a time when the kingdom seemed in danger. They were being pressed in and oppressed from every side by the Roman Empire. For centuries the people of Israel had been raped of everything dear to them. And at the time of Jesus, though things weren’t as hostile as in times past, the memories were strong, and the soldiers could still be seen at every corner, and the Emperor’s, not to mention Herod’s tax collectors were always present to plunder what their greed desired. For Israel, hope had been deferred, many had lost hope, but God always preserves a remnant relentless and steadfast in faith. Mary was a part of such remnant. She was more than a little peasant girl, much more. Don’t be mistaken, she was a peasant girl, but inside of her were the songs of a princess, full of fire, with lyrics ready to shake the present kingdom with all its pompous pseudo kings like Herod the Great. “Immanuel will one day come,” the prophets still echoed in the city streets. “No!” Matthew shouts, “Immanuel is here!”

Thus, Matthew moves immediately to the effects of the birth of this royal child. Herod the Great was the most powerful, richest and ruthless king Israel had ever known. He squashed any and everybody who got in his way, hinted at posing a threat, or merely indicated they’d like to. He was a psychotic madman, and that’s an understatement. Matthew paints a picture that would stir fire in the heart of every Jew in Jerusalem. Herod, the one no one can stop or stand a chance to overturn, crawls into a corner and begins to suck his thumb in fear and panic at word of this baby Jesus. For, “When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him” (2:3). Meanwhile, men of rank and honor from distant lands come to “worship” the newborn king with gifts and praise.

This whole scene, though on the one hand a very real and actual account, on the other hand was a picture of the mystery of the kingdom which was even now at hand. Jesus, in Matthew’s Gospel is seen as the Heir; and so of Bethlehem it is said here, and in no other Gospel, “Out of you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah…shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel” (2:6).

Portraits of Jesus        

Imagine what it must have been like for those living in Israel at the time of Jesus’ birth – the oppression, the exploitation, the marginalization. With a sense of the potential temptation towards becoming hopeless, read Matthew chapters one and two. How many references can you find that serve as undertones to the kingdom of God breaking into their circumstances?

Monday, October 09, 2006

Once Upon a Throne

"The first living creature was like unto a Lion" 
(Revelation 4:7)

"Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, 
the Root of David, has prevailed..."
(Revelation 5:5)

The Lion of the Tribe of Judah is the focus of Matthew. Its very opening verse is distinctively characteristic. This is “the book of genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham (1:1). Here He is Heir of a kingdom, and one of a chosen seed, and so His “genealogy is traced through the line of Israel's kings as far as Abraham, and no further. In Luke it is traced to Adam; but here it is the Son of Abraham, not of Adam, whom God reveals to us. For an Heir had been promised, and here our Lord is shown as the One in whom the promise of the kingdom was to be fulfilled. Here the Heir is come, and His lineage is given, not as God's or Adam's but as David's Son.”

Matthew, remember, was a tax collector. As such, it is believed that his role would also have functioned as
customs official, or more specifically, a stenographer. Therefore, his job required that he be able to take shorthand. In other words, he was trained to be able to take in an enormous amount of detail and record it into writing. He was a detailed individual and possessed amazing abilities to crunch numbers.

We will look at just two of the phenomenal dynamics Matthew has working within his genealogy. These two examples will only deal with numbers. (You can pursue and discover some of the other threads that are hidden from the casual reader on your own.) Read these two carefully and slow, for it may be a bit challenging to not get lost in the details. But what ever you do, don’t bail out, because you’ve got to see the meticulous ingenious layout given to us by Matthew regarding Jesus the King.

At first glance, “the genealogy appears to be a list of people who did a lot of begetting. But there’s something else going on here. The greatest king of the Jews was David. In Hebrew, that’s spelled DVD. D is the fourth letter in the Hebrew alphabet, so it has the numerical value of 4. V is the sixth letter, so it has the value of 6. DVD is therefore 4 + 6 + 4, which gives the name David the number value of 14. Matthew groups the names in his genealogy in groups of . . .14. So a Jew reading the introduction to his book, which is telling something about Jesus’ family, would read king, king, king, king, king. Matthew has an agenda here.” He wants us to see who he thinks Jesus is.

Have you ever noticed the sevens in the Bible? “They occur in over six hundred passages; some are overt, some are simply structural, and some are hidden. The heptadic (the seven-fold) structure seems to act as a signature.

Suppose I asked you to write out a genealogy, a family tree. You can make it up as fiction, but there are some rules I want you to follow:

1.The number of words you use must be divisible by 7 evenly.
2. The number of letters you use must be divisible by 7.
3. The number of vowels and the number of consonants you use is to be exactly divisible by seven.
4. The number of words that begin with a vowel you use must be divisible by seven.
5. The number of words that begin with a consonant must be divisible by 7.
6. The number of words that occur more than once must be divisible by 7.
7. The number of words that occur in more than one form must be divisible by 7.
8. The number of words that occur in only one form shall be divisible by 7.
9. The number of nouns must be divisible by 7.
10. Only 7 words shall not be nouns.
11. The number of names must be divisible by 7.
12. Only 7 other kinds of nouns are allowed.
13. The number of male names must be divisible by 7.
14. The number of generations must be divisible by 7.
Could you compose a candidate draft that would meet all of these rules? As you’ve probably guessed, this is the genealogy of Jesus Christ in the opening eleven verses in the Gospel of Matthew, in Greek.

What’s amazing is that the odds of a random text complying to these constraints is over 40 million to one! (If it took you 10 minutes per draft, and you worked 40 hours a week for 50 weeks per year, it would take over 3,000 years to accomplish this task by random trials.)

The point, this is a genealogy like no other, regarding One who in incomparable, His name is Jesus and He is the King of Kings.

Portraits of Jesus        

Compare the geneaology in Matthew to that which is in Luke. Matthew’s starts with Abraham, while Luke’s starts with Adam. Why did the authors intentionally chose to start where they did and how is that starting point consistent with their portrait of Jesus?

Matthew placed his genealogy as the very first part of his narrative, whereas Luke places the genealogy after Jesus’ birth, childhood, baptism and right before He begins His public ministry. Why do you suppose each one placed it where they did? (Each of them obviously put it where they put it for a specific reason, it furthers their point of emphasis. How?)

Matthew’s genealogy uses the wording so-and-so begot, while Luke uses the wording so-and-so the son of. Again, why did each choose the wording that they did and how did that particular wording once again subversively reemphasis their portrait of Jesus?

Matthew, interestingly includes four women in his genealogy. Each of these four have several things in common. Can you identify any of their commonalities? How could these commonalities also play into the undercurrents of Matthew’s message? How do they also witness to the power of God to preserve His “seed”? (if you haven’t read an interesting story lately, take some time and read the story of Tamar, and ask yourself how the narrative demonstrates God’s connection to bringing about His promised kingdom).

Friday, October 06, 2006

Beyond the Cosmos

“No one has seen God at any time. 
The only begotten Son, 
who is in the bosom of the Father.
He has declared Him”
(John 1:18)
I love this verse, because in this verse, John says some unprecedented things about Jesus. As we saw at the beginning of the week, John takes us all the way back to the beginning. He reminds us of God’s original design and desire to experience relationship and intimate communion with humanity. As our minds track back to what was in the beginning, we are reminded of what happened to that divine plan and the consequence of humanities’ disobedience. We lost connection with God as spiritual death occurred. God, at that point ultimately became unknowable, at least in the truest and deepest sense. No man had seen God at any time. Why? As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2:13, humanity after the fall no longer possessed the ability and capacity to receive and understand the things of the spirit. This is where John introduces another aspect of who Jesus is. He is the one, the only one who has seen God at any time. Furthermore, John says that Jesus not only has seen God, but He has “declared Him to us” (1:18).
In our Western Culture, the word “declare” doesn’t pack much punch. It seems that everybody is declaring something, most of which we pay little or no attention to what’s being declared. The word typically denotes nothing more than someone talking about something with some minimal description. Therefore, it’s unfortunate that this is the English word used in the translation of verse eighteen. In actuality, this is a spellbinding word in the Greek and when it is applied to Jesus as John does, it becomes mesmerizing. It’s the Greek word exegeomai, we get the word exegete from it. I’m sure that gave you goose bumps. Okay, perhaps, not yet. We would also use this word in the context of someone doing an exegetical teaching of a particular book of the Bible. In short, if someone were to do so, they would take a particular book of the Bible and proceed to draw out of it and bring out of it everything that was originally intended and hoped for in the heart of the author. There would be a thorough discourse of the culture, history, geography, and social allusions of the time. To do an exegetical, study means to look into any and everything that could provide insight and greater understanding to what the text actually meant to the first hearers, as well as to us today. In addition to the externals of the text, one would then turn their attention to the structure of the text, the words used, the words not used, the words that could’ve been used, all of this and more helps gain a fuller understanding of what the author was originally communicating. After all that has been blown out on the table, one begins to pull all of those pieces back together to show forth the fullness of the text.
It can be a bit like endeavoring to put a thousand piece puzzle together. The first thing you do, is scatter all the pieces on the table, with only a few of them providing a clear enough picture to know where they go. Yet, as the picture becomes clearer, the pieces begin to appear and as more pieces begin to appear, the picture becomes clearer still. The corners and the borders provide additional clarity as to what this puzzle will at some point be.
John has a picture in mind of who Jesus is, and he desperately wants us to see it. John said, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (1:14). Jesus is full of grace and truth, He is from God, He is God, and now He’s come in the flesh to us and began to “declare Him” to us. What John is literally saying is this: No one has seen God, since the fall of humanity, indeed no one could. With the first Adam, life- spiritual and eternal life found in communion with God was lost, but here One has appeared to us and He possesses it once more. Not only that, but He is giving us an exegetical disclosure of who God is to us. He is breaking the infinite God down bit by bit, showing us, teaching us, demonstrating to us the mind, the heart, the core of Who God is. For John, everything Jesus did was indicative of who the Father was, this is why in John’s Gospel, Jesus says, “I do nothing unless I see the Father do it, and the Son does it in like manner” (5:19).
Jesus is the picture of Who God is, He’s the picture on the box of the thousand piece puzzle. In chapter one, John tries to lay out some of the corner pieces that are imperative to our seeing Jesus. The corner pieces are the elements that Jesus possesses that have been beyond the reach of fallen humanity: the eternal life (1:4), the truth (1:14), the Logos-Word – which entails an accurate understanding and perspective of who God is (1:1), and the Spirit residing within (1:33 and 20:22). Everything John then proceeds to tell us, is in effect filling in the borders and interior of Who Jesus is and what He came to do. Each piece is “declaring” to us another aspect of the Father. This is where John starts his Gospel, however he discovers a slight problem as he’s writing, there’s not enough room on the table to put the puzzle together, and what he thought was a thousand piece puzzle has turned out to be at least ten million. He discovers, that he’s going to be unable to complete the puzzle in this Gospel writing, actually he’s pretty sure that he’ll never finish it. He simply closes the Gospel by saying,
“And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, 
I suppose that even the world (cosmos) 
itself could not contain the books 
(John 21:25)
Portraits of Jesus        

We’ve said today that John is laying the pieces to a puzzle out on the table and then he begins to fit some pieces together. As you read through John, see what pieces you can begin to identify and how the fit together.

Can you recognize any themes (parts of the puzzle) that John starts working with and putting together, but then turns his attention to another theme, only to later to come back to the first, and so on…?

Meditate on John’s closing sentence.
“And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, 
I suppose that even the world (cosmos) 
itself could not contain the books 
(John 21:25)
Perhaps Jesus is bigger than we’ve made Him to be… Pray and ask God to begin to show you how Jesus truly is the one that “holds all things together.”

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Only Son

“For God so loved the world the
at He gave His only begotten Son, 
that whoever believes in Him 
should not perish but have everlasting life.”
(John 3:16)

A verse well known to many, but is there going on in this verse than meets the eye. As we’ve seen John is working from several different palettes. We’ve looked some at the aspect of the heavenly perspective of Jesus, as well as how He fits into the immediate story of Israel as the Passover Lamb. John also shows throughout his Gospel Jesus’ relationship towards a specific group of religious leaders, but I’ll leave that one to you to plunder. Here in verse sixteen, John is actually working from one of the aforementioned palettes and another, which we have not yet mentioned, except in passing.

The first of those, has to do with the heavenly perspective of who Jesus is. John says, whoever “believes in Him.” We typically say that means we “believe that is Lord,” or “the Son of God.” It seems that John is infatuated with belief, and compared to the other Gospel writers he is. For you have no other statement like this in the Synoptic Gospels. John uses this word at least eighty-five times! In comparison, Matthew and Luke use it nine times and Mark fourteen. Therefore, the question becomes, if there is no other statement like it in the other Gospels, what must it mean? And, since it isn’t in the other Gospels does it mean more than we have typically attributed it to mean? Furthermore, does the use of the word “in” or “enter” influence what John was trying to communicate? Because he actually says “whoever believes into Jesus,” which at first glance seems to be something entirely different, or at least more than “believing” about Jesus, that He came and rose again.

All of these questions, must then be placed into the bigger question of, how does John want us to Jesus? What portrait is he painting for us to look at? Thus far, the emphasis has been on the divine aspect of Jesus’ being or how Jesus is seen from a heavenly perspective, which is diametrically different than the other Gospels. So, with that being said, how does all that play into his copious use of the word believe found throughout this Gospel? I’ll leave those questions and others for you to meditate on and gain insight into, especially since John has this belief that the Holy Spirit was sent for the very purpose of teaching us the things about God (See John 14:26, 16:5-15; 1 John 2:27).

The Second thread found in this verse carries with it something that can only come by heavenly endowment, but it also taps into the meta-narrative of Scripture. It has to do with love. John says, that God so loved the world. Love is another of those words that is inescapable to be struck by as you read through his Gospel. He uses one variation of that word at least thirty-three times, and once again, the other Gospels use it between five to ten times. John writes from the perspective of one who defines his very being and personhood as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (19:26, 20:2, 21:7, 21:20).

Now let’s Midrash this passage a bit. Midrash, is a Jewish concept of digging deep into the passage. It looks at a passage and at each point, image, or thoughts says, Have I seen this somewhere in the text before? Where else do I find this in the text? Is there a chance that this is a picture of something else? Or, is this a picture of something else?

There are a several methods that can be used to help decipher all the hidden meanings in a text. One is called the principle of first mention. The idea behind this principle, is that the first time a person, place or thing is mentioned in Scripture, there are often keys and insights about that particular person, place, or name that are given in the description that will remain consistent throughout all of Scripture. Scripture is literally loaded with countless examples. Therefore, when you come to a particular phrase or word that carries with it a sense of significance or even peculiarity, one must stop and ask questions regarding that phrase, word, etc to see where it has been seen in other places, how it was used, and most notably where was the first place it was used. And, is there something about how it was used the first time that bears significant on its present use? For John’s early readers, those steeped in the story of the Biblical text, this was common practice and John knows it. And, as with the other Gospel writers, John will use any and everything to communicate his perspective using numerous layers and multiple dimensions at the same time. These guys are inspired geniuses.

John writes what he writes what he writes, when he writes it with this principle in mind. He does this both with the word believe and the word love. Since we’ve already spent some time on believe(d), I’ll let you dig that one up yourself.

John’s first mention of the word love is in 3:16 - "for God so love the world that he gave his one and only Son." Where is the first place this word is used in Scripture? With a little digging, we discover that love is first mentioned in Genesis 22. The amazing thing is, Genesis 22 is where God tells Abraham to take "your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love" and offer him as a sacrifice. Do you think this is mere coincidence? No way! John is doing something very deliberate here, as well as through throughout the whole of his account. He wants his readers to see the intimate connection between Abraham and his son - his only son, and God and God's Son – His only Son.

Portraits of Jesus        

Grab a concordance and trail through the Gospel of John paying close attention to the Johns use of the word believe in and love. How are these two used individually and together?

Can you find any more allusions back to the Abraham? Take note how he’s mentioned in John’s Gospel.

Can you find any other key phrases or words that are intimately connected to the meta-narrative of Scripture?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Voice of the Word

“I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
Make straight the way of the LORD.”
(John 1:23)

Equally characteristic in the Gospel of John is the depiction of John the Baptist. The Baptist is elsewhere seen primarily in connection with the earthly side of Jesus, whereas here his relationship to Jesus is almost heavenly, for it is only by a heavenly revelation that he is able to recognize Who Jesus is. It is clear the author sees something more than most are seeing in Jesus, and his desire is for more to be seen in him, than merely another man. This is where the author uses mastery of metaphor to describe not only the role and relationship of John the Baptist Jesus, but to further illustrate how Jesus is truly something all together different.

If Jesus is “the Light,” Andrew Juke says, then “John is also a light, though of another nature; a ‘lamp, burning and shining,’ (5:25) yet but a lamp, destined to be quenched soon as the Light of heaven shall have introduced the perfect day.

So Jesus is “the Word” here and John is “the Voice;” words, which even partially apprehended, convey something to us very different from such titles as ‘the Lord,’ and ‘my Messenger.’ The ‘Word’ (Logos) is the sense: the ‘Voice’ is the sound. Outwardly, the voice seems to be first, yet while in the act of communication it precedes the word, it is not really before it, for the sense must have been in the mind before it was outspoken. So the word, if it has been received, abides in the heart; but the voice passes away. Having served to communicate the word, which was in one heart to other hearts, the voice has done its work. Its use is as a witness, and this being accomplished, the word remains, while the witnessing voice is content to be forgotten. All this, as it applies to Him who is "the Word," and His forerunner. To some it may be a hint of what is here for such as through grace can receive it. To all it speaks of the Lord in a relation connected with heaven rather than with earth.”

Matthew says John the Baptist came preaching of the “coming kingdom” (Matthew 3); Luke shows him preaching a radical “repentance” (Luke 3); while John has him as “a witness to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe (John 1:7). Likewise the aspect of the “witness” presented emphasis on the heavenly side of Jesus: “I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God” (1:34).

The day changes, but the scene stays the same. “Again, the next day, John stood with two of his disciples. And looking at Jesus as he walked, he said, ‘Behold the Lamb of God!’” (1:35-36). This is where John pulls in another color from the palette he’s working from. He just switched brushes and now he’s painting with the story of Israel in mind, for Jesus is the Lamb of God. A descriptive title or role that remains silent in the other Gospels. John wants us to see Jesus as the Passover Lamb. In fact, John uses every opportunity present to him to talk about the Passover, and often when he does so, Jesus isn’t far away from the scene and usually doing something miraculous. In fact, much of Jesus ministry revolves around the Passover Feasts, whereas on rarely is the Passover Feast mentioned in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. All this, is left to marinate in the reader’s mind until we reach the ultimate Passover, where Jesus will become the Passover Lamb. Jesus, our Passover is a thread intricately woven through the entirety of John’s Gospel, and only in this Gospel. The Apostle Paul echoed this thought when he say,

“Christ, our Passover, 
was sacrificed for us.”
(1 Corinthians 5:7)

Portraits of Jesus        

As you read through the Gospel of John, look for key words and phrases that appear on numerous occasions. John is notorious for multi-layered themes running through his Gospel. Take note of them as you peruse through it.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Sparks Fly

“In Him was life, 
and that life was the light of men.”
(John 1:4)

Instead of Jesus being the Lord of a kingdom, here He is the “light of men.” Instead of a Man subject to the powers of this world, born of a woman, laid in a manger, here He is “the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father,” (1:18) revealing His image, and communicating life “to as many as received Him” among the sons of men (1:12).

“In Him was life.” In verses one through three, John establishes that there is something eternal about the One he’s about to describe, He was in the beginning, He created everything. But for John, God i.e. Jesus, is not some cosmic force somewhere out-there, He’s here, now, and He’s full of life. John moves from describing what He’s done to who He is, He is full of life, for in Him was life. Unfortunately, there is much lost in translation here. John’s description doesn’t seem very distinctive at this point. At least, until we recognize what the word John choose for life means. There’s life in my goldfish, not to mention the stuff growing on the inside of the bowl. There’s life in my neighbors ever-barking dog. There’s even life in that stupid cricket who’s been hiding out in my garage and using it as a rehearsal studio for his next album.

This is not the life that John distinctively tells us exists in Jesus. John chose the Greek word zoe, which denotes life of a spiritual and eternal substance. John’s not saying and in Him was breath, or even physical life. There’s nothing distinctive about that. Though if he had, the translation would have still read “life.” This is the unfortunate part, John uses four words for life throughout his Gospel. One represents the soul life, typically the selfish propensities that became exalted at the Fall of humanity – psuche. He also uses the word to describe physical life – bios. And the aforementioned word denoting spiritual and eternal life – zoe. There’s also the word for Spirit – pneuma. John uses these words a lot, and sometimes you find two or three of these different Greek words in the same sentence, however there’s no English distinction made, it’s always translated “life.” (Forgive the technicalities…)

All that to say, some things are lost in translation, most notably, John’s supreme idea at this point, which is, in Jesus there is a substance of being, a living reality that no human has experienced or possessed in several thousand years, save since the beginning of humanity. John’s statement here is paramount. He’s building something, he’s going somewhere, He’s describing the One who has come that is like no other, He’s like all, but greater than all, in Him was life. To follow yesterdays line of thinking, if there is now One on the scene who posses this kind of eternal substance of life, applied to the backdrop of a vivid understanding of the state of death humanity is in, there then begins to emerge an expectation and here a hope that if this life is permeating Him, perhaps I may also become a partaker of this kind life – the life that’s been lost since the Garden of Eden. In the darkness, sparks fly.

Portraits of Jesus        

Meditate on the following verse that describes all of humanities existence without Christ. Compare that to John’s claims about Christ.

“having their (our) understanding darkened, 
being alienated from the life of God, 
because of the ignorance that is in them, 
because of the blindness of their heart.”
(Ephesians 4:18)


“In Him was life, 
and the life was the light of men.
And the light shines in the darkness,
 and the darkness did not comprehend (overcome) it.”    
(John 1:4-5)

What are the connections between life and light?

Meditate on Paul’s prayer for Christians.

“I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light 
so that you can understand the wonderful future 
he has promised to those he called. 
I want you to realize what a rich 
and glorious inheritance he has given to his people.”
(Ephesians 1:18 NLT)

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened,
so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance 
in the saints”
(Ephesians 1:18 NASB)

Monday, October 02, 2006

As it was in the Beginning

“The fourth living creature 
was like a flying eagle.”
(Revelation 4:7)

“The way of an Eagle 
in the air is too wonderful for me.”
(Proverbs 30:18-19)

The Gospel of John stands alone from all the other Gospels. As we’ve seen, each of the Gospels presents to us a specific portrait of Jesus, a portrait that is very meticulous and precise. John presents to us nothing less, a meticulous portrait of Jesus. Fascinatingly though, John presents to us dynamics of Jesus that are in nature completely like the other three. Matthew, Mark and Luke are like the television networks of ABC, CBS, and NBC. They are all major networks and all pretty much present the same headlines, just a slightly different way. John on the other hand is like FOX News, seems to have an uncanny ability to find completely different stuff and even the common comes to light, bringing an entirely new perspective. This is John, He presents the same Jesus, but He unearths some things that shed new light on who this Jesus is.

To put it another way, if in tracing the emblems assigned to each of the four Gospels, as outlined in the heavenly vision found in Revelation 4:7, there is one emblem that stands unique from the rest. As we’ve seen: Luke – the Man, Mark – the Ox, (as we will see next week) Matthew – the Lion, all of these three (Man, Ox, Lion) are all creatures, which walk on the earth. Then there’s the eagle, which operates on a completely different plain, it flies high above the earth. Just as the eagle soars away to the heavens, looking down at the lands below from a completely different angle gaining a significantly different view, so it is with the Gospel of John.
John is working from a couple of different coloring palettes. On the one hand, he brushes Jesus as Someone who is “not of this world.” As such, His words, teachings, attributes, even insights into people’s past are from One who sees from a higher perspective, from another realm, the realm of the Spirit. At the same time, John is very cognizant of the spiritual climate and worldviews of the people in his present context. This too shapes how he frames what he says about Jesus’ teachings, actions and interactions. Furthermore, John is deeply concerned that we see Jesus as part of God’s meta-narrative, i.e. the ongoing story of God’s dealings with humanity. With great skill, John weaves all three of these palettes together, even from the opening scene of his Gospel.

In the beginning… When John begins to tell the story of Jesus, he doesn’t begin with a heavenly announcement delivered by an angelic presence, nor by prophetic declaration by one of Israel’s righteous. John doesn’t even give us a genealogy. When John begins to tell the story of Jesus, he deems only one thing fitting and appropriate, to begin at the very beginning of the story. John takes the mind of his reader all the way back to the beginning of creation. He takes us back to a place in time, even before there was time as we know it. He wants us to see from his very opening sentence, that the account he’s about to bear is part of something big, really big. In the beginning

Just as, Genesis opens by saying, in the beginning God, John opens by saying, in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (1:1). When the other Gospels writers trace Jesus’ genealogy back to the beginning, John simply says, Jesus is the beginning, in fact before the beginning was – He was. Moreover, Jesus, the Word, was the Substantial force by which “all things were created, and without Him nothing was made that was made” (1:3). Or, as Paul wrote, “By Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things are held together.” (Colossians 1:16-17).

John is trying to conjure up something in the mind of the reader, even before he reads about this Jesus. He’s trying to bring up an image in the hearts of the readers, the image of how things were in the beginning. In the beginning God… created the heavens and the earth… the Spirit hovered over the deep… God created man in His image, in His image He created them – male and female… (See Genesis 1-2). At once a reader rooted deep in God’s Story, would see an image of God’s initial design and intention for humanity. The reader would be once again acutely aware of what that must have been like for Adam to walk with God in the cool of the day, to commune with God, to speak with God, to be a living being. But, just at the climax of remembrance of what once was, the reader would be fully aware, in the present, of what things had become - the struggle to know God, the death that entered in as man disobeyed and the implications that have been a part of our journey back to God. The reader would sense the gap, the void, and life without the Spirit living within. For several thousand years, humanity has been yearning to be what humanity used to be, what they were meant to be. And now, God, who could not be found by human initiative alone, has now made Himself known, He’s appeared to humanity, in their very midst, He took on flesh and blood and moved back into the neighborhood. John is wanting his readers to have an “Holy smokes Batman! Do you see what’s going on here!?!?” moment, and without a doubt, the early readers of this text indeed had one of these moments.

Portraits of Jesus        

Reflect on what it must have been like for the early readers of this Gospel. People who had been long awaiting God to restore to humanity what was lost. To do this, we must first sense what it was like to be with God in the beginning. How did God intend to relate to humanity?

What does the early Genesis account portray of this God-Man relationship?

Once you have a picture of that, think through the ramification of the Fall, the disobedience of humankind. What happened? What was the consequence?

(Spiritual death, lost communion with the Spirit of God, insecurity, potential for emotional wounding, pride, fear, rejection, etc.)

Once one becomes readily acquainted with what we have become as a result of the fall of humanity, then and only then can we begin to grow in a sense of yearning for something more, for what was, but now isn’t, to be restored back to its original place. Then, you are at a place to see what John is doing in the opening scene of his Gospel.

What was, but is not, has become again, 
thus we, 
who have become not, may too become again
 what we were, but are presently not.

“The Word became flesh and blood, 
and moved into the neighborhood. 
We saw the glory with our own eyes, 
the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, 
Generous inside and out, 
true from start to finish.” 
(John 1:14 Message)