Scripture Sabbath

Imitating the Father

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Ephesians 5:1–2, NASB).

be_imitatorsThe traditional church calendar usually schedules its feast days with little or no consideration for secular holidays. Christian holy days sometimes clash with secular celebrations (like when Pentecost Sunday falls during Memorial Day weekend), while sometimes a secular holiday never seems to coincide with a particularly appropriate religious celebration. So, I was pleased that Fathers’ Day fell one week after Trinity Sunday this year. Having commemorated Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension, and then acknowledging the Holy Spirit and the Trinity, it seems appropriate to consider the Fatherhood of God.

As with last Sunday’s post about the Trinity, this will not be an in-depth analysis of God the Father. In this case, I would like to focus on how we can be imitators of the Father.

Most men imitate their fathers, sometimes without realizing it. Sometimes, I will notice one of my brothers saying things, or making gestures, that reminded me of our father. Even more peculiar was the time that I saw my son giving his son “the look” my dad would give mewhen he was angry. My father died when my son was very young, so he does not have such specific memories of his grandfather. Did he learn that expression from me (was I imitating Dad without realizing it), or is it genetic? We may find ourselves imitating positive or negative traits we learned from our parents.

This site’s tagline (just below the Darkened Glass Reflections title at the top of the page) is “Living today with an eye on eternity.” One way to do that is by imitating God, as Ephesians 5:1 urges. But, how do we do that? After all, we cannot see Him.

God the Father gave us His best self-portrait when He sent His Son to show us who He is and what He is like:

“God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power…” (Hebrews 1:1–3).

God could reveal Himself, at least partially, through the preaching of the prophets or through the Old Testament law. However, it was an incomplete image. This could reduce God to a mere concept or idea, instead of a personal Being. Such an impersonal revelation gives a distorted view of God and dysfunctional form of faith. Take the law alone as your image of God, and you get legalism. Rely on the prophets alone, and you can become judgemental, too focused on circumstances, etc. The same dangers arise if we read the New Testament as a set of rules or dogmas, without recognizing that it is a revelation about a person, Jesus. We can discard fellowship with Christ and replace it with a list of rules to obey, doctrines to comprehend, and intellectual concepts to defend. Jesus Himself can be easily forgotten. Hebrews begins by telling us that Jesus is the ultimate revelation about who God is; near the end it reminds us to fix our eyes upon Him (Hebrews 12:2).

Jesus emphasized that He imitated His Father. After healing on the Sabbath, He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner” (John 5:19). Why did Jesus heal? Because that is what the Father would do. Why did He do it on the Sabbath? Again, this is what His Father would do. Later, He would add, “I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me” (John 8:28). Every time He spoke or acted, He imitated His Father, showing us what God would do in human circumstances.

So, as we face the challenges of life, we can look to Scripture to see how Jesus responded to people and situations. He has given us His example. He has also given us the example of people who knew Him. The Bible tells us their stories so that we can learn from them. St. Paul wrote, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).

Furthermore, we can learn from mature believers that we know how best to imitate God. This is part of the reason why we should be active in and committed to a local church. Do you want to improve your prayer habits? Find a disciplined prayer warrior and imitate his or her habits. Do you want to be a better Bible student? Study with a knowledgeable Bible student and find out how he or she reads and studies. Do you want to learn evangelism? Find someone who shares the Gospel frequently, follow them, and learn their techniques. Do you want to break free from a life-controlling sinful habit? Find someone who has found freedom in Christ in that area and find out how they win their battle against this particular sin.

There is a saying that imitation is the highest form of flattery. It can also be one of the most effective tools for spiritual growth. Our Father wants us to be like Him: “like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:15-16).

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Character and Values, Christian Life, Scripture Sabbath | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Few Thoughts About the Trinity

But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

—Matthew 28:16–20, NASB

Shamrock

Legend claims that St. Patrick used the shamrock to explain the Trinity. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Happy Trinity Sunday! Sorry I did not buy anybody a card.

On the liturgical calendars of several denominations, Trinity Sunday occurs one week after Pentecost. Having celebrated the resurrection of the Son of God and His ascension to the right hand of the Father over the past few weeks, the church commemorates its birthday on Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit filled the earliest believers. One week later, it devotes a day to reflect on the Triune nature of God.

Falling on the heels of such an active time on the church calendar, Trinity Sunday can easily be lost in the mix. Many denominations, even those that believe in the Trinity, do not observe the day. Perhaps the biggest reason for this oversight may be the nature of the doctrine. How many pastors want to devote a Sunday to teaching a doctrine they have a hard time explaining? It is tempting to avoid what we do not fully understand.

So, with that in mind, I will not try to prove the Trinity. I merely seek to affirm my belief that this is true: there is one God who eternally exists in three persons—the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit. Just for the record, I think that term “persons” may create some of the confusion: it does not precisely describe their nature, but we really do not have a better word to use in its place.

We see the Trinity mentioned in the Great Commission, in Matthew 28:16–20. First, Jesus told His disciples that “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth.” Who else could have all authority in heaven except God?

They are mentioned together in Jesus’ last instruction in Matthew; they also appeared together at the beginning of His ministry, when He was baptized:

After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”

—Matthew 3:16–17

The Son had been baptized, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him, and the Father proclaimed His approval of Jesus. Three persons were present, yet it was the one God worshiped by the Jewish people. Jesus Himself, who (as we saw earlier) claimed to be God, reaffirmed the Jewish belief in monotheism by referring to Judaism’s statement of faith, the “Shema,” as the greatest commandment: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:29–30).

Since the earliest centuries of Christianity, believers have wrestled to explain how one God can be three persons. Tertullian wrote the following:

“We define that there are two, the Father and the Son, and three with the Holy Spirit, and this number is made by the pattern of salvation . . . [which] brings about unity in trinity, interrelating the three, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They are three, not in dignity, but in degree, not in substance but in form, not in power but in kind. They are of one substance and power, because there is one God from whom these degrees, forms and kinds devolve in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit” (from Early Trinitarian Quotes).

Perhaps nobody can explain the mystery of how one God can be three persons. Some have attempted to illustrate it by pointing to three-in-one objects in nature. For example, an egg contains a yolk, a white, and a shell. Legend claims that St. Patrick used a three-leafed clover, a shamrock, to illustrate the Trinity (one clover, three leaves).

This is part of walking by faith: We trust God and believe Him to be Who He says He is, even when we do not fully understand it. When I was a small child, I had faith that my mother and father were my parents, long before I learned what that meant or how we all ended up in that relationship. Likewise, I can trust and worship God even though He is beyond my comprehension, trusting that someday I shall see Him as He is and understand more fully than I can in this life.

Some doubt the truth about the Trinity because it defies our understanding. They claim it is irrational or illogical. I believe it would be more appropriate to call it super-rational or super-logical: It exceeds our ability to comprehend.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts.”

Isaiah 55:8-9

We serve a God who is beyond our comprehension, and that gives us even more reason to worship and praise Him with awe.

 

The doctrine of the Trinity...is truth for the heart. The fact that it can not be satisfactorily explained, instead of being against it, is in its favor. Such a truth had to be revealed; no one could imagine it. - Aiden Wilson Tozer
Quote by A. W. Tozer. Image from http://www.azquotes.com.

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, Scripture Sabbath | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Valiant Warrior Misses the Mark

Shortly before my recent vacation, which took me away from writing for a few weeks, I posted an article about the Old Testament judge Gideon. In that article, I pointed out that we need to see ourselves from God’s perspective. We may have a low opinion of ourselves, but God sees the potential He has given us. Even when Gideon was controlled by fear and doubt, God called him a “valiant warrior” and called him to lead the Israelite army to overthrow their oppressors. In that article, I summarized:

What is your identity? If you are in Christ, God’s seed abides in you (1 John 3:9) and you are a partaker in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). God can do great things through you. Fix your eyes on him, not your earthly status or present circumstances, and prepare to go forth in the power He gives you to advance His kingdom!

During my vacation, I was reminded that this is only half the story. The preacher in my son’s church preached the other half of Gideon’s story: After he won the battle against Midian, he took matters into his own hands. During the first half, we hear God instructing him. After a while, Gideon made his own decisions. He went from spiritual hero to a bad example.

If you are not familiar with Gideon’s story, you may read it in Judges 6-8 on Bible Gateway or a similar Bible app or website. What follows is a brief summary.

Gideon started on the right track. He struggled with doubt, but started to obey God’s instructions despite his fears and doubts and eventually courageously led his army to victory.

It all sounds good in Judges 6:11–7:23. God spoke and Gideon obeyed (even if he needed encouragement to overcome his fears and doubts). As a result, the people of God experienced victory.

However, after that, God seemed silent. We do not see the words “God said” again in Gideon’s story after he routed the Midianite army. After starting in obedience to God, Gideon seemed to take matters into his own hands. It seems as if he started to act without seeking God’s will. God continued to give him victory, but Gideon was heading for trouble. The man who started his ministry by tearing down an altar to Baal began to collect new idols: After killing two Midianite leaders, he decided to keep crescent ornaments that were on their camels’ necks. These crescents were symbols of the moon god (Judges 8:21).

Although Gideon refused to be appointed as king of Israel, he requested a large sum of silver, which he made “into an ephod, and placed it in his city, Ophrah, and all Israel played the harlot with it there, so that it became a snare to Gideon and his household” (Judges 8:27). He collected symbols of a pagan god and introduced a new idol to the Israelite people. Gideon obeyed God as long as it was convenient, but then turned back to idolatry.

In the end, he had no positive lasting legacy. The Israelites soon forgot about him and his family, and as soon as he died, they returned to worshipping other gods and rejected the LORD (Judges 8:33–35). Furthermore, his illegitimate son Abimelech (whose name means “my father is the king”) slaughtered all his siblings and declared himself king.

Gideon started well, but ended in failure. The man who tore down an altar to Baal claimed amulets depicting a pagan deity and crafted something that became an idol. The man who said “I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the Lord shall rule over you” (Judges 8:23) gave his son a royal name, and that son claimed kingship without God’s approval.

While we need to recognize our identity in Christ, we need to remember that entire phrase: It is our identity in Christ. Sometimes, we win spiritual battles through God’s power and the work of the Holy Spirit, and suddenly forget that He is in control. The apostle Paul asked, “Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3). If we are wise, we will recognize that the spiritual life is a marathon: We have to persist in following Jesus. We cannot start walking with Him and suddenly decide we are so spiritual was can run ahead of him. We need to ask all of the important questions:

  • God, how do you see me?
  • What gifts and talents have you given me?
  • What is my mission and calling?
  • What is your will for my life?
  • What do you want me to do in this situation?

Like many of the heroes in the book of Judges, Gideon was a complex figure: He had some good qualities, but he failed in many ways as well. Like each of us, he was a work in progress. Let us not stop short of doing God’s will and quickly forget His blessings and guidance.

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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The Faith of the Centurion—Luke 17:2–10

And a centurion’s slave, who was highly regarded by him, was sick and about to die. When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders asking Him to come and save the life of his slave. When they came to Jesus, they earnestly implored Him, saying, “He is worthy for You to grant this to him; for he loves our nation and it was he who built us our synagogue.” Now Jesus started on His way with them; and when He was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to Him, “Lord, do not trouble Yourself further, for I am not worthy for You to come under my roof; for this reason I did not even consider myself worthy to come to You, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man placed under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.” Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled at him, and turned and said to the crowd that was following Him, “I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such great faith.” When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.

—Luke 17:2–10

SonRoyalHeal

The Centurion Kneeling at the Feet of Christ, by Joseph-Marie Vien (1716-1809), via Wikimedia Commons

Many Christians are familiar with the account of the centurion who asked Jesus to heal his servant. His faith impresses us, as he reached out to Jesus despite the cultural barriers of his time. Roman Catholics and others from liturgical backgrounds recognize his confession of unworthiness in verses 6 and 7—“I am not worthy for You to come under my roof … but just say the word, and my servant will be healed”—as the inspiration for the last prayer recited by the congregation before receiving communion.

 

Many overlook how the centurion’s claim of unworthiness contrasts with the elders’ claim that he was worthy. We can learn a lot about faith from the centurion in this context.

There were probably few centurions whom Jewish leaders would consider worthy of any blessing. Centurions were high-ranking officials in the occupying Roman army. Few Jews knew any centurions who loved the Jewish nation: These were the people who would force the Jews to submit to Roman domination. When Jesus was scourged and crucified, it was probably a centurion giving the orders.

This centurion, though, apparently developed some kind of admiration and respect for the Jewish people and their faith. He had even provided the funds to build a local synagogue. This was particularly rare, since in many towns the synagogue met in someone’s home, much like a modern-day house church. The elders concluded that this man, unlike most Romans, deserved to be blessed.

Jesus did not argue about that point. He had come to destroy the works of the devil and to seek and save the lost. He needed no further explanation: There was a sick servant; his master requested healing; so Jesus, driven by His divine love and mercy, responded to the request by heading toward the centurion’s home.

Meanwhile, the centurion was having second thoughts about his decision to invite this man of God into his home. The elders thought he was worthy: the centurion knew he was unworthy. He knew his sins, mistakes, and shortcomings. He knew how he had failed to live up to the standards of the one true God, Whom the Jews honored and Whose local house of worship he had bankrolled. More than that, judging from what the centurion said, he recognized that he was not inviting just any holy man into his home. Jesus was not just any faith healer.

The centurion recognized that Jesus had a kind of authority unlike anything else he had ever seen. Military people understand authority. They know their rank, and they know which officers have more authority than they, and which ones have less. The centurion was a man under authority. Higher ranking officials could give him orders at any time. Caesar could send a letter ordering him to return to Rome without delay. If he received orders from Caesar or any other superiors, the centurion knew his duty: He had to obey. His wants and desires did not matter.

Likewise, those under his authority understood their obligation. If the centurion gave an order, there was only one valid response: “Yes, sir!” They would not respond, “Are you certain? Have you considered another option? I have a better idea. Can you get somebody else to do this? I don’t feel like doing this.” The centurion was a man under authority, and he had men under his authority. Perhaps he considered all social relationships in terms of authority.

Somehow, he recognized that Jesus had a kind of authority unlike anything he had ever seen. The centurion could order soldiers and civilians around. However, Jesus had been ordering demons and diseases out of people. When the centurion spoke, people listened and obeyed. When Jesus spoke, demons listened, trembled, and obeyed.

The centurion’s authority was bound by space and time. Jesus’ authority was unbounded. He realized that Jesus did not need to enter his home to heal the servant. He did not need to touch or even see him. “Just say the word, and my servant will be healed.” The servant would not even need to hear Jesus speak. The centurion understood that Jesus’ word could be trusted. As the centurion’s word carried the authority of the Roman government, Jesus’ words bore the full authority of the Kingdom of God, the Creator of the universe.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we need that faith! Let us resist the temptations to assume that Jesus’ power and authority are limited. He still heals. He still gives new life. He is not restricted by space or time. He is not limited by our failures, sins, or limitations. His love, mercy, and sovereignty are limitless. We can trust Him to speak life into our difficulties so that we may be healed and restored.

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Valiant Warrior?—Judges 6:11–14

Then the angel of the Lord came and sat under the oak that was in Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite as his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the wine press in order to save it from the Midianites. The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, “The Lord is with you, O valiant warrior.” Then Gideon said to him, “O my lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.” The Lord looked at him and said, “Go in this your strength and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian. Have I not sent you?”

—Judges 6:11–14, NASB

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

An ancient Israelite wine press, like the one Gideon used to thresh wheat [CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

The angel’s greeting to Gideon may be one of the most peculiar in all of Scripture. He finds a man who is hiding fearfully in a wine press and calls him a “valiant warrior.” Then, he tells Gideon to “Go in this your strength and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian.” At the beginning of his story, Gideon does not seem like a valiant warrior, and he seems to lack strength. One could wonder if the angel came to the wrong wine press.

Gideon can be an encouragement to all of us. God called him to step out in faith with strength he did not know he had, to accomplish a mission for which he seemed ill-equipped. Most of the heroes of the Book of Judges are like us. They have flaws. Their human frailties rise to the surface along with their greatest accomplishments. Most of us can relate to that. We are painfully aware of our weaknesses even in our noblest moments. Many of us would like to be heroic like James Bond, but realize we are often more like Maxwell Smart. Gideon was kind of like that too.

Gideon had a few strengths that God could use. For one, he knew Israel’s heritage, and he knew about his God. He knew God had delivered his ancestors from slavery in Egypt, parted the Red Sea for them, and fed them miraculously for 40 years in the wilderness. But now, they were a defeated nation, oppressed by the Midianites. Regardless of Israel’s present situation, Gideon knew—at least intellectually—that God could deliver them. He just did not know why the Lord was not acting on their behalf.

Second, Gideon had initiative and creativity. As soon as he knew what needed to be accomplished, he would act and he was not afraid to think outside the box to get things done. We see this at the beginning of his story: The Midianites would frequently raid their fields and take all of Israel’s grain. Therefore, Gideon was beating out the wheat in a wine press. This was probably the last place the Midianites would expect to find grain! This knack for initiative and creativity would serve Gideon well as he mustered an army to conquer their enemies.

Gideon had his shortcomings as well. Although he knew God could deliver Israel, he initially looked at his present circumstances. At first, he assumed God had forsaken Israel. He also underestimated himself. He believed he was too low on the social ladder to play a pivotal role in Israel’s deliverance (Judges 6:15). Finally, he needed repeated affirmations that God was with him: miraculous consumption of an offering was not enough to fully persuade him (Judges 6:19–23); he also demanded two omens involving dew and a fleece to be certain of his calling (Judges 6:36–40).

However, eventually Gideon claimed his status as a “valiant warrior.” At first, only God saw him that way. Before long, Gideon accepted this as his identity: demolishing a pagan altar, mustering an army, defeating the Midianites and executing their leaders. When he accepted God’s perspective, he could lead his people with the strength God had given him.

What is your identity? If you are in Christ, God’s seed abides in you (1 John 3:9) and you are a partaker in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). God can do great things through you. Fix your eyes on him, not your earthly status or present circumstances, and prepare to go forth in the power He gives you to advance His kingdom!

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Character and Values, Christian Life, Scripture Sabbath | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Ministry and Motives—John 12:1–8

Jesus, therefore, six days before the Passover, came to Bethany where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they made Him a supper there, and Martha was serving; but Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with Him. Mary then took a pound of very costly perfume of pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of His disciples, who was intending to betray Him, said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and given to poor people?” Now he said this, not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it. Therefore Jesus said, “Let her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of My burial. For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me.”

—John 12:1–8, NASB

mary annointing jesus feet clipart

Image from clipartfest.com

Which is the most important ministry on this list? (a) Emotional worship; (b) hospitality ministry (serving food to guests); or (c) feeding the poor? My first choice would usually be (c). The church needs to share God’s love with the world. I would normally put (a) at the bottom of the list: Too many people seek only an emotional high from their religion.

However, as John 12:1–8 shows us, maybe the question is not so simple. Why do we do the things we do? Motives matter. Why we do things is usually more important than what we do. If our motives are consistent with the will of God and are pure, even if our efforts are headed in the wrong direction, we can be guided onto the correct path. If our motives are selfish and impure, even good efforts can fall astray.

In John 12:1–8, we see a contrast of motives. Mary and Martha were two devoted followers of Jesus. They were sisters with very different personalities. I have written previously about how they reflected the “two sides of discipleship.” Mary was a worshipper, one who preferred to spend time at Jesus’ feet, hearing His teaching and worshipping Him. Martha was a “doer,” always eager to serve (and perhaps a little too anxious about it). Luke 10:38–42 shares that story.

Luke’s story occurred earlier in Jesus’ ministry. Now, just a short time before Jesus’ crucifixion (perhaps little more than a day or two before He would enter Jerusalem on Palm Sunday), He had dinner with Mary, Martha, and their brother Lazarus. It must have been a big celebration, since Jesus had recently raised Lazarus from the grave.

Martha celebrated as she knew best: Let’s have a party with lots of food! We will have a banquet to celebrate Lazarus’ return from the dead. I can imagine her returning to the table repeatedly, bringing more food for Jesus, Lazarus, and the rest of their guests (including the 12 apostles).

In the midst of the celebration, Mary brought something different. Martha probably hoped Mary would bring some roasted lamb or bread, but instead, she brought a pound of expensive perfume and started wiping it all over Jesus’ feet. We can only wonder why she chose to make such an extravagant spectacle. A pound of aromatic oil, worth one year’s wages for a common laborer, drenched Jesus’ feet.

Mary was motivated by gratitude. Jesus had raised her brother from the grave. More than that, she knew Jesus’ mercy and forgiveness. The other Gospels point out that she had a reputation as a sinner (see, e.g., Matthew 26:6-13). Others would remind Mary about her past, but she knew that Jesus offered her a future where her previous sins did not matter.

Mary felt that only her best would be appropriate for Jesus. She was willing to make an extravagant sacrifice to show her love and gratitude to Him. What about us? Do we give Jesus our best? Are we willing to surrender our most treasured possessions for His glory? Are we willing to surrender our reputation or popularity for His sake?

If Mary was motivated by gratitude, Judas Iscariot had different motives. His logic sounded reasonable. After all, a year’s wages could feed a lot of hungry people. Why pour all of this oil on one guy’s feet when it could be used to gather food for countless widows, orphans, and handicapped persons?

Yet, Judas’ motives were in the wrong place. Judas was motivated by money. Perhaps the other disciples saw his financial expertise early in the ministry and persuaded Jesus to make him the treasurer of their group. Unfortunately, that was misplaced trust. Judas would pocket a few denarii at times for his own purposes. Even now, he was not really concerned about the poor. He wanted to make himself look good to Jesus, and was disappointed that he missed an opportunity to profit from one of his good-sounding ideas.

This would be a turning point in the lives of Judas Iscariot and Jesus. After Jesus corrected him, Judas decided to betray Jesus. (See Matthew 26:14.) After three years of friendship and discipleship, Judas would sell Jesus out. What about us? Do we try to promote our own agendas at Jesus’ expense? Will we put things, projects, or ideas ahead of Him? Even good ideas, project, ministries, and activities can become dangerous when we place them ahead of worshipping Jesus.

Not long thereafter (maybe about one week later), Jesus would meet with His disciples for a final meal together. As Mary had washed Jesus’ feet with her perfume and tears, and dried them with her hair, Jesus would wash the disciples’ feet with water and dry them with a towel that He wore around His waist. He would describe it as an illustration of how we serve one another, thereby tying Mary’s worship with every other ministry we can do in His name. Shortly thereafter, Judas would leave the meal in pursuit of 30 silver pieces. The man who verbalized a scheme to feed the poor would commit suicide, and his money would go to help the poor by providing a burial place for them.

Motives matter. For Judas Iscariot, wrong motives led him on the path to the grave.

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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The Lion IS the Lamb

“And one of the elders said to me, ‘Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.’ And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth” (Revelation 5:5-6, ESV).

This post concludes a three-part series, inspired by a Facebook discussion, about Isaiah 11:6, the verse many misquote as “The lion shall lie down with the lamb.” That passage actually says that wolf will dwell with the lamb, and I offered a few thoughts about that last week.

This week, I will conclude this series by answering a concern some people have about that difference in meaning. Some people object that they do not want the verse to talk about wolves and lambs. Besides the fact that Scripture often depicts wolves as evil (see, e.g., Matthew 7:15), there is the fact that Jesus is referred to as both the Lion of Judah and the Lamb of God. They fit so perfectly together: If the Bible said, “The lion shall lie down with the lamb,” then not only do we get a beautiful pastoral image of supernatural peace, we get a picture of Jesus Himself. (Incidentally, like wolves, the Bible often describes lions as symbols of evil; see 1 Peter 5:8.)

Take heart; the Bible brings the images of Jesus as both lion and lamb together. In fact, it does so much more emphatically than the misreading of Isaiah 11:6 does. Furthermore, it does this the only time that the Bible calls Jesus the Lion of Judah.

In Revelation 5, an angel asks, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” Only one person in the universe is eligible: The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David. But then, it turns out that this Lion is “a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain.”

Why is Jesus a lion? Why is He a lamb? And, how can He be both at the same time? They are very different animals. I’ve fed lambs at petting zoos; they are harmless creatures. However, I will keep my hand away from lions’ mouths. If they bite, it hurts.

While Revelation 5:5 is the only time that Jesus is called “the Lion of {the tribe of} Judah,” it is not the first time Scripture associates Jesus’ ancestral tribe with the king of the beasts. When Jacob blessed his sons, shortly before dying, he said:

“Judah is a lion’s cub;
from the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He stooped down; he crouched as a lion
and as a lioness; who dares rouse him?
The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;
and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples” (Genesis 49:9-10).

Jacob compared his son to a lion. Jacob had a lion-like spirit that would make his lineage ideal to rule. On several occasions, Judah showed a natural gift for leadership. Eventually, that gift developed a spiritual, godly dimension that points to the ministry of Jesus.

The first time Judah displayed leadership is described in Genesis 37. When Joseph’s older brothers decided, in a fit of jealousy, to throw him in a well and leave him to die, Jacob thought of a shrewd way to avoid the guilt of murder while making some extra money: “Then Judah said to his brothers, ‘What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.’ And his brothers listened to him” (Genesis 37:26-27). Thanks to Judah’s planning and influence, Joseph lived (although he was sold into slavery) and the brothers made a few extra shekels. This was not Judah’s finest hour, but it showed that he knew how to influence people and effect change. He was a leader.

Let us fast-forward a few decades. Joseph had been a slave in Egypt for a while and, by the grace of God, emerged as a leader in the Egyptian government. His spiritual discernment and wisdom elevated him so, in response to a prophecy of severe famine, Pharaoh appointed him to manage food collection and distribution. When famine struck, Egypt had food to spare. Jacob’s ten oldest sons, including Judah, came to buy food from Joseph. Jacob kept his youngest son, Benjamin, home. Joseph warned them not to return unless Benjamin was present. Eventually, Judah persuaded his father to send all of the sons, by agreeing to take full responsibility for his youngest brother’s safety. In the end, he showed that he was willing to accept a role of slavery in place of his youngest brother. (See Genesis 43 and 44 to read this very detailed story.)

At first, Judah could influence people to act out of greed. In the end, he would influence people by acting in the interest of others. He would place his own life and freedom on the line to save his brothers. The Lion had learned to lead through sacrifice.

About 1800 years later, Judah’s descendant would prove Himself to be the Lion of the tribe of Judah by offering Himself as the Lamb of God. As the lion is the king of the beasts, Jesus is the King of Kings. He does not rule by acting selfishly. Nor does He rule by throwing His weight around violently. He rules through self-sacrifice. He showed His most lion-esque leadership not by devouring or conquering, but by offering Himself for our sins. The Lion of Judah was most lion-like when He displayed His lamb-like gentleness as a sacrifice for the sins of the world.

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Scripture Sabbath | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Did the Lion Lie Down with the Lamb?—Isaiah 11:6

“The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;
and a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11:6, ESV).

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Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.

Talk about a learning experience. I pride myself on being a committed student of God’s Word. I have a seminary degree and have read the Bible many times over the last 32-plus years. Isaiah 11:6 comes up several times per year in the Book of Common Prayer’s Daily Office readings, so I should know this verse. Well, as Proverbs 16:18 tells us, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

But recently, the wife of one of my church’s pastors urged her friends on Facebook to read this verse more closely. So, I did, and was surprised. I thought it should say that “the lion lies down with the lamb.” I have always heard that phrase. Surely, I thought, it is in the Bible, and this is the verse. How did I miss this? Perhaps, while reading Isaiah 11, I saw this passage, and thought, “Oh, that sounds like the verse about the lion and the lamb,” but did not check the cross-references to find it. (Or perhaps, maybe my coffee did not kick in yet. I think I’m usually only about halfway through my first cup when reading the Old Testament passage.)

Did I miss something? Some of my King-James-only friends might suggest that I was reading one of “those corrupt modern English translations” that are part of a conspiracy to distort God’s Word and deceive believers. But, the King James Version says essentially the same thing as my English Standard Version:

The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.

All of the English translations I read depict the same two animals: a wolf dwelling with the lamb. (Wait a minute: He’s not lying with lamb, he’s dwelling with it!) Even Martin Luther’s German translation, published about 70 years before the KJV, said “wolf.” So did the Hebrew. If there was a conspiracy to change God’s Word, it goes back many centuries.

So, what is the lesson here? Christians need to read their Bibles. We need to be wise, discerning, and diligent. Sometimes, we can grow so accustomed to thinking the Bible says something, because we have always heard it that way, that we miss what God is really trying to teach us.

Some of the mistakes committed by students of Scripture are minor. Is theology affected if Matthew 2:1-12 does not specifically say that three wise men visited the baby Jesus when He was born? (It does not tell us the exact number. Tradition assumes there were three, based on the number of gifts. By the way, Jesus could have been a toddler already by the time they arrived.) Many people think that the Red Sea parted instantly when Moses prayed, even though Exodus 14:21 says it took all night for the wind to blow it apart. (I have to admit, that would not have looked quite as cool in the classic movie, The Ten Commandments.)

However, diligence is in order because some mistakes affect biblical morality and core teachings necessary for salvation. In 1631, a print run of the Bible contained an egregious typographical error in Exodus 20:14, leaving the crucial word “not” out of the verse, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” The Bibles were immediately recalled after the error was discovered, but a few copies are still in existence. If such an error can get past the proofreaders, think of the errors we can make when we do not study the Bible accurately. (See here and here for some of my previous posts on this subject.)

In a forthcoming post, I will reflect more on the actual meaning of this verse.

(PS: Regarding the picture of the wolf at the top of the page. I generally try to honor copyright laws when selecting pictures for my post. Unfortunately, any pictures depicting a wolf lying with a lamb, in relation to Isaiah 11:6, were protected by copyright. Therefore, I selected the above picture which is under US Government copyright, and therefore is free for reuse with proper acknowledgment. Wolves are beautiful creatures, but I would not try to pet this one!)

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Scripture Sabbath | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

Freedom in Submission to the Truth

“But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’” (Genesis 3:4–5, ESV).

“So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’” (John 8:31–32, ESV).

“Freedom is found in submission to truth” (St. Augustine, Concerning the Freedom of the Will II 13:37).

The_Holy_Bible

In my last post, I shared some of my thoughts about abortion after March for Life 2017. A former high-school classmate responded on Facebook to my post by stating that the Constitution prohibits “making legal decisions on religious grounds.” Our online discussion reflects something at the root of the culture wars in modern times. Christians are speaking to a culture that is thinking from a very different worldview. The friend is a lawyer, who does not profess faith in Jesus Christ, and who was approaching this issue from that perspective. I write primarily as a seminary-trained theologian and Bible teacher. While we both speak English, he approached abortion as mainly a legal and political question; I approach it as primarily as spiritual matter. We have very different ideas about who has the ultimate authority about this issue.

Christians follow Jesus, who declared that He is the Truth (John 14:6). Most Americans today join with Pontius Pilate, asking “What is truth?” (John 18:38). Many will even claim that there is no truth, that all people can claim their own truth, or that nobody can really know what is true.

Likewise, we find ourselves at odds against the culture regarding the concept of freedom. Christians and non-Christians, conservatives and liberals, all claim to value freedom or liberty, yet have very different definitions of this term. A Christian will claim that the preborn baby is entitled to the right to life, yet many others in our society will say that this conflicts with a woman’s freedom to make her own choices about her body. Both groups claim to value freedom, yet they reach very opposite decisions about abortion. We face similar conflicts over other social issues in America (for example, gay marriage).

I suggest that the most popular concept of freedom in American today—even among many Christians—is something I would call functional Satanism. Other authors have popularized the notion of functional atheism, “the belief that ultimate responsibility for everything rests with me,” to describe religious people whose lives do not reflect a belief that God is actively involved in their lives. Functional Satanism holds that freedom of choice, or the right to choose one’s own system of right and wrong, is a divine gift. The functional Satanist essentially believes that he can make his own life choices and expect God to bless them.

This is an outgrowth of the lie that the serpent (Satan) introduced in the Garden of Eden. He told Eve that, if she ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, she would “be like God, knowing good and evil.” The Hebrew word for “knowing” includes the ideas of deciding or making choices, and I believe this is the greatest part of Satan’s lie. It is not so much that Eve would be able to discern God’s preferences between right and wrong; it would be that Eve could make her own decisions about right and wrong.

This lie pervades human cultures and prevails even in the Church. We can fall into two extremes as a result. On the one hand, many Christians will think that, as long as I believe in Jesus, I can just do whatever I want. Almost anything goes; we can make excuses for adultery, dishonesty, etc. We can break all of the Ten Commandments, as long as we devise a clever justification for our notions about good and evil. In response to this, some Christians go to the other extreme: They come up with rules and regulations God never sanctioned and preach them as if they are biblical.

Jesus offers us true freedom, but it is not the freedom that the world proclaims. The world’s idea of freedom implies a rejection of all restraint. Many drug addicts and alcoholics can testify that a life without restraint does not equal freedom, but actually binds one in spiritual chains. The One who created us, the Lord and Giver of Life, knows the Truth (and IS the Truth). By following Him, we can find true freedom.

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Christians and Culture, Scripture Sabbath | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Holy Name of Jesus

“‘She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel’
(which means, God with us).” (Matthew 2:21-23, ESV).

And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb” (Luke 2:21, ESV).

256px-ichthys-svg

The Greek letters in the familiar “ichthys” symbol represent Jesus’ name and titles: “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior”

Today (January 1) is New Year’s Day. We think of it as a day for new beginnings, a chance to make resolutions to start anew in different areas of our lives. On some church calendars (e.g., in the Book of Common Prayer), it is the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. Since it is the eighth day since we celebrated our Savior’s birth, we commemorate the day that He was circumcised and His name became “official.”

 

Names matter. They are perhaps the most important part of our identity. If you want to insult somebody effectively and quickly, make fun of their name. Parents usually give much thought to the names for their children. We may name our children after family members, thereby emphasizing the link to previous generations; or, we may name our children after someone we admire (perhaps a hero of the Bible, or a historical figure we respect). We do not name our children after someone whom we dislike or disrespect (I do not know too many people named “Adolf” these days, thanks to one particular scoundrel).

It is thus important to consider the significance of the name of Jesus. His name tells us who He is and why He came into the world. It is the English transliteration of His Hebrew name, “Yeshua,” which means “The Lord is salvation.” He came, first and foremost, to “save his people from their sins,” as the angel told Joseph.

This is who He is, what He does, and what we can expect from Him. Jesus came to save us from our sins. His entire life—including His teaching ministry as well as His death and resurrection—was designed to save us from the kingdom of sin and darkness and bring us into the kingdom of God.

In addition to this name above all names (Philippians 2:9-10), the Bible ascribes numerous titles to Jesus: Immanuel, Son of God, Lamb of God, Prince of Peace, etc. If you are interested in an in-depth study of the names and titles of Jesus, an extensive podcast series by theologian Thomas Hopko is available here.

Much has been written about the power of Jesus’ name and the promises in His name. Our eternal condition is closely tied to His name: “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11). Someday, every sentient creature (including every demon in hell, every atheist, and every Islamic terrorist) will bow before the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The authority of that name is undeniable, and someday all mankind will acknowledge that.

Those who acknowledge the authority of Jesus’ name can be assured that He will be faithful to His promises. Jesus said, “In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:23-24).

This does not mean (as some misguided Bible teachers claim) that we can force God to give us something simply by ending our prayers with the phrase, “in Jesus’ name.” His Holy Name reflects His authority and power, much as a police officer’s badge reflects his authority to demand that you stop driving and present your license and registration. We do not try to exercise authority over God; rather, we acknowledge Jesus’ authority over our lives and all creation, and on the basis of that authority, we pray with confidence that God will do exactly what He promises. In John 14:13-14, Jesus clearly says that our prayers in His name will be answered so that “the Father may be glorified in the Son.” We pray in Jesus’ name to fulfill God’s will, not to baptize His will into our will or subjugate God to our desires.

The name of Jesus is the springboard to the greatest “new beginning” of all. God’s blessings and promises are intertwined with the name, authority, and character of Jesus, our Savior: the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world; the God who is always with us. May 2017 be a year in which we all gain a greater appreciation and awareness of who Jesus is and what He seeks to do in our lives.

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, Scripture Sabbath | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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