Weekly Bible Study Notes: August 25, 2021

John 20

Last time, our lesson closed when Pilate finally sent Jesus away to be crucified.  Now we pick up the story after the crucifixion has been completed, on the first day of the new week with Mary Magdalene who went to the tomb very early, while it was still dark and found that the tomb was open and the body of Jesus was gone.  John has already used “darkness” in this Gospel as a metaphor for disbelief several times, and this is no different, for upon discovering the empty tomb neither Mary nor Peter and John believed that it indicated Jesus had risen from the dead, for they had not grasped this concept in advance. As the sun rose and light began to spread across the land, this would change…

The drama begins early in the morning, before sunrise when Mary Magdalene finds the tomb empty.  She rushes to tell the disciples that the body has been moved or stolen and Peter and John race to the scene where they confirm that the body is gone.  John completes this part of the story by pointing out in v. 9 that none of them understood from Scripture that Jesus would rise from the dead.  I might point out that they also didn’t understand this from the things that Jesus had told them.  It would be beneficial for all of us to understand that we have the same problem today very frequently because we are used to thinking in earthy terms.  Very few Christians today, at least in America, have what could be called a Biblical world view, instead most of us have a cultural or secular world view which inhibits our ability to see things as they really are, and we need to be aware of this to avoid misinterpreting not only Scripture but the world around us. As for Scripture in this regard, take a look at what Peter said in Acts 2:25-32: Obviously, he understood what Scripture taught on this point by the Day of Pentecost.

Mary had found the tomb empty, had run back to tell the disciples, Peter and John had come running and confirmed the tomb was empty… and had in turn gone back to their homes leaving Mary at the scene crying.  Still crying, she looks into the tomb again and this time sees two angels inside; there is nothing in the text to tell us that she understood that they were angels.  They ask her why she is crying, and her reply demonstrates that she has no concept of their double meaning; she is crying because someone has stolen the body.  She did not comprehend the second meaning that there should be no cause for crying any longer: He has risen! She turns and sees Jesus standing there but does not recognize Him.  Her lack of recognition is interesting, for it shows us that there is nothing remarkable in His appearance.  That she doesn’t realize who He is shouldn’t be that shocking, for I cannot recall a time in my own life in which I would ever expect to see someone walking around and talking when I had gone to visit their grave.  She assumes He is the gardener.

Jesus asked her why she was crying and then who she was looking for, a question He had already asked twice on the night He was arrested.  She answers Him by asking about the whereabouts of the body.  Jesus calls her by name; the shepherd “calls his own sheep by name and leads then out” (10:3). Immediately she is “called out” of her unbelief!

Jesus says a curious thing at this point, “do not hold on to me.”  A close look at this reveals that His meaning is something like: Do not try to hold me here on earth for I have to return to my Father (go to prepare a place for you 14:2) go and tell my brothers that I am going to prepare their co-inheritance.  She returns and tells them these things; note that John goes to lengths to make sure we know who was the very first to give testimony about having seen the risen Christ.

The scene shifts from the tomb to a place in town where the disciples, excluding Thomas, are gathered behind closed and locked doors: Suddenly Jesus is in their midst. He simply says “shalom” and lets them see His wounds; they are thrilled!

This is no social call; Jesus is all business, giving them three pieces of vital information.  First, He tells them that He is sending them out just as the Father has sent Him.  They are to carry on His mission of salvation into the world, now that they have seen all that they had seen.  Second, He breathed on them and told them to receive the Holy Spirit.  This appears to be a foreshadowing of the Day of Pentecost.  It appears to be a foreshadowing as there is no apparent reaction to this act yet, but when the Spirit is poured out in Acts 2 the reaction is dramatic. Third, He gives them an awesome charge saying that if they forgive anyone their sins they are forgiven, if not they are not forgiven.  Obviously much has been written and speculated upon with regard to this, but I can’t help thinking about what Jesus told the disciples in Matthew 16:18 ff. saying that “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” I can’t help noting that it was Apostles who wrote what would be required to enter into a covenant relationship with Jesus in the New Testament…

20:24-31 is the story of “Doubting Thomas” who had stated that he wouldn’t believe that Jesus had arisen from the dead until he put his fingers into the wounds on His body.  Jesus suddenly appears in the room and offers Thomas the chance, Thomas replies with a hugely significant statement of faith: “My Lord and my God.” This is of course the highest statement of faith found in the New Testament, theologically speaking, equating Jesus not only as Lord but also as God.  Jesus quickly bursts his bubble by pointing out that anybody with a brain would understand that with what Thomas has seen, but many more will come to that understanding based only upon the testimony of others. John ends the chapter by telling the reader the purpose for the book:  Many wonderful things were done by Jesus that are not recorded here, but what is recorded is recorded so that the reader might come to the same conclusion based upon John’s eyewitness testimony, that Thomas came to by seeing Jesus after the resurrection.

John 21

Chapter 20 is John’s record of events concerning the risen Christ in Jerusalem; chapter 21 is John’s story from Galilee.  Why the disciples had traveled there isn’t given, but it makes sense that they wouldn’t be staying on in Jerusalem after all of the recent events.  I would imagine that the disciples weren’t entirely sure what to do with themselves after following Jesus for over three years…  The scene opens with a cast of seven disciples near the Sea of Galilee when Peter announces that he’s going fishing.

Note that John refers to the “Sea of Tiberius” which is another name for the Sea of Galilee in those days.  Tiberius is the name of a large town, which in those days was a new Roman town located on the shore of the lake.  Today it is the largest city in the area.  The guys all joined Peter in the boat for a night of casting the fishing net, but their results were lacking entirely, and by early morning there was a man on the shore who noticed their bad luck.  John identifies this man as Jesus, although they could not yet recognize Him from the boat.

From the beach, Jesus calls out to them and recommends that they cast their net on the other side of the boat.  A fishing boat of the time would normally remain close to shore and cast on the shore side to get the best catch of fish, so most likely Jesus was telling them to try the lake side instead, and what a payoff!  They caught so many fish that they couldn’t haul it into the boat.  John realizes that it was Jesus who was on the shore, and Peter grabs his clothes and jumps into the water swimming to shore leaving the others to tow the nets to land. When they arrive, it seems that Jesus had a campfire going and was cooking breakfast. Jesus had a menu of bread and fish, something that we’ve seen Jesus do before, but this time, instead of the disciples rounding up fish and loaves that Jesus multiplied, Jesus has fish and loaves and the catch of the disciples will be the multiplier; Jesus has passed the torch, you might say.

John provides us with some eyewitness details in this portion of the text: there were 156 large fish in the net, Peter drags it ashore and Jesus is not only the cook, but the server.  Interesting, isn’t it?  A guy who was executed, dead and buried is putting on a fish fry!  He is no ghost, for I can’t recall a single time when I’ve ever heard of a ghost eating fish:  Jesus had arisen from the grave bodily.

After their meal, Jesus walks off a distance with Peter and asks him three times if he loves Jesus.  Each time Peter assures Him that he does, but by the third time Peter’s feelings were hurt because Jesus kept asking.  Much has been made of the Greek used here, but it seems to me that Greek nuance isn’t the point that Jesus is making.  Peter had denied Jesus three times on the night of His arrest, and Jesus asks him three times if he loves Him.  Could it be that that had dawned on Peter?  Could it be that Peter felt terrible guilt over his cowardly denial?  Let’s not forget that this is the first time that they had been off together since Jesus’ death, and Jesus has some business to settle with him.  Peter must learn to care for the other followers of Jesus, His “sheep,” and this means taking the charge seriously and selflessly, a lesson that must not be lost on all leaders of the church today.

In v. 18 Jesus gives Peter some insight into the manner in which he would die as a martyr for the Gospel, as John points out in v. 19, and then says: “Follow me!”  This is the same imperative with which Jesus began His ministry in 1:43 and sets the tone for the conclusion.

At this point, Peter notices John following behind them and says “What about him?” Jesus is not having any of this; it would have been better if Peter had said something more like, “Yes sir!” Jesus lets Peter know that whatever He has in mind for John is none of Peter’s business, for Peter’s call is to follow Jesus.  None of us is in a position to know what adventures we will experience in following Jesus, but we must know that our call is to follow Him, and not to question whether or not someone else might have an easier time of it, and Jesus makes this abundantly clear. Peter’s imperative was to “follow” Jesus, and so is ours.

A Final Thought

When I was a boy, I read a book about the life of Jesus, and it really got my attention. As I thought about it, and as I thought about this Jesus guy, I really had no problem believing that He was the Son of God, and it occurred to me that I should try to be more like Him, but there was one thing about Jesus that kind of bothered me: He cheated!

To my nine-year-old mind, Jesus cheated when He went to the cross because after all, He was God… and He knew how the story was going to end; that’s cheating! It was almost as if it didn’t count if He knew all the things that He clearly knew before He allowed Himself to be taken prisoner. Gee whiz, I would do the same thing if I knew all that stuff.

Yes, to be young again…

When I was a teen, that attitude stuck with me, in fact, I didn’t really see the implication of this until I was in my 30’s; yes Jesus knew how the story ended, and He went to the cross knowing that the story wasn’t nearly over yet. He would suffer greatly for a time, and then…? Victory, honor, glory, reigning…

John says that he wrote the gospel so that many might come to believe in Him, and many have done so, but how deep is our belief? Ah yes, an uncomfortable question, surely, for some of us might believe like I used to, accepting the basic facts, and still holding something back.

My thinking changed one day when reality hit me like a freight train: Yes, Jesus knew how His story would end… and so do I know how my story ends; victory, honor, glory!

Jesus knew He would rise from the grave, and so will I.

Jesus knew He would ascend to Heaven, and so will I.

Jesus knew He would suffer for a short time, and so will I.

Jesus knew He would reign as King of kings and Lord of lords, and I know that I am co-heir with Him.

Because Jesus knew these things, He did His Father’s will, will I do the same?

Dear reader, this is where we come to the always inconvenient question: Do we really believe that what we believe is really real?

It is one thing to accept the basic facts on an academic or theoretical level, but will we allow them to affect who we are on a fundamental level?

Well, will we?

We will if we really believe that what we believe is really real.

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Sunday Sermon Notes: August 22, 2021

I want you to know how hard I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how disciplined you are and how firm your faith in Christ is.

Colossians 2:1-5

In these verses, Paul mentions to his readers that he has been “struggling” for them (v. 1) and that his struggle was that they come to know the full riches of a complete understanding of the mystery of God, namely Christ (v. 2). We know that the “mystery of God” is one of the ways that Paul refers to the Gospel, so he is struggling so that the people might come to see all that they have in the Gospel.  To put it another way, Paul is struggling to make disciples, to assist these people in growing in their faith to a mature level of understanding.

It struck me that this is what we are all called to do.  To “struggle” so that our brother or sister may come to fully understand the riches that are in Christ is our purpose in this life.

In verse 3, Paul goes on to say that in Christ are all of the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, and it strikes me that this statement runs counter to what the world around us sees as “wisdom and knowledge.”   Verses four and five are really telling: Paul tells his readers that he is doing this so they will not be deceived by “fine-sounding arguments.”  I love that, “fine-sounding arguments”!  What shall we take from this?  As I see it, we have a serious role to play in leading our “younger” brother to stand firm in the knowledge and truth of Christ, to help them, to guide them and yes, to struggle for them so that they will not be deceived by the “wisdom” of this age, and to nurture them into the fullness of Christ.  I wonder how often we see this imperative as our goal, rather than looking out for ourselves only…

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.

Colossians 2:6-8

People are sometimes surprised when I say that Christian theology is basically simple to understand, and these three simple verses sum it up pretty well; it is simple to understand them, don’t you think?

We received Jesus Christ as Lord; continue to live in Him.  We do this by being rooted in Him, built up in Him and if we are strengthened in the faith just as we were taught, we will overflow with thanksgiving.  What should our priorities in life be?  Simple, we should be in Him, rooted in Him and strengthened by Him, or to put in another way, our life’s priorities are all about Jesus Christ.

Verse eight follows with a bit of practical advice, which is to seek Christ and let go of the hollow ways and teachings of this world.  It goes without saying that if we are seeking after Christ, then we are not seeking after the things of this world. If we are seeking Christ, then we will find His ways and want to follow them in our lives, rather than worrying about what everyone else is doing.

You see, none of this is complicated, in fact it is so very simple that sometimes we feel the need to complicate it− but then making the simple difficult is one of the ways of this world.

As we seek His face, as we seek His presence, as we seek His Truth, we seek after that which is good, wholesome and true.  As we do this, our faith is strengthened, our walk closer and dearer, and our outlook on everything else will change forever.  When that happens, we will be filled to overflowing with thanksgiving, praise and… His presence.

 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.

Colossians 2:9-12

Continuing on, we come to a paragraph that is both full and rich in meaning, and yet often cluttered up with unnecessary doctrines.  Consider the opening sentence, Paul points out that in the Person of Jesus lives all the fullness of God:  Jesus is all God and Jesus is all man: God lived in His physical body.  Jesus has also brought you and me to fullness, but fullness of what kind? Here it is in simple terms:  All of the fullness of God resided in Jesus Christ, and in Christ the fullness of the Holy Spirit resides in you and me. Neither you nor I are the Messiah, nor are we divine, but we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and He is divine.  Kind of makes you wonder why we don’t follow His lead more often, doesn’t it?

Paul continues to state that Jesus is the head of every power; He is at the right hand of God running the universe… and we are in Him.

Not a bad place to hang out!

The next sentence goes on to say that we have received a circumcision that wasn’t performed by human hands.  This is puzzling until we recall what circumcision was in the Old Testament.  There, circumcision was the sign of God’s covenant with Abraham; it was how people would recognize a man in covenant relationship with God.  That was the covenant that set God’s covenant people apart from everyone else, and circumcision was a kind of mark or seal of that covenant. Paul is talking about another kind of seal or sign of our covenant relationship with God, a sign that marks us as belonging to Him.

The last sentence in our text answers a question, and raises another:  

The first part answers a question when it identifies Christ as the one who performed this circumcision without human hands, and that tells us that this circumcision is not a physical procedure at all, but instead a spiritual procedure.  In this procedure, our natural self that lives according to the flesh is put off, and I think most of us will agree that this happens when we enter a relationship with Christ.  This would be really easy if Paul stopped right there, but he goes on…

Here’s the whole sentence again:

Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.

The trouble happens when Paul followed the having been circumcised by Christ with “having been buried with Him in baptism”.  I say that there is trouble here, because this is where Christians like to divide into camps and slug it out.  We aren’t going to do that though, are we?

It appears to me that there is some kind of a connection between this “circumcision” and baptism, but what is the connection?  If we were “buried with him in baptism” what were we buried into?  Well, when He was buried, He was dead, having died on the cross.  So, if we are “buried with him” then we must be buried into His death… right?  If this “circumcision” was the link between the old man and the new man, and it is also linked to baptism into His death, then there must be a link of some kind being established here… see it?  They are parallel. Notice that Paul also mentions that we are “raised with Him” by our “faith in the workings of God.”

OK, so here’s what we’ve got so far:

  1. What an awesome thing it is to be in Christ!
  2. He is the central focus of our lives, our all in all as the old hymn says.
  3. In Christ, we have the fullness of the indwelling Holy Spirit: Amazing!
  4. Paul has made a comparison between Old Testament circumcision, a new kind of circumcision and baptism.
  5. Paul elaborates on that comparison in the next section…

When you were dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

Colossians 2:13-15

As we pick up from the last passage, we see right away the connection we discovered. Notice the link between “dead in your sins” and “uncircumcision.”  Here they are used interchangeably, and since they are used this way, we can be certain, that circumcision here is not the literal procedure done in physical terms.  While we were in our sins then, God made us alive in Christ and forgave our sins.   So far, this is easy to understand, and wonderful to behold, full as it is with the love and mercy of a loving Father in heaven.  It gets even better…

God cancelled the “written code” with its “regulations” that were “against us.”  So not only have our sins been forgiven, not only have we been made alive in Christ, but the Law that condemned us has been ended; from now on it’s all about Christ.

God, in effect, nailed the old laws and rules to the cross with Christ and killed it.  Christ rose from the grave, we rose with Him from baptism (2:12) and the written code remains in the grave… and there’s still more…  

In doing this, God has “disarmed” the “powers and authorities” and triumphed over them at the cross.  These “powers and authorities” are the very ones who accuse us.  Even now they may try to accuse, but they have been defeated at the cross; the ballgame is really over!  Our sins are forgiven, we are alive in Christ, and when they attempt to accuse, they are exposed for the liars they have always been, for there is no written code any more.

This is one of the great liberating facts of our Faith.  Those accusers have no audience with God, for they have been humiliated by the cross.  Who is the one who accuses?  It is Satan, his allies and those who would do his bidding on the earth.  What Jesus has done for us on the cross has rendered their accusations altogether irrelevant, and we need not be concerned with them ever again.

What a gracious and loving Heavenly Father we have− what a glorious Lord we follow!  

There can be no doubt that we are indeed a blessed people.

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Weekly Bible Study Notes: August 18, 2021

John 18:28-40

Our story has progressed from where we left off last time.  Jesus and the disciples left the upper room and went to the garden where Jesus was arrested while at prayer.  His response to their demand for Him of “I am he” proved to be enlightening to the soldiers and guards who had come to take Him in, but He went along quietly in order to accomplish God’s redemptive purpose.  He was taken before the Jewish leaders, roughed up and convicted of a phony charge in a joke of a trial.  Peter, as Jesus had predicted, denied knowing Jesus three times, and now, early the next morning He is taken before Pilate, the ranking Roman official, for trial, because only the Romans could impose capital punishment.

In vv. 28-32, the Jews approach Pilate with the request that he condemn Jesus to death.  Note that Pilate doesn’t seem interested in granting them their wish.  Note also the way they have approached him:  First, they cannot enter the palace because they would be “unclean” and ineligible to participate in the Passover meal, so Pilate must come out to them.  One might wonder what their ceremonial condition was after the role they played in putting the Son of God to death!  The upshot of the exchange so far is that they need the Romans to agree to an execution, and oh by the way, Jesus had predicted the manner of his death in 3:14.

Pilate has Jesus brought to him for a few questions; one can’t help having a little sympathy for old Pilate here.  Jesus, like the Jews outside isn’t all that respectful of Pilate’s predicament in His answer to Pilate’s first question about whether or not He was a king.  “Is that your own idea…?”  Pilate’s answer to Jesus’ question reveals that he wants nothing to do with any of this; “Am I a Jew?”  The rest of his question in v. 35 is basically ‘what have you done to tick these people off?’  The answer he receives in the next verse is the crucial point of the text:

“My kingdom is not of this world.”  It is from “another place.”  The Jews were looking for the Messiah to bring a kingdom to the world; a worldly kingdom.  It would throw the Romans out, defeat their enemies and restore the former glory of Israel, and the Jewish leaders would have tremendous power in that earthly kingdom.  Jesus actually came with an entirely different kind of kingdom; a kingdom of faith and forgiveness.  Forgiveness was the last thing the Jewish leaders were concerned about.

Pilate jumps on the king aspect: “You are a king then?”  If Jesus were an aspiring king without the endorsement of the Roman government, then it could be asserted that He was plotting treason against Caesar.  Even now, however, Pilate is troubled by this whole thing; he isn’t buying the idea that Jesus is a threat to the government.  In His answer, Jesus admits to being a king, but again demonstrates that He is not an earthly king, for His reason for being born is to testify to the truth.  In all likelihood, Pilate would have a hard time putting truth and kings together as treason.  In fact, as we also know, kings, governments and truth are strange bedfellows.  Pilate’s response to Jesus’ truth assertion shows us all we need to know about him: “What is truth?” It reveals a high level of frustration as it is one of the great unanswered questions of worldly life.  Little did Pilate know, Jesus had answered this question earlier: “I am the way, the truth and the life” The answer to the great question about truth is that Jesus is the very embodiment of Truth.

Pilate goes back outside and tries again to end the standoff with the Jewish leaders, announcing that he finds no basis for any charge against Jesus.  In doing this, he of course is speaking in terms of Roman law.  He reminds the people that the Romans offer an annual pardon to a Jewish prisoner at the Passover, sort of a goodwill gesture.  The Jews want Jesus dead and silent; they demand a man who deserves to die for the safety of the public.  Their hatred of Jesus and the truth that He has brought to them from God Himself; the truth that they should be rejoicing for, is so great that they will do anything to be rid of Him and by extension God.  It is really a shocking and reprehensible thing they are doing, one that they will pay dearly for in the future.  It is also an indication of how many will react to the truth of simple Christianity for centuries to come… as Jesus warned his disciples in the upper room.

John 19:1-16

These verses comprise one of the most amazing narratives in all of world literature.  They tell a terrible story of betrayal, hypocrisy, and weakness, evil and hate, yet through this quagmire of politics, dishonesty and intrigue God’s great eternal purpose is assured.  Irony?  That would be putting it mildly! These verses tell the story of Jesus’ condemnation to the cross, a story in which there are no heroes, villains aplenty and in which the system of this world is manipulated to condemn the very Son of God by the most religious of all God’s people:  It is shameful, penetrating and a source of great insight into the motivations of those who will oppose God.

After Pilate’s attempt to free Jesus was thwarted in favor of Barabbas (18:39-40) Pilate orders Jesus flogged, a very severe application of torture that would precede crucifixion or that could be a form of punishment on its own.  These verses describe briefly the treatment that Jesus suffers at the hands of his soldiers and the “fun” they have with Him, and then Pilate goes back out to the mob to once again attempt to release Jesus.

Pilate has told them he can find no basis for a charge against Jesus, and when Jesus appears he makes his fateful statement, “Behold the man” (KJV). What the crowd was “beholding” was a man broken by torture.  Bleeding, beaten, bruised and in a condition fit only for the Emergency Room, there stood Jesus not looking like much of a threat to anyone.  The bloodthirsty crowds led by their holy religious leaders go crazy demanding His crucifixion. It could be that Pilate thought they would be appeased by the sight; if so, he was mistaken.  His frustration is clearly evident when he says, “You crucify him!”  The Jews will not relent; they want their Messiah dead and silenced once and for all.

In verse 7 the Jews finally tell Pilate the real reason they want Jesus dead: He has claimed to be the Son of God.  In a sense they were right; making such a claim was a capital offense in the Law… unless of course Jesus was telling the truth.  Pilate’s reaction was one of fear, and he goes back into the Palace taking Jesus with him.  It is not clear from the text exactly what the source of his fear was: Was he afraid of an insurrection, or was he afraid of Jesus?  In any event, Pilate asks Jesus a surprisingly intelligent question: “Where are you from?”  The turning point in Jesus’ relationship with His disciples was when they finally came to realize that He had come from God, but when Pilate asks, Jesus is not going to answer.  The hour for Him to die has come; it is the reason He has come to earth; everything hinges on this.  Pilate points out that he has the power to have Jesus crucified, and this time Jesus does answer him.  Jesus reminds Pilate that his authority is not his own, but that it came from above, in the immediate sense from his Roman superiors and in the larger sense from God.  Such a reply under the circumstances is truly impressive. It is as though Jesus were trying to make Pilate feel better about his position when He pointed out that the leaders of the mob outside (the chief priests) have the greater guilt in the situation; Pilate is a pawn in a much bigger drama between God and Satan.

Pilate wants this to end, and he wants no part in killing Jesus.  The mob responds with a threat to his career, having forgotten all about their religious claim; incredible the length of disingenuousness that they will go to!

There are many opinions about Pilate’s words in the final verses (13-16), but it seems to me that his frustration has turned to anger toward the Jewish leaders.  He brings Jesus back out and sits in the judge’s seat.  Whatever he announces from here is legally binding.  Pilate’s reference to Jesus as “your king” in vv. 14-15 is a deliberate taunt to the crowd.  Here is the pagan Roman governor sitting in judgment over the broken and bloody man they want killed and calling Him their king is incredibly insulting to a people who see God Himself as their ultimate king.  Pilate is rubbing their noses in the fact that pagans rule the proud Jews; he has had enough of them.

And then it happens…

The chief priests shout back that they “have no king but Caesar!”

Now who has committed blasphemy and treachery?  One can imagine the foundations of Heaven itself quaking at that moment.  Pilate does what he has to do, and Jesus is taken away to save the world by shedding His precious blood on the cross.

Surely the word “perfidy” came into being to describe this scene.

Before the next lesson, carefully read what happened next in John 19:17-42; our story will pick up after that.

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Sunday Sermon Notes: August 15, 2021

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.

Colossians 1:15-18

How can you read these few verses and not just fall into one of those “Wow!” moments?  Even if you only read the first sentence: Wow!

It is ‘content rich’ to say the least.  Consider the first sentence, The Son of God, Jesus the Christ, is the image of the invisible God; let that sink in…  People sometimes ask how they can know God, and the answer is to look at Jesus Christ; He was here, on this earth as a man.  He is a historical figure, who left behind a written record of what He thought, said and did.  He was a Teacher, so His teachings are there for all to see.  He was the image of God, and He spoke directly to us, so if we want to know what God is like, learn what Jesus was like… and you will have it! Jesus, the Son, is also the firstborn of all creation− don’t skip that phrase!  You and I are part of the Creation of which Jesus is the firstborn… yes, that means you and I are meant to have a relationship with Him, after all that is why He came to the earth in the first place.  Oh, my, reflect on that for a while…

This is exciting!

Moving on, we see that in Him all things were created, both in heaven and on earth.  Of course, we know that Jesus was present when God spoke the word and the universe came into being, but now it seems that Jesus might have actually done the talking. A careful reading of John 1 will confirm that Jesus was actually the Word itself!  He is not only the firstborn, but the Word that created everything.  All I can say is “WOW!”

Every single thing there was, is, or will be was created by, through and for Jesus Christ, including you, including me. There are certain times when the enormity of something makes it difficult to describe it with mere words, and honestly this is one of them.

Our Lord, the Son, is the head of the Body, which is the church of which all Christians are a part.  Yes, you and I are a part of the Body of the One who created everything.

He is also the firstborn of the dead, which is to say that He is the first to die, and then to rise again in glory, but He is not to be the last, for you and I will also arise in glory in due course.

I hope that you will take a little time to reflect and pray on these few verses.  As you do, please consider that this Jesus wants a relationship with YOU!  He is there, He is calling your name, will you respond? No, that question was not for the unbelievers−  It is directed by me to all of us, including myself, who profess to be His followers.  Will we all join together to answer His call to relationship, with the One who created all, who arose from the dead to prepare our way; will we respond to His invitation, to pull up our chairs and listen at His side as He shares with each of us?

 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Colossians 1:19-20

In vv. 15-18 we see the “how” of Creation, in these two verses, we see the “why”.  God, it must be said, had a reason for sending His Son to the earth:

First, notice how verse 19 begins: God was pleased to have all of His (God’s, the Father’s) fullness dwell in Him (the Son, Jesus). It seems telling to me, that this fullness of the reality of the Person of the Son is called “pleasing” to God; to me that sounds like purpose is involved here: God’s purpose.  Everything about Jesus and His mission to earth is deliberate and purposeful, and Jesus mentioned this quite a bit as I’m sure you recall.  God was definitely at work.

So, all of God’s fullness was dwelling in Jesus Christ, and through Jesus Christ, God was pleased to reconcile all things to Himself.  Again, let’s just slow down and consider what this is saying.  With God’s entire fullness dwelling in Him, Jesus does something to reconcile all things to God, thus pleasing God. All things, in heaven and on earth were reconciled… because Jesus made peace by shedding His blood on the cross.  

Here’s a proposition to consider:  If Jesus had to reconcile all things to God by “making peace” then a state of conflict must have existed prior to the cross.

Of course, we know that there was indeed a state of conflict from the moment that Adam entered into open rebellion against God back in Genesis 3. We often refer to “sin” as though it is nothing more than the violation of an ordinance, which is how the Law of Moses codified it, but “sin” was around long before it was so clearly defined, or codified.  Sin is actually rebellion.  We were in rebellion; God reconciled us by having Jesus make peace. Jesus made a Peace Treaty, and a Treaty is a kind of covenant.  Jesus said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matt. 26:28) See how this comes together?

As we go through our day, what an amazing thing we have to reflect upon: God’s love for each one of us is so great, that He was pleased to send His Son, full of all of the fullness of the Father Himself, to die on the cross to make peace with us. Can there be a greater expression of boundless love than that?

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

Colossians 1:21-23

There was a time when each of us was alienated from God; we saw ourselves as His enemy because of our evil deeds.  I broke this into two parts, because I’d like us to think about two ideas here.  First, we saw or thought (in our minds) that we were God’s enemies.  In Scripture, God never made us His enemy; it is we who made the choices that headed us in this direction.  It is (or was) our own attitudes that created the problems. It was never God; it was always us.

Second, “because of your evil deeds.”  Which evil deeds do you think Paul is talking about?  I would suggest that most people, certainly most preachers, would assert that Paul is referring to some sort of list of infractions, a Bill of Indictment, so to speak.  I hope we might take a different approach, and hope you will give this a little thought.  It isn’t so much a list of violations that Paul is talking about here; it is the very condition of being in rebellion against God that he is talking about.  If we are in rebellion against God, then we are not in relationship with Him.  If we are not in relationship with Him, what are the rules, anyway? Consider the Jews and the Gentiles.  From the Jewish point of view in the Old Testament, a Jew was good or bad based upon his or her keeping the Law, the 613 laws of Moses.  If they disregarded the law, they had problems, if they kept the law all was as it should be.  The Gentiles on the other hand, weren’t even in the ball game.  Nobody expected them to keep, or even to know the law.  They had no covenant with God, they had no Law.  How could they “get right” with God? Not an easy thing to do: The very fact that they were Gentile made them evil and unclean. We were enemies with God in our minds because of our evil deeds of rebellion against Him, and this transcends a rule book and petty violations.

“But now he has reconciled you…” (v. 22) Because of what Christ has done on the cross, everything is completely different.  He made a peace treaty; you accepted its terms and signed on to it. Now you are in a whole new kind of covenant, and that covenant has made you as clean as though you had never sinned, in God’s sight.  All of that rebellion is forgotten, expunged from the record− over.

Well, now we haven’t quite finished the sentence.  This is a tough spot, beginning at verse 23 with the word “if.”  You may agree with me, or you may disagree, but as I see it, the word “if” makes this a conditional statement. “…free from accusation— if you continue in your faith…”  As I see it, and I think the rules of grammar back me up in this, we have the blessings of the promises in the New Covenant, unless we decide to totally renounce our faith in Jesus Christ and go off and follow other gods.

This passage ends with Paul pointing out two things, did you catch them? The work of Jesus Christ on the cross has established peaceful relations between God and Man; your sins are taken away and you are blameless before God.  This is the Gospel, and it is the first point of summation.  Paul has become a servant of this Gospel (and by extension, so have you and I).  This is the final point of summation.

God loved us so much, while we were still thinking of ourselves as His enemies, that He went and did all of this. And not only that, but we are a part of the spreading of this awesome demonstration of the boundless love of our eternal God.

May He draw all of us closer to Him in His Word today.  May He fill our hearts with glad assurance of the truth of His Word, and may He increase in our lives as we grow in our faith and in our desire to draw ever nearer to Him in everything that we do.

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Weekly Bible Study Notes: August 11, 2021

John 17

This is the longest recorded prayer of Jesus in the entire New Testament.  Jesus is clearly one who prays a great deal, and we can gain a great deal of insight into prayer in this chapter.  For the purpose of these notes, I will attempt to resist the temptation to engage in theological discussion or analysis of what the prayer consists of or what this or that “means” from a theological point of view, instead I hope to focus more on what we can learn about prayer itself.  A good point of beginning is to take notice of Jesus’ posture as He prays; note that He is not sitting quietly with bowed head and closed eyes but rather is looking heavenward with eyes wide open.  In fact, He is most likely standing with the disciples, and if you take note of His language, it might seem that He is not speaking in a very quiet voice.  Of course, we might say that our traditional posture results in a contrast because Jesus is the second person of the Godhead while we are not.  Might not this view overlook the fact that we are His co-heirs?  Well, it’s food for thought anyway…

Jesus opens this prayer by praying for God’s purpose to be fulfilled; this is and has been the principle focus of Jesus throughout His ministry.  Praying for God’s purpose to be fulfilled is entirely consistent with the idea that the fulfillment of God’s purpose is the reason for His being on the earth in the first place, and by extension is also consistent with the idea that this same purpose is our reason for being His disciples.  Throughout this Gospel, Jesus has used the expression “glorify” to refer to his death and resurrection, His work of atonement on the cross, and this is not different here.  Being thus “glorified” is God’s ultimate purpose for Jesus. Returning to the glory of heaven as He was before coming to this world is indicative of His having completed His work (purpose) in the world.

In 6-19, Jesus is interceding for His disciples.  He will complete His work of “glorification” very shortly and return to the Father, but they will remain in this world and they will have a rough time of it here. In a way, this section reads almost like a report, for Jesus repeats three of the things that He has just taught the disciples in chapters 14-16.  Keep in mind, that while we have been looking at these things over a period of weeks, and they cover the last few chapters, chapters 14-17 all occur in one place in one evening over a short span of time; a dinner.  Those three things that He repeats here are: 1) the belief that Jesus came from God (16:30); 2) the promise of complete joy (16:24); and 3) the coming hate of the world (15:18).  Then He prays for God to protect them as Jesus has protected them.  It is instructive for us to note that this “protection” was not always to protect them from the harm that the world might inflict upon them, and the book of Acts records quite a bit of that harm.  Indeed, nearly all of them would be killed by the world eventually.  The “protection” that was provided for them was a protection of their faith and their message, the two things that enabled them to serve God’s purpose.

Verses 20-26 are broken into two smaller sections, the first of which is vv. 20-23.  In these verses, Jesus is praying for the unity of all believers so that the world may see it and believe their message.  The message is the point, for it is through their message they have received that the gospel will be spread and the commission He left them with (Matt. 28:18-20) will be accomplished; it is the purpose of God again. The second section within these verses is vv. 24-26 where Jesus prays for all believers in their ultimate destination: eternity with Him.  Note that there is a comparison in all of this:  Jesus is in the world to accomplish the purpose for which God sent him, and then He returns to God’s heavenly presence.  The believer is in the world to accomplish the purpose for which God has placed him there and then goes to God’s heavenly presence with Christ.  This is our purpose, our challenge and our destiny.  Jesus has taken this seriously enough to die on the cross, the Apostles took it seriously enough to suffer and die for their message: How seriously do we take it?

Jesus has taught the disciples that they will have a powerful prayer life; that anything they ask for in His name will be given them.  Each time He has spoken on this point, the context has been doing God’s work; serving God’s purpose.  You will have noticed by now that every aspect of this prayer is in this same context: God’s eternal purpose.  Our prayers are powerful things, how much more powerful they could be if they were for God’s purpose to be accomplished rather than that we get the things we want?

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Sunday Sermon Notes: August 8, 2021

Ruth 4:1-12

After Ruth left Boaz and returned to the place where she and Naomi were staying, Boaz went to town. He stopped at the town gates where the Elders were to be found, which was a customary place for them to conduct their duties. When the other kinsman-redeemer came along, he asked the man to sit with him in the hearing of the Elders to discuss the situation. You will no doubt recall that the night before, Boaz had mentioned to Ruth that there was a closer relative who was first in line as kinsman-redeemer, and this is the matter Boaz brought up that morning.

It would seem, from verses 3 and 4 that Naomi had inherited her husband’s property, so Boaz mentioned this to the man first. Previously, I mentioned that a kinsman-redeemer would buy the land of the dead husband from the widow so that she would have money in her old age with which to live, since she probably wouldn’t be able to make a living from the land by herself, and this other kinsman-redeemer, whose name is never mentioned in the text, agreed to buy it. If he had the cash, then why not buy it? He could do his duty to the family and add to his own income in the bargain; so far, so good. Then something strange happens:

Then Boaz said, “On the day you buy the land from Naomi, you also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the dead man’s widow, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property.” (3:5)

Oh dear, there’s a catch – that Moabite woman!

At this, the guardian-redeemer said, “Then I cannot redeem it because I might endanger my own estate. You redeem it yourself. I cannot do it.” (3:7)

Did you notice that as long as Boaz just mentioned Naomi and her property, the other guy was willing to redeem, but when he mentioned the Moabite woman was part of the deal, the other guy backed out? Why do you suppose Boaz mentioned that she was a Moabite, of all things?

For an Israelite to have a gentile in their household was problematic enough, but a Moabite woman was really too much; they had experience with Moabite women in the past; these women were trouble! No way, the man was not going to redeem, even though it was his duty; Boaz could have the deal. Thus, with all of the Elders as his witnesses, Boaz acquired the right to redeem, and bought the land and Ruth from Naomi, and Ruth thus became his wife. I know that to the modern reader, this transaction sounds pretty weird, but this took place a very long time ago, and was proper and binding in that place and time. The Elders agree and gave their blessing to the arrangement: Done.

Boaz was a very sharp man; he knew how to get things done in this world. He did so with wisdom and intelligence, and by the rules of the day. In the process, he did his duty to his family, to Naomi, to Ruth and to their husbands’ family line, and he did it with justice for all concerned. In so doing, he provides all of us with an excellent example of what it means to be a godly man.

 

Ruth 4:13-22

After the scene that takes place in verses 1-12 of chapter four, Boaz and Ruth are married. There is not a single word in the text about their life together; other than they had a son named Obed. From what the text has told us, Ruth is humble and loyal, Boaz is kind, of high character and righteous, so we can infer that they lived happily ever after. Certainly, there is nothing to cause this inference to be brought into question. It’s probably safe to infer that Naomi lived out her years in happiness as well.

The text mentions a son as the only specific about the lives of Ruth and Boaz because that son becomes a direct ancestor of the Lord Jesus Christ, and that is a very big deal indeed. It places Ruth in that same lineage; a Moabite. Of course, she is not the only gentile woman in that lineage, and I suppose that we should pause to clear up any confusion resulting from this point, since ultimately this line will pass to Jesus through Mary.

The Old Testament Law states that to be a Jew, someone must be of the seed of Abraham, a quaint old-fashioned way of saying Abraham’s genetic descendant. This “seed” passes from the father, thus Obed is Jewish by birth even though his mother was a gentile. The Father of Jesus was not strictly speaking a Jew; instead He was God. So how could Jesus be a Jew?

I hope you were sitting down when you read that; it is not a joke. You see, unless something happened first, Jesus would be the Son of God without being a Jew.

But something did happen.

During the captivity in Babylon, Jews began to intermarry with gentiles. After the return from captivity, many Jews chose not to return, while others returned and continued intermarrying. It seems that men were much more likely to take a gentile bride than women a gentile husband and eventually, after much controversy and confusion, the Law was changed, so that descendancy from Abraham came through mothers instead of fathers. Thus, you could only be born a Jew if your mother was Jewish. If your mother was gentile and your father was Jewish, you were considered to be a gentile, and this is so to this very day. Thus, Jesus was Jewish because Mary was Jewish.

If you read this book again carefully, there would seem to be either a lot of coincidence or a lot of luck in the story. I think the biggest one of these took place when Ruth went out to work in the fields that first day, and somehow came upon the fields of Boaz. Why didn’t Naomi tell Ruth where to go? By all rights, shouldn’t she have directed Ruth to the fields of the other kinsman-redeemer, the one with first right of redemption? No, somehow Ruth just got lucky and stumbled into Boaz’ life!

You can be quite sure that there are no coincidences here, and no dumb luck either, for God was at work in the lives of these people. Now here’s a question for everyone to ponder: Why did God choose Naomi, Ruth and Boaz to be in this story, and thus to be part of the lineage of His Son? (Hint: it’s in the text)

Looking at our adventure in the book of Ruth, it should be obvious to anyone that this story has much to teach us. I’m not going to say that the things I mention about them are an exhaustive and encyclopedic analysis, but I hope that what follows will give you a pretty good picture of the kinds of people they were.

Naomi

Here is woman who went through a terrible time; she can almost be compared to Job in her affliction. First there was the famine that tore her family away from their lands and lives in Bethlehem, forcing them to move to Moab just to try and survive. She was an outsider there, not knowing the customs or the people, being a foreigner in a foreign place. Thus, she had only her family to cling to; her husband and two sons. The sons then come of marrying age and they marry foreign women, a cultural problem that their parents had to deal with, and then her husband and two sons die leaving Naomi destitute with two foreign daughters in law. In this time of trial, Naomi becomes an embittered old woman, by her own estimation, and begins making drastic decisions. She tried to do right by her daughters in law, releasing them from their obligations to her and urging them to return to their own, and one finally does so, while Ruth insists on being loyal to Naomi, and then Naomi returns to her homeland and her God and family. Upon her return home with Ruth, Naomi guides Ruth on several occasions, and even though some of her advice was risky, it turns out that Naomi was a very good judge of character and gave advice that can only be described as “harmless as a lamb and crafty as a serpent.”

Naomi, while she had her low points in a life marked with tragedy and adversity, overcame that adversity by returning to her God and making very wise choices. I’d say we can learn from her example.

Ruth

Whole books have been written on Ruth’s character, so I’ll keep it short; Ruth had the heart of a servant. She was loyal to the family of her husband, she was humble, she worked hard and without complaint, and she was submissive to her elders. In all of this, Ruth shows us what it means to deal with self, for there is no “self” on display in her story.  To top it off, let us not forget the fact that Ruth made a conscious choice to follow the God of Israel. How different she was from the way we are today, and great was her reward.

Boaz

Boaz was a leader of men, but he was not like many leaders of men, for Boaz was a servant-leader. Remember when, on Ruth’s first day in the fields, Boaz returned from town and “greeted” his workers? Maybe you recall that he told his men not to lay a hand on Ruth. Was there any mention of an incident taking place, or of any grumbling about that? How about when Boaz went to the village gate and asked the elders to come and listen to his discussion with the other kinsman-redeemer; did they say they were too busy? Did they tell him to buzz off? No! They immediately did as he asked because they respected him, just as his workers did. Yet in everything we know of Boaz, there is no indication at all that anybody’s respect was borne out of fear, for Boaz built relationships with other men that enabled him to lead them by gaining their trust.

I once knew of a man who was working in an office in which he was quite high in the management. Other managers criticized him because he took the time to get to know his subordinates as people. He helped them solve problems and listened to their complaints and helped them work things out when necessary, without yelling or being obnoxious. Other managers simply made demands of people and demanded explanations, yelling and carrying on in the belief that they needed to control everything. In a crisis, the other managers hollered and made threats to motivate their teams, but our guy would call his crew together and ask them for their help in meeting an impossible deadline. His team gave their all and always met impossible deadlines early, because they wanted to do their best for the man they respected, while the other managers’ teams could never seem to come through in a pinch. Which type of manager was Boaz?

On that fateful night when Boaz awakened to find Ruth lying at his feet, how did he react? He reacted with mercy, kindness and gratitude for the opportunity to serve. That all of this must include a healthy dose of humility, should go without saying…

Now dear reader, when you put the characteristics of these three people together, what do you have?

You have the type of person who is a disciple of Jesus Christ.

I would submit to you that this is why God chose to work through these three people, and why their story has resulted in their names being forever associated with the lineage of the Son of God.

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Photo of the Week: August 5, 2021

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Weekly Bible Study Notes: August 4, 2021

John 16:5-16

In 15:1-17 Jesus taught the disciples about relationships within the community of believers and instructed them it would be characterized by love.  In 15:18-16:4 He taught about the relationship between the community of believers and the world, saying that it would be characterized by hate.  Here he returns to giving practical instruction about the coming era that includes more specific information about the working of the Holy Spirit.

Verse 5 raises the question in the mind of the casual reader of whether or not Jesus is mistaken in saying that they have not asked Him where He was going before, for Peter had asked more or less directly, and Thomas had also done so by implication.  It would seem that Jesus was not considering these instances because they were mouthed without understanding of what they were asking, for they had no clue that His journey would be a spiritual one. He explains to them that He must go away before the Holy Spirit can come to them.  This is not because they cannot be there at the same time, but because He must pay the penalty for their sins on the cross before they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, for this is the eternal purpose of God and His primary mission on this earth.  Put another way, Jesus came to the earth to go to the cross; only then does the Counselor come to the redeemed.

In chapter 14, Jesus presented the Counselor as the defense attorney for the disciples.  Here He continues the legal analogy with the Counselor being portrayed as the prosecuting attorney against the world. He portrays this in three ways: First, the Holy Spirit will convict the world of its unbelief.  Second, the Spirit will convict the world concerning the righteousness of Jesus.  Third, the Spirit will convict the world of its own guilt and coming judgment.  Just as the “Prince of this World” is defeated and destroyed by Jesus’ death and resurrection, so the world will be convicted of coming judgment because light has come but they preferred darkness.

In verses 12-15, Jesus continues to teach the disciples about the work of the Holy Spirit in guiding them in the future, here discussing three more works.  First, the Spirit will guide them “into all truth.” In the coming apostolic community, truth would not be determined by mere human logic or recollection, but guided by the Holy Spirit.  Consider this: God has sent His Son to the earth to teach and testify to the truth.  Then the Son must die on the cross for our sins.  Will God trust the telling of this story and the teaching of the truth to the faulty memories of men?  No, He will provide the Holy Spirit to ensure that the story of Jesus’ life and recitation of His teachings are secure and accurate.  Second, the Spirit will pass on “only what he hears” to the disciples (apostles).  Only what comes directly from God will be given to them as the truth.  Third, the Spirit will continue the work of glorifying Father and Son by revealing Jesus Christ as the Son of God.  This provides a unity of purpose between Father, Son and Spirit with a strong link to God’s original purpose of sending His Son to the earth, a linkage that continues into the eternal future and coincides with our purpose for being born and redeemed as well.

Verse 16 is a transition into the next section which will be our subject for next time.  Jesus will shortly be arrested and crucified and they will see Him no more.  It is as though He is saying to them that they should take heart and have courage, for He will be back very shortly to confirm all that He is telling them, and of course this promise is borne out by history.

Jesus went on to say, “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.” (16:16)

John 16:16-24

Verse 16 is the transition between two topics of discussion in our text, but even as it sets a transition, it creates a problem for those of us who read this in English: “see” versus “see”.

Although I always try to avoid discussing Greek words and grammar in these lessons, it is unavoidable here, for the English translation in the NIV (and most other English translations) does not note the fact that while we see the English word “see” twice in this verse, two different Greek verbs are used and translated “see.” We need to recognize that in English, the word “see” can mean two different things.  It can mean to comprehend as in “…oh yes, I see what you mean.” Or it can mean that I physically see something as in “…do you see that house over there?” In verse 16, the first “see” is the Greek verb theoreo from which we get our English word theory.  It generally means to observe or to experience visually.  The second “see” is the Greek word horao which means to see in a broader sense.  John has used it several times already in this Gospel (1:18,34,51; 6:46; 11:40) more in the sense of ‘seeing spiritually’ or comprehending.  While these two words are reasonably close synonyms, the difference here is telling; it’s as though Jesus were telling them that they soon would not be able to see him with their eyes (death, burial) but shortly they will realize who He is and what He has done (resurrection).  This double meaning will continue through this passage; it will continue along the lines of He will then be taken from their sight for a time (ascension) and then will return to sight (Second Coming) where even unbelievers will “get it.”

The disciples are buzzing; they are not caught in any great eschatological debate for they still are confused about His imminent departure.  Jesus doesn’t wait for the question and asks it Himself.  Notice that this is the third time it is repeated in a very short span of verses; this is no coincidence, for it would appear that John is putting great emphasis on the statement. Even today we take comfort from the fact that we will see Jesus in a little while.

In verses 20-22, Jesus combines two contrasting emotions: Grief and joy.  Their grief will result in a paralyzing fear that causes them to scatter and hide, but not for very long.  They will then be filled with a joy that will remain with them even in times of severe trial, for they will understand His promises.  Going a little further, He illustrates this by reminding them of the pain and agony that a woman endures during childbirth.  Upon the arrival of the child, her grief and pain are all but forgotten, so filled with joy is she when she sees her baby.

Now, in 23-24, we again have a little problem with English.  This time the confusion is in the word “ask.”  The first “ask” is translated from a Greek word meaning to ask a question while the second three “asks” are from a Greek word that means to make a request.  In the first case, they will not ask Him questions because a) they will comprehend much more, and b) the Holy Spirit will be in place to provide understanding.  In the second three cases, He is once again making reference to the fact that they will enjoy a very powerful prayer life.  He also mentions the aspect of joy, a joy that will remain with them.  It is important to notice the connection between “joy” and the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives.

John 16:25-33

Jesus is admitting to them that He has often spoken to them figuratively, but that time is coming to an end.  The Father will not answer their future prayers as a favor to Jesus, nor will they ask Jesus and Jesus will ask the Father.  Their petitions will be going directly to the Father, for the Father loves them Himself.  After Jesus is crucified and has risen from the dead, they will have a relationship with the Father.  Please understand that this is a revolutionary statement. For those who respond in love to their belief in Jesus Christ, relationship with the Father is restored, thus completing the circle of Redemption History that began in the Garden of Eden. Before the Fall, Adam had fellowship with God: the redeemed in Christ have fellowship with God.

It seems from verses 29-30 that the disciples have finally understood that Jesus is in fact the Son of God, but Jesus still isn’t so sure.  Most translations make Jesus’ statement in v. 31 a question, as does the Greek.  He then once more points out that they will have a very rough time, but expresses the hope that they will find peace because of His warnings.  He ends the discourse with the great statement that He has overcome the world.  Theologically speaking, Jesus overcame the world because He overcame death itself.  He arose from the dead, never again to die and in so doing defeated Satan.  This is something that we say over and over in Sermons, books, lectures and classes… but how did this defeat Satan?  Isn’t Satan still very busy even now?

Here is how Jesus defeated Satan:  When He died on the cross, He paid the price for our sins; so far so good, right?  Then He arose from the dead… yes, we all know that as well.  Here’s the critical point:  Because He paid the price for sin and established a New Covenant between Man and God, He paved the way for us to receive the gift of eternal life.  Have you entered into the New Covenant?  If so, you have received the gift of eternal life which means that even though you will die one day, you will live forever because the limitations of our physical bodies will not limit our ability to live, we will simply be transformed at the point of separation from our bodies to a new kind of existence.  As Paul put it: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

Satan maintains his influence and control over men because they fear death.  When a people love God and have no reason whatever to fear death, Satan has no means by which to control them, for even if governments or empires murder and torture, they have no particular reason to change their beliefs or teachings, for death has no hold on them.  When I was a youth and I read the Gospel accounts, in the back of my mind was the thought that it was all well and good for Jesus to bravely endure the cross because He knew in advance how the story ended.  Well, what Jesus is telling us in the last verse is that we also know how the story ends.  The result is that even under persecution and death, the community of believers would grow so large and become so influential that the Roman Empire itself would be transformed to Christianity.  The same is true today, for even though the world may oppose the church, it cannot destroy it, because we know that the grave itself will never be able to hold us. This is how Satan’s grip is lost on Mankind; there will always be a remnant that will refuse to follow him in rebellion against God. Jesus has overcome the world, and in Him, so have we.

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Sunday Sermon Notes: August 1, 2021

One day Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi said to her, “My daughter, I must find a home for you, where you will be well provided for. Now Boaz, with whose women you have worked, is a relative of ours. Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor. Wash, put on perfume, and get dressed in your best clothes. Then go down to the threshing floor, but don’t let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what to do.”

“I will do whatever you say,” Ruth answered.

Ruth 3:1-5

Naomi! Really? What are you thinking?

How could you put Ruth in this position after she has been so loyal to you? For that matter, how can you put Boaz in this position? Seriously??

Well, that’s my knee-jerk reaction anyway…

Over the years, there have been commentators who have suggested that Naomi was interested in trapping Boaz into marriage, but to be quite fair, there is no evidence in the text to support that. Others suggest that this is how the Law says a claim should be made by a dead brother’s wife to a kinsman-redeemer and they cite Deuteronomy 25:7-9, but that isn’t quite what it says there, for the Law was quite a bit more conventional. However, we can infer from the Deuteronomy passage that a claim was to be made by the widow… but Ruth was not the wife of Boaz’ brother, he was a relation, and as we will see soon, Boaz was not the closest relation.

It might be that the custom of the time was that a claim be made in this way, with a widow throwing herself at the kinsman’s feet, but if that were so then the evidence of this would seem to be lost. Yes, there is some theological significance to this act of humble submission, but neither Naomi nor Ruth could have known it at the time, and we will discuss the theological significance of this story in due course, but they certainly do not involve any literal reenactments of this scene.

To be sure, I do not know what Naomi was thinking. We can all have our theories, but as always in cases like this, my best advice to you, dear reader, is to beware of a preacher, teacher or commentator who claims to know for certain.

In any case, it is valuable to note Ruth’s reaction to this unusual motherly advice. Bearing in mind that Ruth was not likely to have been fully acquainted with Jewish Law or custom, all of her actions up to this point would seem to indicate that she was neither immoral nor stupid, yet she submitted herself willingly and with the utmost humility; she was willing to trust both Naomi and Boaz.

The question we are left with is this: How will Boaz react? Will he succumb to temptation and take advantage of the situation, will he be angry, or will he be honorable?

 

Ruth 3:6-18

Naomi gave Ruth some unconventional advice, now Ruth takes her advice and acts upon it. After the harvest is complete, it is winnowing time, and after the winnowing is complete, a dinner is held. During all of this, Ruth stays out of sight, but when all is said and done, and Boaz retires for the night, Ruth creeps up on him, uncovers his feet and lies down at his feet (vv. 6-8). At some point during the night, Boaz awakens and says, “Who are you?”

Before we go further in the story, please note that Ruth is “at his feet.” It seems to me that when two people sleep together, they are side-by-side, aren’t they? Yet in this case, she is “at his feet.” It would appear to me that Ruth has not placed herself in the position of a seductress, but instead has positioned herself in a posture of subservience to Boaz, being “at his feet.” It is as though she is placing herself at his mercy, not so much at his pleasure. Of course, he can still take advantage of the situation and then send her packing, should he choose to do so. Now, notice her reply to his question:

“I am your servant Ruth,” she said. “Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a guardian-redeemer of our family.” (3:9)

In these words, she makes her claim for his redemption as a kinsman-redeemer. It is made with complete humility and meekness, with submission and perfect trust. When she says “spread the corner of your garment over me” she is not saying something like, “take me I’m yours,” she is asking for his redemptive protection; quite a difference. Yet, even now, she is entirely at his pleasure, trusting in his integrity.

In verses 10-14, Boaz responds by saying that she has shown him a kindness!

At this point, we know that Boaz is older than Ruth, but we don’t know how much older. We can surmise that Ruth is probably in her late teens at the most, and we know that the life expectancy was probably 30-35. If this sounds way too young to you, please bear in mind that in the US and many other countries, the age of consent to be married was 10 (not a typo) until the late 19th century, when it rose to 14! My point is that we shouldn’t think Boaz considered this a kindness because he was getting a 22-year-old wife when he was 72!

She hadn’t been chasing “younger men,” (children from our perspective) instead she had come to him; a kinsman-redeemer and given him an opportunity to do his duty to the family. Let’s also recognize that a kinsman-redeemer who takes on Ruth also takes on responsibility for Naomi who is past her productive working life, and thus no economic bargain.

There is also a complication, for Boaz is not first in line to redeem Ruth, so this must be worked out as well, and Boaz assures Ruth that he will sort things out for her. He allows her to remain unmolested through the night, and sends her home early the next day with a gift for Naomi, who is beyond delighted with the result of the evening’s work.

Before I end for now, there is one other element that we should consider in all of this: I have referred to the redemption being offered here as being that of Ruth, the young widow, but in truth it is much more than that. The real redemption from the Hebrew point of view is the redemption of Ruth’s dead husband. Mahlon and Kilion died childless, and in the Old Covenant, there is no promise of eternal life as there is in the New. People lived forever through their children, and to die childless was a great tragedy, for that was the end. When a brother or kinsman-redeemer married the widow and offspring resulted, the deceased man was “redeemed” because he was able to live on in those children. To give this life to the dead was the duty that Boaz considered to be such a kindness. But that isn’t all: since both of the sons of Elimelech had died childless, he was done for, and likely so was his father and his father’s father… All were, in this sense, to be redeemed by Boaz.

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Sunday Sermon Notes: July 25, 2021

Ruth 2

Chapter 2 begins with a statement:

Now Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side, a man of standing from the clan of Elimelek, whose name was Boaz. (2:1)

This verse seems to come out of left field; it interrupts the narrative, yet it is used to set up what will shortly come into the story. His name means in him is strength, and he is a man of standing, meaning that he was mighty in wealth and in godliness, a rare combination.

Ruth asks Naomi if it would be all right if she went out to glean; Naomi consents. Gleaning was something that only the poor and destitute would usually do, and it was very hard work. A large farmer would allow poor and desperate people to follow behind his harvesters and pick up whatever the harvesters missed in the harvest. Sometimes they would leave the corners of a field unharvested so that the poor might have something to eat, and this is what Ruth was asking to do. Notice in verse 2 that Ruth was not approaching this as some kind of an entitlement, but rather that she was hoping to find favor that she might be allowed to do this back-breaking work to keep her mother in law and herself from starving; she was demonstrating in this a level of humility that might seem foreign to us today.

In verse three she heads off. Remember that she is a stranger to this land and would have no idea which farmer owned which field, yet somehow, she finds herself in the field of Boaz.

Coincidence?

While Ruth is toiling, Boaz returns from town and greets his workers, and then asks the boss if he knows who this woman was who was gleaning. Some commentators suggest that Boaz was curious about her because of her great beauty, but if our text has mentioned her being beautiful, I missed it; probably he just didn’t recognize her. The overseer tells him who she was, and from there forward, our text records the kindness Boaz affords Ruth. Boaz, it seems, views Ruth as a part of his extended family and recognizes that he has a responsibility to care for her in some way. Now let’s be clear about that; Boaz has no legal responsibility for Ruth because her husband was dead, and she is free to marry anyone who will have her. In addition, she is a Moabite, and in that case, he would have no responsibility for her at all, yet because of the loyalty that she has shown to Naomi, Boaz goes out of his way to help her.

Notice that Boaz orders his men to leave her alone, that he gives her a seat at the table with the rest of the household (a household in the OT would include the servants) and that he arranges for her to receive considerably more grain than she would have received just from gleaning. Also, please take note of Ruth’s attitude of humility; even now she assumes no rights or entitlements.

These are two very unusual people!

Earlier, I called Boaz a “man’s man” and here you begin to see what I mean by that. A “man” at least in the old-fashioned sense, was not a grown up child, he was someone with character and integrity who would do the right thing toward others even when it wasn’t convenient or advantageous… but because it was right. He would take care of his own and treat others with respect; I might add that he was a person most notable for his restraint, so to be succinct, Boaz was not working an angle or with any ulterior motive.

By the time she was finished with her work, Ruth carried home about 30 pounds of grain, plus her leftovers from the meal that Boaz had provided her with, an impressive haul to say the least. I have a hunch that Naomi will take notice when she finds out what has taken place…

She carried it back to town, and her mother-in-law saw how much she had gathered. Ruth also brought out and gave her what she had left over after she had eaten enough.

Her mother-in-law asked her, “Where did you glean today? Where did you work? Blessed be the man who took notice of you!”

Then Ruth told her mother-in-law about the one at whose place she had been working. “The name of the man I worked with today is Boaz,” she said.

“The Lord bless him!” Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. “He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.” She added, “That man is our close relative; he is one of our guardian-redeemers.”

Then Ruth the Moabite said, “He even said to me, ‘Stay with my workers until they finish harvesting all my grain.’”

Naomi said to Ruth her daughter-in-law, “It will be good for you, my daughter, to go with the women who work for him, because in someone else’s field you might be harmed.”

So Ruth stayed close to the women of Boaz to glean until the barley and wheat harvests were finished. And she lived with her mother-in-law.

Ruth 2:18-23

After the events of Ruth 2:1-17, Ruth returns home with the grain she had obtained from her gleaning in the fields of Boaz. First, she gives the leftovers from her meal to Naomi to eat, and then Naomi, noticing how much she had brought back, asked her where she had been allowed to glean. Ruth tells her that she has been gleaning in the fields of Boaz, and Naomi is quite pleased.

Naomi knows that Boaz is a kinsman-redeemer, which comes from the Hebrew word ga’al which means “kinsman-redeemer”, rendered by the NIV as “guardian-redeemer”. A kinsman-redeemer is a relative who is obligated to “redeem” the property, and sometimes the life or marriage, of a relation who has fallen into severe distress. For example, if there is real property that is owned by a widow, the kinsman-redeemer might buy that property so that the widow, who couldn’t farm it herself, has an income to live off of. They might also pay off a mortgage, take the person into their household, or marry a brother’s wife if they have no children so that the brother can live on through the children. In the case of Boaz, he was a kinsman-redeemer for Naomi, since he is related to her husband. In the case of Ruth, he is a relative of her husband as well, but the fact that Ruth is a Moabite would give Boaz an “out” if he wished to avoid his responsibilities to the family. Finally, we must remind ourselves that there had been a famine in the land 10 years earlier, and we do not know how long it lasted. A famine in the Promised Land would tell us that God’s Law was not being obeyed in that generation, thus Boaz may or may not be the kind of man who would honor this obligation. Naomi seems to think that he will do his duty, based upon Ruth’s report.

As a result of all of this, Naomi advises Ruth to continue gleaning in Boaz’ field, and to visit no others, since Boaz has decided to see to her safety… and that is exactly what Ruth did.

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