Thursday, September 27, 2012

Things are More than They Seem

When I was young, I was the worst at solving riddles or seeing the double image in an optical illusion such as the one below. In fact, it wasn’t until someone would come along and give me a helpful hint or point to some spot on the picture that I would be able to enjoy all that there was and thus satisfy my curiosity. I knew that things were more than they seemed to me, however, I simply could not see them for myself. Is not this how life is? Something happens to us that we do not fully understand- A diagnosis comes back from the doctor, a son or daughter has some news, a deal comes through for us, etc. and we step back and wonder, “is this all that there is in this world?” “Is something else at work that I’m not aware of?“ “Are things more than they seem?” Today I would like the opportunity to begin a series from the book of John that I believe will answer these questions and more. “What does God look like?” “What was before the beginning?” “Who is Jesus really?” “Is there such thing as truth?” However, today my objective is simple. Today I don’t’ want to preach, but instead simply want to lay out before you the argument that John sets out to prove in His introduction. Take it, leave it, or investigate it how you may. But if you dare, I invite you to travel through this book with us over the next several weeks and determine whether or not you believe John proves Himself and whether or not things are more than they seem.

I. The Word is Eternal-1:1a-“…in the beginning was the Word…”

The prologue of John’s gospel is a thesis and introduction into the major themes of the entire work. As any good writer knows, the author is supposed to begin his argument by telling you what he is going to prove. This is exactly what John sets out to do here. The first truism that John will work to prove in the remainder of the gospel is this, “the Word is eternal.” Notice, instead of beginning with genealogies (Matthew & Luke), or introducing Jesus Christ’s ministry (Mark), John begins at the very beginning (that being a very good place to start). The phrase, “in the beginning” is reminiscent of the first words in another famous book, Genesis.

This might be comparable to beginning an event or story with some familiar phrase or words to grab the attention of your audience. Many know to listen when someone begins a conversation with “true story.” Similarly, many used to prepare themselves for a special event every Monday night around this time when they heard Hank Williams say, “Are you ready for some football!” These and other examples establish mood and profundity. Similarly, by starting off with this familiar phrase, John immediately arrests the attention of the audience who would have been familiar with Genesis, the story of God’s creation, just as we would be when a loved one begins to explain their day with “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

However, the “beginning” that John is referring to is undefined. This is so because of the tense of the verb for being here. Notice, it is not, “in the beginning the Word became” or “The Word existed in the beginning,” instead, the Word always was, meaning that the Word is infinite, always being there, from the very, very beginning.

What or who is this Word? (and why doesn’t John introduce God here in the beginning of the book?) In the beginning, it was the words of God that spoke everything into existence. In the Old Testament, it was the word of God that spoke deliverance to a people in bondage. In the heart s and lives of people, it is the very Word of God that reveals Himself to all people. The word is the agency of God, through which His work is performed and will exercised. This is the Word that has existed from the beginning and this is the first argument that John seeks to prove.

II. The Word is Relational-1:1b & 2- “…and the Word was with God…He was in the beginning with God…”

One might naturally conclude that this mysterious “Word” that has existed from the beginning is, at least according to John’s argument thus far either God Himself or associated with God. If there is a God, would He not be the one who had been around from the beginning?

Interestingly enough, kids stake a sovereign claim over toys, tiny territories and deciding ties by whose is there first. In some way, we all have said from one time or another, “I was here first!” In a couple of short weeks, this phrase will be shouted from the aisles of department stores on Black Friday.  Races and competitions from Olympic sprints to hotdog eating contests are decided by who finishes first. Why? Everyone understands, as part of human nature, the idea that being first matters to some degree. Where does this come from? Could it be that human beings image their creator in some way, and because they are made in his image understand that coming first counts?

To answer everyone’s question about who this Word is, (whether he is God or associated with God), John suggests that both are true. First, John states that the Word was “with” God, indefinitely and infinitely. The idea here in the original language is that of active and intimate relationship. In fact, in terms of relationship, John’s claim here is that not only is there a relationship between God and the Word, they are distinct from each other. The word that John speaks of here is a relational being and has existed in relationship from the beginning.

Relationships are yet another thing that we can identify with on a very human level. Dysfunctional though they may be, relationships permeate the world in every culture in every environment and in every context. From casual acquaintances to 60-year-old marriages, we are a relational being. Ever wonder where that relational itch in every person stems from? Could it be that relationships, imperfect though they may be, are a way in which we resemble this eternal Word? John at least seems to think so.  

III. The Word is God-1:1c-“…and the Word was God…”

However, John’s next claim is even more off the charts. Not only did the Word exist alongside God at the beginning, the Word was God Himself! In fact, the way that this phrase is constructed in the original language suggests that this phrase should end with an exclamation mark, “and the word was God!” Ultimately, John intends that the whole of his gospel be read in light of this startling argument. It is one thing to be with God in the beginning, but another thing entirely to claim that the Word is God.

In our ever-darkening world of godlessness, claiming the Word as God is striking enough, however, this was also a striking thing to the original audience thousands of years ago! Just as your ears may have perked up after hearing this claim, you can imagine how the original audience must have felt after reading these lines.

It is at this point that John’s thesis statement grows even more profound. If John had merely wanted to affirm that Jesus was divine, there was a perfectly proper Greek word for it. However, he uses the word “God” purposefully to demonstrate that everything you could ever want to say about God, you can also affirm of the Word that is being discussed here.  

IV. The Word is Creator-1:3-“….All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being…”

Notice here that while the Word had no beginning, communicated by the tense of the verb “was” above, everything else did have a beginning. Everything else’s existence had a starting point.

The next item that John is going to set out to prove is that the Word is the agent behind the creation of the world. Taken more literally, this would read, “All things were made by him, and what was made was in no way made without him.” Just as in Genesis, where everything that came into being did so because of God’s word, this Word, understood in this prologue to be a personal agent, created everything. Here, John emphatically argues that everything owes its existence to the Word, not chance, not happenstance, but to this relational, eternal, divine agent.

That the world was created by some intelligent designer is not without evidence.  Even Scientists who reject the concept of a creator God agree that all living things exhibit evidence of design. Look at the veins of a leaf, the precariously placed planets in the solar system, with earth at precisely the right distance from the sun to create livable amenities for all its inhabitants. Who would come to a wristwatch lying on the ground and say that it was created by chance? No one. Well why do so many look at pictures of cloud nebulae, a chameleon, or into their child’s eyes and say what a wonderful bundle of random occurrences? Even Richard Dawkins, famed atheist stated, “We have seen that living things are too improbably and too beautifully ‘designed’ to have come into existence by chance.” Questions like, “can information come from non-information?”, and “what came before the Big bang, or banged it in the first place?” seem to poke holes in common worldly arguments. Not to mention, there are many irreducibly complex organs in the body, cells, and other living things that cannot be explained through evolutionary steps! Here, John explains creation by arguing that the source of all information and design in the universe is this Word. He is the uncaused cause that caused it all!

V. The Word is Life-1:4a-“…in Him was life and the life was the light of men…”

Eternal, relational, God, creator, the Word, according to John is all of these things, but John is not over yet! Next, John claims that the Word is life and the light of men. “Light” and “life” are near universal religious symbols for positive truths. Here, John’s argument is deeply rooted in the creation that has already been referred to. (By this point, it is clear that John makes great use of the Old Testament, proving, at least to the reader, that he believed it too be trustworthy) At creation, the Bible teaches that calling forth “light” was God’s first creative act (Gen. 1:3-5). Later, God placed lights in the sky to separate between light and darkness (Gen. 1:14-18). In this way, the light made it possible for life to exist.  With this in mind, it is clear that John is saying that the Word is the source of life for all mankind. The Word is the source of both spiritual and physical life.

To know truly gorgeous music is to know Beethoven, Mozart, and Eric Whitacre. To know aesthetic beauty is to know Rembrandt, Michelangelo, and Rafael. To know funny is to know Cosby, Steve Martin, and Chaplin. And, to know true refreshment with a crisp and sweet taste is to know Dr. Pepper. (Pause) John claims here that to know true, meaningful, abundant, and lasting life is to know the Word of which he speaks. The self-existing life of this Word was so dispensed at creation that it became the light of the human race.

VI. The Word is Misunderstood-1:5-“…The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it…”

Light and darkness are not simply opposites, darkness is nothing other than the absence of light. At the first creation, darkness was all that there was over the surface of the deep (Gen. 1:2) until God said (the Word said), “Let there be light!” At no time other than creation could it be more appropriately stated that the light shined in the darkness. Here, the darkness cannot grasp understanding of the light, i.e. the Word.

Given the personification of the darkness “that it could not comprehend the light,” it is clear that John is establishing a theme that he will build upon later in this book. The darkness in John is not only absence of light, but positive evil (cf. 3:19; 8:12; 12:35, 46). The light is revelation of creation and that which pertains to salvation. Darkness is “the world estranged from God, spiritually ignorant and blind, fallen and sinful, dominated by evil.” The light is salvation from these things, hope, mercy and grace that has come through this Word. Apart from the light brought by the incarnate Word, everyone naturally loves darkness and shies away from the light for fear of exposure of their bad deeds.

Unfortunately, this eternal, relational, godly, creator and life is misunderstood by so many. However, now that John establishes these arguments, it is his intention to prove them in his gospel for all who read it so that they might be brought from darkness and into the light of this Word.

But one question still remains…

Who is this Word? What character in John’s gospel successfully matches the criteria we see described in these five short verses? The Word’s name is Jesus! Against the falsehood you have heard and whatever you have assumed, things are more than they seem when it comes to this man. Jesus is eternal (He has always existed). Jesus is relational (and would love to have a relationship with you). Jesus is God (everything that can be said about God can be said of Him). Jesus is Creator (through him, everything you see around you came into being by Him as the uncaused Cause). Jesus is life (and through Him is meaningful, abundant, and eternal life). However, it is clear that Jesus is misunderstood as well. Failure to understand and believe in who Jesus is failure to properly understand everything in this world. He is the solution to the riddle of life, he is the trick to solve the illusion, he is the lens through which everything is in focus. People fail to see that things are more than they seem because they do not know the Word, Jesus Christ. However, this can be corrected.

So What?

Will you believe the arguments that john lays out here concerning the Word, Jesus Christ? Will you accept that He wasn’t an eternal relationship with you? Throughout the remainder of John’s gospel, he delineates the life of this Word. This eternal, relational, creator, and Life became a man and died a death he didn’t deserve so that all men might know life and not suffer what all deserve. If you want meaningful, abundant, eternal, and focused life, it is through Jesus Christ. Know that He loves you and wants a relationship with you. Grow in your understanding of Him through this incredible book. Show Him today that you accept His free gift of eternal life and enjoy complete existence. Things are more than they seem. Is it not about time you notice?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Observations from the Ledo Deck

Last week my wife and I had the incredible privilege of joining my family on a cruise to Mexico for our summer vacation. After a busy semester in seminary and church work for me and an equally busy semester of teaching and ministering for my wife, this vacation could not have come at a better time for the two of us. Somewhere between the plane ride home and being given my room key on board the massive vessel I found myself in awe of the incredible grace of God which had bestowed this break that I did not deserve. However, my euphoria grew into disappointment when I noticed that my grateful expression was not replicated on the faces of the strangers that boarded nearby.

The beautiful thing about cruises is that for an extended period of days, you get to escape the world (quite literally) and trade your normal routine for an exciting time of pampering, entertainment, fun, and food. Some escape in the sun, others escape in a bottle of cheap beer, others escape somewhere in the buffet line, and still other escape in the pages of the latest romance novel. For all onboard, the cruise offers an escape from a world of pain, economic depression, political turmoil, and personal stress to a world of sun, sorbet, sand, and shows.

Sadly, for many this escape is short-lived after the ship has docked and reality takes over once the luggage is returned and the drive home is complete. Many return to their routine believing that what they have just experienced is all they could ever hope to enjoy. Now they must return to the cruel world they temporarily forgot.

God? Sure….yeah right! How could God allow all of this stress and heartache? Why would a good God allow me to experience what I believe is happiness only one week out of the year in the summer? If there is a God, why does my life look like something out of the Titanic and not more like the Love Boat?

Interestingly enough, the answer is grace. Yes, grace!

Although most often used in discussions surrounding the salvation of the sinner, grace permeates the world at all times and in all places in a more general kind of way. Grace explains the sunlight, adequate temperatures, breathable atmosphere, and livable topography. Grace is to blame for the beautiful sunsets, seasonal fluctuations, provision of food, and ability to work and receive the fruits of that labor. Grace is the reason a family protects their child, strangers go to the aid of other strangers, and children share. Grace is God’s way of holding a fallen world together.   

Romans 1 calls this grace the “invisible attributes” and “eternal power” of God that is “clearly seen” and “understood through what has been made” (Rom. 1:20). Experienced by all, this grace goes unrecognized by the majority in those currently populating the world. Instead, what does go noticed is the pain and agony of countless children starving in Africa and the power outages that go on for days following a rare windstorm. However, don’t these disasters actually prove the grace of God in an indirect way?

Does not the anger over a starving child support the notion that children should not starve and remind many that their own child has plenty of food? Does not the frustration over power outages prove that power is a luxury that many take for granted and yet desperately depend on? More often than not, men and women in the developed country of America enjoy power, and do not see huge populations of starving children. More often than not, men and women live in the common grace of God’s provision, enjoying His gifts without even realizing it. However, when this grace is interrupted for a brief second due to a rare windstorm, people are quick to voice their disapproval of any notion that a God could ever exist.

Ultimately, the same grace that believers appreciate everyday is the grace that nonbelievers curse when it is interrupted. It is the reason why I acknowledge that my vacation is a gift from a God who gives every good thing (James 1:17), while others riding the vessel complain when their perfect vacation is interrupted by a rainstorm or sunburn. Grace is the reason believers give thanks in everything and the reason the unbelievers snarl when things get out of whack. The very fact that people complain when things go wrong suggests that there is a correct way to behave and live (a norm that is enjoyed because of the grace of God). 

In the same way light is more easily distinguished in the darkness, grace is evident and even proven in an ungracious world. Rather than marvel at the unrest and destruction people see, everyone should marvel at the common grace that more often than not holds the world together and keeps it from ripping itself apart completely.  

Just as a ship journeys from port-to-port people in life journey from stage-to-stage either toward or away from a loving relationship with God. Either they fascinate themselves with the world’s problems and blame God until they meet Him in judgment or they recognize the grace of God and enter into a relationship with Him that prevails for all eternity. In the former situation, God inevitably hands individuals over to their sins and allows them to experience the full effects of their binge drinking, gambling habit, destructive tendencies, etc. (Rom. 1:24-25). In the latter, God extends His special saving grace and leads individuals to true paradise (Acts 16:31). Where are you headed? What is your next port of call?

If the greatest possible experience for an unbeliever to enjoy is an extended vacation and temporary escape from their routine, Heaven represents the greatest possible experience for a believer to enjoy. Heaven is greater than any cruise. It is all inclusive, perfect, and eternal. Even more than that, it is freely offered through Jesus Christ!

Choose today to escape in the saving grace of God through Jesus Christ. Don’t settle for what is common.

Friday, April 6, 2012

He Is Risen!...Now What?

Matthew 28:5-7

Often times, even seasoned believers can find themselves in some sort of stupor or state of discouragement that they cannot seem to shake. Failing to remember the promises of God and His enduring presence are two carcinogens that inevitably contribute to the spiritual cancers of confusion and loss of hope. In these moments, God alone is capable of shaking His people free from despair and jarring them loose from their complacency. Failure to remember Jesus' promises and God's enduring presence is what contributed to the women's grief as they approached the tomb early Easter morning. With sunken heads and sullen expressions, their despondency would soon be annihilated by a glowing messenger. In their darkest moment, the angel of the Lord provides supernatural encouragement and comfort to these morose matrons through four proclamations that continue to bring encouragement to believers today in the midst of their bleak hours of testing.

FEAR NOT!-Matthew 28:5

As the grieving women approach the tomb, the angel shocks them with the first proclamation, "Do not be afraid!..." (28:5). However, when one considers what they had just experienced and what they now witnessed, one cannot help but believe that this is an unfair request.

Everything pointed to disparity for these women. Not only had they witnessed the most gruesome form of torture invented by the Roman Empire, reserved for the most heinous crimes, but it was their Friend, Son, Teacher, Healer, Savior, and Messiah that had been nailed to the cross just a few days ago. On top of this experience, the women now beheld an angel whose "appearance was like lightning and his clothing as white as snow..." (28:3). Against all natural responses to these events, the angel prohibits their fear with this initial proclamation. Although it may seem unfair, this glowing messenger's command reveals that he recognized what the women failed to realize about what had taken place earlier that morning.

WONDER NOT!-Matthew 28:6

After describing the passion these women had witnessed (28:5) and the death that they had grieved, the angel calls their attention to the empty grave, stating the arrestingly obvious detail that Jesus was no longer in His assigned burial plot. While a cause of concern for these faithless women (who probably speculated that His body had been stolen or discarded in some way), the angel quickly reveals that "He had risen!" (28:6).

The nature of this verb suggests the culmination of an event or process. Indeed, Jesus' resurrection had validated His ministry, fulfilled His redemptive work, and ushered in a new era altogether. Through His resurrection, Jesus defeated death, sin, and the world system. This act implies that those who belong to Him through faith can necessarily conquer these elements as well. Death no longer has sting! Hell has been defeated! Sin is no longer binding!

However, this whole miracle should not have come as a surprise to these women. In fact, Jesus resurrection happened exactly "as He said" in Matt. 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; 26:32. All throughout the gospel, Jesus desires to be taken at His word, Jesus accompanied His resurrection with plenty of evidence lying behind, "see the place where he was lying" (28:6). So much evidence is given that even Harvard Law professor Dr. Simon Greenleaf states, "according to the law of legal evidence used in courts of law, there is more evidence for the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ than for just about any other event in history." FEAR NOT! WONDER NOT!

TARRY NOT!-Matthew 28:7a-c

Instead of calling the speechless women at the graveside to worship in light of this miracle or stand in awe of the situation that had transpired, the angel tells them to leave and tell other the best part of the good news of the gospel, Jesus had risen. Interestingly, the theme of "going" and "telling" is carried on throughout the rest of the final chapter of Matthew. The angel in verse 7 calls them to go and tell, Jesus speaks of "going" to the brethren and in order to "take word" in verse 10. And finally, in the commission given in 19-20, Jesus commands his disciples to "go into all the world" and "make disciples."

It would seem that the natural and assumed response to Jesus' completed work of redemption involves movement, not complacency, communication, not silence, and intentionality, not laziness. This message of the resurrection would have brought comfort to the disciples these women were called to engage and in much the same way, this message continues to bring similar comfort to the world. FEAR NOT! WONDER NOT! TARRY NOT!

WORRY NOT!-Matthew 28:7d-f

Much trepidation may have come upon these humble women at the empty tomb at this point. In first century Israel, women were not seen as credible witnesses, and yet, these were God's chosen messengers. Hesitation is what makes the fourth and final proclamation of the angel so important.

In an effort to encourage these women, the angel brings their attention to Jesus' movement. Already, as they were encouraged to go and tell, Jesus was running ahead of them into Galilee where the disciples waited. The messenger's suggestion that Jesus' presence would precede their arrival would have brought much peace and excitement to these women as they made their way. Oh what a joy it would have been for Mary and her friends, who at the beginning of the day anticipated attending to a corpse and now anticipated a lively and glorified body (28:7).

For these women, the call to go and tell would lead to an unprecedented experience with the presence of Jesus. Similarly, Jesus' presence is promised to anyone who goes and tells later in Matthew's gospel (28:20).


If you do not know this Jesus, will you trust Him at His Word? He has disclosed to the world all that it needs to know of Himself in order to receive His resurrection power over sin and death. Will you believe in Him today?

Christian, will you be faithful to go and tell other about Him? How great a gift we have been given through the cross! How great a Savior we have living within us because of His resurrection! What a message to proclaim and share with the whole world!

If we really believe our God was killed and then raised from the dead the way the Bible reveals, what are we doing sitting quietly on our hands? Perhaps we are worried. Perhaps we are discouraged. Perhaps we are confused. Perhaps we are run down in life. However, the same message that should be proclaimed to unbelievers is the message that brings hope to believers in the midst of any stupor or struggle. No longer are we playing a man down. No longer are you and I working while wounded. No longer is failure an option! We have the resurrection power of God within us! The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is active in your life! That alone is enough to do wonders we could never imagine.

Be encouraged believer--FEAR NOT! WONDER NOT! TARRY NOT! WORRY NOT! Jesus is risen ! He is risen indeed!