The beginning of Hebrews 1 sets out the difference between Jesus Christ and the rest of creation. The first difference is that Jesus was not created.
Heb 1:1 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,
Heb 1:2 Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;
Heb 1:3 Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high;
Heb 1:4 Being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.
Jesus Christ was the brightness of God. He was not simply a bearer of the brightness of God, but He was the brightness itself. He was the exact image of the person of God. He was and is God Himself. He was not a part of the created order.
This is hard for a lot of people to try to wrap their minds around. Naturally, we have two persons of the Trinity here with the third person being the Holy Spirit. How do we understand our God is one God but three persons?
I find that analogy is often the most effective way to understand the idea of the Trinity even though analogy is admittedly an imperfect reflection of reality. At least it helps a little bit for our finite minds.
It makes me think about Dorothy Sayers. Her argument is essentially that human creativity and can help us represent the Trinity. When an author is writing a book, there is an idea and the mind of the author. The book exists in the mind of the author. However, that both then becomes a different form written on paper. It is identical to the idea, but it is a distinct entity. Finally, when another person reads that same book, it is still the same book and idea, but it is the form in which it is communicated to the other person.
This type of illustration has helped me think through the issue of the Trinity, but always remember that every analogy is imperfect. It is much more important to understand that the Trinity is a reality than to develop a perfect analogy for it because that analogy is not going to be found.
In 1 Thessalonians, it is interesting to see the almost viral nature of early Christian belief. People were sharing that rapidly, and that of course begs the question as to why.
1Th 1:5 For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake.
1Th 1:6 And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost:
1Th 1:7 So that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia.
1Th 1:8 For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing.
It seems to be the case that these people were motivated by the Holy Spirit. They were acting on those convictions, and God was providing the increase. The people in Thessalonica were examples to other people, and those people were excited about what was going on.
I wonder then if that is the wraps that we should be taking in our society today. We are not nearly the minority status that the early church was or face similar persecution, but there are undoubtedly a set of cultural pressures that seem to be similar.
These people were living as examples that others wanted to follow. They were living lives that displayed the evidence of the Holy Spirit, and people wanted to live like that.
Clearly, outreach is a vital mission of the church, but we want to make sure that we remain strong at home. The Christian life is by nature attractive. Following the will of God is the best way to live, so if we do that, people will notice. If the two most important commandments are loving God and loving other people, then it seems to me that a life characterized by those two things will draw people and make them want to be a part of it.
It seems like that was what was happening here in 1 Thessalonians. The Holy Spirit is working, people were living attractive lives, and the Word was spreading. It must of been a very powerful testimony.
Galatians 5 is pretty popular thanks to the inclusion of the fruit of the Spirit. However, I want to talk about what immediately follows that classic passage.
Gal 5:24 And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.
Gal 5:25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.
Gal 5:26 Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another.
It interests me that there is a differentiation between living in the Spirit and walking in the Spirit. The verse seems to imply that it is possible to live in the Spirit without walking in it. How does that all work out?
I think about employment. As a hypothetical example, I work for a company. I am on their roster of employees, so in a sense I am living that. It is part of my existence to be an employee of that company. However, if I am going to walk as a member of that company, I am also going to actively do my job. It is not just enough to be a member of the company, but I am actually going to take part in the mission of the company.
As Christians then, it is possible for us to be Christians, but Christians do not always follow what God wants obviously. We do make mistakes, and we don’t always act in accordance with the will of God. Paul is urging us to avoid that deviation. If we are followers of Christ, then we should act like it.
This is not a works-based salvation by any means. It already implies that we are in the Spirit. We are already in the family of God, but like the immediately preceding verses about the fruit of the Spirit, if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, then there will be evidence of that in your life.
This is of course a process for all of us because none of us are perfect. However, this call is clear. We are not in bondage under the law as Paul explicitly emphasizes that the beginning of the chapter, but there ought to be evidence of following Jesus Christ. Paul is encouraging us to show that.
Many people talk about religion as being restrictive. They talk about all of the things that Christians can’t do for example. However, it is interesting in 2 Corinthians 3 that Paul would seem to dispute that.
2Co 3:16 Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away.
2Co 3:17 Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.
2Co 3:18 But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.
Paul seems to find freedom in Christ as opposed to the supposed restriction that many people will say comes along with Christianity. Paul explains how their eyes will essentially be opened, and the covering will be stripped away. They will be able to experience things that they were not able to experience before. That certainly seems to sound like freedom.
I think that the misconception comes from the fact that people do not see other worldviews as commitments. They still are. For example, if you are an atheist, you are not free. There are ideological commitments to your worldview. Even if you are an agnostic, there are still tenets of that belief system. Everyone makes active decisions about what to believe and what not to believe. You are going to be tied into some belief system inevitably as part of being human, but you do have freedom to choose which one.
That is why Paul can talk like this. Christianity is not restrictive, and as a matter of fact, when you truly embrace God for who He is, your perspective will change. Your eyes will open. The world will make sense in a way that it did not before. You are free to experience the world in a new way.
Welcome to Acts 1. Written as a sequel to the book of Luke, this book talks about everything that began to happen to the church after the ascension of Jesus Christ. This very important phase of ministry is kicked off by the Great Commission from the mouth of Jesus Christ Himself.
Act 1:7 And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.
Act 1:8 But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.
Two things were going to happen sequentially. They were going to receive power through the Holy Spirit, and they were going to become witnesses throughout the entire world. It seems to be the case that the first one was a necessary condition of the second. A short time before, the disciples had run away from the people arresting Jesus because they were afraid of suffering a similar fate. Obviously, at this point they had met the risen Jesus, so perhaps their courage was on the rebound, but I don’t know that human determination alone would have been enough to reach the entire world.
They surely needed the power and endurance that God was able to give to them. They were arrested, beaten and ultimately martyred with the exception of John who was given life in prison. There was a power there that did not seem to be present in the disciples on the night at the crucifixion, and Jesus says that they are going to receive power from the Holy Spirit within them. That was going to be the power that would propel them around the world.
As Christians, we have the Holy Spirit within us as well. We ought to have the same kind of power, and we ought to be just as committed to this mission. Just like the disciples did what they were able to do to spread the Gospel, the same commission applies to us as well.
In Matthew 12, Jesus says something controversial (surprise!).
Mat 12:31 Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men.
Mat 12:32 And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.
It is somewhat hard to wrap our heads around this differentiation because of the Trinity. However, I ask you to remember back to a little while ago when I wrote about the Trinity. Dorothy Sayers pointed out that Jesus is the Energy, and the Holy Spirit is the Power. The Energy is the physical manifestation. That is Jesus Christ. He walked on the earth, and it seems that speak a word against Him is a forgivable offense.
The Holy Spirit is the Power. It is the kind of thing where the Holy Spirit is kind of the impact. As we find out later in John 16, the Holy Spirit is concerned with convicting people of sin. I think that is where we can make this differentiation in the words of Jesus.
There are a variety of people who argue that Jesus was not a real person, He wasn’t the Son of God or He did not rise from the dead. However, if we go to Romans 10:9, one of the things that seems to be a prerequisite for salvation is believing that Jesus rose from the dead. That is something that people can be convinced of later in life. The evidence can finally carry weight with people, and it seems that that sin is certainly forgivable.
The second part is a little bit more difficult. I think that it is important to remember that role of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit convicts us, and if we are living a life where we continually oppose the conviction of the Holy Spirit, are we really Christians?
Four kind of a silly example, let’s say that I am on a diet. However, I continually break the rules on my diet, do I really have a right to say that I’m on the diet?
If someone spends his or her entire life ignoring the convictions that come to us from God, it seems to me that maybe they were never in the faith in the first place.
What do you think?
There is something to be said for diving right into more controversy. New Testament, new controversy.
We are in Matthew 3 today, and I want to focus on the baptism of Jesus Christ by John the Baptist.
Mat 3:13 Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him.
Mat 3:14 But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?
Mat 3:15 And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him.
Mat 3:16 And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him:
Mat 3:17 And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
This is an interesting passage because all three persons of God are simultaneously present in distinct forms.
Wait a minute, does that mean that Christians believe that there are three gods? Certainly not.
The Trinity is a difficult concept. It certainly seems to be contradictory. How can there be three distinct people who are simultaneously one. Here in Matthew, it seems as if each one is entirely separate from the other ones, but we also know that Jesus claimed that He and the Father were one.
How do we go about handling what seems like a contradiction?
I think that the best illustration that I have read was in Apologetics for the 21st Century. This book introduced me to the work of Dorothy Sayers. She wrote The Mind of the Maker, and in that work, she argues that any work of art can be a way to understand this difficult concept.
Any work of art is simultaneously three different parts: Idea, Energy and Power. The Idea exists in the mind of the artist. It is the entire work, but it exists outside of space and time. The Energy is the work of art on the canvas. It is identical to the idea that the artist has in his mind, but it is the physical manifestation of that idea. The Power is then what allows other people to experience the idea through the Energy that has been shown physically. All three of these exist simultaneously and are the same in the sense that they are all the entire piece of art, but they function in distinct ways as separate entities which are dependent on each other.
She goes on to say that the Idea functions like God the Father. He exists beyond space and time. Jesus Christ is representative of the Energy. He was the physical manifestation of God in human flesh. The Holy Spirit then serves as the Power. It allows us to experience God and lives within us to provide that connection. They are different, but they are also the same in the sense that each part is fully God.
I know that this is a difficult concept for a lot of people, and it is difficult for me, but this illustration helped me a lot.
In Numbers chapter 9, we are greeted with some very interesting thoughts about Passover. However, as it seems to be the case most of the time, the last verse of this chapter really caught my attention.
Num 9:23 At the commandment of the LORD they rested in the tents, and at the commandment of the LORD they journeyed: they kept the charge of the LORD, at the commandment of the LORD by the hand of Moses.
The nation of Israel was operating entirely on the will of God. When God told them to move, they moved, and when He told them not to move, they didn’t move. God told Moses what to do, Moses told the people what God had said, and everyone was obedient.
I know that I wish, and I assume that I’m not alone here, that I was always this responsive to whatever God wants me to do. It is easy for me to try to rationalize and say that it was so much easier for the Israelites because they literally had God talking to them. Of course, if I had that type of proof, I would never stumble and would always follow the will of God.
However, that really isn’t much of an excuse for anyone. We have the Holy Spirit literally living inside of us, and having one part of God is just as valuable as having any other part (even though they are three distinct parts that are really all one part). The fact is that it is that we do have God with us, and the Holy Spirit will help guide us towards right decisions.
2Ti 1:13 Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.
2Ti 1:14 That good thing which was committed unto thee keep by the Holy Ghost which dwelleth in us.
The Holy Spirit will help us stick to the word of God. It will help us make the decisions that we really ought to be making. It will lead us away from the things of the world and toward the things of God.
I think that we are a pretty privileged people. Even though we don’t always give God the obedience that we should and like the Israelites apparently did at this specific time in their history, He still loves us and wants us to be closer. As we grow closer, we will become more attuned to His will and live as better testimonies for Him.
I think that all of Leviticus chapter 15 can be summed up by the following verse near the end of that chapter.
Lev 15:31 Thus shall ye separate the children of Israel from their uncleanness; that they die not in their uncleanness, when they defile my tabernacle that is among them.
The purpose of everything that we have read so far about becoming clean or the unfortunate situation of being unclean comes back to this. We want to separate people from their uncleanness because it defiles the tabernacle.
Wait a minute. Doesn’t that sound an awful lot like what we are supposed to do today as Christians?
We are supposed to separate ourselves from the sin in our lives.
Joh 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
Joh 3:17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
Jesus came into the world to bring forgiveness to us. Without him, that never would’ve happened. We would have died in our uncleanness so to speak.
Now, we don’t have a literal tabernacle today, but the idea is virtually identical.
1Co 6:19 What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?
1Co 6:20 For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.
We have the Holy Spirit living in us, so just like the Israelites did not defile their tabernacle with uncleanness, we should not defile our bodies with uncleanness or sin.
Although the process is definitely different today, the point is virtually identical. We need Jesus to help separate us from our sin. He will forgive us in the Holy Spirit will come to live within us if we truly give our lives to God. We need to be clean before we can have the Holy Spirit within us though. That forgiveness from Jesus is what makes that process happen.
Isa 1:18 Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
Isn’t it pretty awesome that we can be forgiven for all of the sin that holds us back?
We’re going to come back to Exodus chapter 27, but let me take you somewhere else first.
Mat 5:14 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
Mat 5:15 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.
Mat 5:16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
Of course, this is a very familiar passage that is often is to encourage evangelism. As we all know, people are drawn to light because they want everything to be made brighter.
Now, going back to Exodus, the tabernacle was supposed to have a similar future.
Exo 27:20 And thou shalt command the children of Israel, that they bring thee pure oil olive beaten for the light, to cause the lamp to burn always.
While this is all that is said in this passage, it seems as if the tabernacle was supposed to be a light just like we are supposed to be.
What is a similarity between these two things? God lives in both of them.
In the Old Testament, God would talk to the priests in the Holy of Holies who could then speak to the people. When Jesus died and the temple curtain was torn, God now lives within people through the Holy Spirit.
If we have that light within us, it should naturally spread around us. A candle doesn’t have to make a decision to shine. Assuming that it is actually lit, the light goes everywhere and expels the darkness and just because that is what light does.
Similarly, our light should always be shining as well. The way we conduct our lives should show people something about Jesus even if we are not actively sharing Bible verses. That is definitely important and necessary as well, and but our entire lives should be testimonies.