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)

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3 Most Helpful Articles of 2015

The truth is that she is weird, and she is liberal, but when anyone is speaking the truth you can’t disagree with them just because they don’t fit into your cookie cutter mold of what a Christian should look like.

These are some articles that really helped me in my walk with God to understand some key theological concepts. I hope you find them helpful as well.

  1. The Playground of Heavenly Reality: Pneumatological Sacramentalism
    I know this article has some odd words in the title, but I promise that if you’re from a charismatic/pentecostal background like I am and you want help understanding what role the sacraments play in that setting, then this article is really helpful.
  2. What Getting Dumped Says About You
    As someone who got dumped this year, I found this article to be comforting on so many levels. I think it’s interesting someone has finally addressed this issue from a biblical standpoint to let you know that you are not alone, and you are not out of the sovereignty of God just because your relationship didn’t work out.
  3. Want millennials back in the pews? Stop trying to make church ‘cool.’
    On April 30th, the Washington Post published this article written by Rachel Held Evans on the cusp of her new book, “Searching for Sunday.” In the article she tells the truth about all of these huge mega churches that try to make Jesus a ‘cool, relevant, hipster.’ Now, if you know who Rachel Held Evans is then you’re probably thinking, “She’s a weird, liberal, Episcopalian. What are you doing promoting her stuff?” The truth is that she is weird, and she is liberal, but when anyone is speaking the truth you can’t disagree with them just because they don’t fit into your cookie cutter mold of what a Christian should look like.

Now, I found more articles than just these helpful, but I’m constrained for time at the moment and I really wanted to get these out there. So, take a read, tell me what you think, and have a blessed Sunday!

Momentary Affliction and a Merciful Savior

But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. …For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal. ” – 2 Corinthians 4:7, 17-18, NRSV

“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.” – 2 Corinthians 5:17-19, NRSV

Let’s get one thing clear. I suck at being a Christian. I love Jesus with all my heart. He’s my best friend. I call upon Him as Savior everyday and I pray for Him to be my Lord, and I try to submit myself to what He wants for my life, but sometimes I just blow it. If I weren’t a Calvinist, I would say that I’ve lost my salvation two or three times in the last week. The struggle that I have is real and one of the reasons I believe God allows me to have these struggles is so that I can help others who have similar problems.

You see, this whole sanctification thing is from now until we die. We’ll never be perfect until we stand in the full presence of Almighty God in Heaven. Until that moment, God continually draws us to Himself. He beckons us into a beautiful relationship with Him. And this life is full of ups and downs, unexpected turns in the road, and sometimes we lose our way. Sometimes we make bad decisions. The good news though is that Jesus didn’t lay any terms and conditions in a negotiation with the Father before He came. Jesus didn’t look at God and say, “Now Dad, I’m only going to atone for their sins if they never blow it or mess up again from the moment of their conversion.” That conversation never took place. As a matter of fact, I don’t even believe there was any negotiation because Jesus humbly submitted Himself to the Father’s will.

Spurgeon said, “God came here in human form, not bound to be obedient; but “being found in fashion as a man, he became obedient”; obedient to his own law, and fulfilled every jot and tittle of it. He was “obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” And his obedience is ours, if we believe.” So you see, Jesus was perfectly obedient because He knew we wouldn’t be. He knew we were sons of wrath and disobedience when He saved us, and then He made children of the light.

Now, I’m a secure child of God, but there are days when it feels like the darkness will not lift and I have gone too far and Jesus, in all of His love and mercy, reminds me of the atonement that He secured for me over 2,000 years ago on an old rugged cross. My sins, my mess ups, my mistakes, my depression, my habits, and hangups were nailed to the cross and Jesus had already declared His victory over them.

So if you’re reading this and you’re having one of those days, remember He’s not done with you yet. He loves you and He still says to us, “Neither do I condemn you, go, and sin no more!.”

John’s Love Letters, Part 7: Acting On Our Knowledge

“And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” – 1 John 2:3-6, ESV

The text presents us with a very real truth, we cannot simply claim to know God and do nothing else. We must act on our knowledge of God as Creator, Sustainer, King, Sovereign, Master, Savior, etc. We cannot simply tell people that we know this awesome God without showing them. So, how do we show them? By Keeping His word.

I’m almost utterly rendered verbally paralyzed when I read this passage because I know that I don’t always keep His word. As a matter of fact, I feel like I’m bad at keeping His word. I feel almost as if there’s no way that I can possibly keep God’s Word, and then I realize, I’m right. I can’t keep God’s Word, but God can.

You see, when you and I were saved Jesus came to live on the inside of us through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit teaches us how to live, worship, and even work for God’s Kingdom. He does this by giving us gifts and equiping us for the ministry (1 Corinthians 12-14; Ephesians 4). We can’t do anything in the way of God’s Kingdom unless He sends the Holy Spirit to empower us for the work of the ministry.

When we say we know him, and we simply do nothing but attend church and act like it’s a holy social club, we then prove that we actually don’t know Him. We prove that we don’t actually acknowledge the real Jesus of the Scriptures, but rather a God and a Jesus of our own making.

Even as I write this blog post, I acknowledge that I have done this before. My sin is ever before and I pray God would grant me repentance and empower me to do more for Him. So, today, think and pray over 1st John 2:3-6. Let the Holy Spirit empower you for the service of the Lord.

John’s Love Letter’s, Part 6: Little Children

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” – [1 John 2:1-6 ESV] 

Okay, so I’m not going to lie, in our last installment of the ‘John’s Love Letters’ I guess I was feeling angry at Cessationists decided that it would be a good chance to bash them (which it was) and we ended up getting off track a little, so we’re going to go over the passage again and get down to business about what John is trying to tell us.

In verse 1, he calls us “Little Children.” This isn’t to smack us around about our spiritual immaturity, this is just John’s style. He’s an old man. That’s what old people do. They call us, “Kid,” “Sport,” “Son,” and in John’s case, “Little children.” It is said that as John was dying his final words were, “Little Children, love one another.” To know everything that I know about John and then to read his letters, I think if we listen hard enough we can still hear him call us, “Little Children” and we should feel honored that such a saint refers to us as his children. It means he loves us because the Father has loved us, and for that reason he wants to lead us closer to the Father.

Next, he tells that he’s writing to us so that we may not sin, “Little Children, I am writing these things that you may not sin.” I read that and I thought, “umm… I hate to tell you this, but it’s a little late John.” I’ve messed up big time. I’ve blown it. I’m not talking about once or twice since I got saved, but I’m talking about today. But John didn’t finish there, and I’m glad he didn’t, “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” The word, “advocate” is legal term that says basically means that Jesus is our defense attorney. The Book of Revelation tells us that Satan is the accuser of the brethren. What that means is that Satan tries to stand before God and tell Him everything wrong we’ve done and try to give Him every reason in the book why we shouldn’t be redeemed.

That in mind, I can see Satan telling God, “Logan’s blown it! He really dropped the ball today!” And God in a condescending manner, looks at with sarcastically raised eyebrow and asks, “Well, what did he do?” Satan replies, “He lost his temper and flipped off an old lady in traffic.” God, already knowing the answer to the question, looks to Jesus, His son and my defense attorney, and asks, “Well, did he do it?” Jesus replies, “Nope.” Satan says, “But I saw him do it!” Jesus says, “I didn’t. All I saw was my perfect work accomplished, and my blood poured out over all his sins.” God dismisses the case, and that’s the end of the story. One day, Satan and his angels will be thrown into the lake of fire, and they’ll pay for all the harm that they’ve caused God’s children all the way down through history, and most of all, they’ll pay for offending Almighty God Himself.

I’ll deal with verses 3-6 again from a different angle in the next post. I’m tired. I’m going to get Chinese food, go home, and watch the first season of House. Good night, God bless, and thanks for reading.

John’s Love Letters, Part 3: Fellowship

If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. -1 John 1:6-10 ESV

At first glance, it seems that there is almost a contradiction. John is telling us that we shouldn’t walk in the darkness and say that we are in the light because if we do, we make ourselves liars and the truth is not in us. However, if we say we’ve not sinned, we make God a liar and His Word isn’t in us. Most of our modern interpretations of this passage imply that when we ‘walk in the light’ we never sin, but for those of us that are realistic, we know sometimes we slip and fall.

Walking in the light is our sanctification. It is a continual process of repentance and growing in love and grace as the Holy Spirit empowers are lives for service in the Lord’s work.

This is why John tells us that He is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins. Jesus knows that imperfect human beings are incapable of being perfect. William Barclay offers some insight into what John means here.

“John is laying down the blunt truth that the man who says one thing with his lips and another thing with his life is a liar. He is not thinking of the man who tries his hardest and yet often fails. “A man,” said H. G. Wells, “may be a very bad musician, and may yet be passionately in love with music”; and a man may be very conscious of his failures and yet be passionately in love with Christ and the way of Christ. John is thinking of the man who makes the highest possible claims to knowledge, to intellectual eminence and to spirituality, and who yet allows himself things which he well knows are forbidden. The man who professes to love Christ and deliberately disobeys him, is guilty of a lie.” – William Barclay

As we have fellowship with Him, it strengthens and empowers our fellowship with others. Sin is antisocial. It separates us from God and as a result, separates us from others. Let’s walk in repentance and fellowship and be ever fighting in the war against sin in our lives.

John’s Love Letters, Part 1: For Your Joy

“Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10: 17). And so in the first place the apostles heard the Word of life, and thus were able to apprehend Him.” – F.B. Hole

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. -1 John 1:1-4 ESV

 As we read the beginning of this letter we learn something about John. John is after our joy. That’s what he wants. He wants to complete our joy. He’s not just focused on his joy, and he’s not just focused on our joy, but he’s focused on our joy and his joy corporately. His joy is found in writing us this letter, and it is implied that our joy will be found in reading it.

Now, there is a difference between joy and happiness. Happiness fluctuates like a fair weather friend. Joy is a constant rock in times of sorrow that aids us and comforts us through the fiercest of storms. John desires that we know this kind of joy and he’s persistent that the thing he’s writing about cannot only bring us joy, but can make our joy complete.

So, what’s he writing about? In verse 1, John says, “…we have heard…we have seen with our eyes…we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life.”

A Plymouth Brethren theologian from the 19th Century offers these words concerning this particular passage.

“By the fact of His becoming flesh He placed Himself within the reach of three out of the five senses or faculties with which man is endowed. He could be heard, seen and felt. Hearing comes first, for in our fallen condition it is to that faculty that God specially addresses Himself. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10: 17). And so in the first place the apostles heard the Word of life, and thus were able to apprehend Him.

But then they also saw Him with their eyes, and even “looked upon,” or “contemplated” Him. There had been in earlier days fleeting manifestations of this great Person as “the Angel of the Lord,” only then it was impossible to contemplate Him for He was seen but for a moment. Now, come in flesh, all was different. The apostles spent years with Him, and could scrutinize Him with attention. They gazed at Him long and earnestly, even though they did not properly understand all that they observed until they had received the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Also they came into physical contact with Him. Their hands actually handled Him. This guaranteed that He was no mere Spirit manifestation. He was amongst them in a real human body of flesh and blood. After His resurrection He sojourned among them in His risen body of flesh and bones, and we may remember how He specifically enjoined them to handle Him and see He was not a Spirit after His resurrection.

All this establishes then beyond a doubt that there had been this real manifestation of eternal life before them.” – F.B. Hole

John is describing to us his testimony of the risen savior, Jesus. John had an intimate knowledge of who Jesus is. Matthew and Luke start their gospels with the beginning of Jesus’ earthly life, and Mark starts his gospel with the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. It’s interesting to note that John makes shows us that Jesus has no origin, but always been.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. -John 1:1-3 ESV

 John shows us in his Gospel that God became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). This holy, untouchable, unseeable, magnificent God became lowly flesh because He was on a mission to bring us the ultimate joy, Himself. He knew that only He could fill the vacancy in our souls. Jesus is the only one that can fill the God-sized hole in our hearts.

In the words to ‘O Holy Night,’ the hymn writer says, “Long lay the world, in sin and error pining, till He appeared and the soul felt its worth!” Only Jesus can bring that feeling, the feeling of joy made complete.