Saturday, April 14, 2018

Doubting

I've been through the Gospel of John at least three times with people, once in Greek, and each time I find something new.  Each time I see that the words of the gospel change the hearts of all who hear it.  I have tried even to go through the Gospel of John with people online, taking one verse at a time, in the hopes that the words of our Lord will melt the hearts and open the minds of the ones hearing or reading.  One time, I had a lengthy discussion with a close friend about the first few verses of John, until I realized that he just didn't believe God existed.  His was the argument from evil: the world was a bad place and so how can there be a good God who created such a bad place? I tried different arguments of reasoning, but they all fell on deaf ears.  I decided the take a different approach and leap right to the end of the Gospel of John: to where Thomas doubts.  That, I surmised, was the place where my friend was, and so maybe if we tackled that section first, we may make some headway.  We didn't get far.  Not only did my friend not believe in God but he didn't even believe that the Bible had any meaning.  It was nonsense to him, and so we couldn't even use the text to continue.

Looking at the text itself, we can see how important the Word of God is for those who believe and will come to believe.  We cannot argue one into the kingdom of God with well-spoken logic. Instead, we open the text before the one in question, and the Holy Spirit illuminates the truth for him, opens the eyes of his heart, and breathes life into his dead soul.  The passage of text in question (John 20:24-end) says that Thomas, one of the twelve, one of the Apostles, someone who has followed Jesus from the beginning of his ministry, was not there to witness the risen Christ.  None of us who live today were there, either, to witness the risen Christ, and so we are very much in the same boat.  I wasn't there, nor was my friend.   Thomas wasn't there (the first time), and when the other disciples said to him that they had seen the risen Lord, he doubted and told that he would not believe in Jesus until he had physically touched him, including putting his fingers in the wounds.  He was quite confident that his doubts were justified.

Eight days later, Jesus showed up again, appearing suddenly in a shut room among them, offering peace.  Christ did not wait for someone to tell him that Thomas is here! and he wasn't here the week before, and guess what, Jesus!  Thomas won't believe in you until he, etc. etc.  Jesus does not wait for someone to tell him what he already knows, he goes to Thomas directly and tells him to put his fingers in his wounds.  "Do not be unbelieving but believing,"  he tells him.  Thomas now believes and says, "My Lord and my God!"  what an amazing and emotional scene.  Jesus then gives us a message directly: "Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed."  That's us, believers who never got to put their fingers into his wounds, and yet we believe whole-heartedly. And yet...

And yet there are they who have not seen and still do not believe.  We know about them, we see them every day, and we know that their minds and hearts are closed to the gospel.  We pray for God to open their eyes, so they can finally be seeing the truth that we all see.  And then, worse, are those who do see Jesus, who can actually see the work of Jesus Christ in their lives.  As their creator and sustainer they owe their very lives to him, and yet, they do not believe.  Miracles have happened to them.  Evidence for God has come pouring down upon their heads.  And still they do not believe.  The Bible has been opened to them, the words have been read to them, and still their hearts are dead lumps of coal.  These are the ones whom we need to pray for.  How do we get through to them, when they have seen and heard, and yet their hearts refuse to see or hear?

John answers this question right afterward.  He writes that many miracles and signs Jesus performed are not written in his gospel, but what is written here has been written "so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name."  These verses are not at the very end of the book but at the end of the penultimate chapter, because they are supposed to be attached to the Thomas narrative.  Many need proof to believe, but many do not believe even with proof.  Finally, many believe without proof, and these are the true believers, because the Holy Spirit opened the eyes of their hearts.  We live in a fallen world, where the proof of God's existence exudes from every pore of nature, and yet the eyes of most of the world is veiled. No amount of persuasion can soften the hearts of stone, but anything is possible with God, and if we believers--by faith--pray for the unbelieving world and work to get the Word of God into their hands, we can watch God work his wonders firsthand.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Washing in the Word

Jesus said to him, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.” (John 13:10)

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the narrative of a passage in the bible, in the social underpinnings of the text, on what it means to be a doer of the word, on how to be socially aware of the world around us, what it means to be a Christian, how to interact with the believer, the unbeliever, the stranger, that we miss the spiritual aspect of what God is trying to tell us.  Many times, yes, we will over-spiritualize a practical passage of scripture, but there are also other times in which we will over-practicalize a spiritual aspect of the Word, knowing that the practical applications are there, and are apparent, and are easily discerned, sometimes so overtly obvious that we forget there being a spiritual aspect at all, and then, with careful reading, and deep meditation, we discover the spiritual aspect, shocked that we missed it in the first place, and wondering why we hadn't seen it right off from the first.

Such is the 13th chapter of John's gospel, where Jesus washes the disciples' feet. The chapter begins by telling us that Jesus knew that his hour had come and that this last discourse, private for his apostles, was going to have deep spiritual significance, and that he was going to speak very plainly to them, the parables having gone, and although the plain speak may not be clear, and he would have to clarify on the fly, and repeat many things, he was going to speak in that direct language that the apostles could understand, because he needed them to know what to do after he was gone.  He would also speak to them plainly in the forty days after his resurrection and before his ascension, but now the time has begun, and his speech was becoming plain for them. He knows that he is ready to begin the last journey to the cross and beyond, and that he would end up at the right hand of the father, and he knows his own, who are in this hostile world, and so the instruction needed to begin, in how to handle themselves against said hostile world, with the love that he was bestowing upon them.  He saw the danger was great toward them from the world, and he was going to, over the next few chapters on this gospel, take them gently through all the truths, plainly.

Supper was over, and the text says that at that moment, the devil had put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot to betray Christ, and so Jesus began his discourse with a demonstration.  We think there are two sections to this, that the demonstration is distinct and separate from the multi-chapter discourse that follows, but the teaching has already begun with the example.  Yes, the devil was about to use one of his own to betray him, but all things were his, given to him by his father, and he was in control of all reality and truth.  It was time to begin the discourse.  Of course, when he begins to wash the disciples' feet, they do not understand what he is doing.  Peter outright refuses, but then Jesus tells him that he will have no part in him if he refuses--a spiritual truth, of course, because Christ is talking about the washing away of sin, and this is what the demonstration is spiritually about--and so Peter immediately reverses his stance on the washing and demands Jesus drench him from head to toe!

Here is the crucial verse that begins everything in the upper room: he that is washed needs not a full-body cleansing, and we should know that Jesus is speaking spiritually here, because his disciples haven't physically washed.  He is only physically washing their feet, a symbol of the continual washing in the word of God that they will need to undertake day-in and day-out of their lives.  Jesus tells them later (15:3) that he has washed them in his word, and that they, too are to wash each other in the word, and the wash outsiders in the word.  Jesus tells them that they are clean--the first to be washed from sins by his atonement, which is to come, but the spiritual truth is there, as he tells them that they are clean--except for their feet.  Walking through the world, even the saintliest Christian is going to get dirty from the world itself.  The most faithful Christian stumbles, the most faithful Christian sins, and he must continually repent while living in this world, for he has not been glorified yet by the Lord.  So, as he walks, his feet get dirty, and so we must wash his spiritual feet, by repenting, by washing his neighbor's feet, his brother's feet, encouraging them spiritually, and pressing them to repent of their day-to-day sins.

But then there are those like Judas, who falls into a special category, one in which he is a pretender, not like the unbelieving world, but more like the false church, who pretends that he is one of the apostles--and he was never an apostle in truth--and who reveals himself to not have the slightest inkling of faith in his Lord.  He is not an apostle who was and then was not.  As Jesus says a chapter earlier, he was a thief who was stealing from the till.  He was never one of them, as John tells us again in his first letter to the church.  This is one, like an unbeliever, who has not the Spirit of God in him, who does not believe, and so is not clean in his entirety.  He not only has dirty feet, but he has dirty hands and head, as Peter so aptly describes.  Those who reject the God who made them are also those who betray Christ, as we all once were, but Jesus takes us and washes us in his blood, the blood that was spilled by his death on the cross,  Others are not washed.  We may have our dirty feet that need to be continually washed in the water of the word and repentance, but theirs are souls that are completely lost to the saving grace of Jesus Christ. 

Our feet are dirty.  We must be "continually purged of our corrupt affections and worldly cares which remain daily in us."  Jesus taught us this with symbolic examples and he spoke to us plainly.  Then he went to the cross to actually execute this purging in reality.  And, as we celebrated last week, he rose from the dead to reveal God's glory.  In that same discourse, the one where Jesus tells them that they are clean, he tells them that he is now glorified.  Even though he had not suffered on the cross yet, he pronounced them clean.  Even though he had not risen from the grave, he pronounced himself glorified.  The Word of God cleanses us, as the Holy Spirit cleanses us, and keeps us walking in this world safely, until our glorification in the next world.  Put your faith in Christ, in the words that he spoke, in the words revealed in the scriptures, and be made clean.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

The First Day of the Week

Now on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. (John 20:1)

Why the first day of the week?  Did Christians move the Sabbath Day to Sunday from Saturday?  Why is Sunday more important than Saturday to Christians?  Well, let's look at creation.  Saturday is the day of rest that God took after creation.  He rested on the last day, and he established the week. This example sets the stage for all of human life.  We must rest from our labors.  This is not only loving our God by respecting his Sabbath but loving our neighbors by not forcing them to work too hard, by giving them breaks in life.  By giving them decompression.  This is a good commandment to have.

What is significant about the first day of the week in creation?  The beginning of creation!  The day where there was nothing but darkness and void, and then God said, "Let there be light!" and creation officially began! This is important to Christians, because Jesus' resurrection signifies the beginning of a new creation.  Paul tells us that if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). Christ came out of the tomb with a new body, like the old one but imperishable.  Like the old one but impermeable.  Like the old one but indestructible.  This is the significance of the first day of the week--new creation begins.  This is the moment when Christ shows us what the new creation looks like, and this is the moment in which new creation is begun in all who believe in him.  Christ breathes his Holy Spirit on the apostles.  Christ stays with his disciples for forty days, no longer speaking to them in parables but intensely coaching them on the nature of reality, the reality of the new creation.

Christ had driven seven demons out of Mary Magdalene.  She was already changed by Jesus.  But she still reveals that she is not yet a new creation when she repeats that someone has taken the Lord's body and she doesn't know where it is.  When she faces Jesus himself, she assumes him to be the gardener, and she asks for Christ's body from him.  Then Jesus reveals himself to her, the first revelation of the new creation, and thus begins the forty days of education about the reality of things.  Now, no one gets a new, imperishable body while still living life on earth, but the Christian life is one of internal change.  The new body will come, but in the meantime the spirit of the believer is being changed to accommodate the new body.  New Creation is happening inside to meet the new creation that will happen outside.

This new creation is a work of God alone.  We cannot change ourselves.  God must do it.  The stone is rolled away before Mary arrives, even though she came early.  God has already done his work.  In her unbelief, she thinks that Jesus' body has been taken away.  When the disciples leave the area, she stays and weeps for a dead Christ.  Then angels reveal themselves to her, and she still doesn't believe.  Christ then approaches her, and she mistakes his identity, still not believing.  It is only when Jesus calls her by name that she wakes up to the reality that is happening.  The interior change begins.  Before, he cast out the demons to prepare the soil, but now the spiritual recreation has begun.

But Mary has faith, and that is what gives us hope.  God has given her the faith she needs to seek him.  Remember, Christ tells us to seek first his kingdom and his righteousness.  Granted, Mary did not know that Christ was alive, and so she was seeking a dead Jesus, but seek him she did.  She sought him out of faith.  She got up early and went to the tomb out of love for her savior. When she finds him missing, she immediately goes to Peter and John to help her find his body.  When Peter and John leave, she remains weeping for her Lord.  She then stoops to look into the tomb, even though she knows his body is not there.  The suddenly appearing angels don't even stir her heart away from her quest for Jesus.  Even when Jesus appears to her, she is too focused on finding her Lord to realize that she has indeed found him.  Well, he found her, but her faith made herself available to him at the tomb.

Now, we know about the new creation, and we do not seek the living among the dead.  We don't have to go to the tomb to seek a body, because we know that Christ is risen.  We know that he is alive, and that we have seen him.  Mary went back to the disciples after Jesus spoke with her, and she said to them, "I have seen the Lord."  We can say that, too, because we read these words in the scriptures, and our faith grasps hold of them. We, too, have seen the Lord, because he has first seen us, and he has begun to change us into a new creation, on the first day of the week of our lives.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Light Shall Shine Out Of Darkness

"Light shall shine out of darkness." 2 Corinthians 4:6

In the darkness, where formlessness and void persisted, where there was extreme nothingness, God declared light to the darkness, and light did explode out of the darkness.  God then declared the light to be good, and so it was.  He also declares his light to be good within us.  We are born in darkness, we are formless and void, we have no essence in and of ourselves.  Nothing good is within us, and then God places the goodness within us--his own goodness.  He is the ultimate good and the source of good in the universe.  His is the light.  He is the light that shines in the darkness, and his Spirit he places within us is light that shines out of our darkness.

God said that light shall shine out of the darkness.  Our hearts are black and dismal, and yet he has given us the light in the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.  To know that Christ is God is to have the ultimate knowledge of the light.  To know in our hearts the truth of Christ as the only propitiation for our sins is to have the light shine brightly in the darkness of our souls.  God puts this knowledge in our hearts, and our hearts react by turning from darkness to light.  We are weak vessels--humans--and so this blinding power of light cannot come from ourselves.  It can only come from God, who is outside our darkness. He places the light, like a candle, in the darkness of the room of our souls, and yet this candle burns with the light of a thousand suns, obliterating all the blackness and evil within us.  Try as we might, our darkness cannot comprehend the light.  It cannot overcome the light, and it is shut out.  We must understand--and also preach--that this light is from God and not ourselves.

To make this clear, the external Christian life is one of persecution and tribulation.  This is important to have.  We must be afflicted, so that our internal perseverance can be shown.  We must be forsaken on the outside to reveal the light on the inside.  When the body is destroyed the impermeable light inside is revealed.  If we are doing well on the outside, not only is it impossible to see the light on the inside, but people will assume there is only darkness on the inside.  This is a conclusion we do not want the world to make.  This is how Jesus lived--suffering on the outside, continually showing the light on the inside.

Passion Sunday is just as important as Easter Sunday.  Christ's resurrection is the revelation of the light, but Christ's crucifixion is the revelation of the darkness out of which the light shines, for that stark contrast.  We not only carry around in us the living Christ but also the dead Christ.  In fact, we primarily carry to the world the dead Christ, so that the living Christ can be revealed.  Without the dead Christ, the living Christ is without the magnitude of impact he needs.  We show the dead Christ in our sufferings and the living Christ in our redemption.  We must preach sin and death before the world can possibly understand salvation and everlasting life.

Allow yourself to be delivered over to death.  Die to your old, sinful life.  Die to your unbelieving friends and family.  The world will gladly help us in this goal, because the light inside must be shrouded in the dark agony of death.  The contrast must be seen, and the unbelieving world is willing to assist.  For Jesus' sake we must persevere through suffering, not lay fallow in outward prosperity.  The more mortal we are to the world, the more immortal Jesus becomes through us.  The weaker we appear to the world, the stronger Jesus appears.  The more we die, the more the light of life manifests itself outwardly.  When the light reaches the world in this way, the darkness of individuals will be touched by the light.  They, too, can now suffer on the outside as Christ changes their hearts on the inside.  The shadows of evil will begin to die, and those the Lord wills will be changed.  The contrast must be seen!  Passion precedes Salvation.  Persecution precedes perseverance. Let your worldly lives be destroyed, so that the light of God in Jesus Christ can show forth and bring life to an unbelieving world.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Repentance and Time

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9

This verse answers the question that all Christians have from time to time: why does not God just wrap it up?  Why does he linger in ending this fallen world once and for all?  Can't he see things keep getting worse?  Can't he just put the world out of its misery?  We are ready for eternal life, the main story, to get started.  We are tired of the world, the flesh, and the devil rearing their ugly heads at every turn.  This is torture!  Come on, God! Wrap it up!

But the verse in question is deep in thoughtful ideas about this subject.  For instance

1) There is a difference between slowness and patience. Slowness implies that we are waiting for God.  Patience implies that God is waiting for us.  Slowness implies a lack of understanding of the way reality works.  Patience implies that the gospel is a firm reality in present life and must be responded to by each individual.  These words of scripture stir up our sincere minds.  Are our sincere thoughts stirred? Do we have a sincerity about the truth that is necessary for a solid faith? How do we stir up that sincerity?  We read the scriptures, of course.  The Bible is the surest way to stir up a sincere mind.  Insincere minds will reject its words.  Sincere minds will be stimulated.  Our faith must be sincere to be accepted by God.  We can't just say we believe.  We must believe with all our hearts, soul, strength and mind.

2) Both Old and New Testaments are equally important. God is the same God in both.  The New Testament helps explain the difficult parts of the Old Testament, but that does not make the Old Testament any less vital.  In fact, it makes the older texts more vital.  The Old Testament, we are told, is a different religion.  Or, we are told, God changed from the Old to New.  Being immersed in both will inform our souls that there is no change in our Lord.  He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

3) At the same time, the unbelieving world will continually attack the scriptures as being false.  They do this by attacking primarily the Old Testament, although they do attack both testaments.  How we react to the Bible is a great divider.  More and more people are taking sides for and against the Word of God.  More people who said previously that they believed--and who still say that they believe--are casting down the validity and veracity of the sacred scriptures.  Actual confessing Christians say that they are not necessary.  And yet they are the only texts that stir up the sincere Christian mind.  How do we react to God's Word?  I think the great dividing line will fall on the Bible and what it says about the truth.  We will face God and confess to believing his whole Word, not just the parts we liked.  They who reject the Bible reject Christ and reject all of the faith.

4) God does not wish any to perish. Alas, many will.  The world attacks the truth that is found in God. The world confidently stays lost to God and perishes. Confessing Christians reject God's word and perish.  The world laughingly rejects God's son and perishes.  So many perish.  It breaks the heart in two. But God does not wish any to perish, and so he provides time: not slow time but patient time, so that all will have a chance to accept or reject the gospel. We have grown up in a world where lies are intensely affirmed as true, and we aren't even aware of a possible alternative until God's Spirit unlocks true truth for us.  In Peter's time--and our own--the world denies any catastrophic events in earth's past.  The world denies the flood.  Peter tells us that believing that the flood happened is important, because it (1) reveals the nature of everything and (2) gives us promise that something catastrophic will happen again.  Remember slowness v. patience?  Patience is more hopeful, because at the end of God's patience comes catastrophe.  At the end of slowness comes catastrophe, too, but with patience comes a purpose.  God is being patient with us, because he wishes that none will perish.

5) The sincere mind, stirred up by the scriptures, the knowledge of truth, knowing that a catastrophe will come, and an awareness of God's patience, realizing that he wishes none to perish--all these things should give us hope for the gospel.  But we must never forget that the true gospel involves repentance.  God wishes that none perish but that all come to repentance in this patient time he is giving us.  Because the gospel involves repentance, it involves something to repent of.  The gospel always must include sin, something to repent of, or else those who hear this "half" gospel will be lost forever.  Repentance means you know that you are guilty of sins against God, sins that you would never be able to atone for.  Repentance means admitting that you are guilty before a holy God, and this repentance only occurs when one knows the truth that can only be found in Jesus Christ.  He took the punishment we deserve.  He atoned where we could not.  We cannot atone for our own sins.  He atoned for the sins of the whole world of those who believe in him.  This belief--this true faith--a faith only found with a sincere mind, stirred up by the scriptures--this faith brings us to repentance.  This faith saves us.

God is not being slow.  He is being patient, so that you will find yourself on the correct side of the dividing line--the repentant side.  Read the scriptures for yourself.  See what they say about your hopeless condition.  Read what they say about the only one who can save you.  Stir up your sincere mind and allow God's spirit to drive you to your knees in repentance.  The catastrophe will come, and it will come like a thief in the night, at a time when we least expect it.  All will end.  You could be washing the dishes.  You could be driving to the grocery store.  You could be walking the beach.  We won't know when the catastrophe will come, when everything will be burned up.  Now is the time for salvation, now is the time for repentance and belief in the one, true God and his son Jesus Christ.