In the beginning… God’s word

Another year, another journey in God’s word.

Today I cracked open my new ESV Journaling Bible, given to me for Christmas by my second daughter. My plan, consistent with the last several years, is to read through the Bible using the old M’Cheyne reading plan. So it was Genesis 1 (and Ezra 1, Matthew 1, and Acts 1) for me today. Here are some thoughts from my time in God’s word today.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1)

The first thing we read is that God created. Everything. The heavens and the earth. An all-encompassing statement about all that we can observe and the One who brought it into being.

And then we read of the means by which God created.

And God said, … (Genesis 1:3)

At least 10 more times that phrase is repeated in chapter 1. God speaks. His voice is heard, and the result is that the heavens and earth come into view. All that we can observe, all that there is, is brought into being by the word of God.

God’s word is powerful.

Think about it. We speak hundreds and thousands of words each day. But none of them have the ability to bring something out of nothing, to bring order out of chaos. At least not in the way we see God’s word work. His word has the ability to bring light into darkness, to bring life out of nothing, to bring purpose and meaning to what was formless and void.

God’s word is important.

The Bible’s creation account does not tell the tale of cosmic dust and impersonal matter. It does not tell the mythological tale of gods in conflict. All that is comes about by God’s word. The prominence and preeminence of “and God said” should ring out as something important, something of value, something that deserves our attention. He speaks, and we listen. We must listen.

God’s word is good.

At the end of the day, it really matters whether or not something is good. Does it have purpose? Does it have beauty? A thing is good if it functions properly and has appealing aesthetic qualities. A thing is good if it has form and function.

And God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:10)

God’s word is good because it brought forth good. Light, sky, sea and land, sun and moon, birds and fish, animals and man, all are good. God’s creation is beautiful. It has purpose and meaning. It has harmony. And at the end of the creation account we read God’s own assessment of the works of his word.

And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. (Genesis 1:31)

God’s word in my life, and yours

God’s word is powerful, important, and good (among other things). God’s word did not cease at the end of creation. God continued to speak. His words are recorded for us in Scripture. The Bible is the source of his revealed word, his intentions, his purposes and plans, his design for us.

All Scripture is breathed out by God … (2 Timothy 3:16)

One of my prayers for 2018 is that I would experience God’s word in a powerful way, that I would come to know in a deeper way the importance and good of God’s word. And I pray that this will be true for you as well.

And one more thing.

[The Word] was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:2-3)

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through him and for him. (Colossians 1:16)

May you be moved to devour God’s word in 2018. May you be filled with a desire, a hunger to know God more deeply and to see the beauty of His Son Jesus, the fulfillment of all of God’s promises and purposes for creation. May you come to see the centrality in your life of the Word made flesh. Your and my only hope for 2018.


What Do You Value Most?

What you value most is what you spend the most time doing. What you spend the most time doing is what fills you with the most joy.

When was the last time you experienced joy in God’s word? I pray that you experience it every day. If not, perhaps you need to learn from the example of the writer of Psalm 119.

Psalm 119 contains 176 verses that beautifully express the greatness of God’s word and the psalmist’s delight in it. The writer of the psalm described God’s word in various ways—as law, commandments, precepts, rules, statutes, et al. The psalmist understood God’s word to be all that was contained in the Old Testament Scriptures. As New Testament believers we understand that the whole Bible is God’s inspired word. We know that it both reveals his plan of redemption through his Son and equips God’s people for service.

Scripture really is an amazing gift from God. It is a demonstration of his grace to us that we have this record of his self-revelation. The psalmist recognized this fact and expressed the value of Scripture in the monetary terms of his day. He wrote,

“The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces” (119:72).

There wasn’t much of more value in the psalmist’s day than items of gold and silver. Yet, he understood that God’s law, his instruction written in Scripture, was worth far more.

The value of Scripture is not just a 2,500 year-old sentiment. It is as true now as it was then. God’s word is more valuable than any amount of money one could ever accumulate.

Is it that valuable to you? Before you answer with an emphatic “yes,” consider that which you truly value. Whatever you spend time doing is what you value most. Is God’s word better to you than television, movies, internet, smartphones, music, hobbies, sports, hunting, fishing, fitness, beauty, friends, family, work or service? I’m sure you could add more to this list.

My fear is that our hearts are so far from delighting in God’s word that we value it much less than life’s most trivial pursuits. How is it that we can treat what God has revealed to us as of such little value?

Let me encourage you to delight in God’s word, to meditate on it, to believe it, to be consumed with longing for it at all times. Turn off the TV, shut down the computer, say “no” to that activity, and consume God’s word. Train to increase your appetite for Scripture. All other pursuits will begin to taste stale in comparison. It is then that you’ll begin to experience the eternal joy of God’s presence in his word.

God, give us hearts to delight in Scripture. By your grace may our joy increase in you and your word.

What’s Up with Johnny B?

Last time we saw how a little religious and socioeconomic background affected our understanding of Matthew 2. We can also take the same approach with the third chapter of Matthew and see how it can help us understand the beginning of the ministry of John the Baptist.

Matthew 3 opens with John the Baptist preaching in the wilderness of Judea. If John were a church planter it would be an odd place to start—in the middle of nowhere. Yet this is exactly where John’s ministry began, and for two good reasons. The first reason is self-evident from the passage before us. Matthew writes, “For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight”’” (3:3). In other words, John’s ministry in the wilderness was a direct fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah, which spoke of a new deliverance by God for his people.

The second reason John’s ministry began in the wilderness was because that was most likely the place he grew up. Luke tells us that John was born to very old parents, who probably didn’t live long enough to raise him. He may have then moved in with relatives in the wilderness east of Jerusalem. Some scholars even speculate that John was brought up by people connected to the Essenes, a Jewish sect which had separated from the rest of Jewish culture at that time. This may partially explain why John’s dress and diet were so unusual. “John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey” (3:4). Of course, John’s appearance also had a connection with one of Israel’s greatest prophets, Elijah (cf. 2 Kings 1:8), but it also fit the rugged and humble dress of those living on the outskirts of society. His food, also, would have connected him with the very poor, as well as with those very pious in their dietary laws.

The result of this information about John’s ministry, appearance and diet is that he would have fit the part of an outsider, one sent to rouse Israel and prepare them for the coming of the Messiah. Not only did he fit the part physically and socially, but Matthew reminds his readers that he was the fulfillment of that Old Testament expectation.

Another unique part of John’s ministry was that he baptized those who came to him. This may not seem all that unusual to most modern people. Baptism in one form or another has been a part of the Christian tradition for centuries. It was also something that first century Jews would have been familiar with, also. But the uniqueness of John’s baptism was in those who were being baptized. At that time, baptism was conferred on those who were becoming converts to Judaism. That is, outsiders were baptized as a sign that they were joining the Jewish religion. But John was offering baptism to Jewish people. It is no wonder then, that the religious leaders of the day, the Pharisees and Sadducees were coming to witness this baptism (3:7). John baptized “with water for repentance” (3:11), preparing the people for the coming kingdom. His message was to “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (3:2). John’s message (3:7-12) was one of judgment against the sins of the people. They needed to get ready for the coming of the Promised One, and baptism was the sign that they were prepared.

In the midst of John’s message to the Pharisees and Sadducees he referred to the coming of one “mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry” (3:11). This seems an odd reference for modern readers. But what John was saying essentially was that he was not even worthy to be the Messiah’s slave. It was the slave who often had the responsibility of carrying his master’s sandals when he traveled. Compared to the greatness of the Messiah, John was not even worthy to carry out this humble task.

Finally, reading on in the passage we see that Jesus himself came to be baptized by John in the Jordan river. Immediately following his baptism Matthew writes that, “the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him” (3:16). Additionally, a voice spoke from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (3:17). Many Christians see in this a picture of the trinity, the fact that God the Father, speaking from heaven; God the Spirit, coming down in the form of a dove; and God the Son, in the person of Jesus, were all present in one place, yet in three distinct persons. While this scene certainly does reinforce this particular doctrine, it was probably not the immediate reference in the mind of Matthew’s first readers. Instead, they would have likely recalled the many occurrences of God’s Spirit coming on individuals in the Old Testament Scripture. The Spirit of God came on a person to confirm his calling for a particular task or ministry. The voice from heaven, too, would have reminded readers of the authoritative voice of God which spoke the world into existence and spoke His word to the people of Israel.

In conclusion, the background of this passage helps us to get a grasp on the nature of the John’s ministry and how he would have been perceived by his audience. Something radical was happening in the land. God’s Messiah was coming, and John was just the right person to prepare His way. The people themselves needed to not only hear the message but to respond to it by confessing their sins and preparing their hearts for the Messiah’s coming. And when He did come, Jesus earthly ministry was confirmed by God through the voice, the Spirit, and the prophetic ministry of John.

How would you have responded to the announcement of the kingdom?

What’s your thing?

A lot of Christians have a life verse or a motto of some sort, something specific that guides their lives. I like the conclusion that these three (giants in the Church) come up with.

It’s actually worth scrolling to the bottom of the page and watching the videos in order from the bottom, up.

I have so appreciated these men and their ministries. If you haven’t yet, you need to read one of their books. They have written some classics.