Jesus: The Heaviest Weight in the World

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Matthew 4:12-23

When Jesus returned from the desert, John was in prison. John had boldly told everyone that Herod had sinned by marrying his brother’s wife. Because John had challenged Herod, John had been arrested and imprisoned. Many people expected Jesus to challenge Herod, too. The Holy Spirit rested on Jesus. He had resisted the devil. Now, people thought, he would save John. But Jesus “withdrew” to Galilee.

Was Jesus running away? Was he hiding in his hometown?

Was Jesus, the Son of God, afraid of Herod?

Albert Einstein helps us resolve this dilemma.

In 1905, Einstein published the theory of relativity. This theory changed the way people viewed the world. Space and time began to be understood as a complex unit called “spacetime.” Our understanding of gravity changed because of “spacetime.”

Imagine that spacetime is a sheet.

When heavy objects are placed on the sheet, the sheet bends.

If a lighter object is placed on the sheet, it will be drawn to the heavier object that is already on the sheet.

If a heavier object is placed on the sheet, the object on the sheet will be drawn to this heavier object.

Jesus is like the heaviest weight on the sheet. Everything is drawn to him. Because we human beings are not the heavy weight, we must work to captivate others. We must use anger, politics, and weapons to obtain power. But he does not need to move—everything naturally comes to him.

The Bible only makes sense if we understand that God is the heaviest weight. If we think that kings or nations or natural forces are more powerful than God, scripture will confuse us. We will think that Jesus is running away from Herod in Matthew 4. But he is not running away. Herod is not the heaviest weight; Jesus is.

Matthew wrote this scripture to explain that Jesus was returning to Galilee to fulfill Isaiah 9. Since Jesus is the heaviest weight in the Bible, every scripture, including Isaiah 9, is drawn toward Jesus.

Isaiah 9 tells us that the Messiah’s work will begin in “the Land of Zebulon, the Land of Naphtali,” and this is where Galilee is located. Scripture shows us that even the Israelites did not regard these lands as valuable. King Solomon gives away twenty towns in this area to the King of Tyre.

These lands swarm with Gentiles. The region was often berated in Israel for its strange brew of races and gods. Through Isaiah, God prophesied that those in this land would be the first Israelites sent into captivity. The area is called a “land that sat in darkness.” But God also says that this land will “see a great light.”

It is here that God the Son chooses to begin his earthly ministry.

Because Jesus is the Word, he knows that this is what Isaiah 9 means. So when Jesus hears about John’s arrest, he knows his time is at hand. He also knows that his ministry must begin in Galilee. Therefore, withdraws there.

In last week’s gospel reading, three people came to Jesus and called him Lamb of God and Messiah.

This week, Jesus calls them. In fact, he commands them.

“Follow me,” he says.

And they follow him.

The heaviest weight in the world is Christ. All nations bow before him. All scripture rushes toward him. Everyone is drawn to him.

But if that is true, why isn’t everyone Christian?

Bending the knee to God and welcoming his reign are two different things. Everyone serves God’s will, whether they want to or not. But the Christian is the one who welcomes God’s will. Blaise Pascal captures this reality precisely when he writes:

[God] openly appear[s] to those who look for Him with all their heart, [but he] hid[es] from those who run from Him with all their heart. God governs human knowledge of His presence. He gives signs that are visible to those who search for Him, and yet invisible to those who are indifferent to Him. To those who wish to see, God gives sufficient light; to those who do not wish to see, He gives sufficient darkness.

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Repentance: The Primary Preparation for Underground Church (Introduction to Preparing for the Underground Church, Part IV)

(Part IV of VII of Pastor Foley’s introductory essay to Rev. Richard Wurmbrand’s Preparing for the Underground Church. To order a print or electronic copy of the bilingual Korean/English edition of Preparing for the Underground Church, including Pastor Foley’s introductory essay and a foreword by Voice of the Martyrs historian Merv Knight, visit Amazon or click here to visit the bookstore page on our website. For Part I of Pastor Foley’s introductory essay , click here.)

This first step Rev. Wurmbrand outlines in Preparing for the Underground Church is not protecting our Christian way of life but rather repenting of our failure to live it ourselves. Before we seek to teach anyone anything about sex, before we protest the sinful self-creativity of others, we ourselves must repent, submitting our own self-created lives back to God for his redemption while learning what the fullness of the Christian tradition has always maintained about these things. Instead of working to define our identities we must take our hands off of ourselves and confess with the Apostle John, “What we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”[1]

Self-creation of all kinds is fundamentally incompatible with Christianity. But in Christ there is no condemnation for our past complicity in the sexual revolution. Just as Rev. Wurmbrand emphasized that communists are not our enemies, co-conspirators in the sexual revolution are very much the subjects of God’s love. His love takes the form of light that enables each of us to see beyond ourselves, back to the loving embrace of our creator.

But before we attempt to bring this light to our fellow sexual revolutionaries, we must also repent of our clumsy efforts at remolding Christian theology after the fashion of our own experience. Christian theology has retained its fundamental shape for more than two millennia, even if at times the stewardship fell to the hands of a few. Just as we are not to re-sculpt ourselves, we are not to re-sculpt the faith we have inherited. As Methodist theologian Thomas Oden counseled, the tombstone of the theologian can bear no higher epitaph than, “He contributed nothing new to theology.”[2] With Vincent of Lérins we understand the calling of each Christian to entail the tenacious and costly care of and complete attentiveness to “that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all.”[3]

This is vital, because among Christian advocates of the sexual revolution, words like “love” and “freedom” become chisels for the re-sculpting of our faith. But these words actually mean something very different in Christianity than they do in the world, and their meaning must be learned from the long tradition of Christian history and theology rather than imported from our comparatively brief postmodern experience.

In the historic Christian faith, “freedom” is not the removal of restraint, as freedom is typically desired in this present fallen age, but rather freedom from sin—or as Augustine would frame it, freedom from the “impediments” to that state of blessedness where we no longer even desire to sin.[4] It is a freedom that can only be understood in light of its “end state,” i.e., the “what we will be” of 1 John 3:2 that we can only know “in part” in this present life but which will become fully known to us when we stand in the presence of Christ. John Rist describes the classic Christian understanding of freedom, as well as its modern diminishment, like this:

[W]e are at all times free only to the degree to which we approximate to that blessed end-state. But remove Augustine’s end state and, if our desires for personal autonomy overbear Stoic resignation, our only option will be to aim for the highest attainable degree of freedom from any ‘inhibitions’. These will include moral factors—among them an obligation to procreate and educate a future generation—and also physical factors: we might, for example wish to be free of the limitation of being male or female.[5]

This understanding of freedom as freedom from sin is essential to helping us make sense of what otherwise seems like the very unlovely love of God.

In the historic Christian faith, God’s love is not a matter of affirmation, inclusion, or “good will”; instead, as David Schindler notes, it is something far more profound and in a different category altogether. God’s love is “the very stuff that makes our lives and the things of the world real, the basic order of our lives and of all things.” Or more specifically, it is “that [which] gives things their deepest and most proper order and meaning, always and everywhere.”[6] In a fallen world, God’s love manifests itself as the restoration of his gracious order. When Jesus famously tells Nicodemus in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life,” he is not saying that God is so crazy in love with us that he sent his son to die for us in a demonstration of how much. Rather, he is saying exactly what he says in John 3:17: “For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” God’s love means God’s right re-ordering (or setting right) of the fallen creation, so that the world does not become swallowed up by its own self-creation, and us along with it. He must set right our desires, which is why we first experience his love not as affirmation but rather as a most painful crucifixion of our flesh. This is because we are wrongly ordered and thus resist him. God’s love of us is not the love of a lover but rather the love of an enemy.

This is not the love we naturally desire. It makes us “joyful in the Lord not happy in our flesh.”[7] As one contemporary student of Rev. Wurmbrand notes, “Bro. Wurmbrand had great joy in that concentration camp, but his flesh was not happy, in fact his flesh was miserable the entire time.  His flesh suffered but his spirit soared.”[8] This is the paradox of God’s love: It is one of the most miserable things our flesh can encounter. God does not affirm what is good and right and true in us. Instead, according to Rev. 21:5, he “make[s] all things new.” As Showers notes, that includes the things we cannot imagine need remaking.

While many of our desires are actually good and most likely come from God, there is no part of our old nature that can remain – we must be completely remade in Christ… Even the “good” things must be brought down to the death of the cross and remade in the nature of Jesus… Our repulsive qualities – lying, swearing, partying, etc. must be removed and remade into something pleasing to Christ, like telling the truth, speaking with clean language, and spending our free time reading the Bible and praying, for example. But even the best human qualities fall far short of the nature of Jesus, so even our honesty, integrity, altruism, etc. must all be remade so we have the Lord’s honest, integrity, altruism.[9]

Jesus does not die to save us from his cross-shaped life. Instead, he saves us into it so that it becomes our life, too. It is the only way to his resurrection life. He does not free us for a life of self-sculpting which he then graciously affirms. Instead, he gives us his life to receive and live as our own, and to continually re-present to the world so that his right ordering is kept always in front of it.[10] The love we are called to offer to Christ in return is the love of choosing Christ over all things, including, most fundamentally, ourselves and our desires. Grace is not God’s acceptance of who we are but rather his victory over sin and death for anyone who entrusts themselves fully to his care.

This—the submission of our lesser loves to his greater love, not the submission of his greater love to our lesser loves—is embodied in the underground church around the world today, as it has been in the underground church throughout history. From this church we can—and should—learn much. The underground church is the counterpoint to the sexual revolution. The sexual revolution sacrifices the glory of God in order to uphold its vital energy. The underground church sacrifices its vital energy in order to uphold the glory of God. As Stephen Adubato notes, “Their witness…  provokes us to ask: could it truly be possible for modern men and women to live their lives devoted to Something other than themselves?”[11]

[1] 1 John 3:2, NIV.

[2] Kate Shellnut, 2016. “Died: Thomas Oden, Methodist Theologian Who Found Classic Christianity.” Christianity Today. http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2016/december/died-thomas-oden-methodist-theologian-who-found-classical.html.

[3] Vincent of Lérins. Commonitory ch. II, §6; NPNF Series II Vol. XI p. 132.

[4] John M. Rist, 2014. Augustine Deformed: Love, Sin, and Freedom in the Western Moral Tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 9.

[5] John M. Rist, 2014. Augustine Deformed: Love, Sin, and Freedom in the Western Moral Tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 9.

[6] David L. Schindler. 2001. Ordering Love: Liberal Societies and the Memory of God. New York: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. Loc. 25-35.

[7] CDP. 2012. “To Be Led By God or Not.” Finding the Ancient Path. https://outpostpilgrim.wordpress.com/tag/richard-wurmbrand/

[8] Ibid.

[9] April Showers, 2011. “Galatians 5:17… meaning??” Talk Jesus. http://www.talkjesus.com/threads/galatians-5-17-meaning.35687/.

[10] Ephraim Radner. 2016. A Time to Keep: Theology, Mortality, and the Shape of a Human Life. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, Loc. 55.

[11] Stephen Adubato, 2016. “A Revolutionary Attraction.” Homiletic and Pastoral Review. http://www.hprweb.com/2016/06/a-revolutionary-attraction/.

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What Is My Purpose? Doing John 1:29-42

Before reading this post on doing John 1:29-42, please make sure to read our post on hearing John 1:29-42. You can also see a quick overview of our DOTW Bible study method.

 

 4. What action does God take in John 1:29-42 toward others?

In verse 29, John the Baptist identifies Jesus as the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.

In verse 33, John the Baptist also recounts that God spoke to him and told him, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.”

In verse 39, Jesus instructs two of John’s who disciples (who had already started following Jesus) to “Come and you will see” in response to a question of where he was staying. Philip says these very same words to Nathanael (verse 46) when he asked if anything good could come out of Nazareth.

In verse 42, we see that Jesus changes Simon’s name to Cephas (which means Peter).

5. What action does God call me to take toward God? Toward others?

It is important to recognize that there is no direct command from God instructing us on what to do towards God or towards others in this passage. Many times throughout the Scriptures, the directive is very clear, but in this case it is not.

This makes it all the more important to understand the context of this passage.  Understanding what comes before John 1:29-42 and what comes after will help us to understand what God is asking us to do.

In looking at all of John 1, one fascinating aspect of John 1 has to do with identity. In John 1:23, John the Baptist correctly identifies himself as the voice crying out in the wilderness.

In John 1:29-30, John the Baptist correctly identifies Jesus as the Lamb of God and again in verse 34 as the Son of God. After another correct identification of Jesus as the Lamb of God, two of John’s disciples follow him in verse 37. And, as we mentioned above, in verse 42, Jesus identifies Simon and changes his name to Cephas (vs. 42).

In verse 45, Philip identified Jesus to Nathanael. In verse 46, Nathanael asks an “identifying question” of Jesus, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth,” and Philip invited Nathanael to come and see. In verse 47, Jesus identifies Nathanael as an Israelite in whom there is no deceit. In verse 49, Nathanael identifies Jesus as the Son of God and the King of Israel.

Again, it is by no means a clear command of this passage, but we do get the sense of how important correct identification is . . . particularly of God himself. Jesus is identified as the Word, the Light, King of Israel, the Son of God, and the Lamb of God.

Most of these identifications are not only descriptive, but very specific. It seems wholly different from how God is often identified in our culture . . . even within Christian culture. God is often identified simply as “God,” and while it’s not wrong to identify God this way, it has become a non-offensive way to discuss spiritual matters with non-believers.

The problem is that people have different ideas of who God is. God could be a God of unicorns and rainbows or the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

This passage of Scripture should cause us to examine the way we identify God, especially within the context of our relationship with others.

 6. What actions did I take? Or, what actions will I take?

A very basic way to begin would be to identify the different names given to God in the Old and New Testament, and to begin to use those names in both in conversation with God (prayer) and with others.

One area that would immediately be affected is in how we proclaim the gospel to others. For example, many Christians would evangelize by asking someone if they believe in God. But with our understanding of how important it is to correctly identify God, we might determine it be better to ask someone if they believe in the Trinitarian God . . . Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

One way we’ve implemented this at VOM Korea, was by ensuring that the name of God was accurately portrayed in the North Korean Bible. The version of the Bible that we use is considered the best translation in the North Korean language, but the word used to describe God, “Hanulnim,” doesn’t clearly portray that he is the one-true God. It only implies that God is the god of the heavens. We changed the word to “Hananim,” the protestant word meaning the one true God.

What actions will you take as a result of studying this passage of Scripture?

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