Revelation Of The Word Of God

The Word of God was more than a man and more than an earthly Messiah whom the Jews incorrectly assumed would restore national Israel. The Word was the person of the Son of God who had heavenly origins, and thus, had no earthly aspirations in reference to a worldly kingdom reign. His kingdom was simply not of this world (See Jn 18:36). We must continue this understanding into the second document (Revelation) that John wrote in order to encourage all Christians, especially Jewish Christians.

Though John had in the back of his mind the Gentiles who would eventually bring down judgment on national Israel in A.D. 70, the Holy Spirit turned John’s thinking to the subject of God’s judgment of those who would bring judgment on Israel. He would before the consummation of national Israel—the time which John did not know—ask Jewish Christians to remember that in Israel’s past God used nations of the world as Assyria and Babylonia in order to bring judgment on apostate Israel. These were nations that God used by proxy to judge His people who had gone into apostasy. However, these nations were eventually judged themselves by God. Though God used unbelieving nations to punish His people, He eventually brought judgment on those He used to judge His people. This was a principle of judgment on the part of God throughout the history of Israel, specifically during the years of the judges of Israel (See Jg 2:11-15). It was now time for God to move in the same way against Rome, which nation of government would eventually be consummated by the middle of the fifth century.

The document of Revelation is a reassuring message that God had not changed His means by which He judged the nations of this world He had used to preserve a remnant of Israel for the revelation of the Word of God. Therefore, in the visions of Revelation the Holy Spirit turned His attention to God’s judgment of the Roman Empire.

In the writing of the document of Revelation, John did not want the Romans to understand that their end would also be the work of God. Revelation, therefore, was written in the style of apocalyptic literature with cryptic symbols (Rv 1:1). The Jewish Christians at the time of writing could understand the visions of Revelation. However, those who were not familiar with either Jewish history or the Old Testament could understand the visions of the book. And in many cases, since we ourselves are removed over two thousand years from the writing of the document, as well as the experiences of the Jews at the time of writing, we also have some difficulty understanding portions of the book.

Those Jewish Christians who read the document of Revelation knew preciously what John was saying. Because of their historical background and knowledge of Old Testament history, they understood that the nation who brought judgment upon apostate Israel would eventually have judgment brought upon them. It is for this reason that the document of Revelation was possibly written before the consummation of national Israel in A.D. 70.

At the time, the Holy Spirit wanted to bring some comfort to Jewish Christians who personally witnessed the decimation of their national heritage. If Revelation were not written until the latter part of the first century, then surely the visions of the book had been revealed to John before A.D. 70, which visions he communicated to the church before the fall of Jerusalem.

The message of the visions was that the Jewish Christians would survive the consummation of national Israel in A.D. 70. As the church, they would continue to be the reflection on earth of the kingdom reign of Jesus from heaven. During His ministry, Jesus specifically promised this to the Jewish believers in His audience. In the context of His prophecy of the consummation of national Israel, He stated “Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Mt 13:43). National Israel had to be extracted from the scene of world history before the world could understand that God’s work was no longer through the Jews, but through the new Israel of God, the church. In other words, before the world could focus exclusively on Jesus as the revealed Word of God, all religious distractions in reference to Judaism had to be removed. Those who lived in obedience to the gospel could shine forth to the unbelieving world only when the confusion of Judaism was removed. When the unbelieving Jews realized that their God did not spare them through the destruction of Jerusalem, then they would reconsider that Jesus was the Word of God who was revealed through the preservation of His body of believers.

Therefore, John carried the metaphor of the incarnate Word of God into the book of Revelation. At the very beginning of Revelation, the Lord Jesus surely referred back to John’s gospel account of Jesus when He revealed in the book of Revelation that “He sent and signified it [the visions of revelation] by His angel to His bondservant John, who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Rv 1:1,2). John had previously in the “gospel according to John” testified to the Word of God in His testimony to the Jews (Jn 1:1-3). In this introductory verse of Revelation, the Lord Jesus here linked the two documents of John and Revelation.

The first document (John) was a defense that through the Word of God, God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit declared the gospel to the world through the incarnate Son. The second document (Revelation) revealed that regardless of all the social chaos through which Jewish Christians were about to go, God was still working with Israel as He did throughout their history. At the time of writing, or when the visions occurred, the Word of God was no longer on earth, but was reigning as King of kings and Lord of lords at the right hand of God (1 Tm 6:15). If the Jews rejected His will while He was on earth, then He would bring destruction upon them (See Hs 4:6). They subsequently rejected Him, and thus, God brought down judgment upon them (See Jn 1:11).

There is a specific theme that is maintained throughout John’s documents of both John and Revelation. The focus of both documents is on the Word of God in the person of the incarnate Son of God. Emphasis is not on a catechism of rites, rituals or ceremonies that would identify some organized religious structure. This is abundantly clear in both documents. In the document of gospel, John wanted to turn his readers’ attention directly to the Word of God. He wanted his readers to focus on Jesus as the Son. In the document of Revelation, his focus was on the reigning Word of God.

Since our focus must be on the person of the Word of God, then we must concentrate on the present gospel reign of King Jesus. Those who lead in the defense of this kingdom reign are the obedient subjects of His kingdom. In other words, those who defend Jesus as the reigning Messiah (Christ), as the incarnate Son of God, are those who are the church. We must never reverse this order. We do not doctrinally defend the church, and thus make ourselves as the “true church” the defenders of the Son of God as the revealed Word of God. It is always the other way around. We are defenders of His church because He is the present reigning Word of God. All judgment has now been given unto Him (At 17:30,31). At this time, the sword of judgment goes forth from His mouth (Rv 1:16).

Because our King is the Word of God who revealed the gospel to the world, we are simply those of all His kingdom of subjects who have responded to His message, and thus we are the manifestation on earth of His kingdom reign from heaven. Our existence as the church is evidence that He is the Word of God through whom God has communicated to mankind. This is precisely what Paul meant when he wrote that “the manifold wisdom of God” was made known to many through the church (Ep 3:10).

We are sure that many will miss this point in reference to our discussions concerning the gospel. When we use the word “gospel,” meaning good news, we are not talking about some systematic theology that is propagated by the subjects of the kingdom, as was the case of Judaism that inspired nationalistic aspirations for Jewish independence. On the contrary, we are not talking about defending religious heritages. We are not talking about the doctrines and commandments of man, nor the religious traditions of some sect. We are discussing a personality, an entity, an incarnation of God Himself. Submitted subjects of the kingdom reign of King Jesus are the church of His subjects on earth.

The Word of God was, and is, a personality. John was clear on this matter. “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. And we behold His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father” (Jn 1:14). It is the Word of God as the incarnate revelation of the person of God into this world who must receive all glory. This is what Jesus said: “If God is glorified in Him [the Son], God will also glorify Him in Himself, and will immediately glorify Him” (Jn 13:32).

Those religious groups that establish their foundation for existence on the religious heritage of their fathers have missed the point. Some groups even preach the doctrines of the New Testament as the gospel. These too have missed the point. They turn the gospel into a system of law by which they can identify themselves as the “true church” because the perform according to a system “sound doctrine.”

It is preaching Christ and His gospel crucifixion for our sins that defines us as the church (See 1 Co 1:23). Preaching specific subjects as the Lord’s Supper is not preaching the gospel, for the Supper is not the gospel. It is a remembrance of the gospel. We teach the Supper to all those who have obeyed the gospel. The Supper would mean nothing if it were not for the truth of the gospel. Likewise, preaching acappella singing is not preaching the gospel, for we sing in praise of the gospel of the revealed Word of God. Preaching a supposed name of the church is not preaching the gospel, for the church is the assembly of all those who have obeyed the gospel. Even preaching baptism is not preaching the gospel, for baptism is a response to the gospel. Paul was clear on this matter. “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel” (1 Co 1:17). Therefore, if one would preach the gospel, then he, as Paul, must “preach Christ crucified” (1 Co 1:23). The Holy Spirit instructed the behavior of those who have obeyed the gospel, but the instructions for gospel living are not the gospel.

Gospel refers to the sacrificial atonement of God in the flesh who was nailed to a cross outside Jerusalem. This gospel atonement that was revealed from the throne of God continues to this day. The word of God was revealed in the person of Jesus two thousand years ago. In the book of Revelation, Jesus, through the visions, wanted to reassure us that He was still alive and in control of all things (Hb 1:3). His present gospel reign reassures us that He was the only One who was worthy to reign because of His incarnate offering (See Rv 4:9-11).

We can determine if one is a preacher of a religious sect if he preaches primarily the identity of his sect, with little focus on Jesus Christ and Him crucified for the sins of the world. We have witnessed that there are so many who are indoctrinated with the doctrine and traditions of their particular religious sect that they cannot distinguish between the gospel of the incarnate Word of God and the identity of their religion. Those who cannot make this distinction are actually preaching, as Paul wrote, “another gospel” (Gl 1:6-9) They are preaching “another gospel” because they are preaching the gospel of the incarnate, crucified, resurrected, ascended, and reigning Son of God, plus all the added traditions of their particular religious box. They are subsequently preaching the gospel with required rites, rituals or ceremonies that identify their particular sect.

We can understand now the mission of the early evangelists as they went forth to preach the gospel. As John, they were persecuted for preaching the revelation of God through the incarnate Word of God (Rv 1:9). Nevertheless, regardless of all the opposition from those who were boxed in religion, they continued unabated to preach the Word of God, that is the person of the incarnate Son of God. In preaching Jesus as the Christ and Son of God, they were seeking to bring people out of religion and into the freedom they can enjoy in Christ.

If one does not understand the nature of the gospel, therefore, he is not a preacher of the simple gospel. He has complicated the message of the gospel by adding law to the gospel. For example, if he is preaching “the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week” as the gospel, then he is trying to preach law, not the simple gospel of the incarnate and atoning sacrifice of Word of God about whom the Supper is to be our reminder. Some have enacted so many rites, rituals and ceremonies surrounding the observance of the Supper that they have marginalized their focus of the Word of God about whom the Supper is to remind us.

If one is preaching some unique name of the church as the gospel, then he is preaching an addition to the gospel of the atoning sacrifice of the Word of God. He is preaching the gospel plus law, and thus preaching another gospel than that which was preached in the first century in order to deliver people out of the boxes of religion in order to celebrate freedom through the Lord’s Supper. In other words, we must not substitute, or add to good subjects for Bible study and teaching for the gospel of the Son of God who gave Himself for us. There is simply a difference between law and that which inspires us to be obedient to the instructions of the Holy Spirit in the Bible.

When one finds himself involved in endless squabbles with others over opinions and contradictory theologies, it is time to reevaluate one’s primary focus in reference to the person of the incarnate Word of God who is now reigning as King of kings. Even if one finds himself in debates over valid teachings of truth, he must continually remind himself that when preaching, he must focus on the gospel. We must teach the revealed written word of God at all times. However, we must not forget that the Bible, and the teachings therein, are not the gospel. The incarnate Son of God who gave Himself for our redemption is the gospel. The Bible explains this clearly. We preach the gospel that is revealed in the Bible. We do not preach the Bible as the gospel.

[Next in series: April 9]

Incarnate Word Of God

In the decade leading up to the consummation of national Israel, the Holy Spirit knew that it was now time to speak to the Gentiles of the Roman Empire that the gospel was not connected to any specific religious group of this world. But specifically, the Holy Spirit wanted the world to know that Christianity was not just another religious box of Judaism. Since the world knew that Judaism was divided into various sects, the Holy Spirit wanted both religious idolaters and Roman government officials of the day to understand that Rome’s determination to solve the Jewish problem of insurrection was a solution that was to be directed against Judaism, and not Christians, specifically Jewish Christians.

John wanted the Roman government to know that Christianity was not connected with the radical insurrectionist movement of zealot Jews against Rome. The Holy Spirit, therefore, wrote a special letter of revelation in order to inform the Gentile world that Christians based their faith on the gospel, and not on the heritage of the Jews. Christianity was not an organized institutional religion as Judaism. It was the reflection of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the lives of submissive believers.

In the first document to defend Christians, the Holy Spirit directed the hand of John to introduce the origin of Christianity, which origin was based on the incarnation of God, not on the heritage of traditions of some religious group, specifically Judaism. In this document, John wrote, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn 1:1). This was the beginning of the Christian’s faith. This gospel intention existed long before Adam and Abraham.

The Romans believed in a beginning of all things. Centuries before, even the Greek philosophers before John had used the Greek word logos (word) to refer to the communication of God (Zeus, or whoever) with humanity. Therefore, John in some way connected with his Gentile readers by choosing this word out of the Greek dictionary in order to explain the origin of the Christians’ faith. It was this Word (Logos) that “was in the beginning with God” (Jn 1:2). Whatever the Gentiles’ view of God would have been at the time of writing, John affirmed that the faith of Christians was based on something far greater than the traditions of the Jews.

Those who put their trust in the traditions of the Jewish fathers were at the time in rebellion against Rome in order to restore their own Jewish independence. John wanted all Gentiles to know that Christianity was not another sect (box) of Judaism, and thus, had no part in the insurrectionist movement of the Jews. Christianity had its origins directly from God through the revelation of the Word of God.

We are now beginning to understand the source and nature of the gospel. Gospel has nothing to do with the doctrines and commandments of men on earth, nor the religious heritage of some box of religious rites, rules and ceremonies. It has nothing to do with either religious heritages or traditions. The gospel deals first with God in heaven. So John continued to defend this origin of Christianity with the statement, “All things were made by Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made” (Jn 1:3).

Only God can create, and thus, John was assured that his readers would conclude that this “Word” had to be of the nature and essence and origin of God in order to create (Hb 11:3). The Spirit had previously explained this only a few years earlier to those disciples who were residing in the heart of the Gentile world in the city of Colossi: “For by Him [the Word] all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible…. All things were created through Him and for Him” (Cl 1:16).

We must keep in mind that these are statements that were written in the midst of great social upheaval in the Roman Empire. The social chaos of the time was caused by zealot Jews who were seeking to restore national Israel as it was back in the days of the Jews’ glory with King David and Solomon. For this reason, John wanted all Gentile readers throughout the Roman Empire during the 60s to know that Christianity had no connection with the preservation of some Jewish heritage, or the Jews’ own traditions. The “gospel according to John,” therefore, is a document of defense that was written to a Gentile world. John sought to defend the fact that Jesus, the Christ, was the Son of God who came down out of heaven (Jn 3:13; 6:38). He came out of heaven, not out of Judaism. He was not the product of Jewish religiousity. Christians were those who believed in this origin of Jesus.

The Holy Spirit wanted the Gentile world at the time of John’s writing to know that the gospel was not a religious invention that developed from either the heritage or religious traditions of the Jews. All those traditional teachings that defined the box of the Jews’ religion had no place in the nature of the gospel that was revealed from heaven through the incarnate Word of God. The gospel simply originated out of heaven, though the prophecy of it was made throughout the centuries to the nation of Israel. But even during the two thousand years of prophetic history from Abraham to John the Baptist, no Jewish prophet could conceive of heaven’s gospel revelation that finally came to the apostles in A.D. 30 in Jerusalem (1 Pt 1:10-12).

If we were a Roman government official living in the 60s prior to the consummation of national Israel in A.D. 70, and we picked up a copy of the gospel definition of Christianity that John wrote, then we would be able to separate Judaism from Christianity. John skillfully portrayed the conflict that existed between Jesus and the Jewish leaders throughout His ministry. This is why the document of John was directed specifically to Gentiles, not Jews. And this is why the first readers of the document could clearly understand in the book of John that the man Jesus was not just another Jewish Rabbi. In His confrontation with Jewish leaders during His ministry, Jesus, as the Romans, was in conflict with institutional Judaism. John assumed that his Gentile readers would conclude that the gospel revelation of the Word would eventually supplant all religion, specifically Judaism.

By the end of the document of John, John wanted his Gentile readers to understand that Christianity was not based on a man. It was based on the revelation of the incarnate Son of God.

“Jesus [the man] did many other signs in the presence of His disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written so that you [Gentiles] might believe that Jesus is the Christ [Messiah], the Son of God, and that believing you might have life through His name [authority]” (Jn 20:30,31).

The Son of God indeed came into the world in Bethlehem through a natural birth. However, after John had progressed through his narrative of the origin of Jesus, it was evident that this Jesus was the hope of Israel. He was the Messiah. Those insurrectionist Jews against whom the Romans were unleashing their wrath had rejected the Messiahship of Jesus, and thus, the Romans needed to be convinced that according to Christians there were no more messiahs to come (See Mt 24:24-26; Lk 24:44). The Jewish insurrectionists of the Empire had missed the only Messiah that God intended to send to national Israel.

But in the above conclusion of John, John went beyond the fulfillment of prophecies in reference to the Messiah. His focus was on what Jesus did in reference to controlling the physical world (See Jn 5:31-47). John referred his readers back to the statements that he made at the beginning of his defense document. He went back into the corridors of heaven when the Son of God, as the Creator, was the Word with God and was God. This Word of God was sent into a physical world that He created in order to reveal the gospel that was in the mind of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit before the creation of the world.

When speaking of origins, John wanted his Gentile readers to understand the self-proclaimed origin of the One who was born in Bethlehem. “For I [Jesus] came down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (Jn 6:38). And if anyone needed proof of this, John asked them to remember what Jesus stated to His audience: “For the works that the Father has given Me to accomplish—the very works that I do—bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me” (Jn 5:36). Jesus was not the product of Judaism. He was the Word of God who came out of heaven in order to reveal the good news of redemption that had been planned since the creation of the world. This foreplanned redemption was valid only if the One against whom sin was committed was standing in the midst of all sinners.

John 17 is the best commentary on this subject. In the final hours of His earthly residence, Jesus lifted up His eyes to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son so that Your Son also may glorify you” (Jn 17:1). Since these words were stated on the night of His betrayal, Jesus prayed to the Father, “Glorify Me with Yourself with the glory that I had with You before the World was” (Jn 17:5). So in speaking of Himself as the revealed Word of God, Jesus continued, “For I have given to them [the apostles] the words that You gave Me” (Jn 17:8). And in reference to the apostles, He prayed that they “have known surely that I came forth from You. And they have believed that You sent Me” (Jn 17:8). In one brief statement, Jesus revealed who He was and what He did: “I have given them Your word” (Jn 17:14). This was the work of the Word of God. Jesus did not refer to a catechism of doctrines that He delivered to the apostles. He had given them Himself.

The phrase “Word of God” is thus not a reference to a systematic code of doctrine by which the Father delivered the message (word) of the gospel to humanity. Jesus was the message. The deliverance of the Word of God had all been accomplished before the writing of any New Testament books. The Word of God in the context of John’s documents was the incarnate Son of God, not doctrinal catechisms. The Father so loved the world that He gave us His Son (Jn 3:16). This is gospel. This result of His love for us did not conclude only in giving instructions to direct our behavior. His love resulted first in the gospel of His Son who inspires godly living according to His will. It is as Paul wrote, “Do we then make void law through faith [in Christ]? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish law” (Rm 3:31). Therefore, Paul continued, “I delight in the law of God according to the inward man” (Rm 7:22).

But from the preceding, we should take another look at John 17:17 in the entire context of John 17: “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” Therefore—do not miss this point—in the context it is the Word of God (the incarnate Son of God) who is the truth that was revealed for the sanctification of the souls of men. The “truth” is not a revealed code of catechisms that must be outlined as law on paper in order to be preached as a system of sanctification if obediently followed. The revealed Son of God is the truth, not some doctrine that is orchestrated as law to be obeyed, and if obeyed, one can justify himself before God. The incarnate Son of God was the truth that was revealed to us for our sanctification. In fact, if we try to sanctify ourselves through some contrived system of law, then we marginalize, if not deny the sanctification of the Truth (Word) of God who was crucified on the cross for our sanctification.

Since the Word of God (the Son of God) is the truth that sanctified us through His incarnational offering, then the Word of God has authority in our lives. This was the meaning of what Jesus said in John 12:48: “He who rejects Me and does not receive My words, has one who judges him. The word that I have spoken, the same will judge him in the last day.”

[Next in series: April 5]

To our Nurses

From the viewpoint of a father

During the Crimean War in the middle of the nineteenth century, there was a unique young lady in England who could no longer sit around reading about the miserable conditions of wounded English soldiers who were dying in filthy conditions on the frontlines of the war. So she packed herself up, recruited 38 other like-minded volunteer nurses, and the English government shipped these daughters of England off to the frontlines of the war, knowing very well that many of them would also fall in the battle of duty. Luden Baudens later wrote of the young Nightingale, “This frail woman … embraced in her solicitude the sick of three armies.” On the frontlines and in the tents of the wounded and dying, she became known as, “The lady with the lamp.” Nightingale was continually among the wounded in the middle of the night. She was checking for those among the living who might need comfort and care in order to make it through just one more night.

Nightingale left a legacy that has inspired the profession of nursing far beyond her lifetime, especially among the English. I was recently sitting in my living room watching the local news concerning one of the economically depressed townships of Africans here in South Africa. The news reporter was there interviewing the members of a special team. It was a team of young volunteer English descendants of about twenty out there in the midst of the township people passing out brochures to educate people about how to protect themselves against the coronavirus. Nightingale left a legacy in England that has reverberated throughout the world to this day. Her legacy also made its way across the Atlantic Ocean to America.

On the news this morning an Uber driver finally had a paying customer in the state of Washington in America. She recorded the single twenty-five-year-old nurse on her way as a necessary worker to be out during the lockdown that was in force. The devoted young nurse said, “It is necessary for me to be out on lockdown because all my patients are suffering from coronavirus.” What is it about these nurses that the rest of us try to comprehend? There seems to be a certain nature within their souls that sets them apart from the rest of us.

My wife and I continue to experience our own Florence Nightingale. This daughter, endeared to us with the name, Cindy, was certainly God-molded to be who she is now as other nurses, a dedicated nurse on the frontlines of the Coronavirus War. She is a part of that extremely dedicated class of people throughout the world who have sacrificially thrown themselves into mortal conflict on the frontlines of the War. She, and thousands like her, are a tribute to the unselfish service that these medical soldiers exert every day among those who are clinging to life for just one more breath. Sometimes, many of themselves have also succumbed to the invisible enemy they have chosen to engage. The doctor will prescribe a ventilator, and then move on to another patient. But the valiant necessary nurses must stay there with the fallen victims day after day because there are too many victims for the doctor.

This morning I was listening to a British Broadcasting Corporation interview with a thirty-year veteran of nursing in England who had long ago retired. But in her retirement, she could not set back and watch a virus-stricken society in England languish away in the global Coronavirus War. So she showed up at a local hospital and told the management, “I’m back.” The BBC interviewer asked why she came out of retirement in order to endanger her own life for others. The aged gray-haired nurse replied, “It was not a matter of making a decision. It is who I am. I do not want to live in a selfish society, and thus I must live selflessly.”

My wife and I have one of these selfless heroes as a daughter. You have to have personally had one of them in your home in order to understand who they are. I would briefly say that these Nightingales are who they are because they can be no other way. For example, I remember coming home one afternoon when Cindy was fifteen years old. She had taken off all the screens of the windows of the entire house and was cleaning the screens and washing the windows. I asked this fifteen-year-old why she was doing this. She simply replied, “They were dirty.” Nightingales see a need, and then they cannot help themselves but show up.

Our Nightingale was evidently born this way, and then maybe picked up a work ethic from her parents along the way to her present profession. She always had to be doing something, and the something was not for herself, but to release her heart on others. She, as so many other nurses throughout the world, have big hearts that move them to eventually find expression in becoming nurses. So Cindy secured her own student loan, enrolled in nursing school, and set the course of her life to join the millions of like-minded nurses out there who cannot help themselves. “It’s just the way they are.”

In the very unique work that Cindy and others like her presently do as nurses, is truly a frontline business. She is not held up in a hospital, but on the road to patients who have been given into her care, which patients have been diagnosed to have only months to live. Often in the middle of the northern winter nights of the state of Wisconsin in America, she will receive a call from a family member. On the other end of the line is the plea, “Come quickly!” For these missions it does not make any difference if there is a foot of snow on the road. She is into her 4 X 4 Dodge Ram and headed for the finality of someone’s life. Sometimes she arrives in time, sometimes not. When she does not, she must pronounce and record a death, and then call for the coroner. This has been Cindy’s life, and many other nurses like her, day after day, and year after year.

We are in lockdown at this time in South Africa. Before this time came, daughter Cindy would contact us and ask if we are doing this or that in order to protect ourselves. But not once has she complained about her own situation of ministering to the dying on the frontlines. I once said to her, “Cindy, you minister to the needs of more people than any minister I know.” While preachers sometimes enclose themselves in their white castles, tens of thousands of nurses like Cindy sink their hands in the sicknesses of humanity. The ministry of nurses reveals the very core of human empathy. These soldiers of the medical field minister to the people while the rest of us just keep their phone numbers on speed dial.

Though we have not been in the company of our Nightingale for over three years, the last thing she wants us not to do is get on some airplane, or board a ship and come to her side on the other side of the world. She has yearned on the telephone for a parental encounter, but we all know that we all must put ourselves on hold until we pass through this time of separation until the war is won.

Therefore, as you hug your children in the security of your home in lockdown, be grateful. There are thousands of mothers and fathers throughout the world today whose sons and daughters work on the frontlines of the Coronavirus War as caring nurses. As ourselves, many mothers and fathers around the world are more than willing to offer their children on the altar of sacrifice on the frontlines in order that this war be won. This does not mean that we parents do not yearn to withdraw our children from the frontlines and hug them close in our own lockdown. We simply understand that great sacrifices are needed in order to conquer overwhelming enemies of civilization.

As in the case of many others who are the parents of these frontline heroes, we can only offer endless prayers that our Nightingales not be personally attacked by the invisible enemy. But if you are in the vicinity of our Nightingale of north Wisconsin, you can be assured that she is only a phone call away. And if you call, she will be in her Dodge Ram and on her way down snow-covered roads to your bedside.

You are asking us why she and thousands of other nurses like her put themselves in peril for others? We do not know about the others, but we do know that is the way God made Cindy. Neither she nor her parents want to live in any world that is selfish.

So you might have asked who such a person as Cindy would marry. An English Nightingale, of course. Jonathan, who studied to follow in his parents’ footsteps in the medical field, is now working as a dermatologist, seeing over fifty patients a day. He is the product of two Nightingales of England. They are all a tribe of exceptional people who just cannot help themselves.

The Holy Spirit had something to say about this concerning all of us: “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor preferring one another” (Rm 12:10). “In humility of mind let each esteem others better than themselves” (Ph 2:3). I am sure He was talking specifically about nurses.

This is incarnational living as Jesus in spirit in heaven, who said to His Father, “I am going to the frontlines to win this war of sin” (See Ph 2:5-8). Our hats are off to all the Nightingales who are directly and sacrificially engaged in the world war against the coronavirus, as well as those who are parents of those valiant medical soldiers.


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Rejoicing In Quarantine

[I thought it good to put an interlude here in the ongoing blog series. For those who are in quarantine, maybe this blog will offer a serendipty to all that you are going through in isolation.]

We cannot help ourselves. We are incurable optimist, and certainly believe, “All things work together for good to those who love God” (Rm 8:28).

When national Israel was at the brink of total devastation, and the loss of over one million lives in a matter of months, James had the audacity to write the following to Jewish Christians only about five years before the national disaster of A.D. 70: “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials” (Js 1:2).

If we did not credit this statement to the Holy Spirit, then the world of Jews at the time would have had a right to mock the preposterous writer and his words as they stood on the walls of Jerusalem and witnessed the Roman army surrounding Jerusalem in A.D. 70. And when the stench of dead bodies filled the air as they cast their loved ones over the wall into the camp of the Roman army, the words of the prophet James would ring with insanity. But for those whose citizenship is far beyond stock markets and viruses, and important religious centers, his words reverberate every day to the inner most sanctuary of our souls.

So we are very optimistic in reference to the present attack of the “invisible enemy” (coronavirus) throughout the world. We live in a world that is at war. But we are fighting against an enemy that cannot be detected with the human eye. So how can we make such an audacious statement that this virus will eventually lead to the saving of tens of thousands of lives? Just do the math.

First consider the annual deaths that are caused by influenza (the common flu). In 2019 alone there were over 16,500,000 people in AMERICA alone who contacted influenza. Of that number, over 34,000 people died. The year before in 2018 the numbers were worse. Over 61,000 people in America died of the common flu in 2018. This number of deaths was still in view of the urge from the medical community to get a “flu shot.” Unfortunately, most of the millions who were infected did not get the flu vaccination, and consequently, many of these who contracted influenza died. Now think for a moment. Over 34,000 people died in America of influenza in 2019 WITHOUT ALL THE PREVENTATIVE MEASURES THAT HAVE NOW BEEN IMPOSED ON SOCIETY.

At the end of the year, watch the figures and do the math. There is presently an obsession about reporting every day the number of people infected with coronavirus. The number of deaths in America are also reported. And noticeably, the number of deaths continues to rise. In the middle of March 2020, about 100 people had died of coronavirus since the beginning of the year.

But compare that number with the number of deaths we have recorded in reference to influenza in 2019. On the average, 2833 people died EVERY MONTH in 2019 of influenza. But from the beginning of the year unto this date in the middle of March, people are almost hysterical about the 100 precious people who have died of the coronavirus. If we were comparing this number with influenza deaths since January, instead of the 100, this number would be about 3675 by using 2019 figures. Every death is a tragedy. We are not comparing death spread sheets, but in some way we must compare the numbers in order to see in all the tragedy sometime marvelous that is happening.

Now when we come to the end of 2020, there is a figure for which you must search, if indeed the news media will report it. Maybe no one will make the comparison, and no one will do the math. Being honest and straightforward about these matters does not sell newspapers, or inspire viewers to watch their favorite TV news.

Nevertheless, we are anxiously awaiting to see the figures in order to compare the combined deaths from both influenza and coronavirus for the year 2020 with the deaths of influenza alone in 2019. If you want a prophecy from us, we can at least assure you that the combined number of deaths from influenza and coronavirus by the end of the year will be SIGNIFICANTLY SMALLER than the number of deaths from influenza alone in 2019, especially 2018. Just watch and see.

The reason for this is simple. Consider all the health precautions that are now sweeping across America in order to deter the spread of the coronavirus? It is almost incredible as people in fear are obsessing on how to do now what they never considered doing during 2019.

The 34,000 who died in 2019 never made any headlines. And we would think that in 2018 the 61,000 people who died from influenza would have made the news and inspired some of the cleanliness motivation that are witnessing today. Somehow, the deaths from coronavirus are posted on the daily news like a sports scoreboard. Toilet paper stocks have gone of the charts. Life-styles are changing and we will never be the same. This is even good news.

All the health precautions that are now being implemented by society will also GREATLY curb the spread of the common flu. This will not only happen in America, but around the world. For example, Martha and I had to go into the big city and do what small-town people must do on a trip to the city. We first went to the medical clinic for a doctor’s appointment. At the clinic we were met at the door by two people at a table with hand sanitizers and a tablet on which we had to write our names. Our hands were sprayed for us in order that we vigorously scrub them. We then went to the food store. Sure enough, there was stationed at every entrance someone with a bottle of hand sanitizer, spraying our hands before entry into the store. And then we went on to the government offices, and there they were again. A young man was stationed at the entrance with the usual hand sanitizer with which he anointed our hands abundantly before we entered.

Since South Africa has not been known for such cleanliness, we wonder how many thousands of lives will be spared this year from contracting influenza virus? Bus stations and taxis are cleaning themselves up in fear of the coronavirus. Such diligence will lead to the saving of thousands of people who should have been cleaning themselves up long before this plague arrived from China.

Therefore, keep an eye out for the combined deaths from coronavirus and influenza for 2020. We think that by the end of 2020, the combined number of deaths from coronavirus and influenza will be significantly lower than 2019. This will be good news! My father died of influenza. If he were alive today, and many of his generation who likewise died from influenza, he would probably still be alive by the end of December 2020 because of all the health precautions that are now being implemented. But if your aged father and mother are alive today, you can count it all joy as we continue in this war with millions of the enemy we cannot see.

You can be assured of one thing. Many of our grandfathers and grandmothers will be alive at the end of the year who normally would have fallen in battle against influenza sometime during this year.

The Gospel Box

There is something about the nature of the gospel that seems to be difficult to understand for those who are in the bondage of religion. The reason for this is simply because religion and gospel are contrary to one another. If one is truly stuck in the quagmire of institutional religious belief and behavior, then comprehending the gospel can truly be quit daunting. At least this was the problem in the first century when Jesus came into a religious world where Judaism as a religion was refined as an institutional establishment.

The Jews’ religion was well organized and supported. It was a financially supported structure of religion that guaranteed its perpetuation throughout the years by a full-time network of religious leaders. In fact, the Holy Spirit brought up this point when He spoke of those who were the pillars of Judaism: “The Pharisees who were lovers of money, heard all things and they scoffed at Him” (Lk 16:14). They did not just scoff at the person of Jesus. They scoffed at what He taught. They perceived in His teachings that if these teachings were implemented in Israel, Judaism would come crashing down. And if Judaism came crashing down, then they would be without jobs.

Therefore, the Pharisees had to scoff. They had to disputed with Jesus and His teachings. It was their survival as a religious class of leaders that was at stake. If what Jesus was teaching concerning the gospel, then it would mean the end of Jewish institutional religion. Nevertheless, at least one of the prospective young men in training to be a Pharisee during the ministry of Jesus, would later conclude that the money and position of a Pharisee was not worth it when he eventually understood the nature of the gospel. A little over a decade after the ministry of Jesus, Luke recorded the preceding statement concerning the Pharisees’ love of money. At the time of writing, Luke was in the presence of a converted Pharisee who finally realized the tremendous impact that the gospel has on one’s life. This former Pharisee wrote, “But what things were gain to me [as a Pharisee], those things I have counted lost for Christ” (Ph 3:7).

This Pharisee came to realized that being a full-time religious worker on the payroll of a religious institution was not in any way to be compared to the riches of the gospel of God’s grace. But in order to fully enjoy this effect of the gospel in his own life, he had to release himself from the bondage of institutional religion. In fact, this gospel-living convert continued to write, “I count all things loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things. I count them refuse so that I may gain Christ” (Ph 3:8). In order to gain Christ, Paul knew that he had to lose religion.

At the time of the ministry of Jesus thirty years before this statement was written, the Paul the Pharisee came to realize that if he turned away from institutional Judaism, only then could he come into fellowship with King Jesus. The Pharisees’ rejection of the gospel message that Jesus preached during His ministry was partly based on their love of money. Nothing has changed in the religious world since those days. When we seek to understand the gospel, especially that part concerning incarnational living, there is often great resistance by those who seek to be “full-time,” and thus live off the contributions of others.

If one is a full-time worker for some religious institution, then the example of the transformation from Saul to Paul could possibly be too drastic. Nevertheless, this is what the gospel will do for—or to—someone who is in the bondage of religion for the sake of money. We must be quite clear on this point. If one either takes his or her faith back into institutional religion, or refuses to answer the call of the gospel in order to be delivered from religion, then he or she does not truly understand the core nature of the gospel.

It is not that a disciple must forsake all that he has in order to follow Jesus. However, he or she must be willing to do so (See Lk 14:25-35; Mk 10:17-31). And if one is willing, then that which he or she posses as a disciple must be considered to be in use for the Master’s work. We keep in mind also that those who preach the gospel have the right to live from the gospel. “The Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel” (1 Co 9:14). But we must not forget that those who preach the gospel are not preaching the gospel to the saved, but to the unbelievers. And because they are preaching to unbelievers, this in many cases demands that the evangelist be supported by those who have obeyed the gospel. In order to explain this, John compliment Gaius by stating that we should support those who go forth to preach the gospel to the unbelievers.

We “do well to support them on their journey in a manner worthy of God. For they [evangelists] went forth for the sake of the Name, taking nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore, we ought to show hospitality to such men [support] so that we might be fellow workers for the truth [of the gospel](3 Jn 7,8).

In the preceding statement, we must not miss the phrase, “on their journey.” These were evangelists who left home and went forth to preach the gospel to unbelievers. Those who went forth, but were married with families, sometimes had a home base as did Philip in Caesarea. But when the call came for him to go forth and preach to a Gentile from Africa, he headed out without hesitation (At 8:4,5,26; 21:8,9). We might say that he was a “home-based” evangelist who was not on the road continually as Timothy, Titus and Paul. Peter also had a family, and thus moved from one home base to another with his family. He was not continually on the road and away from his family. An evangelist can have a home base, but he must, as Philip, reach out from that home base in order to preach the gospel to the lost.

Now consider being an evangelist wherever one might be based. It is here that we encounter some problems in reference to the purpose of preaching the gospel that delivers one from religion. The one who claims to be preaching the gospel to “the denominations,” but is simply seeking to “convert” someone from another religious group to his own religious group, does not truly understand the nature of the gospel. It may be that he is seeking to “build his church” in order to build his salary. This moves some preachers into the realm of the Pharisees who sustained the institution in order to sustain their love of money. Therefore, this person is preaching religion, not gospel

There is simply no freedom in converting one who is in the bondage of one system of religion into another system of religious bondage. Those who do not understand the nature of the gospel are simply transferring prisoners from one jail to another. Their lack of understanding of the gospel leads them to be Pharisees who are simply recruiting more contributors to join the church of those who are also in the bondage of legal institutional religion. There is no freedom in jumping from one religious box into another. Boxes are boxes, regardless of the labels that are on the outside.

[Next in series: March 28]

Gospel and Bible (2)

4. The gospel revealed in the ascension: If there were no ascension of Jesus, then we might assume that He was resuscitated in the tomb—as some of the Gnostics assumed in the second century—and then wandered off to die an old man in obscurity. For this reason the historian by inspiration of the Holy Spirit recorded what transpired with Jesus as He left this earth: While “they were looking, He was taken up and a cloud received Him out of their sight … they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up” (At 1:9,10). The ascension of Jesus into heaven is good news because we know that the resurrected Jesus was truly resurrected. He did not revived in the coolness of the tomb as some have claimed. The apostles did not experience an hallucination of Him after the resurrection, as some have claimed. They did not see a spirit after the resurrection. “Flesh and bones” ascended into heaven because “flesh and bones” had stood before them after the resurrection.

The gospel now revealed in the reign of King Jesus: It is necessary to fully understand the present kingdom reign of the resurrected Son of God in order to fully appreciate who and what He presently does in reference to the world in which we now live.

Jesus presently reigns over all things. However, some have marginalized the gospel reign of King Jesus by affirming that the church and the kingdom of Jesus are the same, thus assuming that Jesus reigns now only over those who are the church. In other words, since the kingdom is supposedly only the members of the church, then the reign of King Jesus is limited only to a small group of members throughout the world. But this cannot be true.

The preceding is an attack against the present good news that Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords (1 Tm 6:5). It is an attack against the fact that after Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father, He was exalted “far above all principality and power and might and dominion and every name that is named” (Ep 1:21). It is an attack against the gospel that He “has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him” (1 Pt 3:22).

Though we do not now see everything subject to King Jesus, this does not mean that His kingdom is limited only to the church of submitted subjects. The Father “put all things in subjection under his feet” (Hb 2:8). “For in subjecting all things to Him, He left nothing that is not put under Him” (Hb 2:8). This is gospel news! It is good news because when we think that all things are out of control, we must remember that He has all things under His control. He upholds “all things by the word of His power” (Hb 1:3).

5. The gospel of the consummation of all things: There is an end coming, not only of the kingdom reign of Jesus, but also of all things as we now know them. The last enemy that will be subjected to King Jesus is death (1 Co 15:26). “And when all things are subjected to Him [King Jesus], then will the Son also Himself be subject to Him who put all things under Him, so that God may be all in all” (1 Co 15:28). When Jesus comes again, He will finalize His reign by returning His unique kingdom reign while the world still existed will not longer be needed after His return.

This will be the last event of the gospel, but will have nothing written about it after it has occurred. Our only information that we understand about the final coming of Jesus was recorded two thousand years ago. There will be no more revelation needed, for after the final coming of Jesus we will know all that was in the mind of God in reference to the gospel plan that was in the mind of God before the creation of the world.

Paul, as we, know the preceding gospel. His response to this knowledge should also be our response: “For woe is me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Co 9:16). If we cannot get the gospel outside the four walls of our church house, then woe should be unto us. Therefore, “knowing the fear of the Lord we persuade men” through the power of the gospel (2 Co 5:11).

We know that in the religious world there are those who are “ignorant of God’s righteousness,” and thus, they are “seeking to establish their own righteousness” (Rm 10:3). And for this reason, they “have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God” through obedience to the gospel of God’s grace (Rm 10:3). They do not know that “Christ is the end of law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rm 10:4). They do not know these things, and because they do not know the gospel, they do not have an opportunity to obey the gospel.

Therefore, would we dare keep the message of the gospel confined to our own self-righteous box? Would we keep the message to ourselves? If we do, then we have created our own self-righteous box in which we have convinced ourselves that the gospel will take us on into heaven without uttering a word to others about the good news of the Son of God who came into this world in order to take us out of this world.

[Next in series: March 26]

Good News

We must be very clear about what we mean when we use the word “gospel.” We have previously stated that the gospel is not the Holy Spirit inspired record of either the event that revealed the gospel, nor is the gospel the event itself. Forgiveness and redemption are heavenly transactions where the God of the universe forgives the sin of every individual who responds to His love offering of forgiveness and redemption. The event that unleashed this powerful concession on earth was the atoning sacrifice that was made at the cross by our Lord Jesus Christ. With obsessive interest, therefore, we work our way through the Spirit’s record of how the God of heaven reveal on earth His plan of eternal reconciliation. It all began on earth with the fertilization of a chosen seed of a chosen woman by the Holy Spirit. And when the Seed was fully developed as a child in the womb of the woman, their was both a cry from the Seed in a barn in Bethlehem that eventually ended with a cry from a cross outside Jerusalem.

1. The gospel revealed by the incarnation: The imperfect Greek tense is used when John revealed, “In the beginning was the Word” (Jn 1:1). John again made use the continuous action in past time of this verb when he added, “The Word was with God” (Jn 1:1). Before the Word was revealed on earth, He was in continuous existence with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in eternity, in spirit form (Jn 4:24; Ph 2:6). So John continued with the imperfect tense when he declared, “The Word was God” (Jn 1:1).

It is necessary to understand that Mary, who was with child by the Holy Spirit, was pregnant with the incarnate Word of God in her womb. From eternal existence as God, “the Word was made flesh” through the medium of Mary (Jn 1:14). And now in the context of John 1, the verb tense changes. In order to explain this profound truth of God coming in the flesh of man, John used the aorist tense. This is the expression of a onetime event in past history. “The Word became flesh,” would be the best translation of the Greek phrase.

The announcement of this incarnational conception and birth was first announced on earth to shepherds: “The angel said to them, ‘Do not fear, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy that will be to all the people” (Lk 2:10). And so the saga of the incarnate God in the spirit began to unfold on earth through a babe in a barn. The first revelation of the gospel of the incarnate Son of God initiated the eternal gospel plan of God to bring His creation into eternal dwelling with Him. Without the incarnation, there would have been no good news from God. Gospel, therefore, had to be demonstrated, not simply declared from heaven.

2. The gospel revealed at the cross: If we preach the cross, without obsessing over the incarnation, then the gospel of the cross is greatly minimized, if not denied. In other words, if there were no incarnation, then the cross could be misunderstood to be only the execution of a spiritually zealous Rabbi of the Jews. Much of the world believes this.

But the One who was nailed on that cross outside Jerusalem two thousand years ago was not just a man named Jesus who was from Nazareth. It was God in the flesh. This is the conclusion that John wanted us to make by the time he finish the document of John: “These are written [about Jesus] that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ [Messiah], the Son of God (Jn 20:31). If we do not reach this conclusion concerning who was crucified on the cross, then the teaching that the cross was a sacrificial atonement for our sins is simply wishful thinking. The gospel of the cross, in other words, makes no sense unless there was an incarnation of the Son of God into the flesh of man.

3. The gospel revealed through the resurrection: If it were possible for the Son of God to terminate His own existence in the flesh, and then make His way on back to heaven as He eternally existed in the spirit before the incarnation, then the suffering and sacrifice of the cross would have been for only six hours. In fact, the two criminals who were crucified with Him would have suffered more than Jesus because they were still alive after Jesus died. They had to suffer the breaking of their legs in order to speed up their deaths (Jn 19:31-33).

There had to be more to the sacrifice of the incarnate Son of God than the cross alone. This sacrifice was certainly revealed through the resurrection. Now consider this for a moment. If the incarnation were somehow permanent, then a whole new door of revelation opens to us in reference to comprehending the awesomeness of the gospel. The resurrection would not simply have been a disturbance of Jesus’ peaceful sleep in physical death. It was a resurrection into a new existence wherein He continued to be lower than God but not in the form of God (Ph 2:6).

It is not surprising, therefore, that Paul began the letter of Romans with a focus on the power of the resurrection. In the initial chapter he reminded his readers first of the incarnation of the One who would be “born of the seed of David according to the flesh” (Rm 1:3). This was a prophecy of the incarnation. But then Paul continued this thought by revealing that God’s “Son Jesus Christ our Lord” was “declared to be the Son of God with power … by the resurrection from the dead” (Rm 1:4). Paul thus introduced the extremity of the gospel of the incarnation in the resurrection of the One who would continue to demonstrate grace throughout eternity.

In other words, if there were no true incarnation into the flesh of man, then the resurrection from the dead would have no meaning. Also consider the fact that the gospel of the grace would be weak if His resurrection somehow restored Him to the “form of God” that He enjoyed before the incarnation (Ph 2:6). There would thus be little power in a resurrection that was not truly an incarnate bodily.

Resurrection assumed incarnation, and thus resurrection assumes that there was a continuation of the which was incarnate. Resurrection would have no meaning if Jesus was raised in the form of God in which He participated with Deity throughout eternity. On the contrary, the resurrected Jesus said to His disciples, “A spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have” (Lk 24:39). Though after His resurrection from the tomb it was no longer “flesh and blood” into which He was initially incarnate. It was “flesh and bones” in which He would dwell among his brethren.

Now continue the subject of the resurrection beyond the resurrection. The resurrection would mean little if Jesus could simply discard his “flesh and bones,” and then ascend on into heaven. If He had done this, then this act would be problematic in reference to what John continued to reveal in another letter. In the letter of 1 John, John wrote, “It has not yet been revealed what we will be” (1 Jn 3:2). Therefore, when Jesus comes again, it seems that we will not be as the “flesh and bones” that Jesus was after His own resurrection and at the time of the ascension. “Flesh and bones” was revealed to the apostles immediately after the resurrection, but one of those apostles, John, later confessed in the 1 John letter that “it has not yet been revealed what we will be.” The resurrected “flesh and bones” of Jesus was necessary to prove that the incarnate Son of God was resurrected, but His “flesh and bones” do not reveal what we will be, though we will be like Him. And being like Him is being like something.

Paul reminded the Corinthians, “Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no more” (2 Co 5:16). In other words, we no longer know Christ according to how He was revealed in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. In John’s previous statement, it seems that he is also saying the same as Paul. We do not know Christ now according to “flesh and bones” into which He was resurrected.

There seems to be more in store for all of us when Jesus comes again than “flesh and bones.” John explained, “But we know that when He appears, we will be like Him, for we will see Him as He is” (1 Jn 3:2). What we will be is a mystery for we do not know how He is now at the right hand of God. We do know, as Paul explained, that it is an attack against the gospel of the resurrection to say that we ourselves will not experience a bodily resurrection (1 Co 15:12). If there is no resurrection of our body, then the gospel of the resurrection is false (1 Co 15:13). This would make our preaching of the gospel of the resurrection fruitless because there would be no power in a fruitless hope of a resurrection (1 Co 15:14-19).

For the Corinthians, Paul began to explain the mystery of the resurrection and our dwelling with the resurrected Jesus when He comes again. Christ was the firstfruit of our own resurrection that will occur in the last day (1 Co 15:23). This will be at the time of the consummation of all things in reference to how we now dwell, as well as to how Christ will dwell with us through eternity (See 1 Co 15:24-28).

Now with what body will we be raised will give us some thoughts concerning that body with which Jesus will come. So we reason from John’s statement in 1 John 3:2 back to the limited revelation of the body about which Paul described in 1 Corinthian 15. Paul spoke of an earthly body going into the tomb, but a heavenly body coming forth at the time of our resurrection (1 Co 15:40). It is “sown” in the earth as an earthly body that can deteriorate away, but raised as a body that can dwell for eternity (1 Co 15:42). The natural body will give way to the spiritual body (1 Co 15:44). The body to come, as Paul explains, is the same as the body that went into the tomb, but it is changed. It is changed because “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Co 15:50).

So we have difficulty understanding that which is beyond the physical world, which indeed will be our spiritual and heavenly body. For this reason Paul considers all that we will be to be a mystery (1 Co 15:51). So in reviewing what John stated as to what Jesus will be when He appears a second time, we can only conclude that John indeed agreed with Paul that such is a mystery. The best commentary we have on the matter is 1 Corinthians 15. We can conclude that Jesus will not appear as a spirit. He will be in some bodily form that is tangible, for in such a body will we be raised.

So the gospel of the incarnation, cross and resurrection take on a more significant meaning when we study and preach these three together. If the incarnation were only a brief moment of thirty-three years in a ministry on earth, but was concluded at the ascension, then we might question the sacrifice of the incarnation. But if the resurrection establishes the fact that Jesus would remain in an eternal existence in the “flesh” of a spiritual body as we will be when He comes again, then the sacrifice of the eternal Son of God in the spirit becomes quite incredible for us to even begin to comprehend. Regardless of the limitations of our comprehension, however, at least one thing must be generated in our hearts. We must be thrown to our knees in eternal gratitude for the love of God that moved Him with such great as to do such a deed for us. And truly it is as Paul humbly wrote in a doxology, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out” (Rm 11:33).

[Next in series: March 23]

Gospel And The bible

Before anyone can make a distinction between the Bible and the gospel, he or she must first understand that there is a difference between the work of God in the spiritual realm in reference to our sin problem, and the Bible that was the product of the Holy Spirit on earth the record all God’s planning throughout history and eventual revelation of the gospel at the cross. It is imperative to understand that there is a difference between the redemptive plan of God and the pages of inspired documents that both recorded prophecies, as well as fulfillment of those prophecies through the incarnate Son of God. Unless one makes this distinction, he or she will never understand the power of the gospel to save and transform lives.

1. Romans 1:13-16: In the context of what Paul said in Romans 1:13-16, he revealed the difference that exists between Bible and gospel. This context was written to believing disciples, not unbelievers. It is crucial to understand this before reading the entire book of Romans that is about the gospel of God’s grace, a subject that the disciples in Rome did not fully understand. They had been baptized in the name of Jesus, but they were ignorant of all the gospel implications of what this meant (See Rm 6:3-6).

The Roman disciples were unfamiliar with all the “transactions” that took place in the heavenly realm in reference to the remission of their sins. They were baptized on earth, but they did not understand all the gospel work that took place before the throne of God. They did not understand that their baptism brought them into a covenant relationship with God when God forgave them their sins. “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?” (Rm 6:3). Before the letter of Romans was written and received, they could not answer this question.

Romans was written to disciples who had a limited understanding of the gospel of grace. If one can understand this reason for Paul writing the, then he can understand the theme of the message about which we are writing. This brings us to the context of Romans 1:13-16.

In Paul’s introductory statement he wanted the Roman disciples to understand that he had previously planned to come to Rome. Wherever he discovered that there were those who had been baptized in the name of Jesus, he desired to go to them in order to explain further the gospel that they had obeyed. His desire to teach disciples in reference to the unsearchable treasures of God’s grace is certainly an example for us to do the same (See Rm 11:33). So the reason he wanted to go to Rome was “that I might have some fruit among you [Christians] also” (Rm 1:13). Paul wanted to go to Rome in order to produce some fruit among those who had already been baptized in the name of Jesus, but understood little concerning the gospel of God’s grace. This should be the desire of every evangelist. If one discovers those who have been baptized in the name of Jesus, then it should be his desire to go to these people in order to produce some gospel fruit among then by explaining to the them more perfectly the way of the Lord (See At 18:24-26).

Paul said to his readers that he was a debtor to produce fruit among the disciples in Rome as he had produced fruit among all the Gentiles (Rm 1:14). However, in this statement he has said nothing about how the fruit was to be produced in the hearts of the Roman disciples. The word “fruit” that he used was certainly not a reference to preaching the gospel in order to produce more converts. The Roman disciples had already been baptized in the name of Jesus. They had already obeyed the gospel, though they understood little about what happened in the spiritual realm when they were baptized. Paul thus desired to go to them. He wanted to produce fruit among those who had already obeyed the gospel, but were in need of more instruction in matters concerning the gospel.

Paul then revealed the means by which he would produce fruit among those who had already obeyed the gospel. “So as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you [Christians] also who are at Rome” (Rm 1:15). It was the gospel that would produce fruit in the hearts of those who had already responded to the name of Jesus. In this context it was the gospel that would continue to produce spiritual fruit (growth) in the hearts of those who did not understand everything concerning the unsearchable riches of God’s gospel of grace. All our spiritual growth as Christians, therefore, must be attributed to the gospel. If we would claim that we have spiritually grown on our own, then we are a cult, or a member thereof.

Because Paul had been prevented in the past from making his way to Rome, he may have been somewhat apprehensive about making the journey (Rm 1:13). Therefore, in the letter of Romans he simply wrote the textbook on the gospel of grace that he wanted to share personally with the Roman disciples if he were possibly prevented again from making his way to Rome. If he eventually did make his way to Rome, then the letter of Romans would be the textbook they must study in preparation for the “Gospel Bible Class” that would be conducted upon his arrival.

This context inspires us to take another look at Romans 1:16, which we have always interpreted to refer to preaching the gospel to unbelievers. But in this context, the statement refers to preaching the gospel to believers in order that spiritual fruit might be produced and gospel living enhanced.

Our point here is that there was a difference between the message of the gospel and the message of the letter of Romans. In the letter, Paul wrote about the gospel, but the letter itself was not the gospel. He wrote in the letter that he intended to go to Rome. But the writing of his intentions was not the gospel. When we speak of the gospel of God’s grace—the theme of the letter of Romans—grace is something that is heavenly. Grace originated from the heart of God and was revealed on earth through the cross. Grace was a heavenly gift that was revealed through an earthly event, which subsequently was explained in words about thirty years after the event in the letter of Romans. Therefore, we must not confuse the gospel of grace that was revealed from heaven with a document that explains the whole gospel story.

2. 1 Corinthians 15:1-4: Though Romans speaks of the heavenly gospel of grace that originated out of heaven, in the context of 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 Paul explained the historical event that revealed this gospel on earth.

Paul reminded the Corinthians of “the gospel which I preached to you” (1 Co 15:1). The gospel was preached, received, stood within, and by which the Corinthians were saved (1 Co 15:1,2). However, in the first two verses of 1 Corinthians Paul wrote only about the Corinthians response to the gospel. They heard the gospel from Paul. They believed the gospel. They repented, and subsequently obeyed the gospel. But their hearing, believing and repenting was not the gospel. This was only their response to the gospel.

In 1 Corinthians 15:3,4 Paul recorded the historical event that stimulated the Corinthians’ response to the gospel. He recalled that “Christ died for our sins,” He was buried, and “He rose again on the third day.” All these things occurred at least twenty years before Paul inscribed the words of 1 Corinthians. Therefore, the letter of 1 Corinthians is not the gospel. The letter was composed of words that were inspired by the Holy Spirit. In these words the apostle Paul wrote in order to recount the historical event that God used in order to reveal His gospel grace to humanity on earth.

But we must not miss a very important point in this record that speaks of the historical event of the gospel. The crucifixion event would have been only the execution of another Jew if it were not for the statement, “for our sins.” The revelation, “for God so loved the world” (Jn 3:16), could only be illustrated through the incarnational offering of God the Son on a cross. The offering for our sins on the cross, therefore, was God’s revelation of the gospel to humanity that had been in the plan of God since before the creation.

The Bible contains all the recorded history of this good news. It contains all the events that led up to the offering. And finally, it contains a revelation of all that is meant when we use the simple word “gospel.” Therefore, in preaching the gospel the first thing the evangelist must do is make a distinction between the gospel that was revealed from the throne of God, and the historical event of this revelation on earth. The next thing we must do is make a distinction between the historical record of the gospel event and the gospel itself. If we do not do this we will continue to hold up the Bible and erroneously proclaim, “This is the gospel.” We must understand that we teach the Bible, but we proclaim the gospel.

[Next in series: March 21]

Introduction To Boxes

In order to preach the gospel, we must continually rehearse our knowledge of the nature of the gospel. We must do this lest we bring into the message of the gospel the religious inclinations of men, and thus turn the gospel into a religious system of justification through meritorious law-keeping. In the first century, this invasion into the church occurred. Two Holy Spirit-inspired books were written to meet the challenge of keeping meritorious law-keeping out of the gospel.

Those to whom Paul wrote the letter of Romans were trying to turn the gospel of the grace of God into a legal system of self-justification through law-keeping. Those to whom he wrote the letter of Galatians were preaching gospel, but they were adding to the gospel the necessity of meritorious law-keeping. They were thus preaching “another gospel” (Gl 1:6-9). Therefore, in order to introduce any study on the subject of the gospel, we must be very clear as to what we understand to be the truth of the gospel. We must do this lest we become “other-gospel” preachers as opposed to gospel preachers.

The gospel is a good news message.

Since the Greek word from which the English word “gospel” is used to translate its meaning into English, means “good news,” then we must refresh ourselves as to what the good news is. We have found that too many people have been diverted from what the good news is. In other words, they have been diverted from gospel by confusing it with law. The law of God is certainly good (Rm 5:17). But the law of God is not good news for any person. In fact, it is bad news in reference to our justification before God. “By works of law no flesh will be justified” (Gl 21:16). James referred to this when he wrote the following statement concerning law: “For whoever will keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he has become guilty of all” (Js 2:10).

One sin makes a sinner, and since sin exists only where there is law, then law reveals death, not good news. Paul stated it as follows: “For without law, I was once alive. But when the commandment came, sin revived and I died” (Rm 7:9). Law brought spiritual death and separation from God. But gospel brings life, and because it brings life, it is good news. It is for this reason that gospel is not law. Notice this comparison in the following words of the Holy Spirit: “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ [gospel] has freed you from the law of sin and death” (Rm 8:2). Glory hallelujah! And once delivered from the law of sin and death, “do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (Gl 5:1).

There is an obvious conclusion from the preceding that is necessary to make. Law can never be gospel, for gospel is good news. It is good news in the fact that one can be justified before God without perfect obedience to any system of law. Therefore, if one is preaching law as the gospel, then he does not understand the gospel. If he preaches the gospel as law, then he still does not understand that he is preaching the law of sin and death. He is preaching “another gospel” that is contrary to the gospel. (More on this later.)

If the preceding thoughts do not shock “other-gospel” preachers into some sense of gospel reality, then they have joined the crowd of those that Paul described as “false brethren secretly brought in, who sneaked in to spy out our liberty that we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage” (Gl 2:4),

It is absolutely critical to understand this point before continuing on in our efforts to understand the truth of the gospel. If one cannot separate law from gospel, then he can never be an effective gospel preacher. If one preaches a “legalized gospel,” then he is “another-gospel preacher” (Gl 1:6-9). And sadly, this is the predicament in which many preachers find themselves today because they have either forgotten the gospel, or they never initially understood the truth of the gospel.

Sometimes it is as it was in our own case. We went off to a Bible school where we were overwhelmed with law. We eventually graduated, but we understood law more than gospel. We were simply taught that there was no difference between gospel and law. The gospel of freedom in Christ and law were so fused together that it took no little time to separate the two when we went forth to “preach the gospel.” We became more effective when we took down our “law degree” in order that the gospel would shine forth in its simplicity. And once we finally appreciated the freedom of the grace that Jesus introduced into the world of misguided religiosity, it was a refreshing time of restoration from the presence of the Lord. It was just as Peter said to some law-obsessed Jews two thousand years ago: “Repent and be converted so that your sins may be blotted out, in order that the times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (At 3:19).

[Next in series: March 19


[The following is the preface to a forthcoming book.]

The subject of this study can be easily misunderstood, especially by those who have drifted away to religion from the nature of the gospel. For this reason we must be very clear on what we are trying to say, for we all have a little religion in us. We must be definitive in our comments because those who have more religion than gospel find it quite difficult to understand the true nature of the gospel. When confronted with the truth of the gospel, the religion in us often makes us to become very defensive in reference to the beliefs and behavior of our particular religious group. Just ask the Jews during the ministry of Jesus.

If there are areas where we are not clear on what we are trying to say, please be patient with us until you have finished the final chapter. But because the evangelistic outreach of the church seems to be waning, we have deemed it necessary that something be said as a caution to where we are in reference to the true nature of the gospel, which nature seems to a great extent be fading away.

For those of the West who would be zealous to preach their understanding and application of the gospel, we would also write a note of caution. The nature of the gospel to a great extent has been Westernized. We say this because of the impact that the gospel had on the lives of the early disciples when compared to its impact today on the typical Western citizen. When we compare the behavior of the Western disciple today with the disciples of the first century, there seems to be a stark difference. The reason for this is more in reference to culture than belief. Nevertheless, the New Testament paints a somewhat different picture of the first century Christian as compared to the typical Christian today who resides in a very materialistic society.

Contrary to the culture of the early disciples, ownership of possessions and the right to prosperity are strong cultural values of the West. Therefore, we would certainly be naive if we did not recognize that these cultural values have not influenced the response of the typical Western disciple to the gospel. In other words, we often believe the gospel, but we will not allow the truth of the gospel to infringe on our right to posses and prosper in abundance.

What we have discovered is that some who champion the gospel are doing so only by preaching the historical events of the gospel, not so much the impact of the gospel on the individual who seeks to live by the gospel. Life-changing gospel motivation as incarnational living is another subject that is often ignored. If you question this assessment, then ask yourself when was the last time you heard a sermon on the incarnation of the Son of God and our response to have this mind of Christ and behavior in our own lives (See Ph 2:5-8)? One might even take a moment to read in Philippians 3:7,8 in order to see the impact that the truth of the gospel had on the life of Paul.

What inspired the writing of this book has been something that seems to always plague the disciples in reaching out with the gospel to those of the world, regardless of what society in which they live. This is especially true in reaching out to those who have a common faith in Jesus Christ, but are somewhat disoriented in reference to connecting all the dots concerning the truth of the gospel. Many religious groups realize this. But unless we ourselves can connect all the gospel dots, we will continue to preach confusion. But if we can sort ourselves out on his matter, then there is a tremendous opportunity in the religious world to preach the gospel that frees the minds and hearts of the people from the bondage of religion.

An historical example is often good in order to remind ourselves from where we may have drifted. For example, we remember reading the biography of a gospel preacher who worked in the northwestern part of America in the early 1900s. We read with interest in his biography a very interesting practice that he and other gospel preachers followed in their efforts to preach the gospel to churches who were stuck in the religion of their forefathers. The author of the biography stated that it was the common practice of gospel preachers in those times to preach nightly meetings that would carry on for weeks. He explained that the reason for this was that the request for coming to different churches to preach the gospel seemed to be unending. People wanted to hear more about the gospel.

So he explained that which he and other gospel preachers would do in their meetings. They would go to a particular religious group and ask if they could come and preach the gospel to the entire group. Since there were few preachers in the northwestern part of America in the early 1900s, the leaders of the churches almost always asked them to begin immediately a meeting in their church building.

The meeting would subsequently proceed with nightly preaching on the subject of the gospel. After about two weeks of preaching the gospel, resulting in the baptism of several who were meeting with that particular group, they would move on to another church and continue preaching the gospel. Sometimes they were asked to move on because they were baptizing too many of the host church members. Nevertheless, they would go from one religious group to another until the requests to come and preach the gospel were exhausted, or rejected. The preaching would carry on nightly from six to eight weeks. The result was that scores of people would obey the gospel in baptism for the remission of their sins.

In our travels throughout almost five decades of preaching, we have experienced the same. We have recently found that it is more productive and far reaching to work with the pastors/preachers of different religious groups in studying the gospel together, and then inspiring them to preach the gospel anew to their own churches. God has opened an incredible door to thousands of pastors/preachers throughout the world who want to study the Bible in order to better understand the gospel that is revealed in the Bible.

The common confession that the leaders have is that they believe in Jesus Christ, but they have come to understand that they still need studies in the gospel. This is particularly true of independent churches who have come out of the bondage of mainline traditional religion. But because many of these leaders have had no formal education, they are seeking someone to come and teach them more accurately the truth of the gospel.

This is certainly a wonderful opportunity in these days for preaching the gospel in reference to those things about which we agree concerning the gospel. It is simply an overwhelming open door that has been thrown open by sincere Bible-believing leaders who just want to know more about the gospel.

Regardless of how great the opportunity, however, a problem often develops in the circle of those who claim to know the gospel, but have often turned the gospel into “another gospel” that is patterned after their own heritage and theologies. There are those who have circled around and become that from which they fled in their own restoration movement. They have subsequently lost touch with the spirit of trying to work with others in reference to the fundamentals of the gospel about which we agree. Instead of focusing on the gospel that moves us closer together, we seem to have this obsession to focus more on our differences that move us further away from one another.

This is often the curse of restoration movements, especially those movements that were actually legal restorations of law. By legal restoration, we mean those who have sought to restore law by which they would judge others, and not the gospel of grace. Consequently, when they approach others with whom they disagree on interpreted law, they find it difficult to discuss Bible because they are more apt to debate law. And in communities throughout the world, those who have claimed to be a true restoration of the “truth” have made so many enemies that they are no longer invited for any discussions. This is certainly a sad situation that the debaters of law have developed in communities throughout the world.

One of the best examples to use to illustrate the preceding problem is the Lord’s Supper. Throughout the continent on which we now live there are a great number of preachers who think they are preaching the gospel when they are preaching the Lord’s Supper. They believe that the Lord’s Supper is a part of the gospel. Therefore, they believe that they must preach every aspect of the Lord’s Supper in order to be preaching the entire gospel. But they are mistaken.

The result of making the Lord’s Supper a part of the message of the gospel is actually a diversion from the gospel. It has actually creating a stumbling block for many of those groups who claim to be preaching the gospel. The proof of this is that those who preach the Lord’s Supper as the gospel have actually divided among themselves on this matter because of supposed violations of legalities surrounding the Supper. For example, they have divided over the substance of the bread and fruit of the vine, the number of containers by which to serve the fruit of the vine, as well as the frequency and ceremonial performance of the Supper on Sunday. Some have even divided over the proper attire that should be worn when serving the Supper.

One would think that all this division would at least turn the light on to the fact that the Supper is not the gospel. When Jesus said, “This do in remembrance of Me,” He established the Supper as a law in remembrance of the gospel. The irony of the matter is that the observance of the
Supper is to bring us together around the table, not divide us. But because of so much contention that often arises on the subject, the Supper has often become the occasion to drive people away from one another. This is not gospel behavior. Some have legalized certain ceremonial systems of the Supper to the extent that it has become an opportunity to reveal divisive attitudes that are contrary to the unity that the gospel should produce. This cannot be what Jesus had in mind when He instituted the Supper.

Because of division that is sometimes caused around the observance of the Supper, one would think that legal theologians would conclude that the Supper cannot be the gospel. Therefore, we believe that those who would divide over the Supper have as much difficulty in understanding the truth of the gospel as those who are trying to dig themselves out of the confusion of religion.

The sad result of all the clamor over rites, rituals and ceremonies, therefore, has not only divided those who claim to be the guardians of the gospel, it has also led supposed “gospel preachers” away from being invited to preach the gospel to other religious groups. Others have witnessed all the division that supposed “gospel preachers” have caused over various issues, and thus they have concluded that they do not want such debaters to come into their midst. They conclude that if such “gospel preachers” cannot determine the difference between the gospel and issues surrounding law, then they simply do not want such preachers to come among them and cause the same chaos.

Our inability to distinguish between gospel and law sometimes makes it difficult for others to understand the distinctiveness of the gospel. We ourselves have often confused the two, and as a result of our own confusion, thousands of doors have been closed to preaching the gospel. Some of our literature that we have sent throughout the world has often perpetuated the problem. Since there is little distinction made between the gospel and law in the literature, others cannot fully appreciate the simplicity of the gospel since it is often wrapped in the shroud of so many religious rites, rituals and ceremonies. Therefore, instead of preaching the unify truth of the gospel to a world that is trying to come out of legally defined religion, some of our literature is actually teaching a legally defined “gospel” that one must obey in order to justify oneself before God.

We believe in a restoration of the gospel, not in a restoration of legalities that set aside the gospel of grace and the freedom that one enjoys as a result of his or her obedience to the gospel. We believe in the total sanctification of the cross, not in our ability to sanctify ourselves by our own performance of either law or good works. This is the message that many in the religious world are yearning to hear.

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