April 2010

John the Baptist-God’s Witness

John the Baptist was an interesting person. From his birth, he was appointed to be a special tool in God’s hands. Luke 1:15-17 says that John will be the product of an impossible union of elderly parents (v.18) which is the first indication of sovereign purpose for John. Jesus was also miraculously conceived, but His was supernaturally achieved by God the Holy Spirit. John was miraculously conceived by two human parents. Thus, John is not sinless, but Jesus is. Further, this John (Luke 1:59-63) will not be under the influence of alcohol but rather the Holy Spirit (cf. Ephesians 5:18) from before birth. His mission: “to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” His was the job of preparing people for the arrival of the promised Messiah. How were they to be ready? By repentance and faith. That is why in Luke 3:8 the writer lets us in on a conversation John had with the Pharisees one day when he told them that they were only there for show and had no interest in true repentance. This repentance that John preached (Luke 1:10-13) would produce fruit, which is the visible, outward indication of righteousness in the heart through faith. The Pharisees had no interest in that and John knew it. They had their own righteousness and they were content with that (cf. Romans 10:3). The preparation for the Lord’s arrival was the preparation of a people whose hearts have been cleansed by faith (Acts 15:8-9) and have demonstrated that faith by righteousness in their lives. These justified sinners would come to John to be baptized as a signification of their allegiance to this ministry of John’s.

Now, the Apostle John tells us something more of the inner-workings of John the Baptist in reference to God’s plan for redemption. In John 1:6-8, it is written that John was sent from God in order to be “a witness, to testify about the Light”. That is interesting. The entire ministry of John was that of a testimony or a witness about the Light (whom we know from the context to be the Son of God, Jesus Christ). Further, it is said  that John the Baptist would come in the “spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17). That is, John would have the same “spirit” as Elijah and the same “power” as Elijah. I do not believe that this is talking of the Holy Spirit or the miraculous works that Elijah accomplished since it is not recorded in the gospels that John performed any. John was a preacher, in the strictest sense of the term. He was a public proclaimer, an announcer in a public format, of the soon arrival of the Messiah. Elijah was also a preacher. He was a prophet whose main task was the announcement of God’s righteousness to the kings of Israel. So, in this common thread I understand John and Elijah to have the same “spirit”, that is the same tenacity and conviction, and thus, the same “power” behind their message. Elijah represents the whole writings of the prophets in the OT (this would be the reasoning behind having Moses, the Law, and Elijah, the prophets, appear with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration in Matthew 17:1-4; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-33). He was a chief figure in the time of the kings (you can see the prominence when Elijah met Obadiah, Ahab’s personal prophet, in the woods one day-1 Kings 18). Interestingly, John the Baptist also had dealings with a king in Israel-Herod (see Matthew 14:1-12). So, John and Elijah were sent by God both to announce God’s righteousness to the nation.

However, as it pertains to the Gospel of John, why does John include him here? Or, why does any of the gospel writers include the ministry of John at all? Why, under the superintending work of the Spirit of God, do the writers spend so much time explaining John and His ministry? There really is only one reason. John was just one more demonstration of giving witness to the arrival of Messiah so that there would be no question as to His appearance. Thus, all of Israel would be sure of His arrival and thus would have opportunity to accept Him! With the promise of the Elijah-like figure promised in Malachi 3:1 and 4:5-6, which they all were aware of (Luke 3:15a), surely they would see John in that light and when John announced that the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world was here, they would all bow to Him and accept Him as Messiah, right? Even the testimony, or witness, of God the Father Himself speaking from heaven audibly of the truth of the Son identified Him (see Matthew 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22). But, in the end, even with all this witness and testimony and fulfillment of the written Word of God, which was a kind of public record of what needs to happen in order to recognize the Messiah when He came, the nation of Israel rejected Him and murdered Him, turning their back upon all this witness. The case is stacked against them. They are without excuse. They are guilty of the blood of the Son of God (Acts 2:22-23; cf. Matthew 27:25). Yet, there is grace! Their guilt will not go unforgiven, as previewed on the Day of Pentecost when God opened their hearts to repent and turn to His Son. In the future, there will be a national repentance and turning to the “[One] whom they have pierced (Zechariah 12:10-13:1)”. The depth of their sin, the gravity of their wickedness, will be met by the unfathomable grace of God and His praise by those who have been forgiven so much will reach to the heavens for all eternity because His grace is far greater than all our sin (Romans 5:11-21).

Jesus, the Agent of Creation.

The setting for John’s prologue is the creation account from Genesis 1-2. There are no Greek overtones in John 1:1-18. The only way to make sense of his tight logic is to be steeped in Genesis 1-2. John writes: “In the beginning was God, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, He was in the beginning with God.” In the beginning, and logically before the beginning, God existed. Further, the Word also was with God or pros, ‘before’ God (that is, ‘in front of’ or maybe, ‘face to face’). Thus, this Word was with the God who has existed before the beginning, and thus the conclusion, “and the Word was God.” Logically, the One who is with God from before the beginning has to be God and that is what John is saying-the Word is God.

Also, this Word is the means by which the creation came into being. “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” When God the Father spoke, “Let there be light”, He spoke these words to the Son, the Word, and the Son created all things. Jesus having perfect knowledge both of the mind of the Father and perfect knowledge of the skill involved in creating the universe, was able to do exactly as the Father commanded. Thus, Jesus, being so intimate with the Father, perfectly and fully carried out His will such that there was not difference between what was said and what was accomplished. Thus, Jesus Christ is the fullest expression of God possible being the Son of God. John later revisits that reality in a number of places, but especially in John 10:30 and 14:31. In this way, Jesus is the Word of God and John appeals to the creation as demonstration as to His nature.

Further, “In Him was life and the life was the Light of men.” “Him” would refer to the same “Him” of v.3. Therefore, it was in Jesus that came the source of life that was given to Adam. When God blew into the nostrils of Adam, that was Jesus since life exists and has its source in God. Therefore, John could say that in Him, being God, life finds its source. Further, this life was on display for the realm of mankind in Jesus as well. The quality of life that God possesses was on full display before all men. How? John tells us in v.14, “The Word (who is the Life and the Light as well) became flesh, and dwelt among us.” Jesus Christ, God, no longer inhabited this earth in a tabernacle or temple, but comes personally and bodily. No more are the days of private and hidden existence, as in the Holy of Holies of the tabernacle and the temple to only be seen by the high priest once a year. Now, the world can see God personally and face to face, as it were, in the person of Jesus Christ! God now is that Light that shines throughout the realm of men and is visible to all. Nevertheless, men did not comprehend or receive that light and remained in their darkness (John 3:19) even though He pleaded with the world to follow the Light and leave the darkness (John 8:12). The reference back to Genesis 1:1-2 is unmistakable and provides a clear, inspired, figure from which to teach. The world that was created initially began “formless and void”, and “darkness was over the surface of the deep”. In the metaphor, the world of Jesus’ day was in that dark world of Genesis 1:2 and they did not know where they were going (John 12:35). The world, being absent from a source of light, is dark and “unformed”. That is, it is not yet in a state of glory and usefulness to God. Thus, God has to make order out of ‘formlessness’. That would have to be the picture of mankind as well. He is formless and void of light. In himself, he is dark being alienated from the life of God (which is the result of the fall, Genesis 3:24) to which Paul refers in Colossians 1:21. This alienation is called “darkness” and is an appropriate metaphor for teaching purposes (cf. Romans 15:4). However, although we are darkness (cf. Ephesians 5:8), the light of Christ shines and pierces the darkness via the glory of the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:6) and makes us “sons of the light” (John 12:36).

John writes that the Light shines in the darkness, just like He did in Genesis 1:3. However instead of illuminating what was dark and separating the darkness from the light, the darkness remained in the hearts of men and they did not ‘comprehend’ or ‘understand’ (so as to receive the Light-cf. John 1:12). But now, the Light of the Person of Jesus Christ shines through His word in the preaching of the entire word of God so that God might teach them through His word (Jeremiah 31:33-34; cf. John 17:17) and light of the glory of God might shine in their hearts and they then, and only then, will have the light of Christ shine through the darkness and they will become sons of light by faith (2 Corinthians 4:6).

In The Beginning…

John 1:1-5   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 came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

The Apostle John, the disciple ‘whom Jesus loved’, gives to us the reality of the person of Jesus Christ in such a magnificent way. John makes an assertion here, without discussion or apology, that Jesus Christ is none other than the God of Genesis 1-2. The truth of this foundational reality is so very evident by John’s prologue that it actually may be hard to miss without considering a few key factors about the text.

The beginning of the passage is a clear marker of John’s intentions. Unmistakably, he begins his book the same way that Moses began his book of origins, “In the beginning”. It seems to me that it is not only important to understand what this is saying but also what this indicates about the rest of the passage, verses 2-5. John tells us that the Word was in the beginning. The questions that come up, or should come up, are: the beginning of what? What is the Word? Why did he write ‘Word’ in reference to the Person who was in the beginning? What does this mean to John and thus indicate what he is trying to teach his audience?

To answer the first question, ‘in the beginning’ is a watershed statement that includes all things that began. That is, everything has a beginning and whenever that was, the Word existed then. To a faithful Jew like John, this would no doubt refer to Genesis 1:1 where Moses also wrote ‘in the beginning’. This is the beginning of creation. This is the beginning of the existence of time. This is the beginning, even, of the redemption plan of God (Ephesians 3:8-10). It is primarily the reality of the beginning of the created universe that is in view here and that takes care of the rest. Moses wrote, ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.’ John tells us that in that ‘beginning’ the Word was present. This teaches us that the Word, personified (v.2a), was existent prior to the beginning. However, this does not indicate that He was created at the same time as the universe. Also, John seems to call Jesus the ‘Word’ in reference to the speaking that God the Father did in creation. That is, God spoke and things came into being, i.e. existence. Thus, Jesus is that Word that was spoken and was the agent of creation. This is seen in v.3 that ‘all things came into being through Him’. It seems that John is giving an explanation of creation in light of the person of Jesus Christ.  This same Jesus Christ, who is the topic of his gospel, is the same Son of God who existed in eternity past and was the instrument, agent, of creation. Jesus Christ, John is asserting, is God. This is absolute divine revelation given to John. It coincides with Genesis and gives further purpose and direction to the rest of the book as John continues to prove Jesus’ deity via signs. But the prologue of his book is a statement without explanation and without apology, about the eternal nature and divine origin of Jesus Christ. The reader should think to himself, “How is this possible?!” John starts at the highest of truths and never comes down from there throughout his entire book.

Paul’s Sincere Heart

In 1 Thessalonians 2:1-4, Paul reaffirms his motivation for his ministry in Thessalonica. He emphasizes this reality both in a negative way as well as a positive way. Negatively, he is not like the false teachers who do what they do in a sphere, or motivation, of deceit and are characterized by error and uncleanness (v.3). It is interesting that the prepositions in this verse (ek/ex) signify that Paul indicates the condition of his motivation. His exhortation is not “from error”. That is, it does not come from a source that is error. The word ‘error’ is plano which indicates a wandering from the truth. Paul is saying that his exhortation is not from a heart that has wandered from the truth. Next, he says that their exhortation is not “from impurity”. This word is also used in 1 Thessalonians 4:7 to refer to sexual immorality, which is called ‘uncleanness’. The word indicates a filth associated with a life that is bent on sexual perversion. Just as today, most false teachers are characterized, whether public or private, by a certain filth that comes from some sexual deviation. Paul indicates that he is not like that. Third, he writes that their exhortation is not “by way of deceit”. Here, ek/ex is not used but the preposition ‘en’ which indicates a total sphere of operation. That is, his consummate motivation, his ultimate goal, is not to deceive but rather speak the truth.

On the positive side, he simply states that their hearts have been tested by God, and He continually proves them (indicated by the present participle “but God who is examining our hearts’) down deep in their souls. God has purged these men, Paul, Silas, and Timothy, in the depths of their hearts and have found them faithful. How? It would seem that the place where the testing occurred would have been the Antioch church, from which they were sent initially (Acts 13:1ff). Their faithful teaching there over time indicates a faithfulness to the proclamation of God’s gospel. This seems to be the second aspect of the wonderful results of conversions in Thessalonica. The power of the gospel (1:5) spoken accurately by a proven man whose heart has been purged of deceit results in God using that man for fruitful ministry. In either case, God is glorified as it is His gospel and the vessel is His work of pruning (cf. John 15:2). Therefore, the ministry is really of God. To Him alone be all the glory (Ephesians 3:20-21)!

The Resurrection, the Power of God!

In Romans 1:4, Paul writes that the resurrection is the ‘declaration’ of the Sonship of Christ to the Father. It seems a difficult thing to understand, but Paul’s logic here is absolutely profound. In v.1, he wrote that the gospel is “of God”. In v.2, he wrote that this gospel was promised by the Father beforehand in the writings of the prophets (cf. Genesis 12:3; Isaiah 9:1-7; Psalm 110-written by David as a prophetic fulfillment of the reality that the Messiah would be the Son of God. This passage is used by Jesus as an argument for His deity as well as pointing out the ignorance of the Jewish leaders concerning the Scriptures [Luke 20:41-44]). Then he states that Jesus is the Son of David (v.3), as proven by the genealogies (Matthew 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-38). Finally,v.4, he states that Jesus, being a Son of David, is also the Son of God and that this fact, which fulfills the gospel spoken beforehand, is “declared” by the resurrection. How is that? What is Paul saying?

In order for the Messiah to fulfill all Scripture and thus the Father’s plan of redemption, which most specifically includes the fulfillment of the Son of David sitting on the throne that would be established forever (cf. 2 Samuel 7:13; Isaiah 9:7), He would have to live forever. But there is one problem…Jesus died. At this point, it should be obvious that the declaration that Jesus, the Son of David, as promised, is also the Son of God, as required from the fact that He would have to sit on an eternal throne, demanded a resurrection in order to bring Jesus back to life, bodily, in order for Him to rule as was determined by unbreakable Scripture (John 10:35). Jesus, by the Holy Spirit, is alive after having been dead, as the Scripture says. Thus, He is Messiah since He has clearly been proven to be both the Son of David and the Son of God and the resurrection from the dead declares to all that God has fulfilled His promise. Thus, Jesus is Lord (cf. Acts 2:36; Phil. 2:9-11). Jesus’ resurrection from the dead makes it possible for Him to sit in bodily form on the throne of His father, David, as well as the throne of His Father, God (cf. Acts 2:34-35; Ephesians 1:19-23).

For a full treatment of this text, listen to: The Resurrection, Declaration of God’s Power!

Jesus: Son of David, Son of God.

Jesus Christ, writes Paul, is of the “seed” or lineage or family of King David. In Romans 1:3 the fact that Jesus is the Son of David is critical to his argument. Paul is telling the Roman believers that Jesus Christ is both Son of Man and Son of God. Christ is listed in both genealogies of Matthew (1:1-17) and Luke (3:23-38) as the culmination of the line of David, with Luke going past David to Adam. Thus, what the gospel writers did in following Jesus’ lineage back to David and beyond, Paul summarizes here in Romans 1:3. Jesus is a real Man physically (i.e. “according to the flesh”-v.3). Further, Jesus is the Son of God as well. This reality is testified to by the resurrection. How did the resurrection “declare” the Sonship of Jesus? Because death was conquered when Jesus arose from the dead. His rising was a demonstration of the power of God via the work of the Holy Spirit as His Agent for bringing Jesus back from the dead. This historical event demonstrates that the Father was pleased with the Son’s sacrifice.

Therefore, when we preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, we need to include the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The gospel is the power of God (Romans 1:16). The message of the cross and resurrection is His instrument for the conversion of sinners to Himself. This is the declaration of the power that God exerted that wonderful day when the body of Jesus, which was in the tomb of a rich man (Mt. 27:57-61; cf. Isaiah 53:9), came back to life and exited the tomb. The death of Jesus was a defeat of sin and a satisfaction of the death penalty upon sinners instituted by God during the days of creation (see Genesis 2:16-17). The resurrection of Jesus was the defeat of death itself and the triumph of life, eternal life, over death. This event of the resurrection is so magnificent and so stupendous that it deserves repetitive attention. Thus, we meet to worship God and edify His saints on Sunday as a commemoration of this declaration of God over death.

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