The Gospel for Cynics, Doubters, and Skeptics

GospelForCynics

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” – John 1:43-51, NRSV

I’m going to have the privilege of teaching over this passage in Bible Study at my church in a couple of weeks and the more I read this passage, the more I can’t help but think about the different personalities that come into play here.

Philip

In the passage, Philip is mentioned first. Jesus said, “Follow me” and that’s exactly what Philip did. Philip followed him without question or hesitation. Now, what does Philip do? He finds Nathanael, and he tells him that they’ve found the Messiah. We’ll touch on Nathanael’s response in a bit, but notice Philip. He seems enthusiastic about telling people about the Messiah. This same enthusiasm is a common personality trait of his. It’s why he’s able to be an effective witness to the Gospel of Christ.

In Acts 8, he witnesses to and baptizes a eunuch and in Acts 21:8 he is given the title of ‘Evangelist.’   I think it’s fair to deduce from what little the New Testament has to say about Philip that he is someone who is optimistic, and he’s someone that we might refer to as a ‘go getter.’

Personally, I can’t relate.

However, pay attention to what Philip says when Nathanael tries to argue with him – “come and see.” I think modern Christendom can learn a thing or two simply pausing and reflecting on this passage. Philip doesn’t try to argue with Nathanael, he just says, “Come and see.” He’s saying, “Alright, find out for yourself.”

You see ads all the time that have money-back guarantees and they say, “If you’re not completely satisfied with the product then send it back and you’ll get your money back.” Now, we know that’s not entirely true. Before you’re able to get your money back, there’s a lot of bureaucratic red tape that you have to go through, but what Philip says to Nathanael is better than a money-back guarantee. He simply says, “Come and see.”

Honestly, I think that’s the most effective way to evangelize. You not see a boost in church attendance by evangelizing like that, but that’s because we’ve defined success by the numbers, but that’s another blog post for another time.

Nathanael

I can relate to Nathanael. Notice his response to Philip – “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Why would Nathanael say this? I would say that Nathanael is being realistic.

As we’ll see later, Nathanael is a student of Old Testament. There’s not anything mentioned about the Messiah coming from Nazareth. Nazareth was also a poor village and possibly known for its moral corruption. Usually poverty and crime go hand in hand so it wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination to think of Nazareth as such a town.

Nathanael is having a hard time conceiving the notion that the Messiah that he believed was going to be coming to bring political revolution to the Jews was going to be coming from a place like Nazareth.

When He sees Jesus, Jesus says, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Before Nathanael fully recognizes Jesus for who He is, he’s probably thinking, “Alright, this guys is trying to sell me something so he asks, “Where did you get to know me?”

He wants to be sure that Jesus is really the Chosen One of God, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting to be sure. Notice what Jesus says – “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” This is where we learn about Nathanael being a student of the Scriptures.

Cultural context is important because things in Scripture aren’t always as they appear on the surface. When we read this without cultural we might, “Oh, Jesus had a vision of Nathanael chilling out under a fig tree.” It’s not that simple.

According to the NIV First Century Study Bible, ‘under the fig tree’ was a euphemism for studying the Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus pointed out that Nathanael was a ‘true Israelite’ because he had been studying the Scriptures. We see this taken a step farther whenever Jesus mentions that they would see “angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” There’s only one other place in Scripture where that phrase is used and it’s in Genesis 28:10-15 where Jacob has a vision of a stairway going into Heaven and angels ascending and descending on the stairway.

In Genesis 28, after Jacob has the vision, God reminds him of the promise to bless his seed. Jesus was communicating to Nathanael the promise to bless his Jacob’s seed has been fulfilled in Himself. He is the stairway to Heaven between God and man.

Jesus

Finally, we come to the personality of Jesus. If I were going to fully talk about how Jesus is, it would take too long so I simply want to look at how He is portrayed in this passage.

First, Jesus is humble. Although His humility is not directly alluded to in the passage, I think it’s something that we can still deduce when we consider Jesus coming from a town like Nazareth. I already mentioned that the town itself was probably a ghetto filled with poverty and moral corruption.

It would’ve been enough for Jesus to put on human flesh and live on earth, but it wasn’t enough for Him. He knew the kind of life He was getting into. He chose to be born to Joseph and Mary. He knew they would live in Nazareth – that little podunk village that nothing good can come from. He chose that life. Jesus is of more value and worth than we could ever attribute to Him and yet, He chooses to live among the meek, the lowly, the humble, and the outcast so that those meek, lowly, humble, and outcast could see that He relates to them.

Second, Jesus is understanding. When Nathanael asks Him how He got to know him, Jesus doesn’t have to give Nathanael an answer. Jesus doesn’t him anything, and yet he understands Nathanael’s desire for an explanation.

Jesus seeks us out as we are, not as we’re going to be. He looks into our souls and He sees us – the real us, not the mask we put on for the others, but the real, broken, insecure us that has a an existential crisis at least three times a week at the most inconvenient times.

Jesus understands us, and that is why the writer of Hebrews says, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16, NRSV)

He Whispers Sweet Peace to Me

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me… Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. – John 14:1, 27, NRSV

Has your heart ever been troubled? Have you lost sleep over worry and stress? Has your entire being ever ached over an insurmountable problem that didn’t seem to have a solution? I think we all have at one time or another. What do we do in these times?I’ve often found that in these circumstances I’ve got no choice but to pray and wait for God to act.

I like being in control. I like being able to make life decisions for myself, but when I feel I’m backed into a corner I begin let my heart get troubled. I go over possible scenarios in my head of how the situation could work not knowing what could possibly happen and I just add to my worry and stress. What’s going on inside when I allow my heart to become troubled in spite of Christ plainly telling me not to allow my heart to be troubled? I’m giving in to my worry and stress and I’m ultimately looking to myself for answers instead of God.

Let me just tell you something that I’m having to remind myself every day for the last year – God will provide. You see, when you’re in the dark and it looks like you’ll never see the light again, that’s when Jesus comes into the dark and whispers peace. Jesus is the light of the world (John 8:12), but he’s also the light of our world. He exposes those things that the darkness tries to hide. He covers us with his wings, and He feeds us with sweet manna from heaven. That may not be comforting when the bills are due in three days and you have no idea what you’re going to do, and you’ve got nothing but Ramen in the cabinets, but God will provide.
Sometime when misgivings darken the day
And faith’s light I cannot see
I ask my dear Lord to brighten the way
He whispers sweet peace to me
– Will M. Ramsey

Sermon: “The Gospel of John” by Dr. Steve Brown

Hey Guys,

It’s been a bit since I written, but I intend to write some more soon when I have more time. A couple of days ago I was browsing through the website of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church and I found this sermon by one of my favorite pastors to listen to, so I thought I would share it here for you to enjoy as well.

Sacred, Part 1: The Jesus of the Church

What is it about the holy that scares people? It’s simple. Differentiation. R.C. Sproul said that the simplest way to define ‘holy’ is that which is separate or other. It seems that the Church has taken that to extremes to the point that we are abandoning sacred doctrines. Holy doctrines. Distinct doctrines. Doctrines that are imperative to the very foundation of what we believe. Out of these distinct doctrines that we’re going to look at in the series, the foremost that we will address is the deity of Christ. We cannot build the Church of Jesus without the Jesus of the Church being the foundation. There can be no edifying sanctification unless there is first regenerating salvation. So, let’s begin.

Now, let’s get something straight, I’m not going to be able to get into the depth and richness of who Jesus is in one blog post. That would take too much time and energy. I’ll go over Jesus’ huge claim in John 8 and we’ll go from there.

The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them,“Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. – John 8:52-59 (ESV)

Let’s catch up, Jesus is schooling the Jews in theology by informing them that He is God and if they abide in His words, then they will be free. The problem is that believe that they are already free. Watch this.

“They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” – John 8:33 (ESV)

In the case of the Jews, denial is not just a river in Egypt. In the Old Testament, the Jews were enslaved in Egypt, they were taken captive by Babylon, and even now, as they are making this statement, they’re being dominated by Rome. This is the very reason that people refuse to see Jesus as God. People don’t need God if they are under the impression that they are their own god. No one is going to want the freedom that Jesus offers if they believe that they are already free.

Now, if we fast forward to what Jesus tells them in John 8:58, then we’ll see what He’s really trying to get through to them.

“Jesus said to them,“Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” – John 8:58 (ESV)

If you are a grammarian, then this sentence will drive you absolutely bonkers if you have no idea what Jesus is saying. What you think He’s going to say is “before Abraham was, I was also”, but no. He decides that bring the name of God into it. He blatantly makes the claim that He is God. How do these Jews that claim to know God respond?

“So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.” – John 8:59 (ESV)

Here’s the issue. We read this passage and think to ourselves, “Those horrible pharisees. They shouldn’t throw stones at Jesus when all He’s trying to do is help them understand who He is.” We don’t acknowledge that we, at times, are the Pharisees. Every time we hear a sermon, read a book, or read a passage of Scripture that convicts, and we don’t respond the way we know we’re supposed to, we might as well pick up rocks to throw at Jesus.

So, what does this mean for us as the Church? As the Church, we should be responding to Jesus everyday in faith and repentance. It has been said that the same sun that melts the ice hardens the clay. Do a self-evaluation. How are you responding? Are you being melted by Jesus or are you hardening yourself against Him and kicking against the pricks as Paul did?

It’s All About Jesus, Part 1: The Christ Hymn

“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. 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 1:15-20 NIV]

This section of Scripture found in Colossians is often referred to, by many Scholars, as ‘The Christ Hymn’ because many scholars believe that it was sung during worship in the early church. The origin of this hymn is not known but some think that it came from various sources ranging from the Stoic persuasion to the Hellenistic-Jewish persuasion. Regardless of it’s origin, it declares the preeminence and supremacy in Christ in all things. What we have here is one of the finest descriptions of who Jesus is that we can find in the Bible. In one of his sermons, Louie Giglio calls this the hymn of all creation.

       1. The Preeminence of Christ in Creation (1:15-17)

Verse 15 starts off by telling of His heavenly origin. We find in Romans 8:29, Paul calls Jesus the first born among many brethren and now in Colossians Paul goes deeper and says that Jesus is the first born among all of creation. According to Adam Clarke, “The phraseology is Jewish; and as they apply it to the Supreme Being merely to denote his eternal pre-existence, and to point him out as the cause of all things; it is most evident that St. Paul uses it in the same way.”

Laminin

In verse 16, we see that the writer of this hymn emphasizes the work of creation in powers and authorities and makes it known that all of these things, whether upon the earth or dwelling heavenly realms, were created for the glory and supremacy of Christ. Everything that God does will bring glory to Him in some way, shape, or form. In Isaiah when God says that no word will go forth void (Isaiah 55:10-11) he means that everything he speaks is for a specific time and purpose and, it will accomplish that purpose in it’s appointed time. Going back to verse 16, everything was created for a specific time and purpose.

In verse 17, Paul says that Christ is before all things. This phrase reaffirms verse 15 where it speaks about Christ being the firstborn among all of creation. In the latter part of this verse shows us that in Christ all things hold together. We find here the Greek word synesteken, meaning that connotes preservation or coherence. In the RSV reading of this verse it says, “in Him all things consist.” This verse is truer than what we might think. In our bodies there is a cell membrane called, Laminin. I’ve posted about this topic before. According to Wikipedia, “The laminins are a family of glycoproteins that are an integral part of the structural scaffolding in almost every tissue of an organism. They are secreted and incorporated into cell-associated extracellular matrices. Laminin is vital for the maintenance and survival of tissues.” Without these laminins, our limbs would literally fall apart. What’s even more amazing is that these laminins are in the shape of a cross. The writer was scarily accurate in saying that in Christ, all things hold together!

     2. The Preeminence of Christ in the Church

Paul starts off in verse 18 by discussing Christ’s function as head of the church. Dr. Augustus Neander says, “The Church is His body by virtue of His entering into communion corporeally with human nature.” This proves the idea that Paul wants his readers to know that Christ exercises his authority in the universe through the church. In verse 18, Paul notes that he is the firstborn from among dead meaning that he is the only to rise from dead and die no more (as opposed to Lazarus who died a second after being raised form the dead in John 11) so that, once again Christ might have supremacy and preeminence in all things thus proving that Christ is sovereign over the living as well as the dead.

In verse 19, Paul explains that it pleased God for his fullness to dwell in his son, Jesus. When you read this verse you must read it in correlation to John 3:34-35 and Matthew 28:18:

“For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.” – [John 3:34-35 ESV]

“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” – [Matthew 28:18 ESV]

The father has given all things, including the church, into Christ’s hand and he has all power and all authority.

Verse 20 is the culmination of all this, “..that he might reconcile all things …by making peace through his blood.” Everything that Christ does through the church it is so that all things might be reconciled unto Himself through the shedding of His blood. I found the Apologetics Study Bible enlightening on this verse.

“This passage does not teach universalism (all will be saved) but instead points forward to Messiah’s quelling all rebellion, bringing lasting peace to the universe. The “reconciliation” here entails a pacification of evil powers (as 2:15 makes clear).” – The Apologetics Study Bible

In the commentary for Colossians 2:15 the Apologetics Study Bible says:

No contradiction exists here between Paul’s statement that the principalities and powers have been defeated and his assumption elsewhere that the powers are still virulently active and that believers need to fight against them (e.g., Eph 6:12). The cross of Christ is the point of decisive victory over the powers of evil; believers can now be victorious over them through their union with Christ. They will be vanquished once and for all at the end of the age. – The Apologetics Study Bible

There are two realms in which this reconciliation operates: the present and in the future. The present blessing of reconciliation is that you’ve been adopted into the family of God and you are made a co-heir with Christ according to Romans 8:17. The future blessing of reconciliation is that evil work and every power and principality will be obliterated and we (the Church) will enjoy the presence of Christ and be eternally consummated to Him. If you’re wondering about the past blessing of reconciliation it’s this: there is none because the blood of Jesus Christ has washed away your sinful past. The only thing that matters is your present and your future.