John 3:16 – The Gospel in a Single Verse

For God so loved the world…

It is a simple yet profound statement. Somehow my mind tends to skip over this verse when reading through the gospel of John. I always thought of it as too simple. I always said to myself, “Yeah, yeah, I know that!” This time, for no particular reason, I stopped to meditate on it. And I was astounded by the truth of Jesus’ statement to Nicodemus.

God’s love for sinners was so great, so astounding, so broad in its spectrum that He gave! Think about that for a moment. YOU had nothing to give to God except your sin, your rebellion, and your faithless wavering. God initiated the action because of His love for sinners. It was not because we were great or loveable. We had absolutely zilch to offer in return. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ. (Ephesians 2: 4-5). As I truly pondered the scope of this verse a few things stood out to me.

The Gospel in a Single Sentence

In Greek the very first word that stands at the head of this verse is the word houtōs, which is translated as ‘so’ or ‘in this manner.’ What follows is an explanation of how God loved a sinful wicked world. In short, the plain simple gospel is given within a single verse. Just as Lenski points out,

The “must,” the compulsion, lies in the wonder of God’s love and purpose. By telling Nicodemus this in such lucid, simple language Jesus sums up the entire gospel in one lovely sentence, so rich in content that, if a man had only these words and nothing of the rest of the Bible, he could by truly apprehending them be saved. 

Lenski, R. C. H. (1961). The interpretation of St. John’s gospel, p.259. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House.

God’s Agape Love Stands As the Theme

It has been stated that agapē love is the highest form of love presented to us in the Scripture. John presents this love to us through Jesus’ discourse with Nicodemus. And this love is so important to John that he emphasizes it by causing it to stand at the head of the clause. Greek is a very flexible language and word order is not so important. Biblical authors used this to their advantage. Often, when they wanted to make a certain action or person emphatic they would do so by allowing to stand at the head of a clause.

Diagramming is a great way of seeing such construction. I’m kind of a geek and love to diagram so when I begin to meditate on this verse I did just that. Below is my diagram of the verse. The English is presented along with the Greek for easier reading. All nouns are in blue, verbs are in red, and direct objects are in green.

Diagram showing the main clause of God’s love for John 3:16

Notice how God’s love, not our believing, stands as the headpiece of this entire passage. Often, we are tempted to read the Bible and make it about ourselves. But this passage is very clear that the focus should be on the Father’s love for sinners not those whom He saved by sending His Son. St. John Chrysostom comments on God’s love for sinners.

Now he spoke at greater length, as speaking to believers, but here Christ speaks concisely, because His discourse was directed to Nicodemus, but still in a more significant manner, for each word had much significance. For by the expression, “so loved,” and that other, “God the world,” He shows the great strength of His love. Large and infinite was the interval between the two. He, the immortal, who is without beginning, the Infinite Majesty, they but dust and ashes, full of ten thousand sins, who, ungrateful, have at all times offended Him; and these He “loved.” Again, the words which He added after these are alike significant, when He saith, that “He gave His Only-begotten Son,” not a servant, not an Angel, not an Archangel. And yet no one would show such anxiety for his own child, as God did for His ungrateful servants

Schaff, P. (Ed.). (1889). Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on the Gospel of St. John and Epistle to the Hebrews (Vol. 14 pp 95-96). New York: Christian Literature Company.

God’s Great Agapē Love for Sinners Caused Him to Initiate an Action of Giving

It was God that sought us. We did not seek Him. We did not care to seek Him. We ran away and were happy to be left to our own vices and destruction. The apostle Paul tells us clearly that we were at enmity with God (Romans 5:10). In this same discourse Jesus tells Nicodemus that men naturally run away from the Light because we are evil (John 3:20). But because of His great love towards sinners the hõste (result) was that He did not leave us in that state. He initiated the action of seeking us through the giving of His Son. And what of our weak faith? Christ will cast out no one who comes to him with but the tiniest of faith. The Book of Concord, the Lutheran Confessions states,

As Christ says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” [Matt. 11:28*], and, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” [Matt. 9:12*]. “God’s power is made mighty in the weak” [2 Cor. 12:9*],206 and Romans 14[:1*, 3*], “Welcome those who are weak in faith …   p 606  for God has welcomed them.” For “whoever believes in the Son of God,” whether weak or strong in faith, “has eternal life” [John 3:16*]. Moreover, this worthiness consists not in a greater or lesser weakness or strength of faith, but rather in the merit of Christ, which the troubled father with his weak faith (Mark 9[:24*]) possessed, just as did Abraham, Paul, and others who have a resolute, strong faith.

Solid Declartion VII, 70-71, Kolb, R., Wengert, T. J., & Arand, C. P. (2000). The Book of Concord: the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press

The Result of God’s Agapē Love Is the Reason We Believe

There is nothing special that God sees in us. I know that goes against the popular modern Evangelical teaching. Scripture has nothing positive to say about man in his natural lost state. We are told that we are slaves to sin (John 8:34), dead in our sins (Ephesians 2:1), blinded by Satan (2 Corinthians 4:4), and a host of other things that make us altogether unlovely. The only reason we believe is because of God’s gracious love for us poor, weak, miserable sinners. It is He and He alone that calls us and draws us to the grace and forgiveness of sins through Jesus’ perfect atoning work.

And though we experience God’s great love for us we still fall short. We still sin and grieve the Holy Spirit. We still struggle with our flesh every day. Fear not! Look to the cross and know, weak one, that Christ died for sinners; Christ died for me…

And Christ died for you!

Saturday Evening Meditations – Manasseh

2Kings 21 and 2Chronicles 33 records the accounts of Manasseh the king who reigned after his father, Hezekiah. Both accounts relay that he was one of the most wicked kings Jerusalem had ever had, all the way to filling Jerusalem from one end to the other with innocent blood (2Kings 22:16). Manasseh as king was to lead his people in the worship of Yahweh. But he went after other gods and as the accounts tell us he sacrificed his own children to the detestable god, Molech, who required child sacrifices for appeasement.

Continue reading “Saturday Evening Meditations – Manasseh”

3 Reasons Western Christians Are So Ignorant of the Bible

Biblical Ignorance Amongst a Bible Flood

We are at a time in history when the Bible has never been more accessible. Typing in ‘online bible‘ in a Google search yields tens of thousands of results. Bible software is readily available, whether free or paid. Online Bible studies dominate the Internet and social media. And people pour into the pews of their churches on any given Sunday to hear a sermon. So why is there so much Biblical ignorance in Western Christianity?

You don’t believe me? A 2002 Barna research says otherwise. Though many of the core beliefs about the Trinity and the afterlife were intact, many were still quite heterodox. The research concluded that those who identify as Christian have many unbiblical beliefs. To name a few, Barna concluded:

  • 59% reject the existence of a real and personal Satan. They believe he is only a “symbol” of evil
  • 51% believe that praying to saints affects a person’s life positively
  • 35% believe they are able to communicate with the dead
  • A whopping 42% believe Jesus was a sinner
  • 50% hold that salvation is earned by good works

If some of these seem disturbing you’re not alone. How did Western Christianity get here? Below, I offer 3 reasons why I believe we are among a Biblical drought even though we have more accessibility to God’s word than ever before.

the bible is boring

If you ask any nominal Christian about their thoughts on the Bible you are more likely to hear that it is outdated and archaic. They believe many of the passages need to change or be reinterpreted in light of the cultural shift, especially those that address man’s sexuality. They are not willing to realign their own beliefs with that of Holy Writ, so therefore they forsake it altogether. The old boring book is not worth their time. Bored Christians are people that look elsewhere for the answers. They are seeking the excitement and adrenaline the Bible fails to give them. As a result they look for the latest, greatest method, that best selling self-help book on ‘fill in the blank’, or more relevant ways they can contribute to community and feel good about their self-worth. This spills over into their church lives as their new churches are more about cool music and pep talks rather than sound, Biblical preaching that properly divides the Law and the Gospel.

the bible seems irrelevant

When the Bible no longer seems to change with the culture people deem it as unnecessary and stray from its precepts. Psalm 119:4 says, You have commanded us to keep Your precepts diligently. Though culture would deem this unreliable, Christians know that that the Law of the Lord is a lamp to our feet (Psalm 119:06), a guide to point us to Christ and His Gospel (Galatians 3:24), and to show us our shortcomings before God (Exodus 20:1-17). The irrelevance only comes as more youth create their own paradigm shifts to fit their current situations. This seems to be founded upon another 2015 Barna poll which stated that only 35% of Millennials claim faith as an external factor in their lifestyles. Another poll conducted in January of 2018 found that the atheists among the newest generation has nearly doubled.

Why this sudden falling away? When asked, most youth stated the problem of God and evil. In other words, if God truly existed all of the suffering wouldn’t. This is simply another way of saying, “The Bible isn’t relevant to my culture.” Millennials and Gen Zers are fast becoming a majority part of the population. Considering the current trend it would not be surprising if the next generation wholly abandons God’s Word altogether.

the bible is no longer sufficient

Since the Bible is boring and irrelevant, certainly it cannot be sufficient as the standard for faith and life. Though research shows that many young people still hold a high view of Scripture, their beliefs and practices seem to state otherwise. For example, a study cited earlier in this post revealed that 50% of self-identifying Christians believe they can obtain God’s favor through their good deeds. And it isn’t just the younger generation. This is the trend of people of all age groups. People flock after an experience rather than take the time to find the answers in Scripture. They depend upon fresh revelations instead of the way in which God has chosen to reveal Himself and His will through the written word. They flock to those teachers that can promise them their next big breakthrough or the fulfillment of life-long dreams. The number of “ministries” geared towards this disgusting puke attests to this. Teachers such as Rick Warren, Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen, Benny Hinn, Creflo Doallar, Ken and Gloria Copeland, Christine Cain, and myriads of others prey on those seeking some kind of physical or monetary relief. Ultimately those who follow these teachers must share in the blame as they have abandoned sound doctrine for doctrine of demons. Their hope appears to rest in what God can do for then rather than in God Himself. All of this can be directly linked to the abandonment of Scripture as the sufficient means in which God communicates to His people.

Hope Amongst Drought

There is hope, despite the odds of these statistics. Another research performed by Barna revealed that an increasingly number of adults are becoming dissatisfied with “doing church.”

Adults among the varying groups who are dissatisfied with the current church culture.

This could go either way. It could drive people away from church completely or it could drive then to seek out a more satisfying experience in worship. Whatever the case, it shows that people are thirsty! They crave more than the monotonous weekly ritual. Even their usual cool, hip relevant churches aren’t doing it for them anymore. This is encouraging as those who remain faithful to Scripture as the innerrant, infallible word of God can be a beacon to point them back to the sufficiency of Scripture. When we allow our beliefs to come in line with God’s word we rest much easier, knowing that all the minor details will be worked out in the end. This is not to say that we must possess an ignorant faith or never seek the answers we desire. It is simply means that we take God at His word and believe that what He has revealed to us is sufficient for our entire lives.

Considering Context – Matthew 18:19-20

The Context & Interpretation

Matthew 18:19-20 is often quoted in reference to church and prayer meetings.

19 “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”

This is one of the most quoted verses for used in declaring that Jesus hears the prayers of His people when they are gathered together. When we examine the context a little more closely we find that this verse really isn’t talking about prayer meetings or church gatherings, at least in the realm that most people believe it to be.

The immediate context of our passage goes back to verse 15.


“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (emphasis are mine)

Surprised by Context

Jesus’ address is to one who has sinned within the Church. Verse 15 starts by Him telling the disciples how to handle one who sins. They are to approach the individual alone and confront the person’s sin. If the person refuses to acknowledge and repent of his sin then the first person is to take two or three other brothers with him as witnesses. This practice goes all the way back to Jewish law of having a testimony firmly established.

Deuteronomy 19:15 “A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established. (emphasis mine)

This is where we need to start reading a little more closely. Note what Jesus is saying. He is instructing the disciples how to perform Church discipline correctly by quoting the law from Deuteronomy 19.

At this point some may object that Jesus is not at all speaking about the Church but only about those sinning against others in a personal manner. However, the fact that Jesus uses the word ‘church’ when speaking to His disciples is evidence that Church discipline is indeed in view at this point. Further, the same law also carries over into the epistles as Paul instructs Timothy not to entertain any accusations brought against another elder unless there are at least two or three witnesses. (1Timothy 1:19). For this reason it is a safe bet to state that the outline of discipline that Jesus gives is specifically for Church discipline. Let’s move on to the actual interpretation of the passage.

What Is Matthew 18 Referencing?

Now that we have examined the context in full it’s time to start interpreting the text as to what it really means. I find the best way to do this is to ask questions of the text. Personally, I love the 5W-H method (who, what, when, where, why, & how). Not all of these elements will be present in all the texts you consider but there will always be enough of them to help interpret a passage correctly.

When we consider the full context of the passage, the first thing we should ask is who are the two or three gathered together in Jesus’ Name? Given the use of Jesus’ quotation of Deuteronomy we must conclude from the context that the two or three are those witnesses first mentioned in verse 16. You will note that I have bolded several portions including every time where the two or three or mentioned. This is to show how they are traced throughout the passage. Understanding the ‘who’ of the passage often aids in understanding the ‘what.’

The next thing to be considered is the ‘what.’ Jesus tells His disciples that if the unrepentant person will not listen to the first or the witnesses that he has taken then that person must be brought before the Church. The entire congregation is to implore his repentance and upon that refusal the instructions are to excommunicate the said individual and treat him as a tax collector and sinner. It is at this point that Jesus makes the mysterious remark about binding and loosing. This is the second part of the ‘what’ question that must be answered.

What exactly is loosing and binding in this context? This requires us to look into the original language to get the answer. The two words, δέω (deō) and λύω (luō) connote an authoritative use. According to the Mishnah, a Rabbinical commentary on the Law of Moses, the interpretations were in fact binding on the people. However, a person could be loosed or even bound under certain circumstances, especially with particular vows made. Consider a small portion of the Mishnah:

He who vows [abstinence] from meat may eat broth and meat sediment. But Rabbi Judah prohibits. Rabbi Judah said: it once happened that Rabbi Tarfon prohibited me from eating [even the] eggs boiled [with the meat]. They replied: That is so. When is this true? When he says “This meat is prohibited to me.” For if one vows [to abstain] from something, and it is mixed up with another thing, if there is a sufficient [amount of the prohibited food] to impart its taste [to the other] it is forbidden.

Mishnah Nedarim 6:6

Jesus uses this same idea of binding and loosing when He gives the apostles the authority to enact discipline on a wayward believer. The idea is that the apostles would “ask in Jesus’ Name” and the discipline of the sinner would be bound (authoritative) on Earth and have the backing of the authority of Heaven. Therefore, if two or three ask in Jesus’ Name He is there in the midst of them with His authority.

Application

How then do we apply this Scripture? It can only be applied by the leaders of the Church universal. That is, as ordained ministers chosen by God they must engage in church discipline whenever the need is presented. This verse cannot be applied in a personal manner or as a promise for Jesus to show up in your prayer meeting.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us always examine Scripture closely that we may be able to apply it in the proper manner. May the LORD continue to bless you as you seek to understand and apply the Truth of His Word.

Saturday Evening Meditations – Esther

During the Second Temple period Queen Esther was the prized beauty of King Ahasuerus. This book is infamously known as the only book of the Bible that does not mention God a single time. So where can we see the Gospel presented? Join us for this week’s Saturday Evening Meditations.

The Story of Esther

Timeline of Esther

The book of Esther is the story of God’s providential protection of His people. God’s people have been exiled into a foreign land for their persistent rebellion against Him. The land of Persia is strange, their language strange, and their customs vile and ungodly. Yet it is the will of God for them to stay there awhile.

Oddly enough Yahweh or any other variant name of God is found nowhere in the book. But when we read Esther we clearly see He is not absent but working through Esther’s uncle, Mordecai. The book opens as king Ahasuerus throws the feasts of feasts for his statesmen. He gives them permission of no limits in getting drunk and carousing. Over the course of the seven-day feast, Ahasuerus gets pretty drunk and orders his Queen, Vashti, to appear before him. His intention is to show her off and to please his guests. Vashti refuses to be his play toy and rebels against her king. He consults his administrators and they advise him that in order to save face he must dump Vashti and find a more obedient queen (1:10-22).

Of course, after the national wide beauty contest, Esther wins hands down and is chosen by the king as the new queen. She isn’t happy. Her uncle Mordecai, who has raised her tells her to take her place for now. And then the trouble begins…enter Haman. (3:1)

Haman receives a huge promotion from the king and demands that as he passes by that all should bow down to hm. Mordecai refuses—several times. Eventually, Haman decides on a plan. Instead of killing just Mordecai he will wipe out the entire jewish race (3:6). Eventually, he connives the king into making a decree, which was something that could not be overturned by even the king once it was law (3:12-13, 8:8). Of course the king has no idea that his beloved queen is a Jew. And when Mordecai discovers the king’s edict he pleads with Esther to go before the king and plead their case.

Esther pleads before the king

Esther is afraid. And with good cause. Anyone who enters the king’s presence without prior authorization will be put to death. Unless…

There is one chance. If the king is pleased with the person he may extend his golden scepter (4:11). The person who takes hold of the scepter will have the king’s ear. Of course, we know that this is what happened. Esther fasts and prays and invites Haman and the king for a feast. She persuades the king to establish a new decree that the Jews be allowed to defend themselves. The Jews are victorious, Haman is hanged on the very gallows he built for Mordecai, and the Feast of Purim is established for the Jewish nation.

It is exciting reading the book of Esther and seeing God’s hand throughout. Scripture testifies to God’s goodness but more importantly, it attests to the central figure, Jesus Christ. So, where can we find the gospel in Esther? And how can we apply the story of Esther to ourselves?

The Gospel in Esther

Just as Esther interceded for her own people before the king, so also Jesus intercedes for us. Without Christ’s intercession, we are damned to be destroyed by Satan, who, just like Haman has built his hellish gallows that he might doom us. Yet the Father in His goodness has allowed Jesus to enter into His throne room to plead our case before the Father. Ahasuerus’ edict could not be undone. There is nothing that could have reversed the death penalty for the Jews. In the same way, the Law had condemned us to die. It cannot be undone. It has been established by God Himself and He will not overturn it.

But praise be to God! He has given us an intercessor in Jesus Christ, who lives to make intercession for us (Romans 8:34, Hebrews 7:25). Because of Christ’s redemptive work the Father issued a new decree. That whoever looks to the Son and believes in Him shall escape the penalty of the Law (John 3:16-18). What a wonderful thought that we have One who intercedes and protects us with His own blood.

Personal Application

God is holy and transcendent. As natural men, we cannot enter into His presence standing upon our own merit. We will surely die if we do. God has a right to consume us with His wrath because of our sinfulness. Yet in His mercy, His Golden Scepter of Righteousness, Jesus Christ, is our only plea (Psalm 45:6). God freely extends this Scepter to all who will reach out and grasp Him. Then, and only then, may we boldly approach the Throne of Grace to make our petitions before the Father (Hebrews 4:16). Let us thank the Father, Son, and Spirit for their goodness towards us and may we ever be grateful and joyful in His presence.

Christ, The Sinner’s Once-for-All Rest

We may often find ourselves struggling with assurance. Jesus has promised rest for those who take His yoke.

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)

Here, in the offer of Jesus exists an invitation like no other. Who of us can say that we are not weary? How many can boast that the Law does not make their consciences heavy laden? We are creatures of doing and we pursue that doing, usually until the day we die. But our pursuit of doing something, anything, is detrimental to our spirituality because Jesus has told us, “Come…”

We hear the invitation; yea, we long for it! But at the first, we look for a different way, a harder way, for resting surely cannot be the way to ease the Law’s ever-stinging accusations in our consciences. No! We must work to please God. We must pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and truck on through the muddy sin that continually plagues us. And in all our wanderings and turning aways we still hear, “Come…”

“Come…” is the invitation that Jesus offers. Yet the very next thing He speaks is the imperative of coming: “Take My yoke upon you.” But why a yoke? Will this not give us a burden as well? Jesus’ yoke is not a burden of the Law, but rather the yoke of grace which He freely offers through the Sacraments. As Lenski so eloquently states, Indeed, the gospel and the doctrine of faith are a yoke in that they are full of commands, all of them gospel commands, however, commands to take, to trust, to feast, to inherit, and the like. (Lenski, R. C. H. (1961). The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel. p 457. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House.)


Salvation brought, my weary soul rejoices/the Law, with all its power o’er me hath lost/This Jesus, bless-ed Consolation; His love, His blood, hath nailed it to the cross.

The invitation stands for all. Those who come to Christ and find His rest will surely not be sorry. They will find that, just as He promised, the yoke that so many of us believed to be even heavier than the Law, is quite light as He carries the burden. To quote Lenski one more time, he says of this invitation

Here the good pleasure of the Father’s and the Son’s will is most delightfully voiced. Here the babes receive the revelation which, because it is distasteful to the wise, is lost and hidden from them because of this very folly…Christ is the end of the law to those who believe. He removes the sin and the guilt, he does the saving. All we need to do is to commit ourselves to Him.

Lenski, R. C. H. (1961). The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel, pp.456-457. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House.

Sinners, let us find our once-for-all rest in the offer of Jesus. Until we do our weary souls will be burdened with a burden to heave to bear. May God bring you peace through His Gospel promises.

Hope Cometh

The world is un an upheaval at this moment and in particular the U.S. While some march peacefully for the change they desire, others have chosen to loot, riot, and murder. People have been killed or beaten for simply disagreeing with the current trend of the Social Justice Movement. It’s a sad time. It’s an emotional time. It’s a scary time. I look at what is going on in my country and wonder how it ever got this point. Without a doubt, it is a turning away from God’s word. Even self-confessing Christians are joining protesters, participating in the violence, and justifying their behavior because they feel that Jesus would have done the same.

But hope cometh…

The pure gospel is the solution for the madness taking place. Surely justice needs to prevail in cases where people are truly oppressed.

18 You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:18)

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you (Matthew 5:43–44)

The beauty of the gospel is that it transforms from the inside out (2Corinthians 5:17). All the “change” in the laws will never change the heart of an individual.

But Hope Cometh…

The Father sent Jesus to obey the Law, God’s Law. And He obeyed every single aspect of it in word, thought, and deed. This was so that He could offer Himself as the once-for-all sacrifice for the world’s sins. He took our sins upon Himself. He took the sin of my cursing, blaspheming, adultery, murder, and every other vile thing I had ever committed and He nailed it to the cross. And He did for you and all others. Redemption was purchased for the racist, the angry mob of people protesting, the ANTIFA members that resort to violence to get their point across, and yes, He even did it for the police officer who killed George Floyd. The best part of the whole gospel is that Jesus did not stay dead. He bodily rose from the grave for our justification, proving that God’s stamp of approval was on His atonement.

This is how deep His love runs for His creation The vilest, wicked person can find redemption when they look to the perfect work of the Savior and realize that in all their perceived righteousness they have no footing to stand upon if they are judged. For He has proclaimed, “everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:40).

Considering Context – Jerimiah 29:11

This week’s Considering Context looks at popular verse often quoted as proof that God has a wonderful plan for every believer’s life. Jeremiah 29:11 says,

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future (NIV).

(Note: I purposely quoted from the NIV because this is the version I have heard quoted the most.)

The Perceived Meaning & Actual Context

“God has a wonderful plan for your life, and this verse tells us that!”

This is the interpretation I’ve heard most. People read into this text because of words like ‘plan,’ ‘hope,’ & ‘future,’ and automatically assume that it must be talking about their own individual, personal lives. This false assumption only leads to disappointment as they cling to it, waiting for God to bring them their “breakthrough.” But what does this text actually teach? Let’s look at the full context and unpack it a little bit. The full context of Jeremiah 29:11 is below. Read carefully and pay attention to some key elements, which we will discuss.

Jeremiah 29:1–14 (NIV)

1 This is the text of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets and all the other people Nebuchadnezzar had carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. 2 (This was after King Jehoiachin and the queen mother, the court officials and the leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the skilled workers and the artisans had gone into exile from Jerusalem.) 3 He entrusted the letter to Elasah son of Shaphan and to Gemariah son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to King Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon. It said: 4 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” 8 Yes, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. 9 They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the Lord. 10 This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”

There are some general things to be noted about this text:

  1. This is a letter from Jeremiah sent by Elasah to the already exiled Israelites (vv. 1-3). Why is this important? Because it means that this portion of Jeremiah was written to a specific group, (the exiles) at a specific time, (after Nebuchadnezzar came in and conquered Jerusalem), for a specific reason (discussed in v. 4, ff). Context needs to always take precedence when interpreting a passage.
  2. The letter’s contents are concerning the Israelites’ expectations during their captivity (vv. 4-7). Through Jeremiah God was telling His people to basically get comfortable in their new conditions because it would be 70 years before they would be going anywhere. They were told to “seek the welfare” of the nation of their captors because they would benefit from it, as well. In essence, this promise was NOT individualistic prosperity but nationalistic peace.
  3. The lying prophets would declare peace & prosperity (vv. 8-10). Just as we deal with false teachers, so the Israelites dealt with their false teachers. God had warned His people for hundreds of years that judgment was coming. Instead of repenting, false teachers came along saying, “Peace, Peace!” Yet God tells them that He did not send them and that they were lying by saying that they had had dreams and visions (v. 9). This is an important part of the overall context because these false prophets were still declaring God’s favor even after judgment had been rendered.  Jeremiah’s letter ensured his hearers that they were in Babylon for their sins. God’s favor was still on His people but it would not be experienced until the time of the exiled had come to its fruition (v. 10).
  4. The promise of verse 11 is actually a causal condition of verse 10. What does that mean? Simply speaking the word ‘for’ at the beginning of verse 11 is actually the reason or support for God’s statement in verse 10. In other words, the promise that everyone seems to think that verse 11 is based upon is actually dependent upon the seventy years of exile.
  5. The “Ater-promise” is the real promise of this text (vv. 12-14). Verse 11 is not even the centrality of Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles. It is the promise of God once again being their God, dwelling with them, and bringing them back into His presence. We know this because God tells the people at that time they will begin to seek Yahweh once again. Every Israelite’s pride was being part of Yahweh’s covenant people and Jerusalem was Yahweh’s dwelling place. The reason they had been exiled was because they had failed to keep the covenant. Now they would have to endure God’s chastisement for seventy years before true fellowship could be restored. But in all their discipline God would not forsake them because He “knows the plans [He] has for them, declares the LORD…”  

Conclusion

Just like interpretation, application must be kept in its original context. Today, we cannot claim that we have been exiled from the land because of our sins. However, as a church we can recognize that (1) the Church is God’s covenant people (2) God uses his preachers to exhort us to repentance and faith in His Son, (3) He may discipline the Church if we do not heed His word, (4) even if we, the Church, experience His discipline it is not to harm us but to bring us back into fellowship with the Triune God.

What a blessed thought, Christians, that God still loves and honors His promises to His covenant people, even in the midst of our sin. Let us confess and forsake our false views of God and let us return with our whole heart to Him, seeking Him while He may be found.

Christian Martyr Day 2020

Many faithful witnesses have given their lives in service of Jesus. Here is one of those stories.

In 2017 civil war began to ravage the Central Africa Republic. During the first week, six Christian pastors were murdered by an Islamic group, as reported by Voice of the Martyrs, an organization that focuses on Christian persecution. Among the pastors was one, Jean-Paul Sankagui. Years earlier this bold servant of Christ had planted a church smack dab in the middle of a Muslim neighborhood. But the Lord was with him and made his ministry fruitful. According to VOM, the Islamic group surrounded pastor Sankagui’s home and church, shot and killed him, looted the church, and then burnt down both the church and parishioner home.

VOM recognizes this faithful pastor on the Christian Martyr Day 2020. Watch the video below to see pastor Sankagui’s incredible witness to Christ.

Saturday Evening Meditations – Jacob & Esau

Recently, I was reading the passage of Jacob and Esau. If you’re familiar with the story, you may remember that Jacob, at the prodding of his mother, tricked his father, Isaac into blessing himself rather than Esau, who was the elder.

As the story goes, Isaac was old and blind, and near death and asked Esau to hunt and cook him some game in order to bless him before his passing. Rebekkah hears this and instructs Jacob to put on some of Esau’s garments and take some game into him which she would prepare. In this way, Jacob would receive the blessing.

Expectedly, Jacob complies and follows through with it. Isaac is confused at first because he “feels” Esau’s hairy hands (the sheep’s skin) but hears Jacob’s voice. But when he catches a whiff of Esau’s clothes he is convinced that it is his elder son and goes through with the blessing.

In time Esau returns and discovers he has been swindled–again! He vows to kill his twin and Rebekkah, fearing for her son, sends him away under the guise of marrying one of her kinsman rather than the native Caananites.

This is where it gets interesting: Jacob leaves his home and stops for the night in Bethel (at the time it was called Luz). He has his famous dream of the angels ascending and descending from Heaven on a ladder. In the dream God comes to him and makes him this promise:

I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac…Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” (Gen 28:13, 15). 

Here is where the meditation comes in. God introduces Himself by declaring that He was the God of his fathers. He then follows that up with a covenant. He promises to be with Jacob and fulfill His covenant with him and his offspring.

Think about that for a minute. Jacob had just cheated his brother and yet God was honoring Jacob. Not that God approved of his cheating. But God had intended Jacob to be the heir of promise. He was still honoring that despite Jacob’s past sins. The promise wasn’t conditioned on Jacob’s behavior. No! It was conditioned on God Himself.

Let’s bring that principle home: I am an idolatrous, image-making, God-blaspheming, Sabbath breaking, parent dishonoring, murdering, adulterous, thieving, lying, covetous man.

Yet, God has a covenant with me. His Word has assured me that if I repent of my sins and in faith trust the finished work and Person of Christ for salvation then He, like Jacob, would “be with me and bring me again into [His] land”. He has promised me that His Son has gone to prepare a place for me (John 14:3) and that He will continue to abide with me (John 14: 15-17).

But I fail daily! I sin, I miss the mark, and I defame His Holy Name. Yet, He has even promised that all I must do is to confess and forsake my sin (1John 1:9).

Why does He continue to be good to me? Because it is not up to me or my faithfulness which God basis His promises on. It is upon His own Name and the covenant which He made with His people from eternity past.

Friend, if you are struggling with doubt and fear, and if you have truly trusted in Christ alone for salvation, know that God will lead you to your eternal inheritance. And this is not contingent upon your own faithfulness but in God’s covenant-keeping Name!

Below, you will find a PDF of a brief Text Flow I did of this passage.

Here is the PDF for viewing