Tag Archives: Jesus

The Witness of John’s Gospel

41INwEFqdcL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The Gospel of John is often given to new Christians to read because its central message is the divinity of Jesus Christ.  It is often given to unbelievers for the same reason.  Many have accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior after reading John’s Gospel.

Adam Hamilton’s JOHN: THE GOSPEL OF LIGHT AND LIFE (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2016) is an exposition of the Gospel of John for both the Christian layperson in search of a better understanding of John’s Gospel and the non-Christian seeking to know more about the Christian faith and the person and work of Jesus Christ upon which that faith is built.  It is not a commentary.  It is not a ponderous scholarly study intended for the seminary student.

Because the book is about John’s Gospel and its central theme, “the identity and meaning of Jesus,” Hamilton includes the entire Gospel of John from the Common English Bible. Thus one can read the Gospel along with Hamilton’s guide to its major themes.  The study is divided into six chapters, each of which is followed by a portion of the Gospel.  Hamilton notes in his introduction that the book is suited for small group study.  If used for a small group study, a DVD is available for purchase, as well as a paperback guide for the small group leader.

As fallen creatures we live in darkness until that darkness is pierced by the light of the Gospel.  The light brings life both now and beyond physical death, for the darkness cannot overcome the light.  The life of the believer is lived in the light that is the Word, the Word that was in the beginning, was with God, and was God.  The born-again follower of Jesus Christ lives knowing, as Hamilton puts it, that “Death is just a period at the end of a sentence before a new sentence begins.”

Hamilton points out that John’s Gospel should not be read as though it were some sort of mini biography.  The emphasis is on the “meaning—the spiritual significance” of the events in Jesus’ life and the words he spoke.  It must be read at two levels, even allegorically at times.

On one level the account of the various miracles performed by Jesus are related in a straightforward manner.  They tell us that water was turned into wine, that a blind man was made to see, or that a lame man was made to walk.  On a deeper level they answer the questions that confront all of us:  Who is this man Jesus?  How does he affect my life?  What is required of me?  We are compelled to answer the question that Jesus asked of his disciples in Matthew 16:13-17:  “But who do you say that I am?”  It is the most important question that must and will be answered by every human being.

Here and there Hamilton points out interesting insights that otherwise might go unnoticed.  One example is John’s mention that when Jesus was on the cross the soldiers “affixed a sponge to a hyssop branch, dipped it in sour wine, and raised it to his lips.”  Why does John include that little detail?

In suggesting an answer, Hamilton calls our attention to Exodus 12:21b-22a, Leviticus 14, Numbers 19, and Psalm 51:7 to help us understand the important symbolism of the hyssop branch.  When we read those Old Testament passages in light of John 19:28-30, we are reminded that the Bible from Genesis through Revelation is a book about Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.  He is the “second Adam” who came to restore what was ruined by the first Adam.

In John 10:10 Jesus says, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (KJV).  Later John reminds us that for the Christian living a more abundant life does not mean a life of idle contemplation.  At the end of his Gospel John again quotes Jesus:  “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (20:21).  As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to serve, to witness, and yes, to suffer, always knowing that Jesus Christ stands on the other side of the Jordan with his arms open wide to welcome us home.

JOHN: THE GOSPEL OF LIGHT AND LIFE is the first book by Adam Hamilton that I have read.  Having done, I will go on to read other titles by him.

Until next time be good to all God’s creation and always go under the mercy.

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Christmas Eve, 2013

Christmas Eve, chromolithography

Christmas Eve, chromolithography (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today is Christmas Eve, 2013, the day most of us choose to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.  I say “choose,” because no one knows for sure on just what day Jesus was born.  In fact, even the year is disputed.  Getting right the day of his birth is not important.  That he was born is the single most important event is history.

For those of you who found time to read this humble blog entry, here are a few notable events that occurred on Christmas Eve in years gone by.

The first radio broadcast of both voice and music took place on Christmas Eve, 1906.  Sailors aboard vessels in the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea were astonished when at exactly 9:00 p.m. they received over their ship’s radio in Morse code the message, “CQ CQ CQ,” a general call to all stations within range.  The “dots and dashes” message was followed by the voice of Reginald Aubrey Fessenden.  After a brief introduction, Fessenden played “O Holy Night” on his violin, followed by his reading from the Gospel of Luke: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men of good will.”  [A dramatic recreation of Fessenden’s broadcast:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Elu0HF4a8yI ]

Sixty-two years later the Apollo 8 astronauts were orbiting the moon on Christmas Eve.  Mimicking Fessenden’s historic broadcast, the astronauts took turns reading the opening verses from Genesis 1.  They ended their broadcast with “Good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas and God bless all of you — all of you on the good Earth.”   [For live coverage of the Apollo 8 broadcast by CBS News:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1aIf0G2PtHo ]

On Christmas Eve in 1818, a poem by Joseph Mohr titled “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht,” set to music by Franz Gruber, was performed for the first time during midnight mass at St. Nicholas parish church in Oberndorf, Germany.  On Christmas Eve, 1914, “Silent Night, Holy Night” was sung in German, French, and English during a spontaneous truce along the Western Front at the opening of World War I.  It remains one of the best loved Christmas hymns of all time.  [To hear the original German:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oUb8ySdERKs ]

One of my most memorable Christmas Eves was that of 1968.  It was the 150th anniversary of “Silent Night, Holy Night.”  I attended midnight mass at St. Stanislaus Church in my hometown of Bay City, Michigan.  St. Stanislaus is a neo gothic church in what was earlier the Polish section of the city.  Outside everything was covered in snow.  The beautiful crowded sanctuary was not much warmer.  At the front of the sanctuary were fresh cut pine trees and a lovely manger scene. The smell of fresh pine mingled with the smell of incense drifting through the air, added to the ambiance of the moment.  Since it was the anniversary of the first performance of “Silent Night, Holy Night,” the church’s orchestra and choir performed it in numerous languages, including of course, Polish.

I wish to complete these thoughts on Christmas Eve, 2013 with two of my favorite Christmas poems.  First, the better known “Journey of the Magi” by T.S. Eliot:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BCVnuEWXQcg

Second, the lessor known “Bethlehem BC” by Rod McKuen: http://www.rodmckuen.com/music/bethbc.mp3

Merry Christmas to one and all, and until next time, do good, be good, and always live under the mercy.

Celebrating Christmas: A Review of THE WAR ON CHRISTMAS

 I wish to state at the beginning of this review that THE WAR ON CHRISTMAS: BATTLES IN FAITH, TRADITION, AND RELIGIOUS EXPRESSION (Master Books, 2013) is a very attractive, beautifully illustrated, and interesting book.  It is a book that will no doubt find a warm reception among evangelical Christians.  All of that said I wish to voice a few words of caution.

First off, one should note that the book is a product of the Answers in Genesis ministry.  The logic behind this examination of Christmas traditions and the Bible, simply put, is that a Christian’s celebration of Christmas should be a celebration of the birth of Jesus.  That assumption goes without saying.  As those popular yard signs evident everywhere at Christmas say, “Jesus is the reason for the season.”

We celebrate the birth of Jesus because God entered into history as the God-man, a space-time historical event, in order to reverse the effects of the Adam and Eve’s fall, also a space-time historical event.  It is important that there was a historical Adam and Eve, and a historical Fall, if Jesus Christ is to make any sense at all.

Where I find myself at odds with the book is when it implies that in order to believe in the historical truth of Genesis, one must accept the idea that the earth is young, that the days of creation were twenty-four hour days, and that it is possible to somehow date those events.  The logic of those involved with Answers in Genesis notwithstanding, the simple fact is that what we have in Genesis is a series of historical events, not a chronology.  Not until the call of Abram (Abraham) does Genesis intersect with verifiable history.

Another area where I find myself at odds with the book is the implication that celebrating Christmas with Santa Claus, Frosty the Snowman, Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and other traditional secular Christmas icons is somehow incompatible with celebrating the birth of Jesus.  Why cannot a Christian teach children about the birth of Jesus, while at the same time pointing out that Santa Clause is a fun game that people play at Christmas?  By denying children the fun of celebrating Christmas as do most Christians is much more likely to prevent them from accepting who Jesus Christ is than putting hot chocolate and cookies out for Santa and sugar cubes for his reindeer.

Still, despite my reservations, I find THE WAR ON CHRISTMAS a worthwhile read.  I simply urge the reader to keep in mind that it is authors’ opinions, not biblical truth, regarding that wondrous holiday we call Christmas.

A Love that Endures

Cover of "Joni: An Unforgettable Story"

Cover of Joni: An Unforgettable Story

JONI & KEN: AN UNTOLD LOVE STORY by Ken & Joni Eareckson Tada (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1213) is a book that answers many questions. Those of us, who have followed Joni Eareckson’s life since the appearance of her autobiography and the movie based upon it, have wondered what life must really be like for her, and since her marriage in 1982, her husband Ken Tada. Now we are able to see, understand, and be inspired by a marriage that must have been, as they say, “made in heaven.”

Joni’s story is familiar to many, especially Christians. Born in 1949, a diving accident in the Chesapeake Bay in 1967 left her a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the shoulders down. Her struggle with pain and depression as she learned to accept the reality of her future is told in her autobiography, JONI (1976) and JONI (1779), the feature film based upon it.

Her public life and ministry since then is well known. She founded a Christian ministry, Joni and Friends, devoted to providing practical and spiritual support for individuals suffering with disabilities of various kinds and their families. Over the years she has authored 48 books, including 2 award-winning children’s books. She has made too many public appearances to count, and used every form of media to bring comfort and encouragement to those suffering and understanding to those of us more fortunate.

In 1982, Joni married Ken Tada. All sorts of questions now flooded the minds of her admiring public. Why? Why would a healthy, athletic man marry a woman, a very beautiful woman, but a woman in a wheelchair? What sort of life can they have together? How will he be able to deal with her disability day after day, year after year? How will he be able to deal with her inevitable periods of depression, providing encouragement and strength rather than pity? In short, what will their life together be like, when they don’t have to be always smiling and cheerful in front of the cameras?

JONI & KEN: AN UNTOLD LOVE STORY is the story of an enduring love, a love based upon commitment to one another, and most importantly, a commitment to Jesus Christ, the one who has promised to be our rock, and the one who is ever faithful to his promises.

Until next time, be good to all God’s creatures and always walk under the mercy.

Jesus: A Biography

The first thing one must acknowledge about JESUS: A THEOGRAPHY by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola (Thomas Nelson, 2012) is that it is written for the layperson who is already a believing Christian what is commonly referred to as an evangelical.  It is not scholarly book meant for the seminary student, although I do not want imply that a seminarian would not profit from reading it.  It is written in a popular style and does not assume a very sophisticated reader.

The central theme of the book is that the Bible is a single narrative that is all about Jesus Christ from Genesis through Revelation.  There nothing new in that.  Any evangelical Christian, this reviewer included has heard that many times, and has no problem agreeing with it.  After all, we recognize the Bible as divine revelation, not a collection of myths and attempts by various individuals to answer those perennial questions of the meaningfulness, if any, of what exists.

Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola have taken on a difficult task.  The book is published by a prominent Christian publishing house to be sold primarily through Christian bookstores.  Hence they had to write within certain acceptable interpretations.  They had to keep one eye on the targeted market while trying to write a book that is both intellectually creditable and helpful.

Although I believe the subject could have been covered in far fewer pages, and perhaps too many concessions are made to avoid offending the intended audience, Sweet and Viola have succeeded in their mission.  The average Christian in the pew, the all too few who actually read books, will benefit from this very readable and understandable book.  The Bible IS all about Jesus Christ, and JESUS: A THEOGRAPHY makes that point in a convincing way.  Those who wish to pursue the topic further will find sufficient titles written by theologians and published by presses that specialize in publishing books for the more sophisticated pilgrim.

Google and I in Search of the Meaning of Life

 the meaning of life

This afternoon I sat down at my laptop computer intending to write something really profound to post on my blog.  I thought about writing a book review.  I currently have four books awaiting my assessment.

That was my plan when I sat down, but it has changed.  Why?  I am not sure.  I thought I knew what I was going to say about the book, but I just couldn’t think of the right words to get started.  Perhaps my brain is numb, foggy, or tired.  Perhaps it is a lack of inspiration. 

I felt I must write something.  So, I asked my dear friend Google, “What is the meaning of life?”  Now if that doesn’t get the brain working, it is time to admit defeat and turn off the computer.

According to Google, there are 390,000,000 websites with something to say about the meaning of life.  I am not surprised.  I imagine that the first conscious thought of that first human-like creature was a question like, “Who am I, and what the heck am I doing here, wherever this is, or isn’t, or . . . ?”

The existentialists say that meaning is not something we can discover, but rather something we must create.  How?  By choosing to act, that is, by making a choice the individual can affirm and give meaning to his or her existence in a universe that is cold and indifferent.

In contrast to the existentialists, the structuralists assume a universal structure, or a kind of hidden harmony, or universal code, that exists independent of human beings and determines human behavior.  The self-conscious autonomous individual, who controls his or her environment and is master of his or her fate, gives way to the individual as a social creature controlled by his or her  environment.

Failure to uncover the hidden universal structures led some to embrace poststructuralism, commonly referred to as deconstruction.  The deconstructionists deny that the individual can arrive at a true understanding of reality through the application of reason.  There is no one hidden meaning to be discovered.  Instead, there are an infinite number of possible meanings.  Each deconstruction can itself be deconstructed.

The contemporary quest for meaning has run into a dead end with postmodernism, sometimes referred to as posthumanism.  Beginning with the conviction that all is meaningless, postmodernism sees no value in pretending otherwise.  Rather it revels in the chaos and absurdity of everything.  For the postmodernist, reality is a universe of random chaos, without meaning for either the individual or for history. 

Contemporary intellectuals have concluded that the individual is only a cosmic cipher in a cold, dark, and ultimately meaningless universe.  But such a conclusion is no conclusion at all.  There is ample evidence in popular culture that the masses of people are not willing to accept the pessimistic conclusion of the intellectual dream spinners who find themselves adrift in a fog.  The average man or woman today, as has every human being since the dawn of time, lives in a universe filled with hope, a universe in which the future is brighter than the past.

Perhaps the intellectuals are asking the wrong question, when they ask, “Who am I?”  By asking the wrong question, they place the burden of finding meaning on finite human reason.  The end can never be anything more than despair, the answer to which is an escape into nihilism.

In the fifteenth chapter of Matthew’s gospel, the reader is told of an incident during which Jesus of Nazareth asks his disciples who the people think he is.  They say that the people have concluded, having applied reason, that Jesus must be one of the Old Testament prophets back from the dead. 

Jesus then asks the disciples, “Who do you say I am?”  It is Simon Peter who answers the question:  “You are the Christ [i.e., Messiah], the Son of the living God.”

Peter has spoken the truth, but how does he know it?  Did he discover it on his own by reason?  Did he learn it from reading the great books?  No!  Jesus tells Peter that what he knows has been revealed to him by God. 

Reason can make us aware of the problem of finding meaning and purpose for life.  Reason can propose answers to the problem.  On the basis of reason, one might even conclude that the Gospel makes more sense than any other answer, and therefore must be true.  But, as Simon Peter discovered, knowing who Jesus Christ is, and by implication finding the answer to the problem of meaning, can only be known through revelation, not reason alone.

Perhaps before asking the question, “What is the meaning of life?” one must first answer the question, “Who is Jesus Christ?”  The answer that question will determine whether one lives with hope or despair.

Enough thinking for today.  It is time for me to get to work on that book review.

Until next time, be good to all of God’s creation, and always live under the mercy.