The Subtle Snare of Self-Glorification

I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. 10 So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church. – 3 John 1:9-10 ESV

After praising Gaius for his generosity and the hospitality he extended to the visiting evangelists, John points out the actions of another individual within the local fellowship. In this case, John has nothing good to say about this man, whose name is Diotrephes. In fact, John describes Diotrephes as someone “who likes to put himself first” and “does not acknowledge our authority” (3 John 1:9 ESV). This member of the church was resisting John’s authority as an elder and apostle. He saw himself as a leader within the local congregation and had stood opposed to the ministry of the visiting evangelists. John accused him of refusing to “welcome the brothers” (3 John 1:10 ESV). Not only that, but Diotrephes had also tried to prevent anyone in the church from meeting the needs of these men, even punishing those who did by throwing them out of the church.

This man was the antithesis of Gaius. We have no other details regarding his life other than what John describes here, but it is not difficult to assess that this man was selfish and self-centered, motivated by a need for control, and unwilling to love others in the same way that God had shown love to him. Diotrephes saw John and these visiting evangelists as a threat to his authority.

Notice that John does not accuse Diotrephes of propagating false doctrine. This man was not preaching another Gospel or denying the deity of Jesus. He was simply refusing to acknowledge the authority of John as an apostle of Christ and rejecting the ministry of those who had been divinely gifted to minister to the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11).

Diotrephes was not teaching falsehood, but he was modeling an attitude of pride and arrogance that had no place in the church. And his actions were just as dangerous and destructive as those of the false teachers and prophets who were wreaking havoc on congregations throughout Asia Minor.

In a way, Diotrephes was preaching a different Jesus because his actions were in direct violation of the teachings of Jesus. During His earthly ministry, Jesus had used the Pharisees and religious leaders of the Jews as examples to be avoided, not followed. According to Jesus, these men, who had set themselves up as religious and civic authorities over the Jews, were actually deceptive and destructive. They were looked up to as leaders, but Jesus had warned His disciples, “don’t follow their example” (Matthew 23:3 NLT). And He provided ample evidence for emulating their behavior.

“Everything they do is for show. On their arms they wear extra wide prayer boxes with Scripture verses inside, and they wear robes with extra long tassels. And they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues. They love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi.’” – Matthew 23:5-7 NLT

For these men, leadership was all about authority and power. They flaunted their positions and gloried in their prominence. But Jesus went on to warn his followers:

“The greatest among you must be a servant. But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” – Matthew 23:11-12 NLT

And with that statement, we see the difference between Gaius and Diotrephes. One was humble and willing to serve, while the other was marked by pride and an overwhelming need to be the center of attention.

This kind of attitude was particularly repulsive to John because he knew from first-hand experience how it stood in stark contrast to the teachings of Jesus. He would have well-remembered the occasion when Jesus had confronted him and the other disciples over a conversation they had one day while walking along the road. When they had arrived at their destination in Capernaum, Jesus had asked them, “What were you discussing out on the road?” (Mark 9:33 NLT). But they were too embarrassed to answer Jesus “because they had been arguing about which of them was the greatest” (Mark 9:34 NLT).

So, Jesus had sat the disciples down and delivered them the sobering news that “Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else” (Mark 9:35 NLT).

Now, you would think that this message from Jesus would have left the disciples not only embarrassed but reticent to ever bring up this topic again. Yet, in the very next chapter, Mark records another moment when Jesus had to confront the worldly outlook of His own followers, and this time it involved John and his brother James. These two men approached Jesus and asked Him if He would do them a favor.

“When you sit on your glorious throne, we want to sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.” – Mark 10:37 NLT

The audacity of these two brothers shocks us. How in the world could they make such a request after having heard Jesus say, “Whoever wants to be first must take last place?” Yet, here they were requesting that Jesus award them with the two most prominent positions available in a royal administration: The two seats on either side of the king. Make no mistake about it, they were asking for the right to rule and reign alongside Jesus when He set up His earthly kingdom.

And the answer Jesus gave these two brash brothers echoed what He had told the disciples earlier.

“You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Mark 10:43-45 NLT

Their request had been completely off-base and uncalled for. First of all, Jesus informed them that kind of decision was up to God alone.

“I have no right to say who will sit on my right or my left. God has prepared those places for the ones he has chosen.” – Mark 10:40 NLT

And the right to rule alongside Jesus would have to be preceded by a willingness to suffer as He would.

“You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink? Are you able to be baptized with the baptism of suffering I must be baptized with?” – Mark 10:38 NLT

John and James had no clue what they were asking. They didn’t understand that the authority for which they longed was only available to those who were willing to suffer and serve. And Jesus used Himself as the model for godly leadership, stating, “even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45 NLT).

John and James were in it for what they could get out of it. So was Diotrephes. But Jesus had come to earth, not to gain, but to give His life away. He had willingly taken on the nature of a man so that He could die on behalf of sinful humanity. And yet, His humiliation was followed by His glorification.

When he had cleansed us from our sins, he sat down in the place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven. – Hebrews 3:3 NLT

John was appalled by the actions of Diotrephes. Watching this arrogant man revel in his self-exalted state of authority must have reminded John of his own moment of shame when he and his brother had asked Jesus for the right to reign at His side. John had come a long way. He had learned a great deal since watching His friend and teacher die on the cross. His encounters with the resurrected Messiah had left him a changed man. And his understanding of what it means to be a true leader had been radically altered by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the Son of God.

For Diotrephes, glory was all about power and position in this life. But the apostle Paul would beg to differ. His words to the church in Colossae would provide a powerful reminder to the tendency within all of us to follow the example of Diotrephes. We are not to seek glory in this life. Instead, we are to keep our eyes fixed on heaven, where the hope of true glorification can be found.

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory. – Colossians 3:1-4 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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Another Gospel

Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, 11 for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works. – 2 John 1:9-11 ESV

John, as an apostle of Jesus Christ, took his role seriously. He had high regard for the teachings of Jesus and a strong sense of responsibility when it came to the wellbeing of the body of Christ. Like Paul, his fellow apostle, John was always on the lookout for those who would do harm to the church of Jesus Christ. They were both very aware that the enemy was out to destroy what Jesus had created. And Jesus, on the very night He was betrayed into the hands of the Jewish religious leaders, had made a heartfelt request of His Heavenly Father:

“I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. They do not belong to this world any more than I do. Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth.” – John 17:14-19 NLT

Jesus knew His followers were going to face intense opposition. Satan was going to throw all his resources against those who aligned themselves with Jesus Christ. When his attempt to thwart the redemptive plan of God by murdering the Son of God proved an abysmal failure, Satan would ramp up his efforts to stifle the Gospel by diluting and distorting it with lies and half-truths. But notice what Jesus prayed that night. He asked that His Father would keep His followers holy or set apart by the truth of His Word.

The truth of the Gospel message was going to be the key to resisting the lies of the enemy. And John warns his readers that anyone who did not remain committed to the teachings of Jesus never really knew Him. If they ended up rejecting the claims of Jesus to be the Son of God and the Savior of the world, it would be because they never truly believed in Him, to begin with. And John bluntly states that the rejection of Jesus as the incarnation of God in the flesh was to reject God Himself.

Anyone who wanders away from this teaching has no relationship with God. – 2 John 1:9 NLT

It is interesting to note that John describes these deserters of the Gospel as “running ahead.” He used the Greek word, parabainō, which conveys the idea of passing over or stepping around something. It is often translated as “transgress.” Under the influence of the false teachers, these people would choose to walk around the truths regarding Jesus and pass on to something new and seemingly better. Convinced that they were hearing new and improved information regarding Jesus, they would leave the teachings of the apostles behind. But John warns that, in doing so, they would be turning their backs on God. And John was not making this up. He was simply repeating what He had heard Jesus say.

“If I were to testify on my own behalf, my testimony would not be valid. But someone else is also testifying about me, and I assure you that everything he says about me is true. In fact, you sent investigators to listen to John the Baptist, and his testimony about me was true. Of course, I have no need of human witnesses, but I say these things so you might be saved. John was like a burning and shining lamp, and you were excited for a while about his message. But I have a greater witness than John—my teachings and my miracles. The Father gave me these works to accomplish, and they prove that he sent me. And the Father who sent me has testified about me himself. You have never heard his voice or seen him face to face, and you do not have his message in your hearts, because you do not believe me—the one he sent to you.” – John 5:31-38 NLT

The testimony of God verified the claims of Jesus. And no additional truth or new revelations from the lips of men were going to replace what God had declared about Jesus. “This is my Son, my Chosen One. Listen to him” (Luke 9:35 NLT).

John had no doubt as to Jesus’ deity and His claims of divinity. He had heard Jesus boldly claim, “I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me” (John 8:18 ESV). And John had been an eye-witness to not only the crucifixion of Jesus but also His miraculous resurrection. Everything had happened just as Jesus had said it would. He had risen from the dead, and John had seen it with his own eyes. 

So, John flatly asserts that if anyone suddenly decided that the truth as testified by God was false, they were the ones who were in error. John could well remember the extremely harsh words Jesus had spoken to the religious leaders of the Jews.

“Since you don’t know who I am, you don’t know who my Father is. If you knew me, you would also know my Father.” – John 8:19 NLT

A false understanding of Jesus and His identity will lead to a false understanding of God. If Jesus was just a man, then God is a liar. If Jesus did not resurrect from the dead, then God has provided no means by which men can be restored to a right relationship with Him. The apostle Paul pointed out the futility of faith in a Jesus who did not rise from the grave.

…if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. – 1 Corinthians 15:17-18 NLT

But Paul goes on to provide the truth regarding Jesus’ death and resurrection.

But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died. – 1 Corinthians 15:19 NLT

And John fully supports Paul’s assertion when he states, “But anyone who remains in the teaching of Christ has a relationship with both the Father and the Son” (2 John 1:9 NLT). Those who remain committed to and dependent upon the promise of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone will not be disappointed. To know Jesus is to know the Father. That is why Jesus claimed, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on, you do know him and have seen him!” (John 14:6-7 NLT).

John wanted his audience to know that they were to have nothing to do with those who preached a different version of Jesus. If their teaching contradicted that of Jesus and the apostles, the church was to have nothing to do with them.

If anyone comes to your meeting and does not teach the truth about Christ, don’t invite that person into your home or give any kind of encouragement. – 2 John 1:10 NLT

When it came to the Gospel, there was to be no place for toleration of alternate versions or new insights into who Jesus was and what He had come to do. The apostle Paul accused the church in Corinth of happily putting up with all kinds of false messages, including “a different Jesus than the one we preach, or a different kind of Spirit than the one you received, or a different kind of gospel than the one you believed” (2 Corinthians 11:4 NLT). He issued a similar condemnation to the church in Galatia.

I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who called you to himself through the loving mercy of Christ. You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News. – Galatians 1:6 NLT

This was a real problem in the early days of the church, and it remains so even today. And the warning John gave to the members of the church in Asia Minor is just as relevant for us as it was for them.

Anyone who encourages such people becomes a partner in their evil work… – 2 John 1:11 NLT

The Gospel is the Gospel. It is not to be added to, distorted in any way, clarified, or amplified. In fact, the apostle Paul warns that anyone who tampers with the Gospel message as testified by God, proclaimed by Jesus, and preached by the apostles was to be cursed.

Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you. I say again what we have said before: If anyone preaches any other Good News than the one you welcomed, let that person be cursed. – Galatians 1:8-9 NLT

Serious and sober words because the message of the Gospel is the key to eternal life.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Truth Vs. The Lie

For many deceivers have gone out into the world, people who do not confess Jesus as Christ coming in the flesh. This person is the deceiver and the antichrist! Watch out, so that you do not lose the things we have worked for, but receive a full reward. – 2 John 1:7-8 ESV

John is encouraging his readers to live their lives according to the truth of the Gospel. And at the core of the gospel message can be found the love of God. The “good news” is that God sent His Son to be the payment for mankind’s sin debt. Jesus Christ took on human flesh so that He might do what no other human being has ever been able to do: Obey every single law given by God. And Jesus did so willingly and perfectly.  The apostle Paul points out the necessity for Jesus to become a man so that He might obey God’s commands “in the flesh.”

The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. – Romans 8:3 NLT

The author of Hebrews supports Paul’s point, adding that Jesus became like us so that He might become the acceptable substitute for us.

…it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. – Hebrews 2:17 NLT

And Paul expands the scope of God’s actions by pointing out that it was Jesus’ sinlessness or purity that made Him an acceptable sacrifice to God. He paid for our sins with His life and provided a means by which we can be restored to a right relationship with God.

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. – 2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT

And all of this was done because God “so loved the world” (John 3:16). The truly amazing thing is that God’s love was despite us, not because of us. He loved us when we were at our worst. As Paul points out in Romans, it was “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8 ESV). And it is that same kind of selfless, sacrificial love that we are to share with those around us, especially to those within the body of Christ. We are to live our lives according to the truth of the Gospel – in keeping with the love displayed through the Gospel.

But John had some words of warning for the local fellowship to whom he was writing. He wanted them to recognize the very real threat of those who would seek to distort the truth. John had been around long enough to know that the message of the Gospel was under constant attack, from without and from within. There were those outside the church who opposed the truth regarding Jesus Christ. They rejected the claims that He was the Messiah and the Savior of the world. They denied the reality of the resurrection. To them, Christianity was nothing more than just another cult or sect of Judaism. But even the Jews themselves took issue with this movement they labeled “the way.” To them, Christians were, at best, a nuisance and, at worst, a very real threat to their religious system. So, the Jews persecuted Christians wherever and whenever they could.

But the greatest threats to the faith usually come from within. And the agents behind these threats are subtle and sinister, disguising themselves as purveyors of truth and beacons of light. But notice that John describes these people as “deceivers.” They claim to be fellow followers of Christ, yet all the while denying His deity.  John pulls no punches when he states that they “do not confess Jesus as Christ coming in the flesh” (2 John 1:7 ESV). The New Living Translation puts it this way: “They deny that Jesus Christ came in a real body.

The truth regarding the incarnation of Jesus was under constant attack. And there were those who, while claiming to be followers of Jesus, regularly denied the teaching that Jesus took on human flesh. And you can see why this bothered John. If Jesus did not become a man, then the Gospel lost its power. It was the humanity of Jesus that made Him the perfect sacrifice for the sins of man. Yet these deceivers were eliminating the possibility of the incarnation. In fact, John talked about the impact of these false teachers in his first letter.

For there are many false prophets in the world. This is how we know if they have the Spirit of God: If a person claiming to be a prophet acknowledges that Jesus Christ came in a real body, that person has the Spirit of God. – 1 John 4:2 NLT

So, what were these “deceivers” saying about Jesus? Obviously, they denied His humanity. They were claiming that Jesus, the man, had not been born of the Father and was, therefore, not divine. By denying the deity of Jesus, they were contradicting the testimony of God Himself, and John pointed this out in his previous letter.

All who believe in the Son of God know in their hearts that this testimony is true. Those who don’t believe this are actually calling God a liar because they don’t believe what God has testified about his Son. – 1 John 5:10 NLT

These false teachers denied that Jesus was God’s Anointed One who had come in the flesh. And John labels anyone propagating these lies as “the deceiver and the antichrist!” (2 John 1:7 ESV). In essence, John accuses these people of being Satan himself. John remembered how Jesus had described Satan: “He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44 NLT).

In his second letter to the believers in Thessalonica, Paul warned them about a future day when the Antichrist, the man of lawlessness, would appear on the scene.

This man will come to do the work of Satan with counterfeit power and signs and miracles. He will use every kind of evil deception to fool those on their way to destruction, because they refuse to love and accept the truth that would save them. So God will cause them to be greatly deceived, and they will believe these lies. Then they will be condemned for enjoying evil rather than believing the truth. – 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 NLT

This end-times character will show up on the world scene, exhibiting great power and utilizing deception to turn the world away from the truth of the Gospel. As a pawn of Satan, the Antichrist will convince people to reject the truth that could save them – the truth regarding God’s love as displayed through the incarnation of His Son, and demonstrated by His sacrificial death on the cross as the payment for their sin debt.

And while the Antichrist is not scheduled to appear until the period known as the Great Tribulation, his spirit is alive and well. Even in John’s day, this deceptive influence was making its way through the local church as these false teachers spread around the world, disseminating their half-truths and pious-sounding platitudes about Jesus. That is why John warned his readers to “Watch out, so that you do not lose the things we have worked for, but receive a full reward” (2 John 1:8 ESV). 

But what is John saying here? Is he inferring that the believers to whom he is writing can somehow lose their salvation? John refers to them losing “the things we have worked for.” He and the rest of the apostles had spent their lives spreading the truth of the Gospel all around the known world. They had diligently and faithfully preached the life-transformative power of the gospel to save and sanctify. John had fully believed and taught the words of Jesus: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10 ESV).

He wanted his fellow Christ-followers to experience all that Jesus had died to deliver to them. He longed for them to experience the abundant life Jesus had promised. But if they bought into the lies of the false teachers and began to question the very deity of Jesus, they would find themselves doubting the very truth of the Gospel and questioning their own salvation.

John is in no way suggesting that Christians can lose their reward. They are at no risk of missing out on eternity. In fact, it seems that John is warning that if you accept the lies of the false teachers, you never really believed the truth of the Gospel to begin with. Your faith was false all along. Which brings us back to love, the topic John covered in the previous verses of his letter. Love is the driving force of the Gospel message, as illustrated in God sending His own Son in the likeness of human flesh. The apostle Paul points out that Jesus…“gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form,
he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross” (Philippians 2:7-8 NLT).

And He did it out of love. If you fail to believe that, you have failed to experience the love of God. And you will never experience the abundant life Jesus came to offer. And if you deny that Jesus was God in the flesh, you have no hope of ever enjoying the ultimate reward of eternal life.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

As I Have Loved You

And now I ask you, dear lady—not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning—that we love one another. And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it. – 2 John 1:5-6 ESV

Love one another. Now, where in the world would John have picked up an idea like that? It doesn’t take much digging to find out that John had been heavily influenced by the three-plus years he had spent with Jesus. His time spent under the tutelage of his friend, rabbi, and teacher, had made an impact on him. And ever since Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, John had spent his life fulfilling the commission given to him and his fellow disciples.

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 18:18-20 ESV

The “dear lady” to whom John had written his letter was none other than a local congregation of believers located somewhere in the province of Asia Minor. And John was writing to encourage the members of this church to observe and keep the commands of Jesus. And John had one particular command of Jesus in mind when writing his letter.

John well recalled that fateful night in that upper room in Jerusalem, where Jesus had shared a last Passover meal with he and the rest of the disciples. The image of Judas walking out of the room in order to betray Jesus must have been indelibly etched into John’s mind. But it is obvious that he never forgot the words Jesus spoke to them just before they made their way to the Garden of Gethsemane. He recorded them in his gospel account.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:34-35 ESV

There was a great deal that Jesus had taught His disciples during the time they had been together. But this particular statement from Jesus had resonated with John and had remained a focus of his ministry long after Jesus had returned to His rightful place at His Heavenly Father’s side.

Jesus referred to this command to love one another as a “new commandment.” And yet, in the first of the three letters John wrote, he described this command as an “old commandment.” Consider his words carefully.

Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. – 1 John 7-11 ESV

Even under the Mosaic Law, the people of God were required to love one another. But it was based on the concept of the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. In His sermon on the mount, Jesus had stated that this idea encompassed all the teaching found in the Law and the Prophets.

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 7:12 ESV

It was a reciprocal kind of love. In fact, Leviticus 19:18 reads: “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” And Jesus declared that He had come to fulfill or complete everything written in the Law and the Prophets.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” – Matthew 5:17 ESV

The kind of love commanded under the Law was reciprocal in nature. And, according to Leviticus 19:18, it was a love that used self as the standard: “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

But what made this old commandment new, was the arrival of Jesus on the scene. He had come to reveal a new way to love, one that was based on a much higher standard than “as you love yourself.”

That night in the upper room, Jesus had expanded the command to love one another by adding the important phrase: “just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34 ESV). He was establishing Himself as the new criteria for measuring and modeling love. It was not enough to love others as you loved yourself. Now, the standard was Christ’s love. It was going to be a selfless and sacrificial love. A lay-it-all-on-the-line kind of love. And just a few chapters later in his gospel, John recorded Jesus repeating this new command to love one another.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” – John 15:12-14 ESV

Now, in his letter to the “the elect lady and her children,” John was reminding this local congregation of Christ-followers to love one another in the same that Christ loved them. This selfless, sacrificial love was to be the mark of each and every believer. Again, in his first letter, John explained:

We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. – 1 John 4:19-21 ESV

The motivation behind their love for one another was to be the love of God for them, as expressed in the sacrificial death of His Son. As John recorded in his gospel:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16 ESV

How easy it is to enjoy the love of God, as demonstrated in His Son’s substitutionary death on our behalf. And how quickly we can express our love back to God for all that He has done for us. But John would have us remember how hypocritical it is to state our love for God while refusing to love our brothers and sisters in Christ. If we love God, we are obligated to love all those whom He loves.

And John wants his audience to know that our love for God is best expressed through our obedience to His commandments.

And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it. – 2 John 1:6 ESV

The New Living Translation puts it this way “Love means doing what God has commanded us, and he has commanded us to love one another, just as you heard from the beginning.

For John, our love for God and others were inseparably linked. You could not do one and not the other. The greatest expression of love for God was to obey His commands, and one of His primary commands was for His children to love one another.

By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. – 1 John 5:2-3 ESV

It should not be difficult for believers in Christ to love one another. In fact, it should be a joy to love as we have been loved. It should bring us great pleasure to share with others the love that God has lavishly and graciously showered on us.

John had been steeped in the love of Christ. And, as one of His apostles, John was passing on His message of love to the growing body of Christ – the Church. And each time he stressed love for one another, John must have recalled the closing words of the prayer Jesus prayed to His Heavenly Father that night in the garden: “…that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:26 ESV).

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Our Amazingly Gracious God

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. – Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV

9 My grace is all you need. 2 Corinthians 12:9 NLT

6 “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin…” – Exodus 34:6-7 ESV

11 For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. – Titus 2:11 NLT

Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,
grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt,
yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured,
there where the blood of the Lamb was spilt.

Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace,
freely bestowed on all who believe:
you that are longing to see his face,
will you this moment his grace receive?

Grace, grace, God’s grace,
grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
grace, grace, God’s grace,
grace that is greater than all our sin.

The grace of God. We’ve all heard of it and have probably sung songs it. But what exactly is it? Tony Evans describes God’s grace as “His inexhaustible supply of goodness by which He does for us what we could never do for ourselves” (Tony Evans, Theology You Can Count On). A much older, but no less accurate definition comes from the pen of Abraham Booth: “It is the eternal and absolute free favor of God, manifested in the vouchsafement [favor] of spiritual and eternal blessings to the guilty and the unworthy” (Abraham Booth, The Reign of Grace, 1793).

Grace is a gift of God that flows from the very character of God. God is gracious and grace is available from Him because of who He is, not because of anything we have done. His grace is unmerited, unearned, and completely undeserved. No one can ever say to God: “You owe me this!”

A. W. Tozer puts it this way: “Divine grace is the sovereign and saving favor of God exercised in the bestowment of blessings upon those who have no merit in them and for which no compensation is demanded from them” (A. W. Tozer, The Attributes of God). And the apostle Paul clearly understood the amazing nature of God’s grace.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – Ephesians 2:8 ESV

God’s grace is closely tied to His love. It is because of love that He extends His grace. In fact, it was Peter who said, “we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 15:11 NLT). And the apostle Paul expands on that thought by adding that we “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:24 ESV). A. W. Tozer provides us with further insight into the one-sided nature of God’s grace. It flows in one direction, from our gracious God to a world of undeserving sinners.

…it is the favor of God shown to those who not only have no positive deserts of their own, but who are thoroughly ill-deserving and hell-deserving. It is completely unmerited and unsought, and is altogether unattracted by anything in or from or by the objects upon which it is bestowed. Grace can neither be bought, earned, nor won by the creature… – A. W. Tozer, The Attributes of God

All of this seems to run counter to our human understanding of how things should work. We have been raised to believe that you don’t get something for nothing. There is no such thing as a free lunch. You only get what you deserve or what you have legitimately earned. And while modern society seems to have run amuck with the idea of entitlement, we all seem to know that earning and effort go hand in hand.

But not with God. God owes us nothing. He is beholden to no one. The apostle Paul, quoting from the book of Isaiah, asks the rhetorical question: “who has given a gift to him [God] that he might be repaid?” (Romans 11:35 ESV). Then Paul adds that the flow of God’s grace is one-directional. For from him and through him and to him are all things” (Romans 11:36 ESV). 

One of the things we have to understand is that the goodness of God is only accessible to fallen mankind through the grace of God. Romans 3:23 reminds us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And Romans 6:23 provides us with the non-negotiable consequences of man’s sin: “the wages of sin is death.”

God’s justice and righteousness require that He condemn and pronounce judgment against all sin. He cannot leave sin unpunished and still remain holy and just. But in His divine wisdom, God chose to provide undeserving men and women a means by which they could be made right (justified) with Him.

God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. – Romans 5:8 ESV

God will also count us as righteous if we believe in him, the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God. – Romans 4:24-25 NLT

Tony Evans writes, “grace means giving a person something he doesn’t deserve” (Tony Evans, Theology You Can Count On). Because of sin, all men deserve death. But grace is God giving men the opportunity to experience forgiveness for their sins and eternal life in place of death and eternal separation from Him. And this amazing grace is available only through faith in God’s Son. As the prophet Isaiah foretold:

…he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. – Isaiah 53:5 NLT

As the old hymn so clearly points out:

Jesus paid it all,
All to him I owe
Sin had left a crimson stain
He washed it white as snow – Elvina M. Hall, 1865

Without the grace of God, every man and woman who has ever lived would stand before God as “a sinner condemned, unclean.” And yet, in 1905, Charles H. Gabriel penned the words to the hymn, My Savior’s Love, providing us with a timeless reminder of just how amazing God’s grace really is.

I stand amazed in the presence
of Jesus, the Nazarene,
and wonder how he could love me,
a sinner, condemned, unclean.

How marvelous, how wonderful!
And my song shall ever be:
How marvelous, how wonderful
is my Savior’s love for me!

But God’s grace extends beyond the point of our salvation. It shows up in the everyday affairs of life, providing God’s children with the power to live the life He has called them to live. Each day, we must rely on His undeserved grace in order to experience the joy, contentment, peace, and power He has promised. At no point are we to fall back on our own strength or to live as though our spiritual growth is somehow up to us. Our salvation was based on grace. So is our sanctification. We cannot grow to be more like Christ through self-effort. In fact, it requires death to self. It demands that we give up any hope of transforming our lives by our own power.  We cannot earn God’s favor. We cannot score brownie points with God. But we can rest in His amazing grace and rely upon the power of His indwelling Spirit.

The author of Hebrews would have us remember that grace is a gift from God. And if we want to enjoy it, we must always go to the source of it.

So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. – Hebrews 4:16 NLT

And James would add that humility is a non-negotiable prerequisite for those who desire to experience the ongoing gift of God’s grace.

God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. – James 4:6 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Son Has Been Born

13 So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife. And he went in to her, and the Lord gave her conception, and she bore a son. 14 Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! 15 He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” 16 Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her lap and became his nurse. 17 And the women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.

18 Now these are the generations of Perez: Perez fathered Hezron, 19 Hezron fathered Ram, Ram fathered Amminadab, 20 Amminadab fathered Nahshon, Nahshon fathered Salmon, 21 Salmon fathered Boaz, Boaz fathered Obed, 22 Obed fathered Jesse, and Jesse fathered David. Ruth 4:13-21 ESV

When reading the closing verses of Ruth’s story, it is essential that we not miss the statement, “and the Lord gave her conception” (Ruth 4:13 ESV). First of all, those six simple words reinforce the underlying theme of God’s redemption that runs throughout the entire book. Ruth, Boaz, and Naomi are nothing more than actors in the divine drama, written by the hand of God and directed according to His sovereign will. Nothing in this story has been the result of luck, fate, kismet, karma, or blind chance.

It all began with Elimelech’s decision to escape the famine in Judah by moving his family to Moab. But his plan had not included any thought of his unexpected death. He never dreamed he would leave his wife a widow living in a foreign land. But that’s exactly what happened. And Naomi’s two sons, unsure of when they might be able to return to Bethlehem, decided to find wives among the Moabites and begin their families. But little did they know that, ten years later, they too would suffer unexpected deaths, leaving two more widows in the land of Moab.

But eventually, the famine subsided in Judah, and Naomi was able to return home, accompanied by her daughter-in-law, Ruth. Now, through a series of divinely-ordained encounters, Ruth is married to a wealthy relative of Naomi’s, a man named Boaz, who rescued these two widows by faithfully executing his obligations as their kinsman-redeemer.

All the way back in chapter 1, the author recorded Naomi’s words to her two daughters-in-law, as she prepared to return to Judah. She fully expected that they would choose to stay in Moab, remarry, and begin their lives anew.

“The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” – Ruth 1:9 ESV

But Ruth had chosen to remain with Naomi, and now that blessing had come to pass. Ruth had found a husband, but not just any husband. By God’s gracious will, she had found Boaz, who proved to be Naomi’s kinsman-redeemer and a man of integrity, honor, and compassion.

Back in Moab, when Ruth had expressed her intentions to remain with Naomi and follow her back to the land of Judah, she had no idea what the future held. But she was willing to accept whatever came her way.

“…where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God…” – Ruth 1:16 ESV

And Ruth had proved true to her word. Now, God had rewarded her faithfulness with a loving husband, a home of her own, and a son. In buying Elimelech’s land, then marrying Ruth, Boaz had done far more than fulfill his responsibility as the kinsman-redeemer. Yes, he had redeemed Naomi and Ruth out of their helpless and seemingly hopeless predicament. But, unbeknownst to him, he had played a major role in God’s redemptive plan for the world.

The women in the city, upon hearing of Ruth’s delivery of her new son, pronounced a blessing that had far greater implications than they could have ever imagined.

“Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” – Ruth 4:14-15 ESV

They gave God glory. But little did they know just how much glory their God deserved. This birth was going to have life-changing ramifications, and not just for Ruth and Boaz. Their words were directed at Naomi and were meant to remind her just how blessed she was. She had found a redeemer, who had restored her life and given her hope in her old age. But more than that, she had found a daughter-in-law who loved her deeply. And now, she had a new son-in-law, who had given her a grandson and the assurance that Elimelech’s line would be continued.

But, in the midst of all the joy and celebration, we have to stop and ask a difficult question: How could God approve of and bless a union between an Israelite and a Moabite when the law seems to have prohibited it?

“No Ammonite or Moabite may enter the assembly of the Lord. Even to the tenth generation, none of them may enter the assembly of the Lord forever, because they did not meet you with bread and with water on the way, when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you.” – Deuteronomy 23:3-4 ESV

The answer can be found in the pledge that Ruth made to Naomi back in the land of Moab: “Your people shall be my people, and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16 ESV). Ruth was stating her intentions to become an Israelite, giving up her Moabite citizenship along with her allegiance to her god. With her words, Ruth was expressing her intentions to become a proselyte to Judaism.

The ancient Hebrews had no concept of “conversion”, although they did practice assimilation of non-Israelites into the Israelite community, either through marriage or acceptance of the beliefs and practices of the community. Having agreed to make Yahweh her God and the Israelites her people, Ruth would have been accepted into the faith community as one of their own. She would have been considered a gerim (Hebrew for “strangers”). And with her marriage to Boaz, a Hebrew in good standing, she would have become a permanent resident and given equal rights and responsibilities as a member of the community. The Israelites were commanded by God to love the gerim, for, at one time, they had been gerim in Egypt.

This inclusion of Ruth into the family of God is critical. And the author reveals its true significance by recording the following words: “A son has been born to Naomi.” Notice that it does not say, “A son has been born to Ruth.” The emphasis is on the lineage of Elimelech, the husband of Naomi. This son was going to carry on the family name. And the author goes on to state that “They named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David” (Ruth 4:17 ESV).

Obed means “redeemer,” which fits in with the whole kinsman-redeemer motif found throughout the story. The goʾel or kinsman-redeemer was, in essence, “a guardian of the family interests.” And Obed, this brand new baby was named “Redeemer” because his birth had redeemed Naomi’s life and restored her husband’s lineage. But he would prove to be an even greater “Redeemer,” as the closing verses of the chapter make clear.

Now these are the generations of Perez: Perez fathered Hezron, Hezron fathered Ram, Ram fathered Amminadab, Amminadab fathered Nahshon, Nahshon fathered Salmon, Salmon fathered Boaz, Boaz fathered Obed, Obed fathered Jesse, and Jesse fathered David. – Ruth 4:18-21 ESV

It seems a bit odd that the author chose to end his narrative with a genealogical record. But there is a divine method to his madness. It reveals God’s sovereign plan and makes clear that God does not operate according to man’s ways or in accordance to expected protocols. Dr. Thomas L. Constable points out the relevance of this genealogical record.

Why does the genealogy start with Perez? He was the founder of the branch of Judah’s family that took his name, to which Elimelech and Boaz belonged. Perez was the illegitimate son of Judah who, like Jacob, seized the initiative to stand in the line of messianic promise from his twin brother. This genealogy emphasizes how God circumvented custom and tradition in providing Israel’s great redeemer, David. Like Perez, Boaz was the descendant of an Israelite father, Salmon, and a Canaanite harlot, Rahab. Both Tamar and Rahab entered Israel because they believed and valued God’s promises to Israel, as Ruth did. David himself was the youngest rather than the eldest son of Jesse. (NET Bible study notes).

And if we fast-forward to the gospel of Matthew, we find within his genealogy of Jesus the same list of names.

Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king. – Matthew 1:2-6 ESV

And Matthew goes on to point out that Jesus would be born a descendant of Abraham, through the line of David the king of Israel. The birth of Obed, “the redeemer,” would result in the birth of Jesus, the ultimate Redeemer of mankind. When the angel appeared to Joseph with news of Mary’s conception, he announced, “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21 ESV). Jesus would be the ultimate kinsman-redeemer. He would serve as the Savior, the one who takes away the sins of the world. His redemption would provide far more than release from widowhood, poverty, despair, or rejection. He would provide the means by which sinful men and women could be restored to a right relationship with God Almighty.

The story of Ruth is the story of redemption. But it’s true significance reaches far beyond the borders of Bethlehem and the period of the Judges. The redemption of God spans borders, boundaries, time, and space. His plan for mankind is not limited to a single nation and is not limited by the passing of years or centuries. The pages of the book of Ruth are filled with the presence of God and the reminder of His unwavering promise to send His Son as the King of kings and Lord of lords.

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    are only a small village among all the people of Judah.
Yet a ruler of Israel,
    whose origins are in the distant past,
    will come from you on my behalf. – Micah 5:2 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Wait For Me

“I have cut off nations;
    their battlements are in ruins;
I have laid waste their streets
    so that no one walks in them;
their cities have been made desolate,
    without a man, without an inhabitant.
I said, ‘Surely you will fear me;
    you will accept correction.
Then your dwelling would not be cut off
    according to all that I have appointed against you.’
But all the more they were eager
    to make all their deeds corrupt.

“Therefore wait for me,” declares the Lord,
    “for the day when I rise up to seize the prey.
For my decision is to gather nations,
    to assemble kingdoms,
to pour out upon them my indignation,
    all my burning anger;
for in the fire of my jealousy
    all the earth shall be consumed. – Zephaniah 3:6-8 ESV

At the time when Zephaniah penned the words of his prophecy from the city of Jerusalem, the northern kingdom of Israel had already been defeated by the Assyrians and its people had been taken captive. Samaria, the capital city of Israel, had been destroyed. The initial conquest of Israel had begun in 740 BC, and 20 years later it culminated with the fall of Samaria to the Assyrians under King Shalmaneser V, but only after a three-year-long siege of the city.

Then the king of Assyria invaded the entire land, and for three years he besieged the city of Samaria. Finally, in the ninth year of King Hoshea’s reign, Samaria fell, and the people of Israel were exiled to Assyria. They were settled in colonies in Halah, along the banks of the Habor River in Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes. – 2 Kings 17:5-6 NLT

And Shalmaneser V repopulated the northern kingdom with a vast array of people from a diverse range of ethnic backgrounds.

The king of Assyria transported groups of people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim and resettled them in the towns of Samaria, replacing the people of Israel. They took possession of Samaria and lived in its towns. – 2 Kings 17:24 NLT

And the people who occupied the southern kingdom of Judah had watched all of this happen. And the unstoppable Assyrian war machine had left a long line of defeated nations in its wake. They had even marched as far south as Judah where, in the year 701 BC they attempted to add Jerusalem to its growing list of victories. But God had intervened on Judah’s behalf.

Then King Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz cried out in prayer to God in heaven. And the Lord sent an angel who destroyed the Assyrian army with all its commanders and officers. So Sennacherib was forced to return home in disgrace to his own land. And when he entered the temple of his god, some of his own sons killed him there with a sword.

That is how the Lord rescued Hezekiah and the people of Jerusalem from King Sennacherib of Assyria and from all the others who threatened them. So there was peace throughout the land. – 2 Chronicles 32:20-22 NLT

But by the time Zephaniah wrote the book that bears his name, it had been years since the people of Judah had witnessed the saving work of God. King Hezekiah had died and replaced by his son Manasseh of whom it was said, “He did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, following the detestable practices of the pagan nations that the Lord had driven from the land ahead of the Israelites. He rebuilt the pagan shrines his father, Hezekiah, had broken down. He constructed altars for the images of Baal and set up Asherah poles. He also bowed before all the powers of the heavens and worshiped them” (2 Chronicles 33:2-3 NLT).

At his death, Manasseh was replaced by his son, Amon. And his reign was marked by increasing apostasy.

He did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, just as his father, Manasseh, had done. He worshiped and sacrificed to all the idols his father had made. But unlike his father, he did not humble himself before the Lord. Instead, Amon sinned even more. – 2 Chronicles 33:22-23 NLT

And Amon’s successor was his 8-year-old son, Josiah, whom the Scriptures paint in a far different light.

He did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight and followed the example of his ancestor David. He did not turn away from doing what was right. – 2 Chronicles 34:2 NLT

Josiah was a reformer. He attempted to restore Judah’s relationship with and dependence upon God. And while his efforts were well-intentioned and heartfelt, they did little to change the spiritual state of Judah’s inhabitants. That is why Zephaniah is having to deliver the words of this prophecy to God’s chosen, yet stubborn people.

This entire book was intended as a wake-up call for the people of Judah. God was reminding them of His unwavering expectation that they obey Him. He had created them for His glory. They were meant to shine as lights in the darkness of the pagan world, revealing how sinful men could live in communion with a holy God. But they had failed. Rather than remain faithful to God and live according to His righteous law, they had chosen to emulate the nations around them. They had compromised their convictions and accommodated their beliefs to such a degree that it was difficult to discern any meaningful difference between themselves and the nations that surrounded them.

And God reminded them that these nations with whom they had chosen to associate and whose practices they had determined to assimilate, had all been the victims of His divine judgment.

“I have wiped out many nations,
    devastating their fortress walls and towers.
Their streets are now deserted;
    their cities lie in silent ruin.
There are no survivors—
    none at all.” – Zephaniah 3:6 NLT

Judah had to look no further than the borders of Israel to the north. Their cities were in ruins. And the once-prolific Jewish population had been supplanted by foreigners. Their towns, villages, and homes were occupied by people from other countries, and what few Jews remained in the land had intermarried with these invaders, creating a new mixed-race population that would later be referred to with the pejorative term, “Samaritans.”

But in spite of all that had happened around them, the people of Judah remained unrepentant and blissfully oblivious to God’s gracious intentions.

“Surely they will have reverence for me now!
    Surely they will listen to my warnings.
Then I won’t need to strike again,
    destroying their homes.’
But no, they get up early
    to continue their evil deeds.” – Zephaniah 3:7 NLT

Even Zephaniah’s warnings would fall on deaf ears. But what the people of Judah failed to understand was that God would not tolerate their behavior forever. He had given them ample warning. He had repeatedly sent His prophets to call His stubborn people to repentance. And He had shown them just how harsh His judgment could be by pouring out His wrath on the northern kingdom of Israel. They too had been descendants of Abraham. Their land had been part of the inheritance promised to the patriarchs and allocated to the various tribes of Israel. But now, ten of those tribes were all but destroyed and their land was occupied by foreign invaders.

Yet, the people of Judah still held onto the false hope that their status as God’s chosen people would act as an inoculation from further harm. They believed themselves to be immune from judgment because they belonged to God. But they were mistaken.

“Therefore wait for me,” declares the Lord,
    “for the day when I rise up to seize the prey.
For my decision is to gather nations,
    to assemble kingdoms,
to pour out upon them my indignation,
    all my burning anger;
for in the fire of my jealousy
    all the earth shall be consumed.” – Zephaniah 3:8 ESV

God was going to bring His judgment. And in this verse, Zephaniah records the full extent of that coming judgment: “all the earth shall be consumed.”

Zephaniah had opened his prophecy with the very same warning from God.

“I will utterly sweep away everything
    from the face of the earth,” declares the Lord.
“I will sweep away man and beast;
    I will sweep away the birds of the heavens
    and the fish of the sea,
and the rubble with the wicked.
    I will cut off mankind
    from the face of the earth,” declares the Lord. – Zephaniah 1:2-3 ESV

The people of Judah were not to have a false sense of security. If God was willing to destroy all mankind from the face of the earth, what right did they have to think they were exempt?

It doesn’t take a biblical scholar to recognize that this prophecy has not yet been fulfilled. God has not yet cut off mankind from the face of the earth. But God did bring judgment upon Judah. It took place when He called the nation of Babylon and used them as His chosen instrument to bring about the destruction of Jerusalem and the fall of the southern kingdom. For 70 years, the land of Judah would lay in a state of suspended animation, its cities and villages unoccupied, its fields untilled and its orchards untended. The once-great city of Jerusalem would be a heap of rubble, its walls and gates destroyed, and the former glory of its temple reduced to a pile of smoke-blackened stones.

Yet, after 70 years in captivity, God would allow a remnant of the people of Judah to return to the land, where they would once again occupy the city of Jerusalem, rebuilding its walls and restoring the temple and the sacrificial system. And it would be hundreds of years later that Jesus, the Messiah of the Jewish people, would enter the city of Jerusalem to the joyous shouts of the people.

“Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” – Matthew 21:9 ESV

And yet, those shouts would later turn to angry demands for His crucifixion. The people would reject God’s own Son. They would turn their backs on the very one who had come to offer them atonement for their sins and the hope of reconciliation with God.

But God is going to send His Son again. The day is coming when the Messiah will return to earth and the location of His arrival will be Jerusalem. The prophet Zechariah describes that future day.

Then the Lord will go out and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle. On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley, so that one half of the Mount shall move northward, and the other half southward. – Zechariah 14:3-4 ESV

The nations of the earth, under the leadership of Antichrist and the control of Satan, will gather to do battle with Jesus and His heavenly host.

And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. – Revelation 19:14-16 ESV

The people of Judah needed to recognize the full plan of God. It was extensive in nature and spanned the centuries. Their little slice of the divine timeline was nothing when compared with the full range of God’s redemptive plan. They were insignificant and unimportant in the grand scheme of things. And they not exempt from God’s wrath. He would judge them for their sins and discipline them for their rebellion. But He would also restore them to the land because He had long-range plans that included the city of Jerusalem and the people of Judah. He was going to send His Son in human flesh, born into the tribe of Judah, a descendant of David, and as the rightful heir to the throne of Israel. And all of this had been prophesied long ago by the patriarch, Jacob.

Judah, my son, is a young lion
    that has finished eating its prey.
Like a lion he crouches and lies down;
    like a lioness—who dares to rouse him?
The scepter will not depart from Judah,
    nor the ruler’s staff from his descendants,
until the coming of the one to whom it belongs,
    the one whom all nations will honor. – Genesis 49:9-10 NLT

God is not done with Judah. And He has not yet fulfilled all the prophecies found in the book of Zephaniah. But He will.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

   

 

A Remnant Reserved

1 Gather together, yes, gather,
    O shameless nation,
before the decree takes effect
    —before the day passes away like chaff—
before there comes upon you
    the burning anger of the Lord,
before there comes upon you
    the day of the anger of the Lord.
Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land,
    who do his just commands;
seek righteousness; seek humility;
    perhaps you may be hidden
    on the day of the anger of the Lord.
Zephaniah 2:1-3 ESV

The prophet has warned the people of Judah that the judgment of God is near. The righteous wrath of God was inevitable and inescapable, and they had no one to blame but themselves. They had sinned against Him and acted as if He would do nothing about. But they had been wrong.

Yet, the prophet provides a glimmer of hope. He delivers a message to the small contingent of the faithful who remain in Judah – “the humble of the land, who do his just commands” (Zephaniah 2:3 ESV). He calls on them to seek righteousness and humility. Though they found themselves surrounded on all sides by apostasy, unfaithfulness, and wickedness, they were to remain committed to God and His commands. All was not lost. The could still enjoy the mercy of God, but it was going to require that they remain untarnished by the spirit of rebellion that permeated the nation.

In a sense, Zephaniah is dividing the nation into two diametrically opposite contingents. On the one hand, he addresses the “shameless nation,” demanding that they gather together in a public assembly. As a nation, they are marked by pride, arrogance, and a stubborn reluctance to return to the Lord in contrition and repentance.  But Zephaniah warns them that they need to reconsider their hard-headed determination to reject God’s call before it’s too late. If they’re not careful, their opportunity to receive mercy will disappear like worthless husks of grain carried by the winds of God’s judgment. They will find themselves out of time and out of chances to enjoy the gracious forgiveness of God.

Zephaniah is calling for a solemn assembly, a public gathering of the people intended as an opportunity to confess their sins and call on God’s mercy. The prophet Joel described the nature of these communal gatherings.

Consecrate a fast;
    call a solemn assembly.
Gather the elders
    and all the inhabitants of the land
to the house of the Lord your God,
    and cry out to the Lord. – Joel 1:14 ESV

It was God’s desire that His people repent. He wanted to spare them the coming judgment, but it was going to require a radical change in their attitudes and actions.

“Yet even now,” declares the Lord,
    “return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
    and rend your hearts and not your garments.”
Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;
    and he relents over disaster. – Joel 2:12-13 ESV

The sad reality was that the majority of the people of Judah would remain unrepentant. They would refuse to return to God. Their hearts would remain stubbornly resistant. Their lives would be marked by feasting rather than fasting, celebration instead of mourning, and sin-fueled happiness in place of repentance-based weeping. And yet, in the very next chapter, God reveals that He will ensure the persistent presence of a faithful few.

I will leave in your midst
    a people humble and lowly.
They shall seek refuge in the name of the Lord – Zephaniah 3:12 ESV

No matter how bad things got, there would always be a remnant of God’s people who maintained their unwavering commitment to Him. Even though they would represent the minority camp, they would continue to seek security in their covenant relationship with God Almighty. And God offers them what sounds like a less-than-encouraging promise for their efforts: “perhaps you may be hidden on the day of the anger of the Lord” (Zephaniah 2:3 ESV).

God wasn’t guaranteeing their survival or promising them the complete absence of suffering. Their faith was not going to immunize them from the coming judgment. But there was always the possibility that God would allow them to escape the full brunt of His divine judgment.

Even during the end-times event known as the Great Tribulation, many of those who come to faith in Christ will end up as martyrs for the cause of Christ. Their lives will be marked by intense persecution at the hand of Antichrist, followed by the loss of their lives. They will represent a remnant, a portion of the entirety of humanity who will be alive at that time. But despite having placed their faith in Christ, they will not escape the wrath of the enemy. In fact, in the book of Revelation, the apostle John records the vision he received concerning this remnant of God’s people.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” – Revelation 7:9-10 ESV

John goes on to provide further clarification as to the identity of these individuals:

“These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

“Therefore they are before the throne of God,
    and serve him day and night in his temple;
    and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
    the sun shall not strike them,
    nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
    and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” – Revelation 7:14-17 ESV

God cares for His own. And in the case of the people of Judah, while God was going to bring judgment against them for their sins against Him, He promised the existence of a faithful remnant. And their ongoing presence would ensure the fulfillment of His covenant promises to Abraham. God would not completely destroy His chosen people because He had plans to make redemption available through His Son, who would be born into the tribe of Judah.

The prophet Isaiah records God’s promise of the remnant and how, even in the face of coming judgment, God would bring display His righteousness by sending His Son as the payment for mankind’s sin debt.

In that day the remnant of Israel and the survivors of the house of Jacob will no more lean on him who struck them, but will lean on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, in truth. A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God. For though your people Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will return. Destruction is decreed, overflowing with righteousness. – Isaiah 10:20-22 ESV

And Paul

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, for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.

And as Isaiah predicted,

“If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring,
    we would have been like Sodom
    and become like Gomorrah.” – Romans 9:27-29 ESV

Judah deserved complete destruction. just as the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah had. But God would spare Judah so that He could preserve a remnant. And from that remnant would come the Savior of the world and the only possible means of redemption for a lost and dying world.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

   

 

I Am With You Always

11 While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. 12 And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers 13 and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:11-20 ESV

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Of all the gospel authors, Matthew provides us with the most abbreviated version of the events surrounding Jesus’ last hours on earth. For whatever reason, he chose to leave out all the appearances Jesus made after His resurrection. We know from the accounts penned by John, Luke, and Mark, that Jesus appeared to His followers repeatedly during the hours between His resurrection and His ascension. There was the occasion when He had walked alongside the two distraught disciples on the road to Emmaus as they discussed the recent death of their master (Luke 24:13-32). Initially, they had been unable to recognize Jesus. But when they eventually realized they were talking with the resurrected Lord, they made a beeline to the room where the 10 disciples were gathered together, informing them of their encounter with Jesus.  And as they were sharing the exciting news, Jesus suddenly appeared among them (Luke 24:33-40).

John records that Thomas had not been in the room that day, and when his fellow disciples told him what had happened, he expressed his reservations. So, eight days later, Jesus revealed Himself to Thomas, telling him, “Do not disbelieve but believe” (John 20:27).

The apostle Paul provides a succinct summary of all of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances.

He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him. – 1 Corinthians 15:5-8 NLT

But Matthew chose to leave out all of this. Not only that, He doesn’t even mention the ascension of Jesus. Dr. Stanley Toussaint provides us with a compelling explanation for Matthew’s decision to leave out this seemingly vital part of the narrative.

The reason for Matthew’s diligence in approaching the resurrection in such an apologetic manner is evident since so much is dependent upon the resurrection of the Messiah. It authenticated His person. To the nation of Israel, His resurrection was the sign of the prophet Jonah (Matthew 12:38-49) attesting the fact that Jesus was the Messiah. The reason Matthew says nothing about the ascension is bound up in this point. If Jesus is the Messiah, then an account of the ascension is both unnecessary and self-evident to the Israelite. He would yet come in clouds of glory. What mattered to Matthew was that Jesus was Israel’s Messiah and the resurrection proved that fact; therefore he goes no further. – Toussaint, Stanley D. Behold the King: A Study of Matthew. Portland, Oreg.: Multnomah Press, 1980.

For Matthew, the resurrection said it all. If Jesus had been raised from the dead, which Matthew clearly believed, then His ascension would have been an undisputed fact. Matthew’s primary point was to prove the Messiahship of Jesus. That’s because, as a Jew, Matthew had written his gospel with a Jewish audience in mind. He had been out to prove that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, and the Savior of the world. And, for him, the resurrection was clear evidence and conclusive proof of that claim.

The tomb was empty, and news of that reality had already begun to spread. In fact, the temple guards who had been tasked with protecting the tomb had already delivered their report of the missing body to Caiaphas, the high priest, and his father-in-law. The Jewish high council had placed these guards at the tomb of Jesus in order to prevent the disciples from stealing His body. The members of the Sanhedrin had been informed of Jesus’ bold and blasphemous claim that He would rise from the dead. So, they assumed His fanatical disciples, in a pathetic attempt to keep their little revolution alive, would try to steal the body of Jesus and declare Him to be alive.  Much to their surprise and chagrin, that is essentially what the guards reported. And Matthew records that the guards told the high priest “all that had taken place.” That would have included exactly what Matthew had reported.

…there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. – Matthew 28:2-4 ESV

These guards would have feared for their lives. They had failed in their assignment. The body they had been instructed to guard was no longer there. If anything, these men could have fabricated a lie that provided them with a plausible alibi. But instead, they told the truth – as crazy as it may have sounded. Not only had they failed to secure the tomb, but they had also fallen asleep on the job. So, they most likely told their bosses exactly what had happened in great detail.

But Matthew records that Caiaphas, after having heard the unwelcome news, assembled the rest of the high council. Amazingly, Caiaphas determined that the best strategy was to pay off the guards and spread the rumor that the disciples had stolen the body – the very thing he had hoped to prevent. It seems evident that he knew something else had taken place, and this decision was nothing more than a poor attempt at a coverup. The last thing he wanted was a rumor of Jesus’ resurrection spreading throughout the city.

And yet, that fact was Matthew’s primary point. Jesus was alive. He had risen from the dead, just as He had promised. He was the Messiah of Israel and the Savior of the world. Matthew had opened up his gospel with the encounter between Joseph and the angel.

“Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” – Matthew 1:20-21 ESV

Matthew had followed that story with the one involving the arrival of the wise men, who had come in search of “he who has been born king of the Jews?(Matthew 2:2 ESV).

Next, Matthew recorded Herod’s attempt to eliminate the infant Jesus as a threat by having all the male babies executed. He reported Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist and the divine pronouncement from God, stating, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17 ESV).

Matthew had been out to prove that Jesus was Immanuel, “God with us” (Matthew 1:23 ESV). And the resurrection of Jesus was the final, conclusive piece of evidence.

Jesus had directed His disciples to meet Him at a mountain in Galilee. We are not told which mountain, but it may have been the very place where Jesus had given His sermon on the mount recorded in Matthew 5-7. But regardless of the exact location of their place of rendezvous, Jesus appeared yet again to His followers. Matthew reports that while all 11 of the disciples worshiped Him, some still harbored doubts. He doesn’t explain what he meant by this. Did they doubt Jesus’ resurrection? That seems hard to imagine, based on the fact that He was standing right in front of them. Did they doubt that He was the Messiah? Perhaps. It could be that they were still harboring hopes that He would reveal Himself to be the King they had long hoped for.

The Greek word translated as “doubted” is edistasan, and it refers to a spirit of hesitation. It is likely that they were uncertain and fearful of all that was going on around them. They probably harbored concerns about the future. They were in unchartered waters. The events of the last few days were not what they had expected, and they had no idea what was going to happen next. What were Jesus’ plans? What would happen to them? The Sanhedrin had already proven just how far they would go to eliminate Jesus as a threat, and they were not going to give up easily.

But Jesus attempted to calm their fears and doubts by telling them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18 ESV). This statement was meant to assure His wavering, fear-focused disciples that He was in complete control of the situation. The very fact that He was standing before them, alive and well, was proof that He had authority from God Almighty. He had done what no other man had ever done before – He had conquered death and the grave. And they had no reason to fear.

But they did have work to do. And Jesus, according to His God-given authority, commissioned His followers to continue His work in His absence.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:19-20 ESV

No more hiding. No more fearing. They were to boldly proclaim the good news of Jesus’ Messiahship. He was the Son of God. He was Immanuel, God with us. He was the King of the Jews and the Savior of the world. And that remarkable news was to be proclaimed throughout the world. While the temple guards and the Sanhedrin were busy spreading lies, the disciples were to spread the truth about the death-defeating, sin-forgiving power of the resurrected Savior.

And Jesus assured His followers that, though He was leaving, He would still be with them. This promise was fulfilled when the Holy Spirit came to dwell in them on the day of Pentecost. The Spirit would be their constant companion and source of divine power. And, while Jesus would soon depart and return to His Father’s side in heaven, the Spirit of God would remain with them all the days of their lives. And He will remain with all those who make up the body of Christ, the Church, until the end of the age.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Down, But Not Out

55 There were also many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him, 56 among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

57 When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. 58 He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. 59 And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud 60 and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. 61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

62 The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate 63 and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ 64 Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” 65 Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” 66 So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard. – Matthew 27:55-66 ESV

Jean_Jouvenet_Descent_From_The_Cross

Man’s sin debt had been paid, but the cost had been high. Jesus, the Son of God, had given His life so that those condemned to death might experience eternal life. He died so that others might live. But, as the apostle Peter reminds us, “God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God” (1 Peter 1:18-19 NLT).

But as the Roman soldiers removed the lifeless body of Jesus from the cross, He was anything but spotless. His body had been beaten and bruised. His face had been slapped repeatedly leaving it swollen and practically unrecognizable. And hundreds of years earlier, the prophet Isaiah had described just how badly Jesus would be disfigured by this tragic event.

But many were amazed when they saw him. His face was so disfigured he seemed hardly human, and from his appearance, one would scarcely know he was a man. – Isaiah 52:14 NLT

Jesus was covered with His own blood that had flowed from the wounds left by the large nails pounded into his hands and feet. He had a gaping wound in His side from the point of the spear that had been meant to ensure His death. The crown of thorns that had been mockingly pressed onto His head had caused blood to flow down His face and into His eyes. The sinless, spotless Lamb of God had been brutally and mercilessly murdered.

In the book of Revelation, John records a vision he received of Jesus in His resurrected and glorified state, standing in the throne room of God Almighty. And John’s description of Jesus is quite interesting.

…between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain. – Revelation 5:6 ESV

Jesus doesn’t appear in the form of a man but as a Lamb. And John adds the telling descriptor: “as though it had been slain.” The Greek word translated as “slain” is sphazō and was commonly used to refer to the slaughter of an animal for sacrifice. It can also be translated as “butchered.” Jesus was the sacrificial Lamb, offered for the sins of many, and the ordeal had left its marks on Him.

It’s interesting to note how Matthew describes those followers of Christ who had remained at Golgotha to the bitter end. He says they were looking on from a distance. Yet, he only mentions the names of women. Not a single one of the disciples is named. And among the women was “the mother of the sons of Zebedee” (Matthew 27:56 ESV).

One has to wonder what had been going through her mind as she watched Jesus being crucified between the two thieves. She is the one who had come to Jesus and begged Him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom” (Matthew 20:21 ESV). And Jesus had told her, “You do not know what you are asking” (Matthew 20:22 ESV). It’s likely that, as she watched Jesus die, she imagined her own two sons, James and John, hanging on the crosses to His right and left. Little had she shown that Jesus’ crowning as King was going to involve thorns, not gold. His entrance into His Kingdom was going to demand crucifixion, not a coronation. His exaltation would be proceeded by humiliation and death. And rather than taking up residence in a palace, Jesus would be placed in a borrowed tomb.

Joseph of Arimathea, a follower of Jesus, offered up his own tomb so that Jesus could have a proper burial. And once again, the prophet Isaiah spoke of this long before it ever happened.

But he was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man’s grave. – Isaiah 53:9 NLT

As Joseph had the stone rolled across the opening to his own tomb, the entire scene has a sense of finality to it. Jesus was dead. The crowds had dispersed. The supernatural darkness had passed and the light had returned. And everyone in Jerusalem had gone back to their lives as usual. Only a handful of women stood by, watching as Jesus was buried. This sad and sobering scene was also foretold by Isaiah.

He was despised and rejected—
    a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
    He was despised, and we did not care. – Isaiah 53:3 NLT

But the religious leaders, still wary of the influence Jesus had over the people, took steps to ensure that nothing would happen that might resurrect the memory of Jesus. They knew that Jesus had predicted that He would rise again. So, in order to prevent His disciples from stealing the body of Jesus and spreading rumors that He was alive, they stationed guards at the tomb with orders to remain there until the three days had passed. Evidently, they had attempted to get Pilate to provide Roman guards, but he had refused. “So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard” (Matthew 27:55 ESV).

And they waited.

This chapter ends in sadness. Its tragic conclusion provides the reader with little in the way of hope. Jesus is dead. The disciples have scattered to the four winds. The mother of Jesus and the women who loved and followed Him are in deep sorrow, having not been given the opportunity to anoint His body for burial. Which makes the anointing of Jesus in Bethany so important. Matthew records that “a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table” (Matthew 26:7 ESV), and Jesus had clearly pronounced, “In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial” (Matthew 26:12 ESV).

As dark as this moment may appear, the invisible, yet sovereign hand of God is evident throughout the narrative. Everything is taking place according to His divine plan – down to the last detail.

…he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins… – Isaiah 53:5 NLT

…He was beaten so we could be whole. – Isaiah 53:5 NLT

…He was whipped so we could be healed. – Isaiah 53:5 NLT

…He was oppressed and treated harshly. – Isaiah 53:7 NLT

…He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. – Isaiah 53:7 NLT

…Unjustly condemned, he was led away. – Isaiah 53:8 NLT

his life was cut short in midstream… – Isaiah 53:8 NLT

…he was struck down for the rebellion of my people. – Isaiah 53:8 NLT

he was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man’s grave. – Isaiah 53:9 NLT

All of this had been pre-ordained by the will of God. And Jesus had willingly played His role in the whole affair – out of obedience to His heavenly Father and as an expression of His love for mankind. And while the closing verses of chapter 27 present a dark and dismal scene, we know that the story was far from over. There was more to come. God’s plan was not yet complete. And Isaiah provides us with yet one more premonition of what lies ahead.

And because of his experience,
    my righteous servant will make it possible
for many to be counted righteous,
    for he will bear all their sins. – Isaiah 53:11 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson