If Jesus is God, Why is He Called the “Son of God” and “the Firstborn Over All Creation”?

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In my recent post, Was it Necessary for Our Salvation that Jesus be God?I mentioned that one of the issues that some people struggle with is regard to the deity of Christ is that the New Testament calls him the “Son of God” and Colossians 1:15 says that he is “the firstborn over all creation.”

If Jesus is God, why is he called the “Son of God”? And if Jesus was not created, as Christians claim, then why is he called “the firstborn over all creation?”

Let’s look at these two questions one at a time:

Why is Jesus Called the Son of God?

The long and short of it is that “Son of God” is a Messianic title, which means that Jesus is the long-awaited, promised king of Israel whom God had promised to send to save the people and set them free in an eternal and ultimate way.

The most important text for understanding this is Psalm 2, which is a “coronation psalm,” meaning it would be read at the coronation of a king. 

It includes this line: I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. (Psalm 2:7) This line is quoted and applied to Jesus in Acts 13:33 and Hebrews 1:5 & 5:5.

Most important is to understand the context of this phrase “Son of God” in reference to the king. In the Ancient Near East (ANE) kings were considered to have a special relationship with God. In many cases, like in Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, the king was considered to be deity themselves. Such an idea would be an abomination to the Jews and in complete contradiction to everything their Scriptures said about God. However, they too believed, as we see in Psalm 2 and other “royal psalms” that the king had a special relationship with God.

Thus, the term “son of God” spoke of the king’s special relationship with God, but throughout the Old Testament there is the hope of a true and better king, the one who will establish the throne of David forever and rule over an everlasting kingdom which will have no end (see: the Davidic Covenant in 2 Samuel 7). Then though there were many kings of Israel, none of them were the ideal, TRUE KING that God had promised and Israel waited for.

To call Jesus THE Son of God is a reference to him being THE king whom God promised to send to set the people free and save them ultimately and eternally, i.e.: the Messiah.

For more on the meaning of the term “Son of God” check out: What Does it Mean that Jesus is the Son of God?, or the related topic: If Jesus is the Son of God, Why Did He Call Himself “the Son of Man”? 

Why is Jesus called “the firstborn over all creation”?

Does Colossians 1:15 imply that Jesus was the first creature whom the uncreated God created? If Jesus is the uncreated God, then why is a term like “firstborn” used of him – I mean, it actually contains the word “born” in it, which implies coming-into-being, does it not?

The word firstborn (prototokos) is also applied to Jesus in Colossians 1:18, Romans 8:29Hebrews 1:6, and Revelation 1:5. In each and every case, when this word is used of Jesus, it refers to supremacy in rank.

All ancient culture had a practice called “primogeniture” – which meant that the firstborn son got all the wealth of the father and he got all the father’s status and power. From a legal standpoint, a firstborn son was equal with the father.

So when this title is used of Jesus, it in no way means that Jesus is less than God, or that he was created by God, rather it refers to supremacy of rank. To say that Jesus is the firstborn of all creation means that he holds the position of primacy over all of creation, i.e.: no one and nothing holds a candle to him; he has all the status and power of the Father and is equal to the Father, although still distinct from the Father. 

Interestingly, John Lightfoot cites Jewish rabbis who sometimes referred to God as “the firstborn of the world,” meaning that God was supreme over all of the world — that there is none higher than him.

How do we know this interpretation of Colossians 1:15 is the correct one? By looking at the verses which immediately follow, which declare Jesus to be the uncreated creator. 

Colossians 1:16-17 say: For by him (Jesus) all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

The Bible begins by telling us that God created all things, and here it tells us that Jesus created all things. The clear message is that Jesus is God in the same way that the Father is God. He is beginning-less creator, equal to the Father in substance, status and power, and yet distinct from the Father.

Thus, rather than undercutting trinitarian theology, Colossians 1:15-17 undergirds the foundation of trinitarian belief.

What is Dual-Covenant Theology and What Does it Mean that “All Israel will be saved”?

Romans 11:26 makes an interesting statement, which has led to much confusion and debate:

“And in this way all Israel will be saved.” (Romans 11:26a)

Context

As we’ve been studying through Romans at White Fields on Sunday mornings, we have come to chapters 9-11, which deal with questions concerning Israel, such as: Has God forsaken Israel? Since the Old Testament contains many promises to the nation of Israel, are those promises no longer valid? How do we make sense of the fact that many Jews have  rejected Jesus as Messiah – and that most Christians are not ethnically Jewish?

In answering these questions, Paul is quick to assert that, No, God’s word has not failed in regard to Israel (Romans 9:6), nor has God forsaken Israel (Romans 11:1).

Paul explains Jewish unbelief in two important ways:

  1. The remnant argument: “Not all who are descended from Israel are Israel,” (Romans 9:4), & “And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: ‘Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved'” (Romans 9:27).
    Additionally, it is understood that many who are not ethnically Jewish will be added to the “chosen people of God” – As indeed he says in Hosea, “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’” “And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called sons of the living God.’” (Romans 9:25-26)
  2. The responsibility argument: “But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.” (Romans 10:21)

Dual-Covenant Theology?

In an attempt to explain this idea that “all Israel will be saved”, some have adopted a dual-covenant theology, which basically says that the Jews are going to be saved under the old covenant (law), but Gentiles are saved under the new covenant (Jesus, grace).

The problem with dual-covenant theology is that it goes against everything Paul has been teaching in Romans, and what the rest of the Bible teaches: that Jesus is the only way of salvation for all people, both for Jews and Gentiles (i.e. everyone in the world).

John Stott writes this:

There is no hint of a special way of salvation for the Jews which dispenses with faith in Christ. It is understandable that since the holocaust Jews have demanded an end to Christian missionary activity among them, and that many Christians have felt embarrassed about continuing it. It is even mooted that Jewish evangelism is an unacceptable form of anti-Semitism. So some Christians have attempted to develop a theological basis for leaving Jews alone in their Judaism. Reminding us that God’s covenant with Abraham was an ‘everlasting covenant’, they maintain that it is still in force, and that therefore God saves Jewish people through their own covenant, without any necessity for them to believe in Jesus. This proposal is usually called a ‘two-covenant theology’.

Bishop Krister Stendahl was one of the first scholars to argue for it,47 namely that there are two different salvation ‘tracks’—the Christian track for the believing remnant and believing Gentiles, and the track for historical Israel which relies on God’s covenant with them. Professor Dunn is surely right to reject this as ‘a false and quite unnecessary antithesis’.

Romans 11 stands in clear opposition to this trend because of its insistence on the fact that there is only one olive tree, to which Jewish and Gentile believers both belong. Jewish people ‘will be grafted in’ again ‘if they do not persist in unbelief’. So faith in Jesus is essential for them. Whether or not Dr Tom Wright is correct in the notion of ‘a large-scale, last-minute salvation of ethnic Jews’, his emphasis on present evangelism (‘now’, three times in verses 30 and 31) is healthy: ‘Paul is envisaging a steady flow of Jews into the church, by grace through faith.’

The two-covenant theology also has the disastrous effect of perpetuating the distinction between Jews and Gentiles which Jesus Christ has abolished. ‘The irony of this’, writes Tom Wright, ‘is that the late twentieth century, in order to avoid anti-Semitism, has advocated a position (the non-evangelization of the Jews) which Paul regards precisely as anti-Semitic.’ ‘It would be quite intolerable to imagine a church at any period which was simply a Gentile phenomenon’ or ‘consisted only of Jews’.

Stott, John. The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World (The Bible Speaks Today Series) (pp. 304-305). InterVarsity Press.

If not dual-covenant theology, then how will “all Israel” be saved?

Since Paul has made it clear that “not all who are descended from Israel are Israel,” i.e. not every ethnically Jewish person is part of Israel, i.e. the remnant of God’s chosen people who will be saved – and that additionally, many non-ethnically Jewish people will be grafted into the “olive tree” (Israel) as “wild branches”, from which many “natural branches” have been cut off (Romans 11:17-24), it is in this way that we understand that “all Israel” (the remnant of believing Israel) will be saved, along with the “fullness of the Gentiles” (Romans 11:25) who will be “grafted in”.

Here’s a short video discussion we had about this topic this week:

Why the Dead Sea Scrolls Matter for Christians

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The Dead Sea Scrolls are currently on display at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science through September 3. This is the exhibit’s final display in the US before the artifacts will be taken back to Israel. (More information and tickets here)

Discovered in 1946 in caves on the North-West of the Dead Sea, the Dead Sea Scrolls are made up of 981 different manuscripts dating from the third century BC to 68 AD. They have been called, “the greatest manuscript discovery of modern times,” and it has been said that they have “forever changed New Testament scholarship”1

Why do the Dead Sea Scrolls Matter?

1. They Verify That the Bible Is Reliable and Hasn’t Been Changed Over Time

“The older the copies, the closer we get chronologically to the autographs, the fewer copies there are between the original Old Testament writings and these copies that we have,” explains Ryan Stokes of Southwestern Seminary.

The Dead Sea Scrolls are hundreds of years older than the previously known oldest manuscripts, and they prove that the Old Testament text had been faithfully preserved over the centuries, and that the Hebrew text translated for modern Christians accurately represents the Bible that Jesus read and the Bible as it was originally written.

In at least one instance, the Dead Sea Scrolls helped to solve a mystery which has great theological significance regarding Jesus.

Psalm 22:16 says: a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet.

Christians have always considered Psalm 22 and this verse in particular to be a prophecy about Jesus’ crucifixion, which is all the more incredible since it written hundreds of years before crucifixion had even been invented.

However, there was some dispute historically over whether this was actually what the original text said, since the Masoretic text (the Hebrew Bible preserved from the Middle Ages, and the oldest known version of the Old Testament before the discovery of the DSS) read, “Like a lion are my hands and my feet.”

However, this problem was resolved when scholars discovered that the much older Dead Sea Scrolls confirmed the text indeed should say: “they have pierced my hands and feet.”

2. They Give Us Insight into Jewish Culture at the Time of Jesus

Before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the historical veracity of the New Testament was often called into question. From the expectation of the Jews regarding the Messiah, to the world of Pharisees and preachers like John the Baptist, many claimed that the world the New Testament described was purely fictional. However, with the discovery of the DSS, it could be confirmed that the New Testament very accurately described the culture and history of first-century Israel.

Of the nearly 1000 scrolls which have been found, around 700 of them are non-biblical writings. These non-biblical writings include things like community rules and expectations regarding the Messiah. It is from this that we learn that certain Jewish communities practiced baptism for repentance (ala John the Baptist), and that they were expecting two Messiahs: one who would be an priest and the other who would be a king. Jesus ultimately did fulfill this biblical expectation, albeit not in the exact way they expected.

Of the 240 biblical scrolls from Qumran, 235 are written in Hebrew and 5 are in Greek. Of the 701 non-biblical scrolls, 548 are written in Hebrew, 137 in Aramaic, and 5 in Greek. This shows that Jews at the time of Jesus did indeed speak Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic, the three languages of the Bible.

Scholars believe that many of the scrolls were originally taken from Jerusalem, when a group of priests who believed that the temple worship and leadership had become corrupt, left Jerusalem, taking with them many of the scrolls from the temple, and formed an alternative “pure” community out in the desert, where they proceeded to make many more copies of the biblical texts.

This parallels exactly what the New Testament describes about the corruption at that time of the office of the high priest and the religious leaders in Jerusalem.

Other scrolls were taken from Jerusalem when the Romans attacked Jerusalem after the Jewish Uprising in 68 AD, and they took them with them as they fled to Masada near the Dead Sea, where they were able to successfully hide some of these scrolls.

The long and short of it: We can trust the Bible.

The Bible stands up to scrutiny, and the more scholarship and archeology discovers, the more the Bible is proven to be accurate and trustworthy.

For more on this topic, listen to this recent sermon I gave at White Fields about whether we can trust the Bible:

As well as this Sermon-Extra addressing a few more proofs of the Bible’s veracity:

What to Do at New Year

Happy New Year!

This past Sunday at White Fields we continued our series Be Set Free, in the Book of Exodus, seeing the people of Israel now on the other side of the Red Sea after having been set free by God.

Their situation there on the far shore of the Red Sea parallels what it means to be a Christian today: they had been set free from bondage, but that wasn’t the end of their journey, it was only the beginning! God was taking them to the Promised Land. 

As the people of Israel stood on the bank of the Red Sea, they sang a song of thanksgiving and praise, which had 2 aspects:

  1. They sang in response:  They looked back and remembered what God had brought them through and gave thanks for God had done for them.
  2. They sang in faith:  They looked forward to lay ahead and what God had in store for them in the time to come.

This is a great model for us as we come into this new year.

I encourage you to look back and give thanks to God for His faithfulness and mercy that you experienced in 2016 — for the answered prayers, for the abundant grace and for salvation in Jesus. Be like the one former leper in Luke 17:11-19, who returned to Jesus to give thanks, rather than the nine who didn’t.

Once you’ve done that, I encourage you to look forward to this coming year and seek God about what He might want this next year of your life to be like — and then make plans and take steps accordingly, so that those good intentions actually become reality.

What does God want this next year to look like for you?

Start with what you already know is His will and His desire for you: 

  • Walk with Him and serve Him. Seek Him in His Word, in corporate worship and study and in community with other believers.
  • Honor Him in your work and with your finances.
  • Honor Him in your relationships, particularly in your marriages.
  • If you have kids, lead them to Him and in His ways.

Determining to do things which are in line with God’s heart and His desires, then planning and working toward those things is an act of faith and obedience. So let this new year be filled with godly goals and pursuits.

I pray that this coming year would be one in which you experience His work in you and through you in a greater way than ever before!

Carried by a Donkey

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On Sunday mornings at White Fields, I am currently teaching through the Book of Exodus. This past Sunday, we studied Exodus 13 in our study titled “A Cloud by Day and Fire by Night” (audio here).

After bringing the people of Israel out of Egypt, God established 2 annual feasts that they were to observe so they would never forget the deliverance He had worked on their behalf: the Feast of Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

Here the people of Israel were told that when they come into the Land of Canaan (the Promised Land) they were to sacrifice to God the first-born of both man and beast.

But wait! There are a couple problems with that…  First of all, human sacrifice was forbidden and considered an abomination. Secondly, some animals were considered “unclean” and therefore they could not be sacrificed either.

The solution?  The first-born of the humans and the first-born of the unclean animals both had to be “redeemed,” through an act of substitution. Specifically, it is mentioned that unclean animals were to be redeemed by substituting a clean animal in their place. In the text, an example is given: a donkey, as an unclean animal, could be redeemed by substituting a lamb in its place.

The donkey is a picture of me: pretty stubborn, not very cute, but worst of all: unclean by nature and condemned to death, but I have been redeemed, I have been saved by the substitutionary sacrifice on my behalf of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ.

But there’s one more part to the story of the donkey:

Hundreds of years after the Passover, Zechariah the Prophet prophesied about the coming King of Zion – AKA the Messiah, that when he entered into Jerusalem, he would come on the back of donkey.

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9)

Why a donkey? Many people believe that in contrast to conquering warrior kings who would enter a city on the back of a horse, an animal of war, by entering Jerusalem on a donkey, the message would be that the Messiah came in peace. Indeed one of the names he is given by the Prophet Isaiah is “Prince of Peace”.

Several hundred years later, Jesus of Nazareth came to Jerusalem, and he entered the city on the back of a donkey, declaring Himself to be the Messiah – and he was received as the Messiah by the people.

Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me.
Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:1-2,8-9)

Now here’s the thing: Just as Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, an unclean but redeemed creature – he still enters into the cities of this world in the same way: carried by those who are unclean, but redeemed.

Christian, you are that donkey!

The way that Jesus has chosen to enter into the cities, the homes, the workplaces of this world, is by being carried on the backs of us “donkeys”: creatures who are unclean by nature, who have been redeemed by the sacrifice of the lamb on our behalf.

Paul the Apostle reminds us that God loves to use the foolishing things of this world (see 1 Corinthians 1:26-30), and that includes us: “redeemed donkeys”.

O Little Town of Bethlehem: What are the Odds?

A reader of this blog contacted me this week asking if I could write a few words about Micah 5:2

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
from ancient days.

Bethlehem = “House of Bread” – it is a small town only a few kilometers outside of Jerusalem. It was also the ancestral home of King David.

The older, pre-Jewish name of Bethlehem was Ephrathah, which is used on several occasions to speak of it in the Bible.

Micah’s prophecy is about the impending destruction of Samaria and Judea, including Jerusalem for their sins and refusal to repent of them and turn their hearts back to God. As a result, destruction would come upon them from other nations and they would be carried off in exile.

However, the final word of this prophetic message is one of hope and restoration, the message that God has not abandoned his people, but is wholly committed to them, and at a time when they have repented, he will fulfill his promises to them.

What promises were these? In particular it was the promise of a ruler, a King in the line of David, who would establish a Kingdom which would have no end; a kingdom of peace and justice and righteousness which would last forever.

That’s a pretty steep promise! Is it just meant as hyperbole, or was it meant to be taken as a literal promise? How could any king rule forever?

When you begin to take the different promises about this king together, the picture comes together of a King who is more than just a man, but who is actually divine in nature. Notice how Micah says that “his coming forth is from old, from ancient days” – this is saying that one is going to be born, who has existed from eternity past. This is speaking of divinity being born into the world to establish an everlasting kingdom. This is speaking of the incarnation: God coming to us, born in human flesh.

And where would this happen? In Bethlehem. A village of no consequence, only famous as the ancestral home of Israel’s greatest king – and significantly, a king who was promised by God that one of his descendants would establish an everlasting kingdom.

Micah 5:2 is one of 300+ prophecies found in the Hebrew Bible (what Christians call the Old Testament) about the Messiah, which speak of who he would be, what he would do, and how his coming would take place. 300+ – fulfilled by one person! What are the odds?

Peter Stoner, in Science Speaks (Moody Press) attempts to show how coincidence is ruled out by the science of probability. Stoner says that by using the modern calculation of probability in reference to eight prophecies, “we find that the chance that any man might have lived down to the present time and fulfilled all eight prophecies is 1 in 1017.” That would be 1 in 100,000,000,000,000,000.  In order to help us comprehend this staggering probability, Stoner illustrates it by supposing that “we take 1017silver dollars and lay them on the face of Texas. They will cover all of the state two feet deep.

“Now mark one of these silver dollars and stir the whole mass thoroughly, all over the state. Blindfold a man and tell him that he can travel as far as he wishes, but he must pick up one silver dollar and say that this is the right one. What chance would he have of getting the right one? Just the same chance that the prophets would have had of writing these eight prophecies and having them all come true in any one man.”

Stoner considers 48 prophecies and says, “we find the chance that any one man fulfilled all 48 prophecies to be 1 in 10157. The estimated number of electrons in the universe is around 1079. It should be quite evident that Jesus did not fulfill the prophecies by accident.”

A Seal from King Hezekiah found in Jerusalem by Archaeologists

CNN posted this today, that a seal from King Hezekiah has been discovered by archaeologists in Jerusalem.

Here’s an excerpt:

It is believed to be the first-ever seal — also referred to as a “bulla” — from an Israeli or Judean King to be discovered by archaeologists.

“The seal of the king was so important. It could have been a matter of life or death, so it’s hard to believe that anyone else had the permission to use the seal,” Eilat Mazar, who directs excavations at the City of David’s summit, told CNN.

“Therefore, it’s very reasonable to assume we are talking about an impression made by the King himself, using his own ring.

“This the greatest single item I have ever found,” added Mazar — a third generation archaeologist.

Archaeology continues to confirm the trustworthiness and historicity of the Bible.

As king of Judah, Hezekiah enacted reforms and brought the people back to the worship of Yahweh and put an end to the worship of idols in the temple.

You can read about the reign of Hezekiah in 2 Kings 18-20 as well as 2 Chronicles 29-32 and Isaiah 36-39.

Thoughts on Representative Klingenschmitt’s Comments about the Judgement of God and the Assault in Longmont

Last week Colorado State Representative Gordon Klingenschmitt from Colorado Springs stated on his YouTube channel that the Bible says that the Longmont woman who was assaulted and had her baby cut from her stomach was the wrath of God coming against America because we have failed to protect unborn children. To make this point, he quoted from Hosea 13:16.

Since then, both conservatives and liberals have distanced themselves from Klingenschmitt and he has been removed from at least one comittee that he was a member of.

I went and checked out the statement he made, because I know how sometimes things can be misconstrued when relayed by media – I was curious if that was the case here.

Here are my thoughts:

  1. The one way that Klingenschmitt might have been misrepresented was that he was not saying that God was judging this woman individually, who was the victim of the assault – rather he said that God is judging our soceity in general, and what happened to this woman was part of that judgment.
  2. He quoted from Hosea 13:16, a verse about how both Israel and Samaria would face God’s judgment (in the form of war) as a result of their rebellion against God. The prophet describes what will happen when war comes: no one will be spared; children will die, and even pregnant women will be killed with the sword (cut open).
    This is, first of all, not even talking about the kind of assault that took place in Longmont. Secondly, the important detail in understanding what is being said by the prophet is that judgment will come in the form of war, and in war, these are the kinds of atrocities that happen.
    In other words, it isn’t God saying that He’s going to judge them by sending people to kill their children and cut open their pregnant women, it’s God saying that he will allow a time of hardship by removing His hand of protection and allowing a foreign nation (the Assyrians in this case) to overrun them. Historically, this is exactly what happened. However, in the context of the Book of Hosea, it is important to note that this is said as a warning of the judgment that will come if the people continue in their wickedness and rebellion, and is followed in the next chapter by the urging of Hosea about the blessings and restoration that repentance would bring to the nation instead.
    In other words: “You have a choice to make. It’s not too late! You can choose to continue rebelling against God, in which case God will not protect you from the impending onslaught of the Assyrians (and just to remind you, here are the kinds of terrible atrocities that happen in war…), or you can repent and turn back to the Lord and he will restore you and heal your nation.”
    Conclusion: Klingenschmitt is clearly taking this verse out of context.
  3. The difficult question this brings up is: when do we consider something to be God’s judgment, and when do we not? In the Bible, it seems that many times things happened that were indeed the judgment of God, which, if they were to happen in our day, we might not see them as such.
    For example, in the Old Testament, in Korah’s rebellion, people got swallowed up by the Earth as God’s judgment upon them. Nowadays, if someone gets sucked up in a sinkhole, calling it the judgment of God is not exactly politically correct. In the Old Testament, wars and attacks from foreign nations were often related to God’s judgment. Do we still consider that to be the case? Or how about Ananias and Saphira – they lied to make themselves look good, and God struck them dead. We don’t often think in our day about heart attacks as being God’s judgment on a person. I’m sure that not all heart attacks are God’s judgment on people – but it would seem that sometimes they might be.
    It is incredibly difficult to discern or to say with any amount of certainty which things are God’s judgment and which are not, apart from divine revelation.

My conclusion is that this man is not evil or heartless, but perhaps a bit misguided and could use some lessons in exegesis, because he is very dogmatic about some things which he doesn’t have proper basis to be so dogmatic about. Furthermore, having a platform like the one he does as a State Congressman, he should be much more careful about what he says.

Much more importantly, my heart goes out to the victim of this terrible crime. We pray for her physical and emotional healing. We pray that she will be able to have more children after this. I have been so impressed by her graciousness in her public statements, and we do pray that she would sense the love of God and presence of God and the hope of the Gospel.

Sold into the Hand of Sisera

Last Sunday I preached on 1 Samuel 12, which is the speech that Samuel gives to the nation at the re-coronation of Saul.

There is a very intriguing statement in this section, which I didn’t address in the sermon, but I think is worthy of consideration.

And Samuel said to the people, “The Lord is witness, who appointed Moses and Aaron and brought your fathers up out of the land of Egypt. Now therefore stand still that I may plead with you before the Lord concerning all the righteous deeds of the Lord that he performed for you and for your fathers. When Jacob went into Egypt, and the Egyptians oppressed them, then your fathers cried out to the Lord and the Lord sent Moses and Aaron, who brought your fathers out of Egypt and made them dwell in this place. But they forgot the Lord their God. And he sold them into the hand of Sisera, commander of the army of Hazor, and into the hand of the Philistines, and into the hand of the king of Moab. And they fought against them. And they cried out to the Lord and said, ‘We have sinned, because we have forsaken the Lord and have served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. But now deliver us out of the hand of our enemies, that we may serve you.’ And the Lord sent Jerubbaal and Barak and Jephthah and Samuel and delivered you out of the hand of your enemies on every side, and you lived in safety. (1 Samuel 12:6-11, ESV)

Samuel says: Let me tell you of all the righteous deeds of the Lord that he performed for you.  Then he tells them that God “sold them into the hand of Sisera,” a Philistine general.

Notice – he didn’t ‘allow them to fall into the hand of Sisera’ – it wasn’t a passive allowance, but an active SELLING! He SOLD them into the hand of Sisera – and THIS, of all things, is given as an example of one of the righteous acts of the Lord, which he performed on behalf of the people of Israel because of his love and care for them!

This is a little bit different picture of God than what we usually get in the “moralistic therapeutic deism” which is passed for Christianity these days in many places – where God exists to be your friend, make your problems go away and make your wishes come true. When bad things happen, usually we are told that God passively allows these things to happen to you, so that you can grow through them.

But isn’t that a bit trite and simplistic?  Not to mention – that viewpoint has no capacity to deal with real evil – or even with scriptures such as the one mentioned above. The vision of God given here is of a God who is willing to sell you into the hand of Sisera if that’s what it takes to get you to turn back to Him! To God, in this story, it was obviously more important to Him that the people of Israel turn back to Him and pursue Him than that they be comfortable and problem-free.

What about you? Is it possible that the difficulties in your life have not just been passively “allowed” by God, but actively sent by God into your life for the purpose of moving you in a certain direction or getting you to a certain place, either physically or spiritually?

Could it be that God has sold you into the hand of Sisera in order to do a work in your heart, because He loves you?

Halloween: A Conundrum

Halloween is a conundrum for many Christians. Is it only a weird fashion show for candy, or is it something more sinister? Should Christians allow their kids to dress up in innocent costumes and go knock on their neighbors doors begging for sweets, or should we forsake participation in this whole thing altogether?

This week I read this post about Halloween by a Christian woman, which I found very insightful. She points out one very important thing: This is the only day of the year, when most of your neighbors are going to come knocking on your door. The only day.

So, what are you going to do?  Are you going to go to a church event far away from your neighbors?  Will you turn off the lights and refuse to answer the door? OR, are you going to use this unique opportunity to reach out to your neighbors?

Being missional means being intentional about being incarnational.

Being incarnational means meeting people where they are at in order to bring the love of God to them. That’s what Jesus did. (For more on what it means to be incarnational, click here)

If you look in the Bible, at the nation of Israel, you find that they constantly fell in one of two ditches: On the one hand they had a tendency to conform to the nations around them: to take on their ungodly customs, and to worship their gods. They were called to be set-apart and different, but they oftentimes just wanted to be like everyone around them, and it got them in trouble. On the other hand, the other ditch they fell in was – like the Pharisees in the time of Jesus – they viewed themselves as superior to those around them and avoided contact with people who were not like them, lest they be defiled by them.

We as Christians need to avoid these two ditches as well, and make sure that we remember our calling to bring God’s light to all the nations, including those who live on our block and on our street. So many people are eager to do mission work somewhere else! But let us not neglect the neighborhoods that God has placed us in.

I’m not asking you to celebrate Halloween. I’m not asking you to compromise anything. I’m only asking you to consider how you can use this opportunity to be missional and incarnational, to build relationships through which you can share the love of God and the Gospel. Every year at Easter, White Fields church puts on an Easter egg hunt outreach in the Roosevelt Park in Longmont. We’re not condoning Easter traditions that take attention away from the resurrection of Jesus – what we are trying to do is meet people where they are at, so that we can have the chance to speak to them about Jesus. That’s a very important difference, both at Easter and this week at Halloween.

One thing I will be doing is passing out White Fields stickers. Kids love stickers – and these ones have our church’s website on them. Another thing I will be doing is trying to get to know my neighbors. We might put our fire pit out front to give people a place to get warm. We might provide coffee for parents. We’re still thinking through it – but here’s the point: we want to reach out.

I love this quote from the blog post I mentioned above:

If Jesus can go straight to hell, stare death and devil in the face, win and come back alive, why can’t we open our doors to the 6 year old in a Batman costume and his shivering mom?

What do you think? What’s the best way for Christians to respond to Halloween?