Saturday, January 24, 2015
Due to sleet snow rain sleet snow rain cold cold cold, tomorrow's worship service at Second Reformed, Irvington, is closed. D.V., the church will be opened, we will worship together, and I will be well enough to be with you all next week. Who's up for three sermons?
Thursday, January 22, 2015
“Experts inform us that overpopulation is destroying the earth. I disagree: greed and selfishness are ruining the planet, not children. They are born givers, not takers” (1).
Although I disagree with Johann Christoph Arnold’s portrayal of children as born innocent, his book, Their Name is Today, is a clarion call to a world that considers children a burden or a nuisance.
King David’s son, Solomon, wrote, “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate” (Psalm 127:3-5, ESV).
Through quotes, reflections, and anecdotes, Arnold shows the value of children and responsibility of the adult world to raise them and to benefit from them, as they benefit from us.
Some that stood out to me:
Children must not be told or allowed to feel that they are a burden – they are a gift from God – and they ought to be told so (10).
Children learn through play and through following after those things which are of interest to them. Exposure to variety is good, but a college style of curricula might be more advantageous to children (15).
The grading system can kill brilliant and creative minds (29).
Creativity – and not screen time (necessarily) – is to be encouraged: “How curious will children be, how mentally agile, creative, and persistent in seeking answers to their questions, if, from a young age, they learn to Google it first, and ask questions later (or not at all)?” (51).
Love is the most important thing we give our children (71).
Discipline and forgiveness are intertwined: “It also taught me a lesson I have never forgotten – one I drew on in dealing with my own children years later: don’t be afraid to discipline a child, but the moment you feel he is sorry, be sure there is immediate and complete forgiveness on your part” (93).
And if you have been gifted difficult children in whatever sense that takes spend the time to find the way that they can best be reached and become the men and women they were born to be (109).
Parenting is a high and difficult call, and if our children are going to know that they bear the Image of God (129) and were given life for more than just being right on a standardized exam, we must work hard with them to find what they have been given and may develop to be.
Forget the manuals. Consider the creative genius of life. Maximize your joy in the joy of your children.
[This review appears on my blog and at Amazon.com. I received a copy of this book free from Handlebar Publishing and Plough Publishing House in exchange for the review.]
Sunday, January 18, 2015
Saturday, January 17, 2015
Tuesday, January 13, 2015
"John's baptism mortifies.... Christ's baptism vivifies...." Reformation Commentary on the Scripture: New Testament IV: John 1-12, 40.
January 11, 2015 Second Reformed Church
Have you seen God?
Our One God is a Trinity; He exists in Three Persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The Son of God is the Word, the Life, and the Light.
We are born in sin, and we can only be made right with God by God adopting us as His sons and daughters – by being born by the Light – by God, through the Son, by the Power of the Holy Spirit. Because we have sinned against the Holy God, God is angry with us for our sin and will punish us according to His Justice, unless God makes us righteous and holy, through His Son, by the Power of the Holy Spirit.
In this morning’s text, we see how this happens, and we see that the sons and daughters of God have seen God and will see God.
First, the Word – God the Son – became flesh.
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,”
God the Son – God the Word – God the Light – God the Life – the Second Person of the Trinity became flesh.
God did not take on the shell of a human being and live His life before us and then cast away the shell after the Ascension.
God did not make a human divine and live His life before us and then ascend Jesus back to the Father – perhaps adding a fourth member to the Trinity.
No, what God did was send the Son to earth – God the Son and Jesus of Nazareth were united in One Person in the womb of Mary, while remaining the One God Almighty and the real human, Jesus of Nazareth – with a human nature and the divine nature, and a human will and the divine will – distinct and unmixed.
It means that God the Son united with Jesus of Nazareth in one person and, in so doing, God condescended to take on the weakness and the frailty and the responsibility of real human beings. While the Incarnate Son was on earth, He grew as human beings grow, He got sick, He may have whacked His thumb with a hammer in Joseph’s shop – and felt that pain, He may have had acne, He submitted to His parents and to the Law of God.
And there’s the point – that’s why God came to earth in the person of Jesus – that’s why Jesus had to really be God and really be a human – in every way, except for sin – in one person. The author of Hebrews wrote: “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14, ESV).
The only people who will ever see the Lord God are those people who are holy – those people who have never sinned and have kept the Law of God perfectly. Jeremiah describes us as naturally being thus: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, ESV). And that’s a problem, right? Because you and I sin and you and I have not kept God’s Law perfectly. And the same is true of every mere human being. We are born with a deceitful and desperately sick heart.
The only way to get around this bad news is for Someone Who never sinned and kept the Law perfectly to volunteer to be our Substitute – so we would get the credit for His sinless and holy life, and He would get the credit of our sinful and not holy life. And the only way a person could do that was if He was – at the same time – in one person – the One True God and a real human being.
You see – salvation is by works – by the works of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God Incarnate:
Paul wrote: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Romans 5:6-11, ESV).
We are saved through Christ’s work because He is at the same time in one person, the One Almighty God and the man, Jesus of Nazareth, Who lived a perfect and holy life and credited it to our accounts while taken our sin and the punishment due us on Himself.
Second, those who knew Jesus on earth witnessed the Glory of God.
“and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father,”
John and the others that knew Jesus saw His Glory – the heaviness – the weightiness – of His praise and honor and worthiness and wonderfulness. Even though His Glory was veiled by His humanity, those who believed in Him could see His Glory.
And notice that John does not say that they merely saw His Glory, but that His Glory was that “of the only Son from the Father.” It was the Glory of God the Son Who came from God the Father. Again, John makes it clear that they understood that Jesus is God Himself.
That’s why, when Jesus asked the disciples who they believed Him to be, “Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’” (Matthew 16:16, ESV).
As God the Father was willing, He lifted the veil to show the disciples the Glory of Jesus – God the Son, so the only proper response was to see that Glory and recognize Him for Who He is: Jesus is the Savior, the Only Son of God
There are many places where we can look with twenty-twenty hindsight and shake our heads and say, “Those stupid disciples, why don’t they get it?” But they didn’t have the whole Word of God that we can read and look through and say, “There is no other conclusion, as we read God’s Word, but to proclaim Jesus as God the Only Savior!”
But in that moment when He was living in Israel, God did not allow all to see His Glory, as we read, “And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, ‘Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?’ And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household’” (Matthew 13:53-57, ESV).
We would be just as dumbfounded if God had not opened our eyes to see His Glory. Even today – I asked a non-believing friend to read the Bible – and he actually read through the entire Bible – and he raised questions to me – but at the end, he said he didn’t believe it.
So, we ought not be discouraged in our evangelism – in our proclaiming the Gospel to others – but we ought to be continually in prayer for those we have told and are telling the Gospel – because we are all born in “cosmic rebellion” against God, and until God opens our eyes and changed our hearts, we will not and cannot see His Glory and believe in Jesus savingly.
“full of grace and truth.”
What does this mean? His Glory was full of “grace and truth”?
It means that since Jesus is God and a real human, He was able to keep and fulfill all of the Law. As Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17, ESV).
The Law and the Prophets – all that God has commanded us in the Moral Law and promised in His Word – remain. Yet, Jesus has kept every point of the Law and the Prophets perfectly – never sinning and fulfilling the prophecies about Him.
Third, Jesus is before John the Baptist.
“(John bore witness about him, and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’)”
Jesus called John the Baptist the greatest of all mere men – the greatest prophet of the Old Testament – because John the Baptist announced the fulfillment of the prophecies about the Savior in Jesus. Yet Jesus is greater than John the Baptist, because Jesus is not merely a human, but the Incarnate Son of God – He is God in the human person of Jesus. Jesus is the Savior that all the prophets pointed to.
John said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29, ESV).
But how are we to understand John the Baptist saying that Jesus “was before him”? It is quite clear in the Scripture that John the Baptist was six months older than Jesus.
This is a confession that Jesus is the Eternal God – Who existed before John the Baptist – even before space and time and all of Creation.
John the Baptist was proclaiming that Jesus is greater than him, because Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophecies about the Savior and that Jesus is even greater than that, because He is God Himself in the flesh.
Fourth, Jesus gives grace upon grace.
“For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”
What does it mean that we who believe have received “grace upon grace”?
Surely, it means that we have received the divine blessing of salvation through Jesus Christ. That is the greatest grace we have received – that God chose to send His Son to save all we who would believe. Yet, there is more to it than that – and that is not to say that the gift of Jesus is not enough – He is – but the greatness of the blessings that we have received continue to pile up along with that supreme blessing, if we but think for a moment.
Are you breathing? Most of you seem to be…
Do you have clothes to wear?
Do you have food to eat?
Do you have a place to live – some sort of shelter?
Can you see, and smell, and touch, and taste, and hear?
Are you living on a habitable planet?
Is your body processing your food well?
One of my doctors is an Orthodox Jew, and he has told me that there is a prayer he recites after every time he relieves himself, giving thanks to God to the ability to relieve himself. And we might smile at that, but isn’t it true? If you have ever had a kidney stone or a UTI or any type of blockage in your body, didn’t you give thanks for the grace to relieve yourself normally once you were well?
We are a very ungrateful people in the Unites States – we are even more ungrateful in the Church – because we know everything we have, every ability we have, everything – comes from the Hand of our Loving Father.
Our Lord, Jesus Christ, gives us grace upon grace. Why aren’t we thankful?
The person with the most wretched, pain-filled life has reason to thank God, because it could be worse. Job had lost all of his money, all of his possessions, all of his children, and he had lost his health, “then his wife said to him, ‘Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.’ But he said to her, ‘You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?’ In all this Job did not sin with his lips” (Job 2:9-10, ESV).
If he still wasn’t receiving grace upon grace – even in the midst of all that disaster – life would be meaningless – it would be vanity – it would be empty. But he understood that – even in tragedy – we have reason to be thankful.
We have to move on:
John tells us the Law came through Moses. Moses was held in very high esteem as the chief lawgiver of God. But, as we have said before, the Law was never intended to be a way to salvation. Paul explains the purpose of the Law: “What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet’” (Romans 7:7, ESV).
Paul tells us that the purpose of the Law is to show us what is approved by God and what sin is. The Law was given to set up boundaries and to convict us of sin when we break them. The Law tells us that we have broken the Law and are at enmity with God – we are sinners against God!
But “grace and truth” came through Jesus Christ. What is he saying?
He is saying that Jesus kept the Law because He is Grace and Truth. Jesus is the Only One Who could keep the Law – and that is why He is the Savior.
Jesus does love the Lord His God with all His heart and all His soul and all His mind and all His strength, and His neighbor as Himself. Jesus does worship the One God Almighty. Jesus does not commit idolatry. Jesus does not take the Name of the Lord in vain. Jesus does keep the Sabbath perfectly. Jesus did honor His earthly father and mother. Jesus does not murder. Jesus does not commit adultery. Jesus does not steal. Jesus does not commit false witness. Jesus does not covet.
Jesus kept all of the Law perfectly, so He was able to be our Substitute, crediting us with His Righteousness and taking the penalty for all of our sin upon Himself, so we are now seen as righteous and holy and sinless, in the eyes of our Father.
That’s why Jesus is superior to Moses.
Fifth, no one has ever seen God.
“No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known.”
“No one has ever seen God” – why not?
When Moses was on Mount Sinai, Moses asked to see God’s face, and we read, “And the LORD said to Moses, ‘This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.’ Moses said, ‘Please show me your glory.’ And he said, ‘I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name “The LORD.” And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,’ he said, ‘you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.’ And the LORD said, ‘Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen’” (Exodus 33:17-23, ESV).
So, we can’t see God, because to look upon His Face would kill us. Why? Because we are sinners, and to view His Pure Glory would kill us.
Paul wrote to Timothy, “I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen” (1 Timothy 6:13-16, ESV).
So, we can’t see God, because He lives in “unapproachable light.”
Paul spoke of Christ, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation”
(Colossians 1:15, ESV).
So, we can’t see God, because He is invisible.
But, John writes, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side,”
John tells us that no one has ever seen God. Then he tells us that God sits at the side of God the Father. Who is he talking about?
In this context, it can only be God the Son. What has God the Son done – God Who is at the Father’s side”? “he has made him known.”
The word that we translate “known” means that God the Son revealed the Father – so He could be seen. How? By becoming incarnate in the person of Jesus.
Jesus said, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matthew 11:27, ESV).
And again Jesus said, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:9b, ESV).
The Son made God visible through the Incarnation.
The people Who knew Jesus on earth all those years ago saw God in the flesh.
And you know what, we are going to see God.
We’re not going to see the Father or the Spirit – they are invisible, but the Son remains in the flesh of Jesus of Nazareth. And we will be resurrected in our flesh – with our human eyes. Job said, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!” (Job 19:25-27, ESV).
Job looked forward to the day when – in his resurrected – yet human body – he would see the Lord Jesus – God in the flesh – His Redeemer.
Do you long for the day when all we who believe will be with Jesus, and we will see Him and hear Him for ourselves – and worship Him in His Presence?
We wouldn’t be twenty-first century Americans if we didn’t ask, “But what are You doing for me now? I can’t see You now? You’re at the Right Hand of the Father, waiting to return in glory – but I can’t see You there!”
Or, can we?
Paul writes, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12, ESV).
Part of what Paul is saying here is that we can see God now – not as fully as He sees us and knows us – in holy perfection. Not face to face yet – but we can see Him now.
How? What is the mirror Paul is talking about?
It is the Word of God read and preached, and the Sacraments.
We see God dimly – not face to face yet – but we can see enough to know that Jesus is God the Incarnate Son – the One Who is the Only Savior of all we who believe.
Have you seen Him?
Let us pray:
Almighty and Gracious God, we rejoice that You chose to save us for Yourself and that You sent Your Son to become a real human being so He could take our place and save us from the wrath due for our sin. We rejoice that we can see You – through the Son – even now – through the Word and the Sacraments, and we ask that as we see You more clearly, we would long all the more for the day when we will see Jesus face to face. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.
Sunday, January 11, 2015
I have gotten to the point with vegan cookbooks that I thought there was nothing new or better than the ones I had – but I was blown away by Vegan Holiday Cooking from Candle Café.
The recipes are divided by celebration: the big game, lunar New Year, Valentine’s Day. Passover Seder, Easter brunch, Cinco de Mayo fiesta, 4th of July backyard barbecue, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve. The book ends with a resource guide for those who can’t find some ingredients locally – I have not found that to be a problem.
I have made three of the recipes so far:
“Gefilte Tofu” (50). To look at the recipe, I thought, “This is never going to work.” However, it tasted very much like Gefilte Fish. I was very happy with it and served it at a family gathering on whole grain crackers.
“Swiss Chard & Chickpeas” (53). I love chickpeas, so I thought I would give this recipe a try. It was so creamy and satisfyingly flavorful; I ended up eating more than a serving at a time. A simple combination of chard, chickpeas onions and garlic – wonderful! This recipe is going to be a regular in my repertoire.
“Pumpkin Seed Crusted Tempeh” (119). I decided to go against the suggested sides and make this dish and serve it over a bed of mixed greens. After pouching the tempeh, the pieces are dredged in egg-replacer and water and then coasted with the pumpkin seed crust. Since I do not use oil, I pan fried them in vegetable broth, which meant they were not as crusty, but still delicious – the tempeh became creamy with a slight pumpkin taste around it.
I look forward to making more recipes from this cookbook. If the three I have made thus far are as good, this will be one of my favorite cook books.
[This review appears on Amazon.com and on my blog. I received this book for free from WaterbrookMultnoma Publishing Group in exchange for an honest review.]
Wednesday, January 07, 2015
Tuesday, January 06, 2015
Monday, January 05, 2015
“Birth by Light”
January 4, 2015 Second Reformed Church
Let us remember why John wrote his gospel: “but these [things] are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31, ESV). Everything that John wrote ought to lead us to conclude that Jesus is the Christ – the Savior – the Messiah, the Son of God – One of the Three Persons of the Trinity, and, if we believe in Him – in His Gospel – in the work that He did on earth, we will have life in His Name – we will be cleansed and forgiven and made righteous – having received salvation from the Wrath of God, and find ourselves welcomed into the Kingdom of God.
Last week, we saw that John began by pointing us to the Trinity: that there is One God, and God exists in Three Persons. The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, but there is Only One God.
We saw that God spoke the Creation into being, the Son is God’s Word in the flesh, and the Holy Spirit superintended over and completes God’s work. The Son is also the Life of every human, and He is the Light, through whom all those who will believe receive salvation.
John continues to talk about Jesus – the Incarnate Son of God – as the Light in this morning’s text:
“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.”
John tells us that God sent John the Baptist as a witness to the Light – as a forerunner of the Light – as the one who would prepare the way for the Light – as the one who would get the people ready and alert them to the fact that the Light had come among them.
A few weeks ago, we looked at the person of John the Baptist. We saw that he was the last prophet of the Old Testament – one who came – as the fulfillment of prophecy – in the spirit and power of Elijah – to prepare the Jews – in particular – to repent of their sins and look for the coming of the Promised Savior.
John tells us that John the Baptist came as a witness to the Light – to direct people to the Light – that they might come to know Him and believe on Him and receive salvation through Him.
And he is an example for all Christians – what is our primary work on earth? To witness to the Light – to witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are to be pointing to Jesus – not to ourselves.
We like people to like us – I like people to like me – but of first importance in our dealings with others is that we point them to Jesus. Yes, we can have friends – even close friends – but have they been shown Jesus through us? Have they been told that there is only salvation through Him Alone?
We are to be like those pointer dogs who point to what their humans are looking for – what their humans want and need. Yes, enjoy people and engage people and have fun with people, but also – first and foremost – have you seen Jesus? Do you know the Savior? Have you believed on the Good News of Jesus Christ?
“Oh, yes, we had a wonderful time and lunch, we got so much done that morning, and I heard about him, oh what trouble he’s gotten himself into, my the salad was good – Jesus!”
The first thing we see, this morning, then, is that Christians point to Jesus and His Gospel.
“The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.”
Second, we see that God the Son – the Light – incarnate – became human, and His coming into the world effects everyone.
This was prophesied by the prophet, Isaiah:
“[The Lord] says: ‘It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth’” (Isaiah 49:6, ESV).
And we might scratch our heads about this, because we have said that when Jesus – the Incarnate Son of God – is called the Light, we are talking about His enlightening people to salvation through Him – we are talking about the work of salvation – salvation from the darkness of being lost in sin. If that is so, how can John the Baptist say that Jesus is the True Light, “[who] gives light to everyone”?
If Jesus being the Light is referring to bringing people out of darkness into a right state with God – forgiven and holy before God – how can we say that everyone receives the Light?
There are two ways we may understand this – and it may be well to understand it to mean both of these ways:
We can understand John to be saying that the True Light gives light to everyone who will believe. In that way, we can understand John to be saying that Jesus – the Light – came into the world to enlighten all those who will believe to salvation – which is true.
We can also understand John to be saying that the True Light gives light to everyone – and His Light affects everyone in one of two ways: people are either drawn to the light in faith and belief, or people are repulsed by the light and re-embrace the darkness they are in – which is also true.
Jesus said, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Matthew 12:30, ESV).
One of my college professors used this verse as an example of a logical fallacy. The professor said that Jesus was wrong – there was a third option – someone could have nothing to do with Him. And I politely explained, “No, no, no – if anyone else had said this, it would be a logical fallacy, but Jesus doesn’t give the option to have nothing to do with Him. Every human who has ever lived and will ever live is either for Jesus or against Him – He does not give us the option of another choice.”
That’s why Jesus continues by saying, “Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matthew 12:31-32, ESV).
God the Holy Spirit applies the Gospel – the Light – of Jesus to every person – and those who believe will be forgiven and brought into the Kingdom of God, but those who do not believe – those who blaspheme the Holy Spirit and deny the Gospel of Jesus – they will never, ever be forgiven, but will suffer eternal Hell.
So there are only two possible responses to the Gospel – ultimately – “yes, I receive the Light and the forgiveness and righteousness merited by Jesus” – or – “no, I would rather stay in the darkness with my sin and face God on my own sin-laden merits.”
Thus, the Light – and His coming into the world – affects everyone – either to the joy of their salvation – or to their everlasting damnation.
The next section makes it clear that not everyone receives the Light to the joy of their salvation:
“He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.”
Third, the world did not receive the Light.
And, again, we need to understand that John is not saying that no one received Him, but that the horrifying fact is that there are many who did not and do not receive Him. Even though He is their Creator – which is everyone – even though He had called them to be a people for Himself – and that would be the biological descendants of Abraham – Israel – many people reject Him to their everlasting horror.
Again, Isaiah quotes God, “The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master's crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand” (Isaiah 1:3, ESV).
Do we understand?
The dumb animals know who their lord and master is. The dumb animals know where their home is. But the people that God chose out of all nations and gave the Law and the Prophets and the Promises of the Savior – many don’t recognize Him – and many people in general – though they were created by God through the Son and have the Image of God in them – they don’t recognize Him.
Consider if your parents – your biological creators – came to you and said, “My son, my daughter, I want you to come home. All is forgiven. I have made a place for you. I have paid all your debts and made everything right so we can be the family we were created to be. Will you come home?” And you said, “You crazy old man – you crazy old woman! I don’t need you. I am happy with no family. With debts so great I could never pay them. With warrants for my arrest, and people seeking to take my life. I can do what I want – why would I ever want to leave this great life to go with some strangers?”
Can we imagine the heart-break and the anger our parents would have? That is nothing compared with the rejection of the Gospel – with blaspheming the Holy Spirit by not receiving Jesus and His salvation.
But it’s even worse than that, is it not?
Paul writes, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1, ESV).
In our rebellion and sin against God – every human being has gouged out his eyes, punctured his ears, cut off his tongue, and committed suicide of the spirit – so we are absolutely dead and unable to do anything but say “no” to God by our non-acceptance of the Gospel – of the Light that has come into the world.
Yet, John continues: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,”
And here’s the good news – all those who receive the Light – all those who believe savingly in the Name of Jesus – all those who receive the Gospel – Jesus gives the right – not “the legal opportunity,” but “the fitness” – He makes us able and worthy – to become the children of God – the adopted sons and daughters of God – co-heirs with Jesus of the Kingdom – inheritors with Jesus of the restored earth.
“Wait a minute,” some of you are thinking, “if we are completely dead and unable spiritually and desiring to remain in sin and darkness, how are we able to receive the Light?”
John explains that, fourth, our birth by Light is a gift of God’s Grace:
“who were born, not of blood”
Some of the Jews had pridefully claimed, “we are the children of Abraham” – “we are the biological descendants of Abraham” – “the promises are ours – the Savior is ours.” But Jesus said, “And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham” (Matthew 3:9, ESV).
Our birth by Light – our salvation – our spiritual resurrection – has nothing to do with our biological pedigree. Your parents may have built a church. You may have gone to church your whole life. You may be the forty-seventh generation of pastors. You may be of the biological line of Abraham. That doesn’t save you. That does not give you spiritual life.
There is no privilege to be saved through our biology – through our genealogy.
“nor of the will of the flesh”
Have you ever known someone who was stubborn? Someone who by sheer force of will tries to make things the way he wants them? (I have seen such a person in my bathroom mirror.)
John is telling us that we can’t stubborn ourselves to spiritual life. We cannot command our dead spiritual selves to life.
Just go into any funeral home and walk up to the body and say, “If you really wanted to, you would will yourself back to life and get out of this coffin.” Nothing is going to happen. Dead people can’t do anything – spiritually dead people cannot will themselves – no matter how stubbornly – to life.
“nor of the will of man,”
Nor can we intellectually raise ourselves from spiritual death.
We can read the Bible and know everything it says and acknowledge that it makes perfect sense and still be dead. Knowing that the Gospel is true does not make us come to life. That is why we can be the best apologist in the world – we can be the best defender of the Bible and all it teaches – we can argue the Gospel with absolutely clear conviction that no one could possibly argue against, and yet, people will not believe. That is why people can sit under the right preaching of the Word of God their whole lives and hear the Gospel preached clearly their whole lives and never believe savingly in the Gospel.
We can understand and assent with our minds to the truth of the Gospel, but if our hearts are still dead, we are still dead. And we cannot raise our hearts – spiritually – to life.
So, John tells us we can’t be born of the Light just by being born in the right family. We can’t be born of the Light by sheer stubborn will. We can’t be born of the Light by intellectual argument and assent.
“but of God.”
Our birth by Light – our salvation – is a gracious Gift of God.
Paul writes, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:4-10, ESV).
Nothing we are or do saves us – nothing we are or do gives us spiritual life.
Our birth by Light – our reception of Jesus and His Gospel – our salvation is completely a gift of God which He graciously gives as He wills and as it pleases Him, by grace alone, through faith alone, through Jesus Christ Alone.
We are born by Light – we are born of God – we are saved by God – Alone. God chose from before the foundations of the earth to save a people for Himself – and God is at work in doing that. God has chosen to be our Father – by adopting us as His children – not based on who we are or what we want or what we think we understand, but by His choice, as it pleased Him, to accomplish His purposes – to glorify Himself.
God the Father breathes spiritual life into us through God the Spirit that we would receive and believe the Gospel through Jesus. Salvation is God’s work alone.
That’s why John in his first epistle cries out:
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:1-3, ESV).
The joy of salvation – of our new birth – is found in the fact that God does not raise us from the dead because of who we are, but because of Who He is. He raises us as He wills because it pleases Him to raise those He chose before the Creation.
Now, we might be tempted to conclude that if salvation is all the work of God, then it doesn’t matter what we do – not so.
“Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.
“Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, ‘I believed, and so I spoke,’ we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 4:1-15, ESV).
We understand that salvation is all of God – it is God’s work alone.
We understand that people who are dead is sin will not naturally receive the Gospel.
We understand that people who are spiritually dead are equally in the same spot.
But God has chosen to raise us from spiritual death and put the light of the glory of Jesus Christ and His Gospel in us so when we speak and when we live before this dark and fallen world, they will see the Light of Jesus Christ in us. And, as God is pleased, God will cause our bearing of the Light to be the means through which God works to raise others to spiritual life – that they, too, would receive the Gospel to the glory of God.
So we understand, we don’t save anyone; God saves as He wills.
But, God has given us the tremendous privilege and duty to be like John the Baptist and point to Jesus and His Gospel, praying and trusting that God will accomplish His Will.
So, let us go and shine the Light of Jesus – let us live in the obedience and holiness we have been called to live as the adopted children of God, and let us speak the Gospel to all those we come in contact with.
Let us pray:
Almighty and Sovereign Father of Salvation, we thank You that it is not up to us to raise ourselves from spiritual death, nor to raise anyone else from spiritual death. We thank You that You are Sovereign in sending the Holy Spirit wherever You would send Him to raise sinners to new life. We thank You that You have placed the Light of the Gospel in us, and we ask that the Holy Spirit would lead us and open our mouths that we would speak the Name of Jesus and proclaim His Gospel so all the world would know the One Way to Salvation. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.