Snapshots: Day 2

Snapshots of the Bible Story: Day 2

The Snapshot: “In the beginning… God …. was the word…”: (Gen 1 & Jn 1) In the beginning was The Thought and the Thought was One, independent, reliant upon no one, and the Thought expressed itself as a word and the word was one with the Thought, one Spirit, one essence, coming out of it, begotten of it, and the Thought and the Word were perfectly one and because they understood each other, the Word uttered, “My Father,” and  the Thought uttered, “My Son,” and together they existed in perfect unity, perfect harmony, perfect oneness and yet unique, one who existed always, and one who was begotten out of the eternity.  One.  Wonder and marvel.

Further Consideration:  I have tried to convey a truth using the words ‘Thought’ and ‘Word’. Now the Bible doesn’t describe God as a Thought but it does describe the Son of God as ‘word’. I hesitate to put an article before ‘word’ because ‘a’ is imprecise. However, the apostle John does describe him as ‘the word’ (Jn 1:1,14 & 1 Jn 1:1), speaking into the Greek culture of his day for which the Greek word for ‘word’, ‘logos’, was taken to mean ‘plan, reason or purpose behind all things’.

But I have used the word ‘Thought’ of God to capture the sense of distinct existence, distinct from inert material, to describe a sentient being, one who is responsive, emotional, perceptive, being capable of rational thought, consideration and expression. In Day 1 we observed the revelation of the Bible showing Him to be all-powerful, all-knowing etc. but that could be said of Terry Pratchett’s giant tortoise weaving through space carrying all on his back, but the God of the Bible is infinitely greater than this, He has a mind that is rational and so my previous definition of ‘spirit’ as ‘power or energy with personality’ equally underplays the reality of who He is. If He was not spirit but material then we might describe Him with a ‘brain’ billions of times greater than anything we can conceive.

But then, perhaps for our benefit, perhaps to convey something more of Himself to us, the Bible conveys the idea of the Godhead, a God who expresses Himself in three forms, and the second form is as a ‘Son’ begotten of (as the Creeds put it – meaning simply ‘brought out of’) God who then, as the two exist distinctly but one, is considered as ‘Father’. There is communication. In a mind there are ‘thoughts’. Now consider two ‘thoughts’ that having come into being, remain as two separate distinct thoughts. We move forward.  Marvel and worship.

10. God who Talks

Nine Lessons of Christmas Meditations: 10. God who talks           

HAPPY CHRISTMAS!

Reading 9: John 1:1-14

John 1:,1,14  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God ….. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us

Context: So, as we come to the last of the nine readings, that has a header, “St. John unfolds the great mystery of the Incarnation”, we move very much back to the big picture to summarise, we might say, the activities of Advent described by those who established this service of carols and readings we have been following this past week, as “the development of the loving purposes of God.” The use of John’s Gospel for this last reading lifts us away from the specific details of the Nativity story, to describe the whole in more philosophical terms that the wider world might understand and appreciate.

The Reading: To fully appreciate the meanings of John’s Prologue covered by these verses, you really need to read the verses in their completeness, so may I suggest on this Christmas morning you take your Bible and read them out loud as a reminder of what this day is really all about.  I will simply take the first five verses and then the end verse: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (Jn 1:1-5) Then, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (v.14) Having done that, let’s move directly into the lessons we may learn from these verses on this very special day.

Lessons – Statement of Truth: John, as a writer, writes more profoundly than the other three Gospel writers who wrote decades earlier than him, simply laying out the basic facts of what had happened. John, who remembers so vividly and has had many more years to reflect on it all, presents a ‘Gospel of understanding’, a Gospel that brings to light many of the things that Jesus said that so emphasised who he was. John writes, and we need to recognise it as such, a Gospel that is more a declaration of the truth – this IS what happened, and why! These verses in this reading provide meaning and context to the whole Advent and Nativity story, and as such they also provide a foundation of belief for our Faith.

A God who communicates:  The Bible above all, I believe, reveals a God who communicates and Jesus is His ultimate communication. As the writer to the Hebrews put it so clearly, In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” (Heb 1:1,2) John describes Jesus as a word, a means of communication, an expression of God, who was with God, (and) was God. …with God in the beginning…. (so) Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”  Even in these opening words, John puts Jesus on a par with God. With the Father, yet distinct from the Father. (Various creeds speak of him as not being ‘born’ but ‘begotten’ and that word simply means ‘comes out of’, i.e. came out of God, of the same essence s God the Father.)

A Need to Listen: Surely if God speaks then our duty is to listen. If Jesus is the expression of God, one who was sent from heaven to reveal the Father (see Col 1:15, 2 Cor 4:4, Heb 1:3), when John says, The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us,” (Jn 1:14) it is a foolish and complacent person who ignores the wonders of what we find in the four Gospels of the New Testament. If Jesus reveals the Father, perhaps the biggest challenge to the whole world is to see what the Gospels say, to see the sort of God that exists and is there in the background of every mind on earth.  As much as I am aware of its inadequacies, I would recommend if you haven’t read them yet, you work through the recent series, ‘Focus on Christ’. I am in the process of improving the content by turning it into book form  but the basics are there.

Perhaps a good New Year’s resolution would be to learn more of Jesus and learn more to be aware of his presence. I like what Pete Greig,  who was involved in founding the worldwide 24-7 prayer movement wrote: “The vision is Jesus. Not Christianity. Not prayer, mission and justice. Not worship-leading or church-planting or evangelism. If you love Jesus you’ll do that stuff; you’ll pray and worship and go to church and preach the gospel – but in doing all those things, don’t lose the why.” This is what today is about, about Jesus arriving on the earth in human form, visible to his parents, to shepherds, to wise men, to aged saints and years later to great crowds who saw the loving expression of God in their midst bringing health, life, freedom, goodness and love in abundance.

Sometimes we may stop someone, or be stopped by someone – I remember as a child, a policeman stopping a friend and I who, in childish, thoughtless, irresponsibility, living on a hillside had taken up a new game, pulling up the farmers turnips and rolling them down a path on the hillside – and the voice comes, “I want a word with you.” At that time you know it’s not just a single word; there is going to come more than a few words.

It takes far more than just a single word to describe Jesus, which is why we have the whole New Testament which tells about him and his role in the activity of the Godhead, that speaks of “the development of the loving purposes of God.” Unlike the words of the policeman, these words are to be welcomed and rejoiced over. In the midst of all the other activities of today, may we not fail to do that.

Now that completes the ‘nine readings’ but we will add one more study to morrow to round it off. But before we finish, a bonus.

Bonus Story 1: Overview or ‘A Potted Advent’

I sometimes like to try to capture what went on in story form. There is a bit of poetic or rather literary license in this story, but I hope it conveys something that lifts faith. It seeks to put together all the things we’ve seen in the Gospels, in this series.

Hullo. My name is Simeon. I have this feeling that I may be writing for those of you in the future and it is just possible you know more of how this story works out than I do at this moment. I also have this sense that I may not be here much longer, so I had better get on and tell you what I know.

I live near Jerusalem and am now in old age. The things I want to tell you about have only happened in this past year, although I think my story goes back a lot further than that. I have always sought to be a servant of Yahweh and in my years of retirement from my business, I have spent much time examining the scrolls in the local synagogue, courtesy of my rabbi. I consulted the teachers of the Law in Jerusalem and they, somewhat condescendingly I felt, guided me into the prophets. Oh, I should explain, I was searching for the Messiah that I had heard about since my youth.

Without doubt there are things there, that are a mystery, in the scrolls. As I have gone where they said, I read of how a child would be born to a young girl, probably in nearby Bethlehem, a child who would come as a great light to the land of the north, our Galilee. I have never been there, but it is often considered a land of darkness and misery, having been the first part of our land that has suffered at the hands of invaders from the north many times in the past. Yet Yahweh is going to bring great light to it, I know not how.

But there are contradictory prophecies about this coming one. For instance, on one hand he is said to be a great ruler, and on the other a servant. On one hand he is spoken of as a mighty ruler while on the other, one who is beaten and despised and rejected. I am not sure how these things can all be tru,e but I have the utmost faith in our prophets that they heard from God.

And then, one day, as I was searching the scrolls, I had this intense feeling that the Coming One was on his way, he would appear soon. I assumed he would appear in Jerusalem, probably at the Temple, that would make sense, so I increasingly spent more time there, watching and waiting.

And then they came, this little family and immediately something in me said, “This is them!”  But who? The baby. The baby is the coming one. I felt words of thanks, words of prophecy welling up inside. I had never known anything quite like it. And then Anna, an old prophetess I had come to know, who also spent most of her time there, came up and carried on where I had finished. Crowds came and looked and then went, and when the fuss had died down, I spoke to this couple and they told me their story, a strange story at that.

The mother was but a young girl really, and yet she had seemed to have aged beyond her years. She told me how, about a year back an angel had come to her and spoke with her. I marveled at the wonder of it. He had said she would bear a son to be the mighty one we were expecting. She confessed she had not known what to think as she and her man were only betrothed and had not come together, but the angel reassured her that this was something Yahweh would bring about. A few weeks later she started feeling sick and then became aware of her body enlarging.

As she recounted those days she looked at her husband, a strong looking young man obviously a little older than she, who stood there in the background remaining silent. I looked at him and eventually he said, “It is true, and I trust my Mary implicitly, although not at first.”  I smiled with understanding, and so he continued. “You must understand, I am a good Jew and her story seemed so far-fetched to me, that I felt the only course open to me was to break off our engagement. I was about to do it when I had the most amazing dream that was so real I had no other course but to believe it. In it I think I saw the same angel that Mary saw, and he told me that what I had been told was true and that she was carrying our Messiah.

It was clear by their accents that they came from the north, so I asked them how they came to be here. They said it was because of Caesar’s census that required Joseph to return to the home of his ancestors, Bethlehem. It had not been an easy experience because when they arrived it was clear that Mary was only days or maybe even hours from delivering her baby, and because there were so many others who had come there to be counted, there was nowhere for them to stay and they ended up in a stable behind an Inn.

Please don’t think me insensitive, but when they told me how the bay was born, my eyes filled with tears of gratefulness to God. They said it had been a strange experience because not much later, when they were still trying to cope with the experience – I think they said the Innkeeper’s wife had come to help with the delivery – suddenly a whole bunch of rough and scruffy shepherds had turned up outside, and you know what they’re like, they are virtually outcasts in our society but they came bursting in, loud with laughter, quite inappropriate for the quiet scene, but telling of how an angel – yes, yet another angel – had come and told them of the baby and then they said it been like heaven opened up and they saw thousands of angels singing and praising Yahweh for the arrival of His son. It was the most strange story but I could not doubt their sincerity and anyway, that quiet inner voice I have heard before, assured me it was right.

After a little while they left, but a few days later I felt I must see them again, so I travelled on my donkey to Bethlehem and sought them out, and found Joseph had been doing jobbing work around the village. To cut a long story short I visited them on a weekly basis; I felt a little like a guardian angel watching over them, but I think they actually had the real things; they needn’t need me, but I went as an aged friend.

And then one time about a month or so later, now a couple of weeks back, when I visited, they told me excitedly how a camel train with very strange men from the east had come and bowed down before their child. They hadn’t known what to say, but then, as the men and their camel train were about to leave, they took out most expensive gifts of gold and most precious ointments and gave them to them. They had been overwhelmed with such riches which would provide for them for years and couldn’t understand why such a thing should happen.

Now this is where it gets strange. I visited just yesterday, but they were gone. I enquired of their neighbour, in the house next door to where they had been staying, and fortunately he recognised me as a friend, and told me an angel in a dream had told them to leave straight away for Egypt. So, they have gone, and I feel a great gap in my life. I don’t know what will become of them but with all the wonderful directions they have received from our God, I am sure they will be back one day in the not too distant future.

By the time you read this, you may know the outcome. I have been privileged to meet this little family for a short while and something in me tells me that this is just the start for them. I am sure I will not be around to see it, but you may, and when we meet in the heavenly throne room one day we can share the wonders we have been permitted to see. I believe I will go there shortly, and I go in peace and with great joy. May you know the same that comes with knowing this wonderful story.

17. The Word (2)

Focus on Christ Meditations: 17.  The Word (2)

Jn 1:1,14   In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth

We have said in this third Part that we will observe a variety of names or descriptions given to the Christ and we have commenced with John’s cultural icon to satisfy the Greeks, the Word. I also said I want to consider two things about this ‘Word’ and we started by looking at the Greek meaning and its incredible implication.  Now I want to ponder a much more simple idea about this term, the Word that can help all people, not merely the Greek culture,.

The most simple approach is to just ask, what is a word?  Yes, we’ve seen the Logos idea but more generally than that, what is a word? It is a communication. We only have to say, “Yes.” or “No.” or “Right,” or “Go!” and we are communicating. Words are the way we communicate mainly. Yes, we have much talk about body language but words are the primary means of communication. And so John says Jesus is God’s means of communication.

Now the writer to the Hebrews has this exact same idea in mind when he started his writing: In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” (Heb 1:1,2) There it is. In the past the whole Old Testament is just that, a testimony to God communicating, but now, says the writer, “he has spoken to us by his Son.” Now that may mean that the words Jesus spoke were God’s words, or it may mean that by his very being Jesus communicated what his Father was like, and that latter meaning is the path we are going to follow here.

Again we have to thank John for his years of recollecting the finer points of his experience of those three years with Jesus, for within his accounts we find the following: “If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” (Jn 14:7) Now I suspect that is one of those verses we skim over without giving it the thought that is due to it, so let’s have a closer look at it.

“If you really knew me.” What does that imply? It’s not that you have been with me throughout these three years, but have you come to realise who I really am? Therefore IF you have come to realise who I am (God!) “you would know my Father as well.”  God is God wherever He is – in heaven Supreme, or here on earth in single bodily form. THAT is what is implied here, and if that wasn’t enough, “From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” Have seen Him? You have seen the Father? How? By seeing me.

The disciples struggled: “Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” (v.8) Jesus’ answer? “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, `Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me?” (v.9,10) No wonder Paul was to write, as we saw before, “He is the image of the invisible God.” (Col 1:15) and then almost even more remarkably, “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him.” (v.19)

Now why is this so significant? It is because throughout history mankind has reached out to touch the divine – and failed – and yet now this New Testament declares over and above any other claim any human being has made, this Jesus is God. See Jesus and you see God. If you want to know what God is really like, look at Jesus Christ. Jesus, the Word, communicates to us what his Father is like, what God is like. Now whatever I say here is going to be inadequate but we have to ask the question, if we come to the Gospels, for the first time, say, with childlike, open hearts, and we’ve been told this person is God in the flesh, what do we learn God is like?

Well first, simply because He has come, He is interested in mankind. By that we don’t just mean He wants to know about us, because He already does, He designed us and originally created us, but that that ‘knowing’ means interacting with. His coming was a sign of His desire to interact with us, form relationships with us.

Second, by what we see the way He went about these three years of public ministry, drawing twelve close followers to be trained up, He is concerned to communicate to us His heart and His will so that we will catch it, be changed by it, and pass it on to others so that they will also be changed. Those are the two bigger and wider issues about His intentions, but what else is there?

OK, third, observing the low-key way He approaches mankind, we can see that it is not His intention to dominate us. He comes to earth, draws alongside us, gives us sufficient cause to believe who He is, and acts as an example for us. It is as we observe that example that we see love in action, for we cannot describe it in any other way. He uses the power that He obviously has, not to subjugate people, not to elevate Himself, but to do good to people – to heal them, deliver them and even on rare occasion to raise them from the dead. He seeks to win hearts with love, not by demands.

Yes, fourth, He does reiterate that He has designed mankind to work in particular ways, as the Law showed, and in so doing He did make us face the truth that we had a problem, but that His love was the way He wanted to win men and women back to Himself, so that they might be restored, as far as it was possible, to their state before the Fall. But that love wasn’t just doing good.

Fifth, and this they really struggled to take in, just as many today so struggle, He communicated that His answer to the Sin of mankind and the guilt of sins would be to sacrifice Himself by allowing this same sinful mankind to arrest him, falsely try and convict him and then crucify him. In other words, as God He would take the Sin of mankind upon Himself and, satisfy the demands of justice that such wrongs be dealt with ‘legally’ so that those sinners who availed themselves of that act, could be declared free and under no further demand for punishment, but be free to fully enter into a loving relationship with Him.

Sixth, he spoke of the possibility of a life after death, not a mere ‘place of the dead’ as ‘Hades’ communicated, but an eternal home in heaven (in which there may yet exist another new heaven and new earth). To confirm that he had the power over death and to confirm a life after death, He rose from the dead.

Seventh, and finally, to further confirm all He said about Himself was true and that there was this other dimension, heaven, waiting for both him and us, he ascended to heaven in the sight of the apostles.

These are the things that Jesus came to communicate, both with his words and with his deeds. These are the things that God came to communicate, both with His words and with His deeds. This Word communicated all this to us. Hallelujah!

To reflect upon: have we take in all these wonderful truths that that Word came to communicate, and is love and worship our natural response? If not, are we even alive?

16. The Word (1)

PART THREE: DESCRIPTION

Focus on Christ Meditations: 16.  The Word (1)

Jn 1:1,14   In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth

In Part One we focused on the mystery that was there in the Old Testament yet to be revealed. In Part Two we started focusing on the coming of the one about who those mysterious prophecies had spoken, coming as a baby, and our focus was on the people involved with him at that time. Within that part it was inevitable that descriptions of this child would start to predominate but we left those descriptions within the context of the people involved. Now however, in this third Part, the sun is rising more clearly and we focus on the wider means of identifying this One who has come as a fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies and we will observe a variety of names or descriptions given to the Christ.

Although written many decades later, our starting point is with the description that the apostle John uniquely gave Jesus – the Word. Now I want to consider two things about this ‘Word’ but we’ll have to wait until the following study to see the second thing.

The first is about the Greek meaning of the Word – Logos – which essentially means ‘the logic behind an argument’ or, more generally, the ‘reason behind everything’. To the Greeks of his day, the popular culture of what we today call the Middle East, John was saying, this Jesus you have heard about is the cause or reason that everything exists. John expands this for both the Greeks of his day who would understand this, and for us who may not know about that meaning, in the following verses: Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men.” (v.3,4) i.e. he is the source of all of existence.

In verse 1 he picked up that staggering declaration that we found in early Isaiah which also echoed around the various other pronouncements around the Nativity story, that this child was somehow God in the flesh. This ‘Word’ was actually “with God” (which seems to indicate a distinct entity from God) and yet “was God”. The God of the Bible is the unique, single Creator of all things, and now John, backing up Isaiah, says this child is that One.   I like ‘the reason behind everything’ definition for Logos.

The writer to the Hebrews echoed this exact same thing for, speaking about God and then Jesus, he wrote: “his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” (Heb 1:2,3) There are the same elements: distinction, unity, creator activity and indeed the power to sustain and maintain this world.

Earlier in this series I wrote, ‘The person of Jesus is what makes Christianity stand out as a unique religion and once anyone starts looking at the claims about Jesus in the Bible there is no question whatsoever that Christianity makes claims that are way above and beyond anything any other world religion makes.’  The verses we have been considering so far in these studies are many and varied and they all say the same thing – this Christ IS God – divinity that was the Creator, divinity that upholds all of existence.

Why do so many people struggle with this? Because they fail to consider these verses and they focus only on what they see in the human being that was Jesus of Nazareth. John doesn’t allow that. Note in the opening verse a hint of what will be made very clear in a subsequent chapter of his Gospel, “the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father.”  That is the amazing claim of this Gospel that the Son of God, who is now manifested in the form of the body and life of Jesus of Nazareth, existed in heaven from before time began with all the glory of the Godhead and so what we see in the Gospels  is the life of the Son on earth, having come from heaven. You won’t find that in any other world religion. This is unique revelation.

Do you see how all the threads we’ve seen before in the earlier studies come together here – a child who IS God comes as our saviour. But I have only partly answered my question above, why do so many people struggle with this?  Not only do they only focus on the human aspect, they fail to take in the big picture that is stated so clearly in scripture: “He is the image of the invisible God.” (Col 1:15 – also 2 Cor 4:4) Or see Paul’s amazing song, perhaps echoing one of the early church sayings, “Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross!” (Phil 2:5-8) There it all is: although God, he submitted himself to the will of the Father and came from heaven in human likeness to die on the Cross.

The Word – the reason behind everything – came from heaven from which he, with his Father, had created all things, came here to reveal the Father, and that is the second aspect of this that we will consider in the next study.

To reflect upon: do we understand the greatness and the glory of the Son of God and do we thus worship him for who he is, seated there at his Father’s right hand today?

10. The Word of Truth

Meditations in Colossians: 10. The Word of Truth

Col 1:4-6   we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints– the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you.

We are familiar with understanding the word ‘Gospel’ to mean Good News but here Paul also calls it “the word of truth” and it is worth pondering on the meaning of that. In prophetic circles we speak of someone receiving “a word”. We don’t mean that they have received a single word but that they have received a collection of words – from  a sentence to a whole collection of say ten paragraphs – that form a message from God. But note also that when Paul describes this word he calls it “the word”. It is not just a word which would make it just one among many but it is a single unique message from God and there is no other message like it. But more than that, it is the message of truth which implies that it is a unique message that somehow encapsulates all that is vital in and for life.

Truth? That which conforms to reality, which is exactly true and does not in any way deviate from that which is. So here, says Paul, we have this unique message from God that conveys or sums up the will of God, the reality of the plans and purposes of God. You want to know if there is a God? Ponder on the Gospel message, Could this just be the planning of human beings or has it got an origin that goes beyond us?  What sort of God is there if there is one?  Ponder on the Gospel and see a God of infinite compassion, a God of love and mercy who plans from before the beginning of time to redeem mankind that has abused its free will and got into slavery to this thing called Sin, this inescapable propensity of godless self-centredness.  You wonder if there is any escape from this self-centred godlessness that seems to lead to unrighteousness and self-destructive thinking and behaviour?  After you realise that our state is helpless and thus hopeless, we hear the Gospel and grasp for it like a drowning person.

This word tells the truth? Listen to Paul elsewhere: Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved……  For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” (1 Cor 15:1-4) There was the Gospel encapsulated.

It is all about Christ who the Gospels reveal is the unique Son of God who came to earth from heaven. Here he lived, growing from a baby to an adult and then at about the age of thirty started three years of the most remarkable ministry that the word has ever seen. The apostle Peter described him in his first sermon to the Jews on the Day of Pentecost, first in human terms: “Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.” (Acts 2:22) Later he said the same thing to the Gentiles in the house of Cornelius: “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.” (Acts 10:38).

That is all implied in Paul’s summary and is a prerequisite to the fundamentals of why Christ came: “Christ died for our sins.” Peter spelled it out again and again: “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him,” (Acts 2:23,24 to the Jews at Pentecost) and “Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead….. Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:10,12 before the religious leaders) and “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen….. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:39,40,43 to the Gentiles)

But the outworking brought so much more. We have seen the facts (the truth) of what happened – Jesus came, revealed the Father, was crucified and rose from the dead, all, we are told, the means to bring about the forgiveness of our sins. That is what HE did but then there is OUR response and then what HE does as a response to us! Our response, to the conviction by His Holy Spirit, is to surrender to Him, believe in Jesus (an early act of faith) and receive what he then imparts – forgiveness, cleansing, adoption and the impartation of what becomes the indwelling Holy Spirit in our lives. Thus we are ‘born again’, made new, and He reveals a plan and purpose for our lives that we live out in our remaining years here on earth.  But it doesn’t stop there. We have received eternal life and the guarantee of a glorious future with Him in heaven after life on this earth. This is the package that we call the Gospel. This is what has happened to Jesus (it is true!) and this is what has happened to us (it is true!)  This is the word of truth.. Hallelujah!

3. Living in a Fallen World

Meditations in Ruth : 3. Living in a Fallen World

Ruth 1:3-5  Now Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.

We have an expression don’t we, that “everything went pear shaped”. Well that certainly applies in this story. This family settle in Moab. There seem to be no suggestion of it being a temporary stay, ‘Just until the famine passes’. No, they settle and the sons marry Moabite women and ten years later they are still there. (Perhaps ten years is not a long period when you are waiting for the economy to pick up and a famine to be overcome.).

Part of this is down to Naomi. Whether she went there at her husbands behest or she was the one who instigated it, we don’t know but we are simply told that after they settle in Moab her husband dies and it is then that her sons marry Moabite women and that they then live on there some ten years. The moment her husband died she could have said to the boys, “We must go home. If you are going to be married you ought to have good women from Israel.”

No, there may not have been a specific prohibition against marrying Moabite women but the Law was certainly very negative against Moab: No Ammonite or Moabite or any of his descendants may enter the assembly of the LORD, even down to the tenth generation. For they did not come to meet you with bread and water on your way when you came out of Egypt, and they hired Balaam son of Beor from Pethor in Aram Naharaim to pronounce a curse on you.” (Deut 23:3,4)  They were clearly prohibited from coming into the godly assembly (which is maybe something we should remind ourselves of later in this story), and so if you married one you would always be an outsider. However that does not seem a consideration when they are in exile because of a famine. They have lost their roots and they do just what seems expedient.

Beware doing what seems expedient in the circumstances! It was what Sarai urged Abram to do when she appeared not to be able to conceive, to go and take her maidservant and have a child through her. The whole Israel-Arab conflict has resulted from that foolish action. Expediency ignores the will of God and fails to seek the Lord. ‘What seems right’ should always be measured in the light of the word of God and the will of God and should be subject to the Holy Spirit’s direction.

Saul was another one who did what he considered was expedient.  He offered sacrifices when Samuel appeared to be late in turning up but he wasn’t of the priestly family and had no right to do such a thing (see 1 Sam 13:8-14). Years later after Samuel had died, again Saul did what seemed expedient, he sought out a medium when there seemed no one else to bring God’s guidance, despite the Law prohibiting (Lev 20:27, Deut 18:9-13) this sort of thing (see 1 Sam 28:4-)

Ignoring the will and word of God and doing ‘what seems expedient’ always causes problems. Within ten years these two couples (who remain childless) are reduced to two widows. Naomi is now in this foreign land with no husband, no sons, and just two daughters in law who are foreign women, coming from families that will have their own ‘gods’. It is not good!

Now our temptation at this point is to try to see who is to blame and whether it was God who brought these misfortunes (we have already done the first thing). We see the same thing in Jesus’ disciples: “As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (Jn 9:1,2). In the book of Job we find a similar thing in respect of Job’s comforters who declared, ‘when things go wrong it is a sign of God’s judgment on sin. Things have gone wrong for you, so it must be that you are a sinner.’

Well, things go wrong because people sin – yes, sometimes, but sometimes it is because others sin or it’s just living in a fallen world. There is no doubt that since sin entered the world through Adam and Eve, and they fell from the perfection and purity that they exhibited as God’s perfect beings, that ongoing sin in mankind seems to have a variety of effects so that the world simply, ‘goes wrong’, and there are upheavals in ‘nature’, sickness strikes randomly, accidents happen and things go wrong in relationships and there are wars, family upsets, etc. etc. Of course there is also Satan working in the background to bring destruction and promote sin.

Does God bring judgment? Yes, He does. Does God bring discipline? Yes, He does. Was what happened here specifically the act of God? We are not told. What we can surmise is that at the very least the protective hand of God was no longer over this family. In the same way that we find in Romans 1 Paul declaring that in three instances “God gave them over to…”  (Rom 1:24,26,28) and we see that God lifts off His restraining hand from society so that sin runs rampant and acts as a form of discipline. So, according to the Law of curses and blessings (Deut 28), behaviour does provoke the activity of God that may involve His specifically declaring good – blessings for obedience – and also there appears His activity that brings bad – curses for disobedience – and that may come as specific acts of God or at the very least God removing His hand of protection or blessing.

The uncomfortable truth is that God has given us free will and where we exercise that negatively we have to live with the consequences that flow out of it:A man reaps what he sows.” (Gal 6:7)  But is that the end? No, God will still be working to bring us back and bring good out of it, as we will see in the coming verses and chapters of this book.

15. God made flesh

Short Meditations in John 1:  15.  God made flesh

Jn 1:14  The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

At the beginning of the chapter John introduced us to the Logos, or the Word, the primary cause or reason for all things who had been with God from the beginning, and through whom all things were created – and who was God yet distinct within the Godhead from God the Father, Jesus the Son. The ‘Word’, John says so simply, “became flesh”, became a human being and “made his dwelling among us”, i.e. he came and lived here on the earth. It all sounds rather like a Greek mystery or stories about a Greek god, if it wasn’t followed by the  most  down to earth accounts of the life of this human being who is clearly more than a human being. The stories of the Greek or Roman gods always seemed false, super beings in very human forms living out selfish but powerful lives. When you come to the Word, we find something very, very different.

John testifies, “we have seen his glory”. This being who came and dwelt among us, clearly had such human ordinariness that many failed to realise who he was, and yet for those with eyes to see, John could say, “we have seen his glory.” There are various passages that convey something of who Jesus was, revealed by what he did. The apostle Peter testified, Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs.” (Acts 2:22)  Jesus had testified of himself, “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” (Mt 11:5)  If you had traveled with Jesus on a daily basis you would have seen him, again and again, performing miracles and healing the sick and delivering demoniacs.  There was no question but this was, at the very least, a man with a unique and incredible ministry.

But says John this glory clearly belong to One, “the One and Only”. Who does he mean by that? It can only be God. This is God expressing Himself through human form. What sort of God is it that does this sort of thing? One who is “full of grace and truth.” Grace here means ‘unfailing love’ and that was clearly seen by his every act on behalf of others. That he was full of truth means there was absolutely nothing false about him, he was utterly real, and good. Yes this is how John describes the Son who “came from the Father”, distinct from the Father yet clearly expressing Him in every way, in character and in power, revealing the wonder of God.

1. In the beginning

Short Meditations in John 1:  1. In the beginning

Jn 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

One verse at a time, in brief and easy reading style, that is the aim of this set of readings. This should be easy in John because it is the deepest of the four Gospels, the most profound. John uses ideas and concepts and writes beyond basic historical fact.

He speaks, at the start, of the Logos (Greek word for ‘word’). Words for the Jews were alive and active; when God spoke words, things happened. For the Greeks logos also means reason or even, perhaps, wisdom. From within every person, at some time in their life, arises the question, what is the point of life, what is the meaning of life, why are we here?  And the answer comes from John, because God spoke.

If God had just existed and never expressed Himself, nothing else would have been (yes, we are moving in areas of mystery beyond our finite minds, a Being who is self-existent who has always been – this is God). But God spoke and things happened beyond and outside of Him. He spoke and there was light (Gen 1:3). It needed no source, it just was, because He said it was, and so it was.

Yet even beyond that point, it seems that God spoke and expressed Himself differently and another personality appeared, a personality who would exist as one with God, because he was God, from the beginning in that existence we call heaven, until one day this ‘Word’ would be sent to dwell in flesh and we saw the being called Jesus Christ.

Yes, this expression of Himself was “with God” but distinct from the One who had been for ever, and yet he “was God” because he was the very expression of God and has thus also existed for ever. Here is a mystery beyond definition and yet it is so, that the person we identify having lived in time-space history some two thousand years ago, for a mere thirty three years, was and is God, was and is “with God” and was and is God Himself.

The analogy is often given, the best way to communicate with ants would be to become an ant. The best way to communicate with a goldfish would be to become a goldfish. The best way to communicate with mankind was to become a man – and God did just that, but without ceasing to be God. And why did He do it? Because He loves us and wants to communicate with us – through a word.

2. Life has come

Meditations in 1 John : 2 :  The Life has come!

1 John  1:2   The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.

John’s language in this verse is remarkable, and each part requires careful attention. Look at the way he starts: “The life appeared.” He finished verses 1 with, “this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.” From his Gospel we saw that when he speaks of the Word, he means Jesus, God’s perfect communication with mankind. This communication – Jesus – IS life.  In the beginning of his Gospel he wrote of Jesus, “In him was life, and that life was the light of men.” (Jn 1:4). What John is trying to tell us is that Jesus is the source of all life – God is the source of all life.

Oh how we take Scripture for granted! “The life appeared.” How dramatic is that. The source of all life suddenly appeared to us. The implication is that previously he had been hidden from us – but he still existed. In the back part of the verse John expands on this: “the eternal life, which was with the Father … has appeared to us.” He is not only THE source of all life, he IS eternal life. Wow! That is an incredible claim. Jesus must be God for only He can claim to be life with no beginning and no ending. Yes, that is what John is saying. And again he makes this point that that which had been previously hidden from mankind was now appeared to us and made ‘himself’ known to us in human form.

When you read John’s Gospel you see that John, writing many years later than the others, had had time to reflect on and think back on the things that he had witnessed in those three incredible years with Jesus, and in so doing had realized that there were many significant things that Jesus had said which the earlier Gospels had not picked up. One such passage was Jesus’ conversation  with the Jews about being the bread which came down from heaven: “it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” (Jn 6:32,33) Look at that language. He, Jesus, has come down from heaven where, by implication, he has already existed.  In case we missed it the first time, he repeats it: I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.” (Jn 6:38) and then again, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” (Jn 6:51) This is the message that John brings us that Jesus, being eternal, had existed in heaven with God the Father before he came to earth.

This is what separates Jesus out from any holy men in history. It is the claim that he IS God. This claim is picked up throughout the New Testament. Listen how Paul puts it: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Col 1:15-17) That is an incredible description of Jesus. He is the visible expression of God, and just in case you’re not sure, that means he is the creator and is the one who holds all of existence together!

The writer to the Hebrews tried to express it similarly: “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” (Heb 1:3) There isn’t that eternal dimension expressly stated, but it is clearly implied – Jesus is God’s expression of Himself to us and he is truly God who has always existed and always will exist, the One who existed in heaven but who has now ‘appeared’ to us in human form, the form of Jesus of Nazareth. Don’t be under any illusions: Jesus did not start as a baby conceived in Mary. That was merely the ‘doorway’ through which the eternal Son in heaven was manifested or made visible on earth.

But again John wants to emphasize to us why we can believe what he is saying: “we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you.”  This ‘life’ came in a form that was recognizable to us – a human form, a real, genuine human being, in every way like us – yet God! In verse 1 he had said, “we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched,” and just in case we hadn’t fully taken it in, he emphasizes it – we’ve seen it!!!  This life has come in a form that was visible to us. This was no weird experience, this was as down to earth as you can get – we saw, talked to and touched this human being – but he was God!  That is the incredible message that these New Testament writers bring to us – a unique message, found nowhere else in creation! Hallelujah!

When you read the Gospels, watch what Jesus says and does. It is like he pours out life wherever he goes. His words have transforming power. Lives are started anew when they have heard him speaking. Sometimes those words released a power that brought healing, physical changes to physical lives. These words from the mouth of the One who was life, literally brought physical life that transformed bodies. Of course the ultimate expression of it was when he spoke and dead bodies came to life. The Gospels show us several instances of Jesus speaking and literal life flowed forth and what which had been dead came to life again. Oh yes, ask for this revelation, to see that when John referred to Jesus as life, he really meant it. Life literally flowed from him as he travelled the countryside and lives were utterly changed – literally, spiritually, physically, socially, psychologically, emotionally, i.e. in every way possible. ‘Life’ does that!

13. Clean & Planted

Meditations in James: 13 :  Clean and Planted

Jas 1:21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

Whenever a verse starts with ‘therefore’ it is a consequence or requirement flowing on from what has gone before. Context we have so often said is very important. The verse before, that we looked at yesterday, said, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” Our verse today therefore flows on from the thought of the righteous life that God desires.

The most simple thought that flows on from that is that God has specific desires. Some people think that God is just some disinterested ‘Being’ who is ‘out there’ and who really doesn’t care at all what happens here on earth. Nothing could be further from the truth. God has designed this world to work in a particular way and the role of science is to discover part of that way. However, note that it is only part of that way because science has so far locked itself in to measuring only the ‘material’ aspects of existence. Part of this ‘particular way’ that the world has been designed to work, involved having God in it, and when it comes to human beings this is no less so.

God has designed us to operate best when we are living and working in relationship to Him. He is Life and relating to Him means we receive that additional dimension to existence which means we are more than electrically charged brain cells ensuring blood is pumped around the body and breath is inhaled and exhaled to charge the lungs. Now why are we saying all this? We are saying it to convey a broader sense of the meaning of the word ‘righteous’. Very simply a righteous life is one that is living in harmony with God conforming to God’s will as received through the Scriptures and confirmed and applied by His Spirit. If we are ‘word and Spirit’ people we will be seeking to live in harmony with Him, our Lord. When we do this we will be living righteous lives, not lives focused on rules but on Him, lives that are living out in accordance with His design.

Now you don’t have to look around you very far to see many people living out lives that are clearly not in accordance with God’s design as seen in His word. If we were able to be a fly on a wall we would observe many people who are lacking peace, many people who are stressed and worried and anxious, many people who are being unkind and selfish, many people not caring about anyone else apart from themselves, many people seeking to harm others, many people following self-harming practices as they disregard their Maker. You only have to see the fruit of these lives to know that there must be a better way, for this is fruit that is self-destructive and destructive of others,  but then that, we know from Scripture, is Satan’s desire for God’s creation (Jn 8:44). James sums all this up as moral filth and evil that is so prevalent.

Look, he is saying, that is how the world lives, but it is not the righteous life that God desires for us, a life of love and fulfillment being lived out with Him. Get rid of all this he says. That is your responsibility; that is your part of the life in Christ. You have the capability of choosing and making an act of will. Exercise that free-will by making sure that none of that stuff is left in your life. As we’ve said previously, you are a different person, a special person, a God-person, someone living a much better life, a more fulfilling life, a righteous life in harmony with God. As we’ve recently seen, God is good and therefore evil has no place in Him or in those who relate to Him. Get rid of it.

But James doesn’t leave it just with a negative injunction; he adds a very positive one: humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. In verse 18 he had spoken of God choosing to give us birth through the word of truth, a reference to the way that God brought us to Himself. God had brought the truth to bear on our lives and when we saw the truth we realized our need and accepted the truth about Jesus and gave our lives over to God who promptly cleansed, forgave and energized them. Now God’s word is described as living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (Heb 4:12). Jesus’ parable of the Sower (Mt 13:3-8) was all about the effects of God’s word in different heart conditions (Mt 13:18-23). It finished with, the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown,” (v.23) a clear picture of God’s word, His truth, working within us to bring great changes.

Now there is one little uncomfortable word that we have not considered so far: humbly! The old life was proud and arrogant and thought it knew best. When we came to Christ we realize that we didn’t know best and so we submitted to him and to his word. In other words we came humbly to him, but I wonder how many Christians, as they go through life, lose some of that humility? You know the answer to that as you think about how you view God’s word and how you think about the sermon that is preached in most churches every Sunday. If you come to it with a hungry, open heart that is teachable, you are coming in humility, but if you come with indifference you have allowed pride and arrogance to grow. We will only grow in our Christian faith if we come to God and to His word humbly, with open, teachable hearts. See what James says this approach does; it can save you. Yes, you have been saved, but your life on this earth is the process of being saved so that when you get to heaven you will be well and truly saved. The word saved has connotations of wholeness. If you want to come to a place of wholeness under God’s hand, allowing Him to restore you to the design He has in mind for you, then you will humbly allow His word to work in you. That is how He has designed it to be. Let His word do that, let Him keep on changing you to bring you into that wholeness that He has on His heart for you.