The True Light | John 1:1-18

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 any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

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.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 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. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, the gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (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.’”) 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. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

John 1:1-18 ESV

 

After spending three weeks in the Old Testament studying the hints and promises of Christ’s coming, we now focus our attention upon the incarnation of Jesus. Although the life of Jesus is told four times in the Gospels, each brings a unique and complementary perspective on the long-awaited Savior. John’s Gospel is particularly interested in the glorious truth of Christ’s eternal divinity becoming human. Our text, John’s prologue, turns our attention toward this wondrous mystery.

THE STORY CONTINUED…

In our previous study, we briefly explained the timeline of events between Isaiah’s lifetime and the coming of Jesus; however, it can’t hurt to rehearse them again.

After being used to foretell Israel’s destruction by the Assyrian Empire, Isaiah most likely lived long enough to see the LORD’s promise fulfilled. Known for their terror tactics, the Assyrians left the northern kingdom in ruins with much of the population either slaughtered or forced into slavery. While Judah manages to postpone such a defeat for a few more generations, the Babylonian Empire eventually leaves Jerusalem as little more than rubble.

But just as the Babylonians replaced the Assyrians, so the Persians conquered the Babylonians. Providentially Cyrus the Great issued an edict authorizing many exiled Jews to return to Jerusalem for the purpose of rebuilding the city and the temple.

Soon Persia fell to the military brilliance of the young Alexander the Great. After conquering the known world, Alexander died suddenly without leaving a successor to his throne; his empire, therefore, was divided into four kingdoms led by four of his generals (the Kingdoms of Ptolemy, Cassander, Lysimachus, and Seleucus).

For nearly three hundred years, Jerusalem is captured and recaptured by Seleucids (basically Persia) and the Ptolemies (Egypt). This tug-o-war ended when Rome began its lengthy time as king of the hill. Despite appointing Herod the Great as king of the Jews (although raised under Judaism, his Jewish lineage is pretty questionable), the Hebrews repeatedly revolted against the vastly superior might of Rome.

Yet empires don’t stand for hundreds of years by being nice, and Rome was no exception. To the Romans we owe much of our Western heritage, yet their brutality should not be quickly ignored. Many historians argue that Rome’s endurance was largely the result of two implementations: roads and crucifixions. The cross was as much a warning as it was an instrument of torture, an easily arranged punishment for any dissent against Roman security.

But the massive construction of highways also proved threatening to the Jews. As travel became easier so did the spreading of ideas. Religious pluralism was the sign of the times, one which the Israelites repeatedly rejected to their sorrow.

This was the setting of the birth of Christ. As the Son of God came into the world, Augustus sat upon a global throne proclaiming himself the son of god. Physical and spiritual oppressors circled about them. They were shrouded in darkness. Where was the light God promised, the Savior-King, David’s son? No prophet had uttered even a word in four hundred years. Perhaps God had forgotten them altogether. Maybe the light would never come.

IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE WORD (WHO IS JESUS?)

John’s Gospel is unique to say the least. Matthew, Mark, and Luke bear so many similarities that they are often called the Synoptic Gospels. John is the odd duck of the bunch, and the evidence for this can been seen from its opening words. The Synoptics begin by grounding Jesus in reality. Matthew opens with Jesus’ Davidic lineage. Mark dives straight into the ministries of Jesus and John the Baptist. Luke cites his journalistic intensions for composing a biography of Christ.

John, however, doesn’t so much ground Jesus in reality as ground reality in Jesus. Verse 1 makes this clear by pointedly tying the story of Jesus to the first verse of Genesis. The words in the beginning should ring through our ears with awe at the God who formed all of existence out of nothing. He who made the heavens and the earth must rightfully be worshipped as the Creator of all things.

But that’s the end of that story, right?

Didn’t we, after all, already tell that story?

What more is there to say about creation?

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. We could spend an entire sermon (and may one day) attempting to mine the depths of this verse, but let us attempt to be brief at the present.

As John’s Gospel continues, it becomes quite clear that Jesus is the Word being described in this verse. This designation is important in several ways. First, the Greek word for Word is logos, which was an essential concept for many Hellenistic philosophies. Gregory Hays attempts to explain logos as such:

The term (from which English “logic” and the suffix “-logy” derive) has a semantic range so broad as to be almost untranslatable. At a basic level it designates rational, connected thought—whether envisioned as a characteristic (rationality, the ability to reason) or as the product of that characteristic (an intelligible utterance or a connected discourse). Logos operates both in individuals and in the universe as a whole. In individuals it is the faculty of reason. On a cosmic level it is the rational principle that governs the organization of the universe. (Meditations, xx)

Such a belief would be impossible for John to be ignorant of, so there seems to be a sense in which he is pointing to Jesus as the true logos, not a passionless principle but a person.

Second, Jesus as the Word provides greater revelation (although, crucially, not a different one) of how God created all things. In Genesis 1:3, God formed light by speaking it into existence. The pattern continues through day six. Creation is created by the words of God or, as John now reveals, by the Word of God. God the Father ordained an item of creation, which then came into being through Jesus.

What then does this tell us about who Jesus is?

Jesus is both the same as and distinct from the God the Father. That is the paradox of the second and third phrases of verse 1. Jesus was both with God and was God. Before the universe was formed, Jesus existed alongside God as a distinct person, yet He was eternally God as well. Jesus is not the same person as the God the Father, yet He is also not a second God. Only one God exists (Deuteronomy 6:4), and Jesus and Father (and the Holy Spirit) are that singular God. Welcome to the mystery of the Trinity, ladies and gentlemen.

In no uncertain terms, John is magnifying the divinity of Christ. Jesus is God. Period. Any attempt to grasp the significance of Jesus’ life must begin with this fundamental truth. Jesus is the Word through Whom the world was made. He is the Creator, with all its rights and privileges. Jesus is the God we described in Genesis 1.

THE TRUE LIGHT (WHAT DID JESUS COME TO DO?)

Yet John is not content to simply tell us who Jesus is; he also reveals why Jesus came to earth: to pierce the darkness as the true light. Like the Egyptians and the Israelites, humanity has long been under the darkness of God’s judgment because of sin. This darkness can easily be felt, a darkness so thick that it seems to overcome light. We see such darkness in people being left to their own devices. We see it in systematic pillaging and raping of villages and villagers. We see it in the abduction of toddlers for organ harvesting or sex slavery. We see it in the crushed skulls and dismembered bodies of late-term abortions. It’s visible in parents who abandon their families or abuse their children. It floods the Internet with the defilement and slander of God’s images. It cries out of every heart for more, more gossip, more things, more money, more sex, more food, more drink. The world is dark. If you don’t think so, it’s probably because you haven’t glimpsed the light in order to know the difference.

Sin is self-destruction, and God often judges sin by simply not interfering. After all, the fruit of sin is death, and we each deserve it. We constantly reject God in order to follow our own desires. We exalt ourselves as supreme, relegating God to being our sidekick at best and our enemy at worst. We attempt to force the Creator to submit to our will instead of submitting to His. This prideful arrogance is the human condition; no one is the exception. We deserve to be abandoned by God. We deserve death. We deserve the darkness of His judgment.

Yet God did not abandon us. Jesus, the eternal Word and the true light, came to pierce the darkness of sin. He came to give life in the midst of death’s reign. Like God saved the Israelites from the Egyptians, Jesus came to rescue His people. He came to break the rod of their oppressors, to bring joy and peace, to dispel the darkness with His light. Jesus came to save those who committed treason against His throne.

THE WORD BECAME FLESH (HOW DID JESUS DO IT?)

Jesus is God Himself, who came to save those who repeatedly rejected and rebelled against Him. That is gloriously good news, but we must still ask the question of how. How did Jesus save His people from their sins?

He did it by becoming flesh and dwelling among us. The eternal Holy One became human. Divinity became (literally) personified. God became man. Consider the anew the wonder of the incarnation. At His conception, Jesus did not cease to be God. The fullness of His deity was maintained, which is good for us since the unraveling of the cosmos is not exactly ideal. And yet Jesus was also entirely human, flesh, blood, neurotransmitters, and all.

This incarnation was absolutely necessary for solving the problem of sin. Since our sins were against the eternal God, they necessitate an eternal judgment. Physical death does not wipe our slate clean, only an eternal, spiritual death can achieve that. Our doom, therefore, is everlasting, an infinite debt to which we must continue making payments. The glory of the God-man enters this bad news. As man, Jesus was able to do what we could not: live in perfect obedience to God. As God, when Jesus was crucified in our place, His infinite worth paid entirely our infinite debt. This substitutionary atonement pulls us from the darkness of God’s judgment into the marvelous light of His grace. Indeed, from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

Verse 12 gives us the unbelievable application of that grace: those who believe in Christ’s name have the right to be become children of God. Because of Jesus, the only Son of God dying in our place, we are now adopted as God’s sons and daughters. We who attempted to usurp His throne are now welcomed into His family, the family of the Creator! The overwhelming terror of being the sovereign God’s enemy is now transformed into the incomprehensible joy of being His beloved child.

Notice also the emphasis of verse 13. God alone accomplish our transformation, our new birth. No flesh, no blood, and no will of man can save sinners from the righteous wrath of God. Only the broken flesh, spilled blood, and gracious will of Jesus Christ is sufficient. No amount of effort, good works, or good intentions can save us. We contribute nothing; Jesus did everything. This is good news. This is the good news.

But if Jesus did everything for us, why is the gospel so hard to believe?

Why does the world continue to reject the Word through Whom it was made?

One reason is that people love darkness instead of the light. Jesus told Nicodemus this very fact in John 3:19-21:

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.

The sad reality is that we are not forced to sin. We sin because we love sin. We love darkness, not the light. The human heart will often gladly live in hell so long as it bows to no one. We each chose hell, and we continue to do so whenever we sin. We willful reject God’s light in favor of the darkness of our own desires. Many, therefore, reject the light of the gospel of Christ because they will not be parted from their sin.

Another reason is that we want the glory of saving ourselves. Michael Lawrence identifies three ideas that actually form a false gospel: “an optimistic view of human beings, a domesticated view of God, and a view of religion as a means of moral self-reform” (Conversion, 19). Or to say it another way: “I can be good. God will be impressed. Religion will help” (20). Deep down, we desire self-help of religion because we want to save ourselves. Any honest person knows that they are sinful and broken, but even still, we often fail to see the utter hopelessness of our situation. With a little more discipline and control, we can change ourselves. We can grit our teeth and make ourselves good. Of course, we then get the glory of being the self-saved man. It’s the classic story of rags-to-riches only on an eternal scale.

But the gospel rejects that notion fundamentally. We are entirely incapable of saving ourselves, which is why Ephesians describes us as being dead in sin. The challenge of the gospel is to reject self, to lose your life in order to find it, to believe in Jesus’ name and become a child of God by walking away from the darkness of sin and into His light. May we walk in the light of His glorious grace, for it pierces the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it.

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8 Tips for Reading the Bible

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.
John 5:39-40 ESV

It is safe to assume that few people have much experience in reading ancient documents like the Bible; therefore, in concluding this series, I hope to provide some advice on how to read the Bible.

First, it is important to understand that the entire Bible has one great theme: Jesus Christ. Even though He is never mentioned by name in the Old Testament, Jesus is the center and purpose of all Scripture. In fact, He said so Himself: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life (John 5:39-40).” In that context, only the Old Testament had been written; therefore, Christ explicitly stated that the Old Testament is entirely about Him.

Second, consider the genre. Though the Bible is a united book, it is also a library of books. Books like Genesis, Samuel, Matthew, and Acts are narratives. They tell history and should be read as such. Psalms and Proverbs are collections of poems and wisdom respectively, so they are unique from the other books of the Bible. Ecclesiastes is a philosophical treatise. Song of Solomon is an epic love poem. Romans and Hebrews are letters systematically explaining the gospel to western and eastern mindsets respectively.

Third, love it, memorize it, and meditate on it. If anything could be said about reading the Bible, fill your life with it. Psalm 119 is the longest chapter of the Bible, and it is dedicated to declaring the excellence of the Scriptures. As you read, pray that God would give you delight in His Word. Make an effort to store it in your heart by memorizing it. Do not read for a few minutes and go on with your day. After memorizing, meditate upon the Word. Roll its words around in your mind, thinking deeply upon God’s thoughts.


Because the Bible is God’s Word to humanity, we should strive to know and understand it more and more. From a human perspective, the Bible is gigantic, so it can be quite intimidating to begin reading the Bible. Here are some suggestions for how to begin your journey in the Scriptures.

First, resolve to read the Bible every day. Even if you find yourself not understanding much, continue to read it. The more time you spend with the Bible, the more you will learn.

Second, begin with the New Testament. The entire Bible is crucial for us as God’s people, but some books are easier to read than others. Start with the New Testament, reading the life of Jesus, the history of the church, and the letters of the apostles.

Third, ask questions about what you’ve read. Paul’s list of the profitability of Scripture from 2 Timothy 2:2 is a good guide. If the Bible helps us through teaching, reproving, correcting, and training in righteousness, ask those types of questions. What does this text teach me (about God, humanity, sin, etc.)? Does this passage reveal any sin or faults in my thinking? How might God use this text to correct me? How might He use it to train me toward righteousness?

Fourth, buy a good study Bible. There are many good study Bibles in book stores, but the best currently is the ESV Study Bible. Study Bibles provide comments, notes, articles, and other resources side-by-side the Bible to help you better understand what you are reading. Other study Bibles worth considering are: the NIV Zondervan Study Bible, the John MacArthur Study Bible, and the Reformation Heritage Study Bible.

Fifth, and most important, pray for God to help you understand His Word. This literally cannot be overemphasized. There is no commentary, study Bible, or sermon that will ever replace the heart transformation of prayerfully reading God’s Word for yourself.

The Narrow Gate | Matthew 7:13-14

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:13-14)

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

OPENING THOUGHT

Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount to His disciples in order to teach them what citizenship within the kingdom of heaven should look like. He began the sermon with the Beatitudes, which defined the characteristics that ought to mark Christ’s followers. He then clarified the Christian’s purpose on earth and explained how we are supposed to relate to the Old Testament’s laws and commandments. In chapter six, Jesus taught how we give to the poor, pray, and fast incorrectly. He also encouraged us to store our treasure in heaven, not on earth, and when they are secure with God, we can truly live without anxiety, knowing that God is in control.

In chapter seven, Jesus warned us against hypocritically judging others, telling us to first take the log out our own eye before getting a speck out of our brother’s eye. He then encouraged us to petition the Father in prayer. He explains that our heavenly Father will lovingly give to us what we need, so long as we first recognize our dependency upon Him. Furthermore, once we know the loving-kindness of the Father, it will transform how we love and treat the people around us.

Today, we will cover just two small verses, yet they are loaded with meaning and impact. Here Jesus commands His disciples to travel down the difficult path, entering into the narrow gate, which leads to eternal life and to avoid the easy road with a broad gate, which leads to destruction. Our Lord is describing in metaphor the only two ways of living that are available to us. Either we will follow Christ down the narrow road or we will take whatever path pleases us, which ultimately is all a part of the broad path to destruction.

Read verses 13-14 and discuss the following.

  1. Jesus tells us that there are only two paths with two gates, the narrow leads to life and the broad leads to destruction. What is the narrow gate of which Jesus is speaking?
  2. Why is the gate narrow and the path hard that leads to life?
  3. Is God righteous by only providing one way of salvation?

ACTIONS TO CONSIDER

  • Obey. Consider Jesus’ command: enter by the narrow gate. Take time to prayerfully meditate upon the gospel, coming to God in repentance once again.
  • Pray. Pray for friends and family in your life who are traveling down the broad and easy road toward destruction that they may come to know the truth of the gospel.

The Process of Creation | Genesis 1:2-25

Possibly no other section of Scripture is more debated and argued than the text that we will now be covering. Creationists pour over these verses to combat evolutionists. Six-day literalists and theistic evolutionists both devour fiercely these words both to defend and attack. Some Christians wait longingly discuss the age-old question of “gap or no gap?” with whomever might be interested. And, of course, some people might even be terrified by such phrases as “darkness was over the face of the deep.” This section of biblical text is brief in nature, massive in scope, and mysterious in nearly every sense of the word.

THE FACE OF THE DEEP // VERSE 2

The weight and range of verse 2 is nearly as monumental as that of verse 1; however, one key difference between these two verses is the mystery in which this verse is shrouded. We are told that “the earth was without form and void.” The exact meaning of the phrase without form and void is somewhat unclear with regards to this verse, but most scholars seem to agree that it describes the chaotic nature of the earth. The following reference to darkness upon “the face of the deep” serves to accent the disheveled state of creation. The Hebrew word used for “deep” is used elsewhere in the Old Testament in reference to the ocean, but in the ancient world, it also represented the chaos of all nature. It was a common belief in that period that nature was not structured and organized. They believed that only the gods were able to keep everything in working and organized order. There was dreadful fear of the chaos that the world around them could unleash because we have an inherent need for structure and predictability.

Though the first half of this verse is dark and ominous, the tone quickly shifts to a more hopeful focus. We find in the second half that the “Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” Since the deep referenced the vast and mysterious nature of the ocean, the waters referenced here seem to be doing the same. The Spirit of God is said to be hovering above the surface of the deep. When all was a chaotic mess, the Spirit comes on the scene, preparing to the provide order to the disorder. There is certainly some debate about what Moses meant by the Spirit of God in this verse. Many Christians clearly would like to view it as a reference to the doctrine of the Trinity; however, the answer is not so simple. The concept of the triune God is a development only found within Christianity itself, so we cannot say that Moses held a Trinitarian view while writing Genesis. Nevertheless, since it is God who truly authors Scripture through inspiration, we should not find it difficult to believe that these writings of Moses are able to have greater meaning now that God has revealed more to humanity. What Moses likely knew simply as the power and authority of God, we now know to be the third person of the Trinity. Therefore, I believe that we can safely trust that the Holy Spirit is being referenced in this verse.

Finally, after looking somewhat closely at the different aspects of this verse, we must now ask the most pressing question: to what exactly does it refer? When and where exactly does this ominous verse play into the story of creation? Unfortunately, there simply is no definitive answer to any of these types of questions. Clergy and lay-theologians alike have pondered and speculated the significance of this verse for centuries and even millennia. Therefore, I will do my best to summarize a few of the most popular views of how to interpret this verse in relation to all of chapter one.

First, and certainly a popular thought, is the gap theory. In short, the gap theory teaches that verse one refers to God’s creation of all things, while verse two describes creation in the aftermath of a devastating event (most likely the fall of Satan). Most gap theorists also believe in an old earth, since the time period between verse one and two could potentially be billions of years. One of the primary motivations for the forming of this view was, of course, to show that the Bible does not contradict developments in science that claim the earth is billions of years old. They would also argue that the phrase “without form and void” typically carries a connotation of judgment elsewhere in Scripture, thus making if fit to describe the outcome of God’s initial judgment upon Satan.

Standing opposite of the gap theorists are those who believe in no gap between verses one and two. There are two primary means of viewing creation from a no gap perspective. First, verse two describes the condition in which God originally created everything in verse one. In this case, the creation process that begins in verse three details the means through which God gave form or order to creation. Second, verse two can be viewed as describing the nothing that existed before God created everything. This thought views verse one as a sort of thesis statement to the entirety of chapter one instead of as a specific event in time.

To be fair, each view listed above is absolutely biblically sound. Therefore, someone who believes in the gap theory can and should still be brothers with one who believes that verse two describes the absence of creation. This is an issue that we will never know fully this side of heaven; thus, it is a secondary issue. That being said, before I began this study through Genesis, I leaned toward the gap theory viewpoint. However, now after reading several men of faith (each of whom believed something at least slightly different), I find myself leaning toward the thought that verse two describes the original form in which God created everything. In verse one, God created the raw materials of the universe, and verse two describes what that was like. Thus, the remainder of chapter one depicts how God shapes, forms, and fills creation into more of how we know it today. The reason that this view makes sense for me is that it seems to fit God’s modus operandi. Repeatedly in the Bible, we see events which God could accomplish in less than a second; however, He chooses to complete the task through a series of processes. Though He certainly has the ability to form the entire cosmos with the merest of breathes, God systematically constructs the universe through a series of days. God is patient through processes. This thought speaks wonderfully in relation to our salvation. There is a real sense in which the entire life of the believer is one long process of salvation, a process of recreating us. The Holy Spirit was faithful enough to give the creation process through seven days; we can believe that the same Spirit within us will complete the work of recreation that has begun.

THE CREATIVE WORD // VERSE 3

Within this verse and the following two, we find details concerning the first day of creation. Here we find the first words following the beginning of existence, and God is the one who speaks. It is often remarked how He merely spoke, and light came into being. However, we must not miss the major theological point that the apostle John makes in the first chapter of his Gospel. The opening verse parallels verse one of Genesis by describing the Word as being with God, and being God, in the beginning. The parallel then continues in the third verse of both books. John 1:3 declares the great truth that “All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made.” John is describing Jesus as the embodied Word of God, the Word through whom everything was created. He mysteriously links God’s “let there be…” declarations to the role of Christ in creation. How exactly is this so? I believe that we can safely say that it is just as mysterious as the nature of the Trinity. It does not necessarily fit within our finite minds, but we can conclude with all faith that the first three verses of Genesis give significant implication as to the vital necessity of the Trinity in the act of creation. The Father declares creation. The Son is the means through, by, in, and for whom creation is declared. And the Spirit empowers the creating process.

LET THERE BE LIGHT // VERSE 4

It is no accident that God created light first. Though we saw in verse two that darkness was upon the face of the deep, God now immediately begins to dispel that darkness. He does so by creating light and then dividing it from the darkness. The ancient mind reading this account would have instantly understood that Moses was declaring God to be sovereign over even the ominous deep which constantly threatened to throw the world into chaos. Through one simple declaration, God creates light, before which darkness has no place. God rejects darkness and ushers in light.

It is also important that we answer the question of how God created light. How can there be light if God did not create the sun, moon, and stars until the fourth day? Many people have given their thoughts, theories, and speculations for how God was able to suspend light in the heavens without the objects that we now know to provide light. However, I will side with John Calvin on this issue:

It did not, however, happen from inconsideration or by accident, that the light preceded the sun or moon. To nothing are we more prone than to tie down the power of God to those instruments, the agents of which he employs. The sun and moon supply us with light: And, according to our notions we so include this power to give light in them, that if they were taken away from the world, it would seem impossible for any light to remain. Therefore, the Lord, by the very order of the creation, bears witness that he holds in his hand the light, which he is able to impart to us without the sun and moon.[1]

Notice here two more points of observance.

First, God evaluates light to be good. This declaration is a piece of the pattern that we will continue to see throughout the days of creation. We are first told that God speaks. We are then given His commandment. The commandment results in a creation and/or a separation. God then names and evaluates the creation.

Finally, we receive the chronological division for each day. Notably absent is the declaration that darkness is good. Instead, we are shown that God separated light from the darkness. This is the first glimpse at the holiness of God. In Him there is light, and the light cannot dwell together with darkness. There must be separation from darkness.

EVENING & MORNING // VERSE 5

First in this verse, God gives name to the light and the darkness. The act of naming implies both existence and sovereignty to the ancient Hebrews. Names were intrinsically connected with the state of being. The name of an object or person was an essential aspect of who they were. Furthermore, being able to name something was a declaration of authority. Thus, God is displaying His sovereignty over even light and darkness by naming them and thus solidifying their existence.

Finally, God declares that there was evening and morning, the first day. Of course, the question must be addressed as to whether or not this day and the others that follow are literal or metaphorical. Historic views lend little help to this question since most ancient scholars gave scarcely a thought to anything beyond six literal days. In fact, it is predominately the concept of evolution and naturalism that caused theologians to question the literal interpretation of this text.

With that in mind, here are a few thoughts on this matter. First, we must never fall into the notion that the Bible must conform to science; instead, science must conform to Scripture. Therefore, let us not shape our biblical worldview around scientific findings that will be obsolete within the coming centuries or even decades. Second, a six literal day leaning is a perfectly acceptable interpretation, maybe even preferred. Third, viewing the days as periods of time is certainly plausible. Near the beginning of chapter two, we find a usage of the word day meaning a much larger period of time; therefore, it could be used likewise here. Fourth, since the sun and moon were not created until the fourth day, there is no way of knowing how much those original six days resembled our current 24 hour days.

DAY TWO // VERSES 6-8

The second day of creation can be rather difficult to interpret. We are told that God created an expanse to separate the waters. Once this takes place, there is an expanse, called the Heavens, which resides above and below two sets of waters. Of course, this raise plenty of questions. What exactly is meant by the expanse? Is it only the atmosphere above us, or is the entirety of the universe? Whichever the case may be, what are the waters above the expanse? Is this a reference to the water vapor in the sky, such as the clouds, or is there some greater looming body of water somewhere beyond the stars and galaxies that we know? To be honest, there is no definite answer to any of these questions. Most of the scholars that I have read believe that the waters above refer to the atmospheric water vapor. While this could certainly be true, it seems to require one to view the expanse as being the earth’s atmosphere; however, we will see that God places the sun, moon, and stars into said expanse on day four. Therefore, we could say several things. First, Moses wrote from a clearly human perspective on the sky, which appears to have the celestial entities suspended in the atmosphere. To a degree this is certainly true, as Genesis was never meant to be a science textbook; however, we should take care not to lean too far in such thoughts so as to completely separate science and Genesis. Second, there may have existed in the heavens some sort of large body of suspended water, but following the Flood only the atmospheric clouds remain as a remnant. Third, the body of water above could be located somewhere along the outskirts or even outside of the universe. I know that this thought leans toward pure speculation and seems ridiculous; however, human beings, as a species, have not come even close to viewing the outer parts of the universe. Thus, though it might seem absurd, there could, in fact, exist a body of water out there.

With all of these thoughts and questions floating about these three verses, it is important that we center upon the meaning and significance of them. In regards to the creation process as a whole, we can derive two thoughts.

First, it is clearly within this day that atmosphere is formed. Though the expanse likely refers to outer space as well, there is a noticeable organizing structure to be found within all of the days of creation, being that God is preparing creation to be habitable to humanity. As we will see, God creates mankind to be the crown of creation, the creatures which bear His image. Therefore, the shaping and structuring of the earth and the heavens is in preparation to be the residence of humankind.

Second, these verses emphasize God’s organized and sovereign molding of the existence. The waters being separated here are likely the deep being described in verse two. Thus, God is revealing that the deep, the foreboding terror of the ancient world, is entirely under the control of God. The ominous and powerful waters are His to separate and command. Moreover, if the power of the waters is unleashed upon humanity, they do so solely under the decree of God Almighty and as instruments of His justice (i.e. the Flood).

DAY THREE // VERSES 9-13

Within this first part of the third day, the focus is upon separating the waters below the expanse in order to created dry land. These verses, along with the description of day two, help give further clarity that verse two refers to the preformed earth being covered in a sort of primordial ocean. However, God continues His process of shaping the world to be habitable. God’s authority over the water is once more displayed as He gives command for it to recede and give rise to land. Following this division, God gives name to the land and to the waters, calling them Earth and Seas, and then He declares them to be good.

Unlike the first two days of creation where God performed one work each, on day three He completes two separate but related works of creation. After forming the dry land, God now cultivates the land by causing vegetation to grow. There are several observations which we can glean from these verses. First, God created the vegetation with seeds. This meant that God not only created the first generation of creation, but He intended creation to be sustainable. Instead of God creating eternal plants or needing to recreate a plant every time one died, God created a process by which the plants could reproduce. Since the nature of reproduction is all that we have ever known to be true of creation, we can very easily take for granted the inherent beauty of God’s wonderful and efficient design. Of course, let us not venture too far into deism territory, believing that God created and then left creation alone. God certainly is active and working to uphold creation, but there is also a remarkable self-sustaining nature to creation. Second, God created various types of vegetation, “each according to its kind.” This is a fairly clear shot at the concept of evolution (theistic evolution included) because obviously it appears that God created several kinds of plants all at once. This means that all plants did not evolve from a common ancestry.

With the conclusion of the third day yet another color is added to God’s cosmos. To the basic white and black of day and night has been added the blue of sky and sea. Now the canvas is adorned with green. The golden yellow sun and the reddish human being will complete this rainbow of colors.[2]

DAY FOUR // VERSES 14-19

Before discussing the fourth day of creation, I must note the relationship of the days four, five, and six with days one, two, and three. The process of creation in Genesis 1 can be divided into these two parts: the first three days and the second three days. The reason for this division is because the days of creation construct a parallel of forming and filling. The first three days are concerning the forming of creation, while the second three days focus on filling the formed matter. On day one, God formed light, and on day four, He fills the heavens with bearers of light. Day two shows God forming the oceans and the sky, while they are each filled with creatures on day five. Day three involved two distinctly separate acts of creation, as does day six. The dry ground is formed along with vegetation on the third day. Then on the sixth day, animals are created to fill the earth and humans are made, who will eat the vegetation.

It is here in day four that the heavens are filled with objects of light. However light may have existed within the first three days, it clear that it was on this day that the cosmos began to resemble more closely how they are today. God creates the sun, moon, and stars with another powerful command. Worth noting is the fact that the purpose of these celestial objects is greatly emphasized. First, He states that they are to act as signs. The nineteenth Psalm gives a marvelous thought on how these created objects are to be signs by declaring that the heaven proclaim the glory of God. The declaration and proclamation of the glory of God is the overarching purpose of all creation in general, yet it can be seen to a magnificent degree in the grand entities in the heavens. Second, they serve as a record of time. Since God created the earth to exist within time, the sun and moon serve as a constant means of measuring that time. Third, they provide the light for the earth. The sun by day gives us a great amount of light, while the moon and stars give light by night. These means of the serving earth and the rest of creation was quite a potent message to the people of Moses’ day. As noted previously, these days of creation partially serve as a theological dismantling of the false gods of the ancient world. And such is the case here. Many people worshipped the sun and moon as chief deities. For instance, Ra was the Egyptian sun god, and Baal was a moon god. Thus, by placing these objects in submissive roles, God is affirming His superiority to them.

Also, my favorite phrase within all five of these verses is simply “and the stars.” With the wonders of modern inventions, we have discovered magnificent information about the grandeur of the universe and the trillions upon trillions of stars within it. Yet for all the information that we gain, we are merely left with a greater sense of wonder and mystery. The vastness of the universe is so immense that it could be quite easy to place too much of an emphasis upon it. Because its greatness can be seen, it can overshadow the glory of God, who is invisible. However, the majesty of the universe is meant to point us to the infinitely greater glory of the Most High. The God that we serve is so great that He is able to sum up the creation of nebulas, galaxies, and quasars in three words: and the stars.

We should feel our smallness by comparison. Carl Sagan famously captured such a feeling in the view of the universe’s vastness when he commented on a satellite image of the earth as a tiny blue dot.

Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar”, every “supreme leader”, every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam. The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

DAY FIVE // VERSES 20-23

In parallel to the second day, the air and waters are filled with creatures on the fifth day. Now that the air, seas, land, vegetation, and stars have been created, the earth is ready to support life. In one grand act of creation, God fills the seas and skies with living creatures. The great sea creatures are specifically mentioned here, most likely, because they were also items of worship in the ancient world. Also, we must note that God gives a command to the newly created creatures: they are to be fruitful and multiply upon the earth. This was an act of blessing. The ability to act out the will of God is the highest blessing to be obtained.

DAY SIX // VERSES 24-25

We will conclude this lengthy section of study by only looking at the first act of creation on the sixth day. The creation of man will be discussed in the remainder of chapter one and almost the entirety of chapter two. That said God’s first creation on day six was to fill the dry land with creatures. As with the vegetation and the creatures from day five, God creates all kinds of land animals at once. Three kinds of land animals are listed here: livestock, creeping things, and wild beasts. Since these verses are presenting the theological point of God creating all the land creatures, there is no reason to believe that all animals are meant to exhaustively fall into one of the three categories. The message is clearly that God created all animals, and we are not able to compromise on that point.


[1] Calvin, John. Calvin’s Complete Bible Commentary. This quotation can be found under the heading of verse three. I am not able to provide an exact page number since the version being used is electronic.

[2] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis. p. 126.

Wrestling with God

Jacob’s Vision | Genesis 28:10-22

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION 

A he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heave. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! (Genesis 28:12)

Tn Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you. (Genesis 28:20-22)

And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the Angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man. (John 1:51)

OPENING THOUGHT 

The account of Abraham’s descendants is already a bumpy one. Isaac followed in the faith of his father, but he also walked after Abraham’s sins. So far, Jacob and Esau have been less than ideal sons. Their fighting began in their mother’s womb and continued to grow with them. After Esau foolishly sold his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of soup, we last saw how Jacob also stole Esau’s blessing. Following Jacob’s deception, Esau was so angry with his brother that he began to actively plot his murder.

Our present text occurs while Jacob is journeying to the homeland of his mother, a significant 500 miles away from home. Along the way, Jacob takes rest for the night and finds himself swept up in a vision of God. He sees a great ladder with the angels ascending and descending upon it. Above the ladder is God, who pronounces the covenantal blessing of Abraham and Isaac upon Jacob. He awakes from the vision awestruck and afraid. The text then concludes with Jacob creating an monument, calling the place Bethel (the house of God), and vowing to serve the LORD.

This is easily one of the most important moments of Jacob’s life. Until now, God spoke to Abraham and Isaac but not to Jacob. He had heard of God but not from God. Now the LORD would not merely be the God of his father and grandfather but his God also. The power of this event is also evident even in its structure. First, God calls to Jacob, promising to bless him, and then Jacob responds to God in worship. That is the pattern for all believers throughout history: God gives grace, and we respond in worship.

Read verses 10-15 and discuss the following. 

  • God appears to Jacob for the first time through an extraordinary vision. Does God still use visions or similar signs to speak to believers today?
  • Jacob’s vision is of angels ascending and descending upon a heavenly ladder while God stands above it. How do Jesus’ words in John 1:51 connect to this vision? Why does Jesus use this imagery for Himself?

Read verses 16-22 and discuss the following.

  • Even after receiving tremendous promises of blessings, Jacob still wakes from the vision afraid, which displays a fear of the LORD in him. What is the fear of the LORD, and why is it important for followers of Christ?
  • Jacob worshipfully responds to God’s gracious blessings by vowing to serve the LORD and give Him a tenth of his possessions. In what ways do you live a worshipful life daily in response to believing the gospel?

ACTIONS TO CONSIDER 

  • Obey. Consider the actions of worship that Jacob takes in response to God’s blessings. Do you similarly worship God with your life and finances? Ask the LORD to guide you into sacrificial giving.
  • Pray. Though Jacob received a stunning vision, we have in the Bible the full Word of God; therefore, give thanks to God for His revelation in the Scriptures.
COPYRIGHT© B.C. NEWTON 2016

Jesus’ Revelation | Revelation 1

Seven Letters Week 1

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. (Revelation 1:1 ESV)

Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near. (Revelation 1:3 ESV)

Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. (Revelation 1:19 ESV)

OPENING THOUGHT

Revelation is a weird book. I mean, really weird. Like, demon-locusts and sulfur-breathing horses with snake tails weird. Yet for all of its weirdness, Revelation is a crucial book of the Bible for understanding how the story of humanity will end.

The premise of the book is that Jesus reveals Himself to the Apostle John several decades after He ascended into heaven, leaving behind His disciples to continue His ministry on earth.  Think about it: John was essentially Jesus’ best friend, the disciple whom He loved, and Jesus appears to John again. Surely this must have been a reunion of the highest order, right?

Well, John describes Jesus’ voice as being as loud as a trumpet and that His face was shining like the full strength of the sun. In fact, Jesus’ glory is so overwhelming that John immediately faints from the sheer enormity of it all. Needless to say, it likely wasn’t the reunion that John had imagined.

Nevertheless, as we study the first section of Revelation, Jesus’ seven letters to the seven churches in Asia, let us approach these words with their due awe and reverence. Just as John gave this book for the hearing and obedience of the first-century church, so must we be ready to listen and obey them today.

Read verses 1-3 and discuss the following.

  1. Revelation comes with a promise of blessing for those who read, hear, and obey the words within it. How is this promise similar to Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:24-27?

Read verses 4-8 and discuss the following.

  1. In verse six, John declares that after God loved us by freeing us from sin He made us a kingdom and priests of God. What is the significance of these two things? What do other books of the Bible say on the matter?

Read verses 9-20 and discuss the following.

  1. In his vision, John hears Jesus tell him to write down the words that Jesus will dictate to him. In what ways does this mirror Peter’s explanation of how Scripture is written in 2 Peter 1:21?
  2. John’s immediate response to Jesus’ glory is to fall down before Him. Even though John is likely afraid, Jesus tells him not to fear. Given how often the Bible speaks about the fear of God, how is it possible to rightly fear God but also obey such commands to not be afraid?

ACTIONS TO CONSIDER

  • Reread the entire chapter, paying careful attention to the glorious descriptions of Christ. Prayerfully consider whether your view of Christ and His glory matches His revealed majesty here.
  • Reflect upon your reading and obedience to the Scriptures and in what ways you may better submit yourself to the obeying the Word of God.

My Lord & My God | Day 30

Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28 ESV)

The account of “doubting Thomas” is a Sunday School classic. Though being one of Jesus’ twelve disciples, Thomas wrestled to believe the truth of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. In fact, he boldly declared that unless he could touch Christ’s wounds with his own hands he would not believe that Jesus was really alive.

Jesus, of course, shows up eight days later to give Thomas the proof that he sought.

Just as the birth of Christ is meaningless without understanding the cross, Jesus’ death is pointless without His resurrection. If on the cross Jesus was bruised, the serpent’s head is crushed during Christ’s resurrection.

By conquering death, Jesus gave us reason to hope in His conquering of death for us as well.

And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.  // 1 Corinthians 15:17

Thomas immediately realizes implications of Jesus’ resurrection by calling Jesus his Lord and God.

By calling Jesus Lord, Thomas declares that Jesus is his ruler (or master) and that he is Jesus’ servant (or slave).

Thomas then explicitly calls Jesus his God. For a Jew to proclaim divinity to a man was absolutely unthinkable, so for Thomas to risk such blaspheme can only mean that he became thoroughly convinced that Jesus is God.


Take time to reflect upon the words of Thomas. Is Jesus your Lord and God as well? If so, what implications does that thought have upon how we understand 1 Corinthians 6:19-20?