Little Guy, A Slave of . . .

What empowers someone with global and historic influence?  Confidence,  wealth,  power?

Paul had none of those things when he introduced himself in Romans 1:1,  “Paul,  a slave of Christ Jesus.”

“Paulus” is actually a Latin word meaning something like “little (man).”  That is a very odd name since Paul,  for much of his life, had been known by the Hebrew name “Saul.”  You might remember King Saul in the Old Testament was a Benjaminite.  He stood head and shoulders above the rest.  He was the big guy,  an obvious person to be king.

Paul’s Benjaminite mother hoped her child would rise to a place of honor and influence,  so she named him after her famous relative.

So how did Saul,  the big guy,  become little Paul?

It might seem that God renamed him,  but according to Acts 9:1,  Jesus asked him,  “Saul,  Saul, Why do you persecute me?”  The Holy Spirit calls him Saul in Acts 13:2,  “Set apart for me Saul and Barnabas.”

I think Saul dropped his Jewish name because it sounded weird to Greeks and Romans.

But why would Saul rename himself “little guy”?

Notice too that the word “doulos” (slave) in Greek carries all the negative connotations that it carries in English.  It was the lowest form of servant in the ancient world.

Yet Paul introduces Romans with the phrase,  Little Guy,  a slave of Christ Jesus.

I don’t think Paul had a low opinion of himself;  he said those things because he was so caught up with the greatness of Christ.  He was content to be a slave so long as his sovereign Lord was Jesus Christ.  Paul saw service to Christ as the path to true greatness.  His was not a man-centered view. For him,  God was the key.  If you get that right,  you get everything else right too.

Paul wrote at 32 page pamphlet;  we call it the book of Romans,  and that 32 page book has changed the world.

Rather than boast of himself,  Paul chose to boast in the Lord.  Rather than trying to be a big shot on his own,  Paul chose to make much of Christ.

In chains,  impoverished,  little Paul stood before the mighty emperor Nero.  Nero had supreme power.  Rome glittered with marble and gold;  Paul had nothing but a God-given commission to preach the life-changing gospel of Christ.  Paul was in rags, and Nero sat enthroned as supreme leader.  But the day would come,  as F. F. Bruce says, when men would name their dogs Nero and their sons Paul.

What if a similar path lies for us,  to be exalted in our making much of Christ?

Astronomy and the Bible

The Heavens Declare the Glory of God

Imagine that the Earth is the size of a baseball and that it sits on the front steps of Mercer Hall at the center of Bryan College’s campus. 

The Moon would be a ping pong ball about 7 ½ feet away.  The Sun would be at Jacob Myer’s Restaurant.  It would be a ball about 30 feet wide (think of a pickup truck and a small trailer).  The dwarf planet Pluto would be about the size of your pinky’s fingernail.  It would be on the steps of the Soddy Daisy Police Station.  Our nearest star,  the red dwarf Proxima Centauri,  would be a 156,000 miles away (more than 6/10ths of the distance to the moon). 

In the actual universe,  it takes 4.3 years for light to travel from Proxima Centauri to Earth. 

The edge of the visible universe in any direction is about 13.7 billion light years away.

God stretched out our universe the same way you or I would pull a curtain (Isaiah 40:22).  He spoke that vast cosmos into existence (Genesis 1:1;  Hebrews 11:3),  holding all of its matter together by His powerful word (Hebrews 1:3;  1 Corinthians 8:6).

What an awesome God!

Astronomers estimate there are over 100 billion galaxies each with billions and billions of stars,  and God determined their number and knows each of those stars by name (Psalm 147:4). 

The Bible claims that the number of the stars is like the sand on the sea.  For years,  that seemed like a huge scientific mistake.  Ptolemy,  Al Sufi,  Tcyho Brahe and Kepler all listed the stars in the visible night sky at about a 1000.  The Hubble telescope helped us realize the magnitude of the error of our initial estimation.

The glory of God displayed in the heavens makes me say,  “When I look at Your heavens,  the work of Your fingers,  the moon and the stars,  which You have set in place,  what is man that You are mindful of him,  and the son of man that You care for him?” (Psalm 8:3-4).

The God of the Bible offers everyone His care and protection.  He invites all for adoption into His family and graciously rules all who turn from their sins to faith in Christ.

God knows the moment of your birth and the moment of your death.  In fact,  He has written down the days of your life in a book,  before as yet there was one of them (Psalm 139:16).

He saw you being knit together in your mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13).

He knows the number of the hairs of your head.

He knows your name,  and He loves you with a love beyond understanding.

Where is the Garden of Eden? (Contradiction in the Bible?)

Where is the Garden of Eden?

It should be a simple enough question.  Find where the Tigris,  Euphrates,  Gihon and Pishon rivers meet,  and there you will find Eden (Genesis 2:10-14).

The problem comes when you look at a map. 

The Tigris and Euphrates have separate sources in Turkey.  Pishon is near Havilah in Egypt (Genesis 2:11;  25:18;  1 Samuel 15:7).  Gihon’s river flows in Cush which is normally Ethiopia (2 Kings 19:9).  The Gihon itself elsewhere only appears as the sickly little stream outside Jerusalem (1 Kings 1:33-34). 

But there may be more to this mystery.

God tells us that the one river comes out of Eden and splits into four rivers.  The Pishon has gold,  bdellium and onyx.  The tree of life is there,  guarded by Cherubs.

All those details remind us of the Tabernacle.  Cherubs are on the veil and elsewhere.  Gold covers nearly everything.  Manna in the ark looks like Bdellium (Numbers 11:7),  and the High Priest has an onyx stone (Genesis 2:12;  Exodus 35:9).

Moreover,  when Solomon builds the Temple,  all those features remain,  but the images of trees are added and fruit (1 Kings 6:29).  The same is true of Ezekiel’s temple vision (Ezekiel 41:18),  and Herod’s temple in Jesus’ day. 

The land of Israel itself is teasingly like the Garden of Eden (Genesis 13:10;  see too Isaiah 51:3;  Ezekiel 36:35),  and the Euphrates and Nile form two of the borders of the Eden-like Promised Land (Genesis 15:18).

Later,  the Bible connects a special river with Ezekiel’s temple (Ezekiel 47:1-12).  Living waters from that river even make the Dead Sea alive. 

Zechariah tells of a river flowing from Jerusalem which one day will split and flow both east and west (14:8).  Aren’t we looking for a river that splits?  Sons of Korah tell us that God’s city has a river (Psalm 46:4) even though earthly Jerusalem has no such river.  Joel sees those waters from Jerusalem flowing beyond the Dead Sea into Abel Shittim beyond the Jordan (Joel 3:18).

Revelation 22:1 orients all these things to heavenly Jerusalem which will be restored to earth.  The River of Life is there as is the Tree of Life (22:2).  Ezekiel’s trees in 47:12 become in fact the Tree of Life in Revelation 22:2.  Furthermore,  heavenly Jerusalem is a cube,  just like the Holy of Holies (Revelation 21:16;  1 Kings 6:20).

Jesus has restored the Garden of Eden.  When He died,  the veil in the Temple was ripped in two.  John promises that Eden’s river in heavenly Jerusalem will come down to earth.  The Garden of Eden will then become the city of God,  the true land flowing with milk and honey.

May God hasten that day!

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Boasting in Jesus

Boasting in Jesus

On April 16th,  we celebrate Easter for the 1,987th time since Jesus rose from the dead in 30 AD.  What a great opportunity to boast in the Lord’s greatness!

What has Jesus done?  Well,  first he lived an absolutely perfect life,  never sinning once in thought or word or deed.  He loved the LORD his God with all his heart,  soul,  mind and strength.  He also fully loved His neighbor as himself,  praying for those abusing Him.

As the new-Aaron,  Jesus became the perfect high priest who reconciled His people to God (Hebrews 9:12).  In fact,  He is building those people into a new temple where God himself will dwell (1 Peter 2:5).

Jesus is the architect-builder of new Jerusalem–a holy city,  cubed just like the Holy of Holies (Revelation 21:16;  1 Kings 6:20).  In fact,  that cubed city measures 1,379 miles.  That’s something like the distance from Bryan College in Dayton to just beyond Gallup,  New Mexico.  A cube that size could fit inside the Moon,  and the eight corners would stick out over a hundred miles each.

As the new Joshua,  Jesus is dividing the land by lot,  giving it to the meek (compare Matthew 5:5 with Numbers 34:17). 

As the new Adam,  Jesus is creating a family of righteous people “having been made perfect” by God (1 Corinthians 15:45;  Hebrews 12:23).  Those redeemed people one day will perfectly share Jesus’ perfection (1 John 3:2).  Adam’s sin exiled all humanity from the Garden of Eden.  Thus,  God stationed Cherubs to guard the tree of life.  Cherubs were on the veil of the temple (Exodus 26:31).  When Jesus died on the cross,  His death ripped the veil in the temple in two (Matthew 27:51).  Those in Christ now have access to God in true Eden.

Jesus,  as the true seed of Abraham,  brings blessing to all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:3;  Galatians 3:8).  That new spiritual family is growing,  in spite of opposition from everywhere (Isaiah 9:7).

Jesus as the new Moses wrote the law of God on the hearts of His redeemed.

Through normal, ordinary Christians,  Jesus has worked for unity among nations,  built orphanages,  worked prison reform,  passed child-labor laws,  cared for the homeless,  built Women’s shelters,  fought for the rights of the unborn,  and called out kings and governments for inconsistency to God’s law. 

Jesus is the lamb who takes away the sin of world.  His death clothes His bride with righteousness just as God clothed Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:21;  Romans 13:14).  His redeemed share a paleo-orthodoxy which stretches the arc of human history.  His followers are changing the world.

On Easter,  let us all “Boast in the LORD.”

Jesus and the Living Dead

Jesus and the Living Dead

Perhaps the most pitiable person in the Bible is the man in Mark 1:40 who was terribly and utterly afflicted with leprosy.

Imagine having a disease so deforming that when people saw you,  they recoiled in disgust.  Imagine yourself reeking of rotting flesh,  oozing wounds,  and lesions.  Imagine fumbling to tie dirty bandages with deformed fingers or hobbling with rotten,  crippled feet. 

Lepers often have collapsed noses and blind eyes.  In fact,  the bacterium causing leprosy attacks the nerves so that eventually lepers harm themselves without even knowing it.

Many in the Old Testament had leprosy.  Miriam was struck with leprosy when she criticized Moses’s marriage to an Ethiopian woman (Numbers 12:1-10).  God struck King Uzziah with leprosy when in pride he tried to serve as priest (2 Chronicles 26:21).  Gehazi extorted money from a healed leper,  Naaman the Syrian,  and God struck him with that same leprosy (2 Kings 5:27).

Aaron said of Miriam’s leprosy,  Let her not be as one dead, whose flesh is half eaten away” (Numbers 12:12).  So Leprosy was almost a living death. 

The Bible says that you and I were dead in our sins apart from Christ (Ephesians 2:1-3).  Spiritual leprosy infects us from conception,  and without Christ,  it destroys all.

In Mark,  the leper came to Jesus and said,  “If you are willing,  you can make me clean.”  He considered himself completely dirty before God,  and he knew he could not help himself.  Jesus touched him and said,  “I am willing,  be clean.”  Jesus is so powerful and so full of life,  that he transforms the living dead into a new creation. 

Could that be a spiritual picture of what Jesus does for us (2 Corinthians 5:17)?  We all were inevitably headed to spiritual destruction,  but Jesus’ power makes us new.

Moses outlines two gifts which the healed leper should offer (Leviticus 14:1-14).  Jesus tells the man to offer those gifts (Mark 1:44).

The first gift is two live birds:  one dies and bleeds into living water;  the other is immersed into that water and flies away free.  Then,  the priest sprinkles the healed man with that bloody water.  The second gift causes the healed leper to go through a ceremony which looks similar to the one which makes Aaron a priest (Exodus 29:20):  blood is placed on his right earlobe,  thumb and big toe.  Since those were areas often attacked by leprosy,  Jesus’ command implies he had restored the man’s ravaged body as well.   

Jesus pleads for his redeemed just like Moses pled for Miriam.  Jesus saves Christians from a life of utter living death.  May we all live in the joy and thankfulness of that healing.

When Jesus Smeared Mud on a Man’s Face

Disability,  Beggars and God’s Glory

Imagine that you are blind.  You’ve been blind all your life.  You want to see like everybody else,  but you cannot.

That was the life of the man born blind in John 9.  He had been blind from birth;  all he could do was sit outside the temple and beg.  Day after day,  living off the charity of others.  Never able to go into the temple.  Just waiting for someone to pity his miserable soul.

And sometimes that pity was not kind.

Children would taunt:  “Look at that guy.”  “I’m glad I’m not him.”  Adults would say,  “Don’t touch him,  he’s dirty.”  “Don’t get too close you might catch something.”

Day after day,  year after year,  how those words must have hurt.

But none hurt as much as those of Jesus’ disciples:  “Who sinned this man or his parents that he was born blind?” 

The blind man knew exactly what they were saying:  “This man or his family was so inherently wicked that God struck him with blindness from birth.”

Jesus retorts,  “Neither this man sinned nor his parents,  but this blindness happened so that the works of God might be evidenced in him” (John 9:3).  This man’s blindness is for God’s glory! 

Imagine you are the blind man at that moment.  You hear someone spit.  You have heard that before.  Did someone spit in disgust at you? 

Then you feel something slimy on your eyes.  Someone has taken spit and is smearing mud it all over your useless eyes! 

Now Jesus tells you to walk to the pool of Siloam about two football fields away.    

Why? 

John tells us “Siloam” means “the one having been sent.”

The disciples had the mistaken view (a view fully shared by the scribes and Pharisees) that they were spiritually better than other people.  The disciples even argued about who was best.  They struggled with judging other people. 

So Jesus gave them something to think about.  He rubbed mud on this man’s eyes.  He put “Adam” on this man’s eyes and told him to wash in the “Sent One” so that he might see.

Perhaps what Jesus did was not so much for the man but for the disciples.

We all are born spiritually blind because of Adam.  We all are excluded from the holiness of God’s worship because of sin.  Yet God means our healing and forgiveness to show forth His glory;  “I once was blind,  but now I see!”

The world probably mocked that man as he walked to Siloam.  He may have even wondered,  “Will this really work?”

But Jesus had the power to heal him,  and Jesus has power to restore you,  for God’s glory.

God’s Greatest Gift

The Greatest Gift

God so loved the world that He gave . . .

He gave the greatest gift in sending His Son to be the savior of the world.  That gift was great because of the enormous cost.  God the Father would have to allow His beloved Son to spend a lifetime in poverty and want.  When Mary and Joseph offered the two turtledoves at Jesus’ circumcision,  that offering was the one provided for a poor family (Leviticus 5:7;  Luke 2:24).  Scripture says of Christ,  “though being rich,  yet for our sakes’ he became poor” (2 Corinthians 8:9). 

The cost was great to the Father because he would have to allow that Son to suffer at the hands of sinful men and to bear the sin of the world.  In fact,  God the Father Himself would have to crush His own Son (Isaiah 53:10).

God’s gift was great because it was given to ungrateful people.  John says,  “He came to his own things,  and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11).  He was “despised and rejected” (Isaiah 53:3).  We esteemed him “smitten of God and afflicted” (53:3).

Christ’s gift is great because the incarnation lasts forever.  Jesus in heaven continues to be fully God and fully man.  Jesus has added a human nature to his divine one forever.  That means that in his human nature,  he will submit as a man to God forever (1 Corinthians 15:28).  He will forever be the mediator between God and man.  He will forever bear the scars of the crucifixion.  He will in his human nature carry the limitations of his glorified human body.   These things are added to Him without in any way diminishing Him as God.

This gift is great because it produces freedom.  Matthew says,  “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (1:21).  For us,  our greatest problem is the sin nature we inherited from Adam.  That nature taints all that we do.  Jesus came to free us from that,  to break the power of cancelled sin,  to remove us from its very presence and ultimately to transform us into the very image of Himself.

This great gift allows us access to the presence of God and restored Eden.  We are not banished from Eden like Adam and Eve;  Jesus’ gift has taken the guardian Cherubs out of the way and welcomed us to the pleasure of His presence forever.

So what does that gift mean for us?  It should call us to a life of giving to others,  a life of service to Christ for the needs of the world.

May we become a gift that keeps on giving.

The Bible and Modern Christian Holidays

Halloween,  Thanksgiving,  Christmas

Happy children’s faces,  family,  love.  That’s what these days mean for me.  They are central holidays in our calendar.  They are “holy days.”  So do they have anything to do with the Biblical Christianity?

Halloween is eve of All Saints’ Day,  November 1st,  in the liturgical calendar.  Hence,  October 31st is Hallows’ eve.  That day in 1517 saw Martin Luther nail 95 theses to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg,  Germany.  Many call October 31st Reformation Day.  All churches apart from Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox trace their start/renewal to the reforms begun then.

Thanksgiving grew out of similar protestant and Puritan celebrations for fasting and prayer in 17th-century, old and New England.  Later,  Abraham Lincoln in 1863 proclaimed the last Thursday in November as the national day for “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”

Christmas celebrates Jesus’s birth,  December 25th,  and its origins are somewhat obscure. 

Augustine (354-430),  in,  On the Trinity,  4.5,  suggests that Jesus’ conception was March 25th (exactly nine months prior to Jesus’ birth 12/25).  Augustine,  Julius Africanus,  Hippolytus and others connect that conception with the future day of his Passover suffering.  It would not surprise me at all if that was exactly what God did. 

Passover is a lunar celebration (the first full moon after the spring equinox).  Jews call that date Nisan the 14th.  Since Jewish calendars add an extra month every 3 years to stay in line with the solar calendar,  that is why Easter falls on different days every year.  Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox—the first Sunday after Passover.

God directed Jews to take a lamb into their homes on the 10th of Nisan.  They are to keep it 5 days from the start of the 10th to the end of the 14th.  As that day was ending,  Jews would kill their lamb sometime before sundown. 

Jesus is “our Passover lamb” (1 Corinthians 5:7).  He was taken into Jerusalem on the 10th of Nisan (John 12:1,  12).  He remained in Jerusalem from Sunday afternoon (the start of the 10th with the Triumphal entry to his death at 3:00 pm on Friday).  He died on the Jewish end of the 14th as the Passover lambs were being sacrificed (John 18:28,  39;   19:14).  He rose on the “day after the Sabbath” following Passover—Sunday morning.  That was the time for the offering of “firstfruits” (Leviticus 23:10-11).  Paul even calls Jesus the firstfruits of them that slept (1 Corinthians 15:20).

I wonder if all Biblical holidays are related to Jesus.  Has God orchestrated all these days to fill our hearts with glee in Christ?

How Could God ask Abraham to Sacrifice His Son?

Does God Ever Ask for Too Much?

It might seem the answer is,  “Yes.”

Consider commands like “Deeply love (agape) your enemies” (Matthew 5:44),  or “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (5:48). 

Many see Genesis 22:2 in that light.  God commands Abraham,  “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering.”

Isaac means “laughter,” and he was the delight of Abraham’s life.  Yet God commands the slaughter of that very son,  promised by God, whom Sarah and Abraham had awaited 30 years through long, tear-filled nights and month after month of disappointment.

Now sacrifice him!  And not simply that but sacrifice him as a burnt offering.  That means Abraham was to flay,  dismember and then completely burn up Isaac’s body (Leviticus 1:3-9).  All that would be left was his son’s skin which would be a gift to the one making the sacrifice (Leviticus 7:8).

How could God possibly be commanding this?

Had not God Himself promised that Abraham’s offspring would be like the stars (Genesis 15:5)?

Had not God Himself given the son (17:19;  18:14)?  Now God commands Abraham to kill him at Moriah (“the bitterness of the LORD”) on the very spot of Solomon’s future Temple (2 Chronicles 3:1).

The three-day,  43-mile journey from Beersheba to Jerusalem was the most bitter of Abraham’s life.  Every step heightened the dread of slaughtering this obedient son.

When Moriah was in sight,  Abraham placed the massive wood on Isaac’s back (enough wood to burn up a human body,  Genesis 22:3-6).

How bitter was it for Abraham to watch Isaac carry the wood,  stumbling along the way,  obediently struggling under the massive load?

God waited until Abraham had the knife in hand about to slaughter his son,  and then God’s angel said,  “Now I know that you fear God because you have not withheld your son,  your only son from me.”

When Isaac stumbled up the slopes of Moriah,  it is strangely similar to Jesus stumbling toward his death under the massive weight of the cross.  Just as Isaac carried the wood on which he would die,  so Jesus carried the cross on which he would die.  Moriah and Calvary are but a few hundred yards apart. 

As Abraham struggled to imagine slaughtering his son,  so too the LORD struggled from all eternity with the bitterness of allowing His Son’s public crucifixion.

God the Father says at Jesus’ baptism,  “This is My Son,  My only Son . . .” echoing the words of Genesis 22:2.

Maybe the question for us is,  “Does God give too much to redeem us from the curse of the law?”

Yahweh and Jesus

Jesus Christ is LORD

What do we mean when we say “Jesus Christ is Lord”? 

Many people trifle with the word “Lord.”  Greeting cards and banners declaim,  “Lordy,  Lordy,  look whose 40!”  I’m sure you’ve heard:  “Lord almighty” or even “Jesus” is a quasi-curse word when someone smashes their thumb or accidentally backs into another car. 

But what do the words “Jesus is Lord” mean according to the Bible?

In Greek,  “Lord” often refers to absolute rulers of antiquity.  The Roman emperors and Persians kings were called “Lord.”  It means sovereign,  absolute monarch or king.

Christians use “Jesus is Lord” to describe Jesus as the absolute ruler of everything.  As creator,  he holds the atoms of the universe together (Hebrews 1:3;  1 Corinthians 8:6).  He owns every square inch of ground.  He owns your body,  the air you breathe,  the electricity in your nerves,  the ground underneath your feet,  the food in your mouth and the very seconds you pass each day.   

Paul presents himself as a “slave” to Jesus.  Christians should regularly pray,  “Thy kingdom come!”  God’s sovereign rule is a treasure worth any price  (Matthew 13:44). 

Christ presents the gospel as a call to accept the good news of God’s rule (Luke 4:43).

“Calling on the name of the Lord” is not an appeal for Christ simply to take part in one’s life.  Rather,  it is an appeal for Christ to take over.

Wanting God’s rule is a necessary part of repentance from one’s sins (Matthew 3:2;  4:17;  Mark 1:15;  Luke 14:29). Repentance is an utterly helpless,  spiritually bankrupt person turning away from self-rule and coming to a perfect,  sovereign,  powerful,  loving and holy King who promises to love his people out of their sins.

But “Jesus  is Lord” means more than even that. 

In the OT,  Lord sometimes appears in all capital letters,  “LORD.”  There,  it represents God’s most sacred name, Yahweh/Jehovah.  The New Testament applies Yahweh/LORD texts to Jesus (Isaiah 45:23;  Joel 2:32;  Isaiah 40:3 in Philippians 2:11;  Romans 10:13;  and Mark 1:2).

Jesus is not simply any Lord.  He is the LORD,  Yahweh incarnate.  He is YHWH having come to save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).  Jesus even bears “the name,  the one above every name”,  and monotheistic texts like Isaiah 45:23 and Deuteronomy 6:4 apply to him.

Jesus affirms that the Father has given him his sacred name (John 17:11-12).  Thus,  Jesus shares the name YHWH with God the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Joel 2:32 proclaims,  “All who call on the name of the LORD will be saved.”  Christians call on the name of the Lord Jesus for salvation (Romans 10:13;  Acts 2:21;  1 Corinthians 1:2).

Even so,  “Come,  LORD Jesus!”