A Pastoral Application of John 1:1-18

This will compliment my exegesis of the text, which I posted last week. Click here to read it.

I hope this will offer some encouragement and joy to you as you read and ponder, with an open Bible next to you.

Grace in Christ,

-Justin

An Eternal Person Created Everything

John’s Gospel begins with a prologue of raw divine revelation. Just as Genesis begins the entire Old Testament with “In the beginning,” so John boldly begins his Gospel with the same declaration. This is a revelation of no one less than God. This is serious business—it’s divine business. When Jesus was dying, he cried out “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me” (Matt. 27:46 HCSB). His quotation of Psalm 22:1 would have stirred his hearers to think of the entire Psalm, just as John’s use of Genesis 1:1 connects his readers with the entire creation narrative.

The author here would have us make no mistakes about who Jesus was and is—“the Word was God,” and also, “all things were made through him” (John 1:1b, 1:3a ESV). The one who is the Word is an eternal person, and he was there with God in the beginning of all things. We see here that an eternal person created everything including you and me. That person, we find out a little further down, is Jesus, the Son of the Father (John 1:14).

The Word has Been Arriving into His World

            This world seems to be under a terrible curse. Eight years ago we saw 250,000 people die in a tsunami, nations are in perpetual war, each year there is extinction of numerous, irreplaceable species; and so we wonder how a God of love could be any part of it all. The Church often speaks with contradictory voices when suffering and death visit us. People are desperate for help. It is into this maelstrom that John speaks: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men” (1:4). This is light from life for humans who languish in darkness and death. It is light that shines in our darkness, shining so that it cannot be overcome by the darkness (1:5).

This is John’s way of telling us that the eternal person who created everything was also filtering into our world long before his Incarnation—filtering down through the depths of darkness like the morning sun reaching the bottom of some great lake. John the Baptist was used by God to announce the coming of the light into the world. In this historical figure, we latch onto the historicity of John’s prologue. This is not a myth created by some wine-soaked Greek hill-dweller. No, John the Baptist stepped into the spotlight of redemptive history to speak; his voice reaching not only the tympanic membranes of a couple hundred Israelites, but he being dead yet speaks to hundreds of generations since. He bears witness about the light of Jesus, the light that has been illuminating all people throughout history. The redemptive historical narrative of Israel reveals his true identity and mission. He was coming into his broken world, a world filled with human darkness—with his coming there is hope for humankind and there is a divine purpose behind every evil thing, (most clearly seen in the cross).

The author of this prologue makes clear that “the true light . . . was coming into the world” (1:9). There is conflict here, yet again, like in v. 5 where we see darkness that would overcome the light of life. In vv. 10-11, the irony is stated outright—the world that he made was ignorant of him, though like the daylight that covers our physical planet, he covers our metaphysical world with his presence. Before his Incarnation, the Word of life had been revealed in the world of Gentiles through the light of conscience, yet he had come especially to the Hebrew people. Among all of this history, John highlights the mercy of God in vv. 12-13: by the gracious will of God, many received the Word and became his children.

The Word as a Man… For Us

            By the time John brings us to v. 14, we have seen that God’s light had been infiltrating the world of human darkness and granting new birth to everyone who received him. Now, however, we see a new stage of God’s work among humans. He becomes one of us. The Word came into the darkness, no longer as a light in Torah, or in conscience, or in the book of nature, but in the flesh. This is the unique Son of the Father; his sonship indicates a potential adoption for each one of us. This is the good news the Church possesses, and this is the gospel that we need in order to continue lives of hopefulness and joy in a world of cascading sadness. God did not remain distant, cold, or disinterested. His presence and coming into our world has been happening in greater and greater movements since the days of our first parents. His is a posture of concern, care, and indeed, divine love for a race of mutilated, sin-slain creatures.

Often the most difficult thing for any of us is to look at those who are badly injured by some tragedy. People who have some deformity go through life watching the silent reactions of everyone around them, feeling isolated and alone. When God looked at his human creature, the disfigurement was far more wrenching than any missing limb or skin rash that we have ever seen. In his omniscience, God was looking at pure unholiness. We had become what he hates. In the mythological tradition, this might be the point in the plot when God utters his disgust and closes the book on the world. In the objective history of what he actually has done, it is the opposite. While he does execute wrath, he yet remembers mercy all along the way.

“And we have seen his glory” (1:14b), and his glory includes his being “full of grace and truth” (1:14c). As he closes out his prologue, John declares world peace for all who will receive him and believe in his name. For this one to come, full of grace for the graceless, and full of truth for those caught in lies is the greatest act of love. He has been pouring out his fullness ever since, and the grace which replaces previous grace is most clearly seen as he lays down his perfect life in the stead of us, his people. Jesus fulfilled all of the previous graces God had given the world. Jesus is the ambassador of God to humankind, and the representative of humankind to God. He is the perfect mediator.

And all of this reveals the very heart of God—the place John ends out his beginning. Jesus is in the very heart of God, in the Father’s κόλπον (closest embrace). The Son is in the place of greatest intimacy with God, and he is there for you. He is your intercessor. He is here with us. He is the one who never leaves us or forsakes us. He is our great Shepherd, the one who loves unconditionally, and into our world he came so that we might touch God and be healed. He is the Word of God with us. He is the Word of God for us in the abiding darkness of this world, a darkness that cannot overcome his light.

It’s not Right that Humankind Dies: Tuesdays with Uncle Athanasius

Human beings are a creature of God – His highest creation in fact, as we are made in His image. Athanasius spends a great deal of energy in his magnum opus On the Incarnation of the Word discussing our relation to God as being made in His image. He sees much of God’s motive in sending His Son to redeem us in the fact that it would not have been proper for His creatures bearing His image to waste away into nothingness because of corruption.

While Athanasius’s categories are underdeveloped, and some of his theology a bit wonky, I can look past that a lot easier (as a fourth-century man), than anyone who in this twenty-first century is still underdeveloped and wonky. Read Athanasius with charity – I post his glorious words every Tuesday. Please subscribe to this blog if you have been blessed by any of these posts.

Athanasius 5, Heretics 0

Athanasius 5, Heretics 0

Uncle Ath?

Yes, kids?

Do you think it’s OK for humanity to die off in their sin and corruption? If the whole race is eliminated, wouldn’t that be what we deserve?

Well…

…what possible profit could it be to God Himself, Who made men, if when made they did not worship Him, but regarded others as their makers?

This would be tantamount to His having made them for others and not for Himself. Even an earthly king, though he is only a man, does not allow lands that he has colonized to pass into other hands or to desert to other rulers, but sends letters and friends and even visits them himself to recall them to their allegiance, rather than allow His work to be undone.

How much more, then, will God be patient and painstaking with His creatures, that they be not led astray from Him to the service of those that are not, and that all the more because such error means for them sheer ruin, and because it is not right that those who had once shared His Image should be destroyed.

Tender words of a warrior-Christian. My favorite uncle.

Thanks for reading,

-Justin

David Sings the Preservation of the Saints

J-O-Y

I will be writing on the doctrines of grace as much as possible in coming days and months. This post will deal with the Perseverance of the Saints, as it is known in Reformed theology. This post is simply one facet of this glorious doctrine, I am not trying here to speak comprehensively of all the Bible says about it.

Salvation is of Yahweh (Jonah 2:9)

If salvation is something you can attain or earn, then it is definitely something you can lose and fall away from.

But if it is not your salvation in the first place, then it is an entirely different situation. Consider the Christian doctrine of the Preservation of the saints, seen through the eyes of an Old Testament sinner.

Sung to the Key of Grace

King David raped Uriah’s wife and then had him murdered to cover it up when she was pregnant. After being confronted by the prophet Nathan, David was broken for his terrible sins, and sought repentance. Among other wonderful lines in Psalm 51, he prayed like this:

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me away from Your presence,
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.

12 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation,
And uphold me by Your generous Spirit. (NKJV)

Whose salvation did David have? The salvation of the God of Israel. Elsewhere, David praises God like this:

Psalm 65

Iniquities prevail against me;
As for our transgressions,
You will provide atonement for them.

Blessed is the man You choose,
And cause to approach You,
That he may dwell in Your courts.
We shall be satisfied with the goodness of Your house,
Of Your holy temple.

Here we see a prophecy of the cross-work of Jesus (v. 3), a vocalization given to divine election (v. 4a), and the resultant preservation of the saints in fellowship with God (v. 4b).

And in another place, David rejoices in the nature of God’s forgiveness when he sings

Psalm 32

1 Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven,
Whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man to whom Yahweh does not impute iniquity

Notice the “Blessed”s like in Psalm 65 above? Connect the dots of grace here. Blessed people are chosen, atoned for, transgressions forgiven, sin covered, and their iniquity is not counted (imputed) to them! God removes all of the enmity between Him and us in order to bring us to Himself.

Do you really think He would then leave the perseverance up to us after all He has done to make us His children?

He Keeps us SO THAT We Remain in Him

God’s work in saving people from the penalty of their sins is God’s work. The worker in salvation gets the glory, and the preserver in salvation gets the glory. It’s all of Him!

Often the question from Christians is “can I lose my salvation,” or, “can those who are truly born again fall away and end up in hell?” I’ve asked the question, and so have you if you are a believer.

My Lutheran brothers and sisters maintain that a truly regenerated believer in Christ can lose his salvation if he stops believing in Christ.

Similarly (but not the same doctrine as the Lutherans), many Arminians of all denominations teach that a Christian can lose their salvation, but with the added pressure of having to make the decision to be born again in the first place.

Not So, Friends

For the sake of brevity, I just want to say this: the eternal covenant of God to save His elect, the atoning work of Christ to purchase those the Father had given Him, and the sealing of the Holy Spirit for the day of redemption are bonds of love and power that only one Being is strong enough to break, and you ain’t Him.

I’ll leave off today with the reassuring words of Jesus concerning us, His people.

John 6

37 All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. 39 This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. 40 And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”

I praise You, Jesus my Lord.

Christ and sheep

Thanks for reading,

-Justin

We Do Not Sever the Man from the Godhead

Gregory-NaziazenGregory Nazianzus, in writing to Cledonius regarding the Apollinarian controversy in the mid fourth-century, beautifully states the orthodox theology of Jesus Christ:

 For we do not sever the Man from the Godhead, but we lay down as a dogma the Unity and Identity of Person,

Who of old was not Man but God,

and the Only Son before all ages,

unmingled with body or anything corporeal;

but Who in these last days has assumed Manhood also for our salvation;

passible (able to suffer) in His Flesh, impassible in His Godhead;

circumscript (limited) in the body, uncircumscript in the Spirit;

at once earthly and heavenly, tangible and intangible, comprehensible and incomprehensible; that by One and the Same Person, Who was perfect Man and also God, the entire humanity fallen through sin might be created anew.

I’m grateful for the ancient heresies that arose to challenge the Church. It was in the heat of theological battle over the identity of Jesus our Christ that precise, life-giving definition was given and set in stone. We twenty-first century folks are in deep debt to the work of our forefathers in the faith.

Praise Christ!

-Justin

Pre-Incarnate Christ: Paul Washer on Saturday Theovideo

My favorite spiritual mentor Paul Washer talks about the gospel by discussing the pre-incarnate Son of God in glory with the Father.

Who was it in the manger in Bethlehem?

Who was it on the Roman death cross 33 years later?

Who is He?

Watch at least the first few minutes, and see if it’s even possible to turn it off afterward. This is the steak and potatoes of Christianity.

With butter and sour cream.

Thanks for watching,

-Justin

Staycation in Babylon and Glimpsing the New Covenant: Prophesy Fridays

I am pretty sure the internet is devoid of commentary on prophecy (that’s sarcasm, folks), so I’d better throw in a dash of red-hot, mind-blowing prophetic power to light up your life.

Red Peppers

Prophesy Friday is my attempt to counteract some of the atrocious sea of false prophecy and sensationalism out there. If these posts are a blessing to you, please consider sharing them with a friend.

…the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. Rev. 19:10

Let’s strengthen our mutual faith together, brothers and sisters. Foresight and clarity of Bible prophecy is one of (if not the) greatest means of growing in our faith in the true God. This is going to be a heavy dose today, so strap on your thinking caps!

Today we’re going to visit with Ezekiel – a man who was carried off to Babylon in 597 BC when the Hebrew kingdom of Judah was dismantled by mighty Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon – Emperor of the Middle Eastern peoples. Ezekiel’s prophecy is graphic, gritty, and at some points difficult to interpret. Jewish men traditionally were not to read it until they turned 30 because of the horrific nature of some of the pictures, and because of the sexually explicit imagery used to describe the spiritual whoredom of Judah and Israel (ch. 23).

It is a prophecy of disorientation and devastation, and in the midst of the events of the book, word reaches Ezekiel that Jerusalem has been destroyed (586 BC). At that point, Ezekiel begins to receive a new type of prophetic word: reorientation and restoration for the descendants of the Babylonian exiles. On this turn in the narrative, Charles Dyer writes

During these final years Ezekiel was ministering in Babylon, predicting the coming collapse of Jerusalem. His message fell on deaf ears till word of the city’s destruction was received in Babylon. The fall of the city prompted a change in Ezekiel’s prophetic message. Before Jerusalem fell, Ezekiel’s message focused on Judah’s forthcoming destruction because of her sin. After Jerusalem’s fall, Ezekiel’s message centered on Judah’s future restoration. [1]

Ezekiel

I give you all that information in order to provide context for what I want to highlight today. As Ezekiel begins his staycation in Babylon, he is given a hopeful prophecy for the future restoration of his nation… yet the prophecy of the restored Israel would grow and expand into the inclusion of the Church of Jesus Christ (as is the nature of much Old Testament prophecy).

Through the destruction of old Jerusalem, Ezekiel becomes a prophet for the New Jerusalem – the New Covenant in Jesus Christ and the better promises given to all who are in Him. Want to see a glimpse of it? If you read carefully and follow my thinking, I know you will be blessed like I’ve been.

We only have space for a very small slice of Ezekiel’s prophecy, as it is dense and difficult, but a small slice is enough to get a ton of Christ.

Chapter 34, Verses Wow through Hallelujah

Written around 580 BC, keep in mind Ezekiel is writing what God is giving him to write – and he is writing to the generations of Jews who will suffer through exile in Babylon… but because they are the words of the all-knowing God who is outside of time, they are also words that foreshadow a greater restoration, one which will include the entire world!

After condemning the leaders of the Jewish nation for failing to shepherd the people according to the covenant, Yahweh declares Himself to be the true shepherd (Ez. 34:11-13 NKJV):

11 For thus says Yahweh God “Indeed I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out.”

What’s that? 600 years later, Jesus said “I am the Good Shepherd” John 10:11, and also

And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd (John 10:16).

Do you see the connection? Let’s look back at Ezekiel 34 –

12 As a shepherd seeks out his flock on the day he is among his scattered sheep, so will I seek out My sheep and deliver them from all the places where they were scattered on a cloudy and dark day.

That dark and cloudy day was first of all referring to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Babylonian exile, but that dark day can also refer to the thousands of years where there was no hope for the Gentiles. They were born, lived, and died in spiritual darkness as the fallen sons and daughters of Adam. Jesus, as the Word of Yahweh in Ezekiel 34, claims He will seek out His people in every nation.

13 And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them to their own land; I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, in the valleys and in all the inhabited places of the country.

When He finds us, He restores us – both Jews and Gentiles! We are all feeding on the goodness of the “land” of Israel, metaphorically speaking – we are all within the covenant blessings spoken to Abraham… because of and in Christ!

But wait, there’s more. You may not be convinced of the connection between Ezekiel’s prophecy and Jesus. Look further as Yahweh through Ezekiel reprimands the Hebrew people who have despised the good gifts of God… but with the appropriate New Covenant lens, we see it was actually Jesus they trampled. Read this and think of Jesus’ trial, mocking, and crucifixion (Ez. 34:17-19):

17 ‘And as for you, O My flock, thus says Yahweh God: “Behold, I shall judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and goats.

(Read about how Jesus claims that power in Matthew 25).

18 Is it too little for you to have eaten up the good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the residue of your pasture—and to have drunk of the clear waters, that you must foul the residue with your feet?

This is a picture of how Jesus was treaded down and trampled by His nation. Ezekiel’s contemporaries had similarly despised the good gift of God’s covenant and favor to them, but look then at this:

19 And as for My flock, they eat what you have trampled with your feet, and they drink what you have fouled with your feet.”

Oh my. Yahweh makes a difference here between His flock and the people of Ezekiel’s nation. In other words, the people of Ezekiel’s time are excluded from the flock of Yahweh – excluded and cursed by their breaking of the covenant. They have treaded and trampled God’s gift, but His flock will eat and drink from that very trampled gift.

Do you see the prophetic power here? He’s talking about you and me in the New Covenant – those in Jesus Christ which for Ezekiel would be another 600 years in the future!

Look carefully at it: what is it the Church eats and drinks? What else but the broken body and blood of the Lamb?Communion Our communion supper! Our Jesus, coming to us in the bread and the wine, offering His saving benefits to His flock!

Even More Clear

Ezekiel continues to speak the Word of Yahweh, and Jesus becomes crystal clear in the passage:

23 I will establish one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them—My servant David. He shall feed them and be their shepherd. 24 And I, Yahweh, will be their God, and My servant David a prince among them; I, Yahweh, have spoken.

Just so there is no confusion about who it is that is at the head of all these blessings. Just so we’re clear, oh Israel, who will be your King and benefactor. This is an echoing of Yahweh’s promises to David that his own offspring would sit on the throne of the covenant nation forever, from 2 Samuel 7:16.

But realize something about Ezekiel writing this Word from God in 580 BC: David had been dead and moldering for over 400 years, so when Yahweh declares that David will be His shepherd and servant to rule His people Israel, He is speaking of David’s descendant.

And here’s the last piece of the puzzle. In 70 AD when the Romans wrecked the temple and destroyed the Jewish nation (again), all of the family records of the Jews were lost. After that time, no one can say for certain which person belongs to which family or tribe. What Jew today can be crowned as the Son of David? Not one. There is no line from David to the present day Jew, and so that Shepherd and Prince who will be ruler over the New Covenant, restored nation… had to have lived and been revealed before 70 AD. And since there was no restored Davidic kingdom at that time, there is only one possibility left: that Shepherd, King, and servant of Yahweh did not stay dead, rose from the earth into heaven where He is seated at the right hand of the Father, waiting to return again to earth and consummate His visible rule over all people. The great Shepherd of Israel and Son of David is alive and ready to be revealed in His majestic reign, just as promised.

For now, He is reigning until the Father places all His enemies under His feet. He is the King of Zion. He is the Son of David. He is the Lamb slain for His flock – and He is coming back to rule the earth in judgment and power. He is the fulfillment of these, and many other prophetic pictures in Ezekiel. Read it for yourself!

Thanks for reading,

-Justin

[1] Charles H. Dyer, Ezekiel, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures by Dallas Seminary Faculty: Old Testament, 1226.

Meeting God: Valley of Vision Prayer

Sometimes I have trouble praying as I ought – but often I turn to the Valley of Vision for help in getting my engine started. One of Christianity’s greatest books from the past 2,000 years, VoV would be my second book choice if stranded on a desert island, right after the Bible, and right before The Existence and Attributes of God by Stephen Charnock. Oh, those Puritans.

Valley of Vision Prayer

Take a moment and pray this prayer with me, and with the millions of saints who have prayed it before us. A prayer of thirsting for the Living God; for His love and tender touch, for His forgiveness and help in prayer.

Great God, in public and private, in sanctuary and home, may my life be steeped in prayer, filled with the spirit of grace and supplication, each prayer perfumed with the incense of atoning blood. Help me, defend me, until from praying ground I pass to the realm of unceasing praise. Urged by my need, invited by Thy promises, called by Thy Spirit, I enter Thy presence, worshipping Thee with godly fear, awed by Thy majesty, greatness, glory, but encouraged by Thy love.

I am all poverty as well as all guilt, having nothing of my own with which to repay Thee, but I bring Jesus to Thee in the arms of faith, pleading His righteousness to offset my iniquities, rejoicing that He will weigh down the scales for me, and satisfy thy justice. I bless Thee that great sin draws out great grace, that, although the least sin deserves infinite punishment because done against an infinite God, yet there is mercy for me, for where guilt is most terrible, there Thy mercy in Christ is most free and deep.

Bless me by revealing to me more of His saving merits, by causing Thy goodness to pass before me, by speaking peace to my contrite heart; strengthen me to give Thee no rest until Christ shall reign supreme within me in every thought, word, and deed, in a faith that purifies the heart, overcomes the world, works by love, fastens me to Thee, and ever clings to the cross.

Thanks for praying with me,

-Justin

Valley of Vision