Maintaining Good Works

Faithful is the saying, and concerning these things I desire that thou affirm confidently, to the end that they who have believed God may be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men (Titus 3:8).

Perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of discipleship is maintaining good works. Yes, in many ways, there is a bit of a learning curve in Christianity; when we come to faith in Jesus, we have much to learn and gain from instruction and exhortation regarding how we should live. At that time we are also motivated by early enthusiasm for our faith. But what happens after we have been seeking to follow Jesus for awhile? How will we continue to be motivated toward good works?

Paul is aware of the challenge, and his solution might seem odd to some: further exhortation and reminder of what has transpired in the past (Titus 3:3-7).

It is easy for us to consider preaching and teaching only in terms of instruction; we have been conditioned by our society to associate a lack of proper conduct with a lack of knowledge. If we do not do what we are supposed to do, it is as if we have not been properly instructed. Nevertheless, most of the time we do know what we are to do; any Christian who has read a bit of Scripture and heard it preached frequently should have a decent understanding of what God expects from them. Much of the exhortation in Scripture is provided for Christians as a reminder of things they should already know (cf. 2 Peter 1:12-13). Doing righteousness and avoiding immorality is not “new news” to Christians; the greater danger is a weakening of zeal and developing complacency in one’s spiritual life (cf. Revelation 2:1-10).

Therefore, it is not strange or even surprising for Paul to insist on continual encouragement and exhortation, not to necessarily provide new information, but to constantly reinforce what has already been taught so as to keep such things at the forefront of the Christian’s mind, giving him or her greater strength to resist the deceitfulness of sin (cf. Hebrews 3:12-14). But what is the message the will truly motivate Christians to maintain good works?

Much of Paul’s letter to Titus is toward these ends. Jesus gave Himself up for Christians to redeem them from sin and to purify a people to Himself (Titus 2:11-14). Christians are to be subject to authorities, not speaking evil but being gentle and meek (Titus 3:1-2). But why?

Paul explains more fully in Titus 3:3-7 what he said simply in Titus 2:11-14: Christians were once in a terrible state. The list is unpleasant: foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hated (Titus 3:3). Salvation came through the kindness and mercy of God, not our own works; we were cleansed by the washing of regeneration (baptism) and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, not our own futile efforts (Titus 3:4-5). This allowed us to become heirs of the hope of eternal life (Titus 3:6-7). Paul intends to motivate Christians to good works through this message.

How will such a message motivate? There are three aspects to the message: our sinfulness and inability to save ourselves, God’s love, mercy, and kindness reflected through Jesus in providing the means for our redemption, and our ability to hold to hope of eternity through Jesus. These three put together can encourage the believer to good works!

How can the reminder of our sinfulness and inability to save ourselves motivate us to good works? By itself, it could not; it would lead to despair and paralysis on account of guilt. Without this reminder, however, it is easy to get puffed up and overconfident in our “holiness.” We are easily tempted to develop an “us” versus “them” attitude against those outside of the faith; it is tempting to feel as if “we” are better than “they.” This is why Paul says that we “also” were foolish, led astray by passion, etc.; on our own, we are no better off or superior in any way to those still lost in the world of sin. We were lost too at some point; we were terribly sinful as well. We could not save ourselves; this reality should keep us humble!

Thankfully, God provided the means by which we could be rescued from ourselves. We did not deserve it, nor could we; God has freely displayed love, kindness, mercy, and grace through Jesus and the redemption and reconciliation obtained through His life and death. This is an important piece of the story, but by no means the only one: without a recognition of our sin, we cannot appreciate the redemption we have obtained; without hope for the future, there would not be as much motivation to move forward. Nevertheless, atonement and reconciliation through Jesus is the centerpiece of the Gospel and of this message of encouragement: we could not save ourselves, and no deed can save us, but God has provided the means by which we can obtain cleansing through Jesus’ blood in baptism and the renewal of the Holy Spirit.

The Gospel makes it plain that Jesus’ death without Jesus’ resurrection would have been without power or sufficiency for anything (1 Corinthians 15:12-19). It is through Jesus’ resurrection that we maintain the hope for eternal life in our own resurrection. God wants us to be rescued and preserved now but with a view toward the resurrection of life for eternity (1 Peter 1:3-9)!

It is lamentable how the various truths in Titus 3:3-7 have been distorted and used against each other since Paul speaks with such harmony. We were lost in sin and could not save ourselves; God provided the means of atonement and reconciliation through Jesus; through this believers have hope for eternal life; these truths motivate believers to maintain good works. This pattern does not show contradiction or inconsistency, but balance. If we will honor God in our lives, it is because we maintain humility, understanding that we are no better than anyone else and cannot save ourselves; it is because we remain thankful, always keeping Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins in mind; it is because we can look forward with confidence in the resurrection, which itself infuses the present life with purpose and meaning. When we remain humble, thankful, and forward-looking, we will devote ourselves to the good works for which our Creator made us (Ephesians 2:10).

As humans, we are weak, and constantly in need of exhortation and encouragement. We do well to always keep all aspects of the big picture in mind: our former state, the means by which we obtained our present state, our future hope, and all of those to motivate us toward obedience now. Let us seek to perpetually honor and glorify Christ through our lives!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Proclamation

And there were shepherds in the same country abiding in the field, and keeping watch by night over their flock. And an angel of the Lord stood by them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
And the angel said unto them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all the people: for there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this is the sign unto you: Ye shall find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men in whom he is well pleased” (Luke 2:8-14).

Thanks to generations of traditions, whenever people think about the birth of Jesus and its meaning, various Christmas themes invariably come to mind. We imagine the stereotypical nativity scenes; movies parody the devotion that many have to the “baby Jesus” that often is not communicated toward the Jesus of the rest of the Gospels. Many others seem to disassociate the “Christmas story” from the “Easter story” regarding Jesus.

Yet, as the angel’s proclamation makes clear, one cannot separate out the “baby Jesus” from the Jesus of the rest of the Gospels. One cannot disassociate the story of Jesus’ birth from the story of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and lordship. From the beginning, the angels declare Jesus’ identity: the son of David, the Savior, the Christ, Lord. This is a message of good tidings of great joy to all the people; a Gospel message, the beginning of the fulfillment of all the promises God has made to Israel through the prophets. Sure, the “baby Jesus” has not yet done any of these things. But the Incarnation of the Christ is complete; it really is the first miracle surrounding Jesus, and it paves the way for everything moving forward.

There is a strong temptation to minimize the birth story of Jesus; it is only in two of the four Gospels, it is associated with the Christmas observance and all sorts of things that do not come from the pages of Scripture, and there does not seem to be much in the way of redemption in the story. And yet the Incarnation is pivotal for everything that follows: God has taken on flesh and dwells among mankind (John 1:1, 14). He can now live the life He is to lead; He can teach what He must teach, do what He must do, and guide the grand story of God toward its ultimate triumph and the source of hope for all generations. Let none be deceived: there is no Golgotha, no cross, without the manger in Bethlehem. Without the events that transpired in Bethlehem on that evening, there could not have been an empty tomb. since there would never have been a body within it. There is no crucifixion or resurrection without the Incarnation; without the beginning of the Gospel, there really is no Gospel.

The Incarnation is deeply tied into the story, and its details bear this out. The angel’s proclamation does not come to Herod, the chief priests, the Sadducees, the Pharisees, or even city-dwellers; it comes to shepherds, the humble stock from whom Moses and David derived (Exodus 3:1-3, 1 Samuel 16:11-13). As with the shepherds, so with Jesus: He would maintain His ministry mostly on the fringes, amongst the villages of Galilee, speaking the language of rural life. Furthermore, Jesus is not in a palace, or in a crib bedecked with gold, but in a stable, amongst the animals, lying in a manger expropriated for the purpose, born to a carpenter and his peasant wife. His origins could hardly be more humble, and thus was the spirit in Him throughout His ministry (cf. Matthew 20:25-28). He would fulfill all the things spoken about the Christ, but not in the expected ways. He would manifest all spiritual power, but it would not be directed in the standard ways the world would have expected, and particularly toward the ends that Israel would have desired. The Child born in humble surroundings, proclaimed upon by angels to shepherds, would lead by serving, direct in humility, and reign with power on account of sacrifice.

The whole story is presaged at the very beginning; one can preach the whole Gospel message based upon what is found in Jesus’ birth account. God the Son became the Immanuel child and the Immanuel man, and through Him we have hope in the message of good tidings presented in His name. Let us make the same proclamation as the angels did that evening in Bethlehem, and honor Jesus of Nazareth as the son of David, the Savior, Christ the Lord, as thankful for the Incarnation as we are for His life, teachings, deeds, crucifixion, and resurrection that proceeded from it!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Christ Our Sufficiency

And such confidence have we through Christ to God-ward: not that we are sufficient of ourselves, to account anything as from ourselves; but our sufficiency is from God; who also made us sufficient as ministers of a new covenant (2 Corinthians 3:4-6a).

Few things are as dangerous as when the instrument begins to vaunt itself over its designer and operator.

We see this happen sometimes in the movies. The Terminator series and the Matrix series all presuppose such a situation: humans make computers/robots, computers/robots get too smart, computers/robots try to take over. We have this feeling, deep down, that if our creation to take us over, it would be a very bad thing. We perceive that something is out of place in that condition.

The Apostle Paul understood this danger in his own life as it related to God his Creator and Christ his Savior, and it was a good thing. His ministry featured signs and wonders; many converted to the Lord on at least two continents based on his preaching and teaching. As he writes for at least the second time to the Corinthians, he has spoken of them as a living “letter of Christ,” through Paul’s ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:1-3). In that sense, the Corinthians themselves are commendation for Paul, and in that work he has great confidence (2 Corinthians 4:4).

What would happen if Paul rooted this confidence in what he could perceive in the physical realm? What if Paul thought that it was by his own strength, cunning, and persuasive ability that the Corinthians were converted to Jesus? It would be very tempting; it would satisfy the natural conceit that dwells within us all. He could feel quite important, vaunting in his position. In short, his pride could quickly undo all the work that had been done!

And that is why Paul hastens to declare that whereas the conversion of the Corinthians is his confidence in Christ toward God, it was not from his own strength or power; indeed, he declares that he has no sufficiency in himself (2 Corinthians 3:4-5). His sufficiency is from God; God is the one who made him sufficient to minister in this new covenant through Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:5-6). Paul recognizes that he is the instrument; God is the power and provides what is sufficient to accomplish His purpose (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:7).

Paul’s declarations have become controversial since he established them. Some have taken his words to mean that the believer is able to do nothing at all, becoming entirely passive agents of God. Others, in seeking to avoid this extreme, go the other way, and over-emphasize the free will of mankind and come dangerously close to declaring their own sufficiency, albeit in a limited frame. What, then, are we to understand from what Paul has declared here?

We can all confess as true that everything we have and are come from God; we did not create the universe, we did not give ourselves life, and we did not make this creation for our use (cf. Genesis 1:1-2:3, Acts 17:24-29). Beyond that, since we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, there was nothing we could do in order to save ourselves; God did what we could not do in reconciling us back to Him through Jesus His Son (Romans 3:20-23, 5:6-11, 8:1-3). Therefore, every spiritual blessing comes from God through Christ, and we do not deserve them (Ephesians 1:3).

And yet God expects people to serve Him in Christ, to seek after His will (Romans 6:16-23, Philippians 2:12, 2 Peter 1:3-11). This cannot be forced, for that is not the way of love (John 3:16, 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, 1 John 4:8). People must turn from sin and submit themselves to God, seeking His paths, walking as Jesus walked (Galatians 2:20, James 4:7, 1 John 2:6).

But is there any sufficiency in us to accomplish this through our own strength? We still fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23); we still are beset by sin (Hebrews 12:1-2, 1 John 1:8); left to our own devices, we still wander off onto the wrong path (Jeremiah 10:23). Therefore, it is good to agree with Paul: as he understood that he did not have any sufficiency in himself, but only received sufficiency through Christ, we are not sufficient in and of ourselves for anything, but must find our sufficiency through Christ.

That is why the concept of the believer as servant is so consistently maintained throughout Scripture (Luke 17:7-10, Romans 6:16-23, etc.). The slave does all things at the behest of his Master. Another image that indicates as much is that of the instrument (Acts 9:15, Romans 6:13): the tool may accomplish a given work, but only because it has been directed by the One wielding the tool.

So we ought to understand ourselves. Do we work and labor for the Lord? Absolutely. But do we labor by our own sufficiency? Our “sufficiency” always proves insufficient in every respect. Instead, Christ must be our sufficiency. We must do all things according to His direction (Colossians 3:17); we must be strengthened with the strength that comes through Him (Ephesians 3:16-17, Philippians 4:13). Our thoughts, feelings, and actions– our entire being– must be laid at His feet for use to advance His purposes (Galatians 2:20, 2 Corinthians 4:7, 10:5, Philippians 4:8). We may have confidence in Christ toward God for what is accomplished for His purposes through us, but it is no reason for us to glory in ourselves– all praise, honor, and glory are to go to God in Christ, because He is our sufficiency! Let us serve the Lord and use our energies toward His purposes; let us be His instruments to be directed according to His good purpose!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Him Whom They Have Pierced

And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplication; and they shall look unto me whom they have pierced; and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his first-born (Zechariah 12:10).

One of the continual themes of the prophets features God’s desire for Israel to come to some real understanding of what they have done. God has great confidence that when Israel does so, they will deeply mourn and lament all that they have done against Him. In many ways, that is what God wants most from Israel: an understanding of past sins so that they can now serve God again.

Zechariah imagines a day when God will again protect Jerusalem from any and all nations that come against her (Zechariah 12:1-9). On that day, when the inhabitants of Jerusalem understand that God has delivered them yet again, they will have the type of realization that eluded their ancestors in the days of Isaiah (cf. Isaiah 1:1-9): they will perceive all the sins they have committed and how they have pierced God with them. They will mourn deeply for their transgression.

One could perhaps identify some moments in history when something of this sort took place– perhaps in the days of the Maccabees– but Zechariah’s image finds its final, thorough fulfillment in the events that surrounded the death of Jesus of Nazareth.

The Jews therefore, because it was the Preparation, that the bodies should not remain on the cross upon the sabbath (for the day of that sabbath was a high day), asked of Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. The soldiers therefore came, and brake the legs of the first, and of the other that was crucified with him: but when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs: howbeit one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and straightway there came out blood and water. And he that hath seen hath borne witness, and his witness is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye also may believe.
For these things came to pass, that the scripture might be fulfilled, “A bone of him shall not be broken.”
And again another scripture saith, “They shall look on him whom they pierced” (John 19:31-37).

We can easily overlay much of what Zechariah has said over this event. The enemies of Israel– indeed, all of mankind– have surrounded Jerusalem as Jesus, the Lamb of God, drinks the full cup of evil and suffering (cf. Ephesians 6:12, Matthew 26:39). Jesus destroys the power of sin and death through suffering His death and, ultimately, obtaining the glory of the resurrection (Romans 8:1-4). On that day, to testify to His death, a Roman soldier pierced Jesus– the Immanuel, God the Son, God in the flesh– with his spear. The soldiers, the women, and the Apostle John looked upon Jesus who was pierced.

Yet where is the outpouring of grace and supplication? While it may be true that some of the women lamented, where is the city wide lament? And how is it that “they” have pierced Jesus when it was really the Roman soldier who pierced Jesus?

The beauty and the power of Zechariah’s image comes from its complete spiritual understanding. It is not just about that one moment and what the Roman soldier does. We do well to ask ourselves– why exactly is Jesus on that cross? Is it really because of the Romans? As it is written:

But God commendeth his own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

[Jesus], who his own self bare our sins in his body upon the tree, that we, having died unto sins, might live unto righteousness; by whose stripes ye were healed (1 Peter 2:24).

Jesus is on the cross because of our sin. Jesus was wounded because of our transgressions. We may not have physically pierced His flesh on Golgotha on that April day so long ago, but on account of our sins, we, as Israel, have pierced God.

God has poured out upon mankind grace and supplication through Jesus (cf. Romans 5:6-11) to the end that we mourn for our sins and the cost that they demanded– God being pierced on an object of torture and execution. And we are to look upon Him.

For I received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which he was betrayed took bread; and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you: this do in remembrance of me.”
In like manner also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood: this do, as often as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.”
For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink the cup, ye proclaim the Lord’s death till he come (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

We can be the new Jerusalem; we have the opportunity weekly to look with eyes of faith upon Him whom we have pierced by our sin, and it is appropriate for us to mourn, lament, and experience the bitterness that comes from understanding the pain and suffering our sin caused our Lord. In so doing, we are able to do, as the new Israel, what God always wanted out of Israel according to the flesh: an understanding of just what we have done to Him by our sin so that we can turn from them and serve Him according to His will.

It may have taken place physically almost 2000 years ago, but we are still called upon to look at our Savior with eyes of faith and look upon Him whom we have pierced for our sin. Let us do so in lamentation, turning again to life through the Son!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Revolution

And when [the Thessalonian Jews] found [Paul and Silas] not, they dragged Jason and certain brethren before the rulers of the city, crying, “These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also; whom Jason hath received: and these all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus” (Acts 17:6-7).

In the late eighteenth century, a small band of American colonists envisioned a revolutionary way of maintaining government– a nation without monarchy or aristocracy, administered by its citizens for its citizens. It seemed like foolish talk to a world full of kings and aristocrats, but with sufficient determination and a little bit of help from the enemies of their enemies, these colonists defeated their overlords and set the American experiment in motion. The model of that revolution would spread, first to France about a decade later, and then throughout the world over the next two hundred years. Now the constitutional republic of America is held up as an ideal for which other nations aspire. It was a revolution that started small but took over the world.

Around two thousand years ago, a small band of Jews traveled throughout the Roman Empire advancing a revolutionary way of thinking and living. They proclaimed that a Palestinian Jew executed for treason by the Roman procurator in the days of Tiberius Caesar was really king, because God had raised Him from the dead and had declared Him Lord with power. Since God had acted powerfully through this Man, named Jesus of Nazareth, all people, whether Jew or Greek, were to change their ways, no longer following in the paths of their ancestors, but should become more like this Jesus, humbling themselves and serving others. They dared to declare that God had torn down the walls that divide men from each other, and that regardless of ethnicity, race, language, social status, every man and woman were equally precious in the sight of the One True God their Creator, and they could all be one through Jesus. The people did not really need to fear Caesar anymore– sure, they needed to be good citizens, paying taxes and honoring Caesar, but they did not need to worship his Genius. If Caesar had them killed, they would die witnessing that Jesus was really king, and that they would live again. Death had lost its sting; the tyrant had lost his most effective tool for coercion. Little wonder, then, that the Thessalonians declared that these men were turning the world upside down!

The Jesus revolution was not like any other. It was less about political oppression or national aspiration and much more about the greater conflict between the spiritual forces of good and evil (cf. Ephesians 6:10-18). The Jesus revolution was about freedom from the bondage of sin and death so as to obtain life (cf. Romans 6:16-23, 8:1-8). A lot of revolutions lead to societal chaos or rampant immorality; this revolution led to greater love, mercy, and the practice of righteousness. It baffled the authorities of the day, for they perceived that the declaration that Jesus Christ was God and Lord was at least partially subversive, but the Christians did not act like political subversives.

They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food–but ordinary and innocent food. Even this, they affirmed, they had ceased to do after my edict by which, in accordance with your instructions, I had forbidden political associations (Pliny the Younger, Proconsul of Bithynia, to the Emperor Trajan, ca. 111-113; Letters 10.96-97).

This strange revolution spread; within three hundred years, it would consume the entire Roman Empire.

The call for the Jesus revolution would be diluted over time by tradition, compromise with worldly authorities, and particularly the lack of true zeal and devotion by its adherents for its core principles. It is true that the Jesus revolution did change attitudes regarding many practices; it is impossible to separate the developments of Western civilization from the principles of Christianity.

Nevertheless, the same message that turned the first century world upside down has the capability of turning the twenty-first century world upside down. It is time again for all men to hear the revolutionary message that Jesus is Lord. If Jesus is Lord, the spiritual powers of darkness and the political regimes of today are not. If Jesus is Lord, the message must go out about repentance and turning from the futility of the traditions inherited from our ancestors, and our need to pursue the image of Christ the Son with all devotion and zeal. The revolutionary Jesus message will have no power if it does not lead to a complete change in the way that we think, feel, believe, and act. Yet when we begin to think like Jesus, have the attitude of Jesus, and show love, mercy, and compassion like Jesus, people will take notice. That is how the revolution can spread, and again take the world by storm!

The Jesus revolution is not like any other. It demands the reformation of the heart, soul, and mind. Yet it is the only revolution that can truly change the world. Let us promote the revolutionary message that Jesus is Lord, serve Jesus as Lord, and obtain the glory of the servants of God!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Relational Unity

“I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).

It is perhaps one of the most sublime and mysterious concepts– the idea of the Triune God. The arguments regarding how it was possible for God to be One in Three Persons consumed much of Christianity for the first three hundred years after the death of the Apostles– and again in the past two hundred. If there is one doctrine that people have difficulty understanding, it is this one indeed!

The challenge is evident. From Deuteronomy 6:4 on, YHWH uniquely identified Himself as God– not just any god, not one of many gods, but the One God. YHWH our God YHWH one is the literal concept behind Deuteronomy 6:4b. The idea of the unity of God is essential to Judaism, Islam, and indeed also to Christianity.

But then we have Jesus making these divine declarations. John speaks of Him as the Word, not just with God, but being God (John 1:1). Jesus will declare Himself the I AM in John 8:58. He declares His unity with the Father in John 10:30 and fully in John 17:20-23. Both Paul and the Hebrew author declare that Jesus represents the fullness of the Godhead in bodily form, the exact imprint of the divine nature (Colossians 2:9, Hebrews 1:3). Peter will also include the Holy Spirit in such a framework (1 Peter 1:2, 2:21). Beyond all this, both Paul and Jude strongly intimate that when the Old Testament speaks of YHWH acting regarding His people in the wilderness, that Christ the Son is involved (1 Corinthians 10:1-9, Jude 1:5). So how can God be One yet Three?

All kinds of answers have been suggested. Some answers try to argue that Jesus really was not God like the Father was God. Other answers try to argue that God really is one person, and just manifests Himself in three modes or forms. Yet when we look at the textual evidence, these answers do not work. All three Persons are present at Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3:15-17). Jesus declares that there are two witnesses, Himself and the Father (John 8:17-18). There are too many Scriptures confessing Jesus’ full deity and His unique Personhood.

The problem with these answers is that they assume that when God is One, that unity must be in personhood. But neither Deuteronomy 6:4 nor any other passage so limits the understanding of God’s unity. Instead, we can suggest as a feasible answer that the unity of God is not based in personhood but in other factors– they are unified in substance, essence, and will. In short, God is One in relational unity.

God Himself testifies to this within His creation (cf. Romans 1:19-20). Humans are given a glimpse of this idea of relational unity in marriage. From the beginning God has intended for a man and woman to come together and become one (Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:4-6). Paul will later attribute the same unity as existing between Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:31-32). How are people one in marriage? They are of the same substance and essence, for one. And the marriage that lives up to God’s ideal is one where each mutually submits to one another, respecting their roles, but becoming as one in terms of purpose, intention, direction, and whatnot (cf. Ephesians 5:21-33). The goal is to see that while they do remain two people, for all intents and purposes, they are one. They are tied together by their reciprocal, mutual love.

So it would be within the Godhead. We must never emphasize the distinctiveness of the Persons of the Godhead to the neglect of their unity. Think about it for a moment– the Three Persons of the Godhead are so unified in will, intention, and purpose, that we can speak of God entirely in terms of a unity. We speak of God Himself doing, acting, working, even though it is really the Three in One, and that is possible only because of the intense relational unity amongst the Three. This is how God is love (1 John 4:8)– for God to be love as one person would make God the ultimate narcissist. Instead, God maintains sacrificial love within Himself amongst the Three, and the blessing bestowed upon us is that He wants us to join in that love.

And that is why understanding God as the Triune, Three in One and One in Three, is so essential. It is not merely some abstract, academic concept that is irrelevant to life. Quite the contrary– God’s nature informs God’s work and purpose for mankind. And John 17:20-23 describes this perfectly.

As the Father is in the Son (and in the Spirit), and the Son is in the Father (and in the Spirit), so Jesus prays for all believers to be one with the Father and the Son as the Father and the Son are one, and likewise to be one with one another (John 17:20-23). Our existence, redemption, and hope of ultimate glory, therefore, are inextricably bound up in God’s own relational unity amongst the Three.

Why did God create all things and make us in His image? Love’s greatest joy is to share in love, and so the Godhead wished to share the love within Himself with all of us (cf. 1 John 4:8).

Why did God prove so willing to redeem us even though we did not deserve it? It is love’s essence to suffer loss for the advantage of the beloved; as the Son does for the Father, so the Father, Son, and Spirit do for all of us (Hebrews 5:7-8, Romans 5:6-11).

What is God’s ultimate goal? To extend the association, love, and relational unity that exists within Himself with His creation, and to maintain that unity for all eternity in glory (cf. Romans 8:17-24, Revelation 21-22).

We are called to seek after God and that relational unity with Him as it exists within Himself (Acts 17:26-27, John 17:20-23). In so doing, we must develop that unity with one another if we are really going to reflect the image of the Son (Romans 8:29, 1 John 1:4-7). The path is clear: as the Father and Son are one, so must we be one with each other, and that requires not just some level of mutual understanding of truth but also willingness to suffer loss for one another, humbling ourselves so as to seek each others’ advantage, just as the Son did for the Father and for us (Philippians 2:1-8).

God is love; God manifests love within Himself; that love overflows toward the creation; we have the opportunity to share in the blessing of a relationship with God so that we can become conformed to the image of the Son so as to return to the blessed state of full, unbroken association with God. How wonderful! How praiseworthy! Let us always praise and thank God for our opportunity to maintain association with Him and to enjoy that association for all eternity!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Treatment of the Son of Man

“Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be delivered unto the chief priests and scribes; and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him unto the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify: and the third day he shall be raised up” (Matthew 20:18-19).

The time is drawing near. The final journey of Jesus’ earthly ministry has begun.

It would have been fascinating to stand there on that early spring day in 30 CE to see how Jesus made this declaration in Matthew 20:18-19. Where did He pause? What did the disciples think and say among themselves? We could imagine many different scenarios.

The first part of the statement brimmed with promise. Jesus and the Twelve were going up to Jerusalem. It was not the first time they did so, of course, but this time was going to be different. The disciples were no fools; they knew that Jerusalem was the center of Jewish life and that the Messiah’s Kingdom must begin from Jerusalem. All of their hopes and dreams regarding their work in Jesus’ Kingdom were pinned on Jesus’ accession to His throne in Jerusalem. As before, so again– their hopes were focused on an earthly kingdom, made evident by the request of the family of Zebedee soon after (Matthew 20:20-28).

And this is precisely why Jesus does not end His statement with the fact that they are going to Jerusalem– He also describes what is going to happen there.

This is not the first time He has done this; in fact, this is the third warning in Matthew’s telling of the Gospel regarding His imminent suffering, death, and resurrection (cf. Matthew 16:21-23, 17:22-23). There is likely some symbolism in the fact that there are these three warnings between the confession of Jesus as the Messiah and His entry in Jerusalem; there is also a heightening effect. At first the disciples are told that He would suffer, killed, and be raised (Matthew 16:21); again that He would be delivered into the hands of men, killed, and be raised (Matthew 17:22-23); now we are finally introduced to the graphic scene: Jesus will be handed over to the Jewish authorities, who will condemn Him, and will in turn hand Him over to the Gentiles, at whose hands He will be mocked, flogged, and crucified, and then be raised on the third day (Matthew 20:18-19).

Why would Jesus make such a progressive revelation? Some might say that it was progressively revealed to Jesus Himself. Such is possible, but Jesus is God and His part of the plan was understood from eternity (Ephesians 3:11). We must allow for the possibility that the revelation was not progressive at all, and He explained all of this to His disciples in Caesarea Philippi from the outset. Whether He did or not, Matthew, in his telling of the story, is providing progressive revelation of what is going to take place, so the question remains. Why does the description get more detailed and graphic over time?

It is likely that Matthew does so, in part, for our benefit, to remind us that this was the plan all along. The resurrection and promise of Christ’s return was not “plan B” after “plan A” failed and Jesus was crucified. No; Jesus’ life, suffering, death, and resurrection have always been part of the plan. Jesus knew it in advance and warned His disciples in advance; it was sufficiently part of His teaching or understood beyond His disciples so that the chief priests and Pharisees knew that He had predicted His resurrection on the third day after His death (Matthew 27:62-66). As hard as it often is to wrap our heads around how Jesus fulfilled God’s plan for our redemption, it was no accident or contingency plan. Everything that happened to Jesus was predicted.

Yet there are also many good contextual reasons– mostly to throw cold water on the disciples’ expectations. Jesus is fulfilling God’s purposes for Him; He is the Messiah, and He will sit upon the throne and rule; yet none of it is happening according to expectation. In fact, the specific description Jesus uses goes a long way to show the contrast between expectation and reality. That contrast is instructive for us.

Notice how Jesus describes Himself in Matthew 20:18-19: the Son of Man. All of these terrible things– condemnation at the hands of the Jewish authorities, mocking, flogging, and death at the hands of the Gentiles– will happen to the Son of man.

The description of “Son of man” has its main force in demonstrating the humanity of the Christ– yes, He is the Son of God, God the Son, but He is also flesh, a human being (John 1:1, 14, Philippians 2:5-11, Colossians 2:9, Hebrews 1:3). That was the force of “son of man” as a description in the Old Testament– it was just another way of calling someone a human.

Nevertheless, there is one passage that provides a Messianic flavor to the title of “Son of Man”– Daniel 7:13. Daniel sees that one “like a son of man” would stand before the Ancient of Days and receive dominion, glory, and a kingdom, and everyone would serve him, and his kingdom would remain forever (Daniel 7:13-14). It is in this sense that Jesus is the “Son of Man” in ways that no other human being could be. It is in this Messianic sense that the disciples, no doubt, envision Jesus as the Son of Man.

As the Son of Man, Jesus will receive this honor, glory, and dominion when He stands before the Ancient of Days. He will receive that Kingdom that will never end, and all people will be subject to Him. But not before He is humiliated and suffers greatly.

When we combine our understanding of the Son of Man from Daniel 7:13-14 with Jesus’ use of the term in Matthew 20:18-19, we should be even more greatly impacted by Jesus’ great suffering. The Son of Man who will receive all power will be first condemned by the existing earthly authority. The Son of Man who will rule over every nation will first be mocked and flogged by the nations. The Son of Man who will receive glory and honor will first be humiliated and crucified.

These events are not optional: they are required to reach the end goal (Philippians 2:5-11). And this is why Jesus says that believers must serve, since the “Son of Man” did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28). There can be no glory, honor, and dominion without first experiencing suffering, degradation, rejection, and humiliation.

If anyone ever deserved the easy road, it would have been Jesus of Nazareth. Yet, in order to accomplish God’s purpose for mankind, He first had to suffer and to be humiliated. In order to obtain the highest glory and honor, He first had to experience the greatest depths of pain and degradation. Before He could rule over all men He had to be condemned by His own people and mocked mercilessly by the heathen Gentiles. We do well to learn the lesson, even if it means that we must swallow hard. The way to glory is paved with suffering, humiliation, and degradation. We very likely will be rejected by our own people and mocked by foreigners. Yet, as Paul says, all of these sufferings cannot compare with the glory waiting for us in the resurrection (Romans 8:17-18). Let us learn from the treatment of the Son of Man, and be willing to suffer and to be humiliated in order to obtain eternal glory and honor!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Jesus, Our Sin Offering

Speak unto Aaron and to his sons, saying, “This is the law of the sin-offering: in the place where the burnt-offering is killed shall the sin-offering be killed before Jehovah: it is most holy. The priest that offereth it for sin shall eat it: in a holy place shall it be eaten, in the court of the tent of meeting. Whatsoever shall touch the flesh thereof shall be holy; and when there is sprinkled of the blood thereof upon any garment, thou shalt wash that whereon it was sprinkled in a holy place. But the earthen vessel wherein it is boiled shall be broken; and if it be boiled in a brazen vessel, it shall be scoured, and rinsed in water. Every male among the priests shall eat thereof: it is most holy” (Leviticus 6:25-29).

Him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in him (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Perhaps one of the concepts found in Scripture that is most “foreign” to people today involves the sacrificial system. Most people are familiar with the fact that the Bible talks about killing lots of animals “for sin.” It seems quite strange to many people, and rather barbaric to others. Nevertheless, there is a point to it all, and, as perhaps is expected, the path leads us to Jesus.

In some cultures, sacrificing animals was considered the way that the gods would be fed. For others, it was to provide a soothing aroma to the gods so as to gain or maintain their favor. While it is true that some sacrifices were made as peace offerings to God (cf. Leviticus 3:1-17), and the aroma was to be pleasing (e.g. Leviticus 3:16), it is not as if God needs sacrifices in order to survive (Psalm 50:7-14). Sacrifices for sin are based in an entirely different system than these.

Sacrifices for sin go back to the problem of sin. Sin separates man from his God (Isaiah 59:1-2); for man to have some relationship with God, the problem of sin must be addressed. During the old covenant, the means of addressing this was animal sacrifice– the sin offering.

But why does the animal need to die? As God explains in Leviticus 17:11, it is a matter of life atoning for life. Since life is in the blood, blood is shed on the altar, and that blood, by virtue of the life in it, can atone, or cover, for the sin and guilt of the one atoning. Since the penalty of sin is death (cf. Genesis 3:17-19, Romans 6:23), something has to die in order for sin to be covered. If it is not the sinner, then it must be a substitute for the sinner– and thus we have the animal that gets sacrificed. Its innocent blood/life can pay the penalty for the guilty life, and God was willing to provide cleansing on the basis of an animal offered up in faith.

In the New Testament, we are told that the blood of animals could not really take away sin (Hebrews 10:4)– the animal sacrifices were the shadow, or type, of which Jesus of Nazareth was the reality, or fulfillment. He was without sin and willingly gave Himself up for sin so that we could be reconciled back to God (Romans 5:6-11, Hebrews 4:14-16, 7:14-28, 9:1-26). Jesus’ blood/life, then, can truly atone, or cover, for the guilty life, for the one who offers up himself in faith through repentance, baptism, and discipleship (Acts 2:38, Romans 6:3-7, 12:1-2, Galatians 2:20).

Well and good; hopefully we can understand the reason for the sacrificial system, even if it seems a bit strange or foreign to us. Nevertheless, it is the prism through which we must understand Jesus’ sacrifice for our sin.

Yet a challenge remains. If sin separates us from God, and Jesus, who knew no sin, was made to be sin for us, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:21, does this mean that Jesus was separated from God?

Some have advanced such a position based on that correlation and Jesus’ words in Matthew 27:46. Nevertheless, beyond the fact that as God in the flesh, the Son cannot really be separated from the Father (John 1:1, 14, Colossians 2:9), what we learn about sin offerings in Leviticus 6:25-29 provides good evidence against such a view.

The sin offering, by virtue of being for sin, is not automatically defiling. Quite the contrary– the sin offering was most holy! In the old covenant, particularly in Leviticus, holiness was understood in very physical terms– holiness (and, for that matter, defilement) could be transmitted. In such a view, contact with the sin offering did not lead one to be defiled here, but in fact makes them holy (Leviticus 6:27). The sin offering must be treated as holy, eaten in a holy place, and accorded the respect given to that which is holy!

The parallels with Jesus and His sin offering are evident. Those who come into contact with Jesus do not become unholy or defiled; instead, they can receive cleansing through Him and become holy– just as Paul indicates in 2 Corinthians 5:21. Through Jesus we become righteous and holy before God (Ephesians 1:4). We are to treat Jesus and His death in every way as holy, and revere Him as holy because of what He has accomplished as our sin offering (1 Peter 2:21-25, 3:15)!

Since “sin” and the idea of real spiritual and environmental consequences for “sin” have become rather “foreign” concepts in our society, we should not be surprised that a system designed to cover and atone for sin should likewise be considered “foreign.” Nevertheless, the Bible has taught us about the problem of sin, and has laid out the solution for sin in Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus was the sin offering to cover for the sins of mankind; in so doing, He did not become defiled but most holy, able to communicate holiness to all who came to Him, experienced Him, and were transformed by Him. Let us be made holy through Jesus of Nazareth and His sin offering, and be reconciled with God!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Service Despite Distress

And [Jesus] came forth, and saw a great multitude, and he had compassion on them, and healed their sick (Matthew 14:14).

If there were a time when it would have been perfectly understandable that Jesus would not have wanted anyone around, this would be it.

Opposition to His teachings was mounting (Matthew 12:1-45). At least some of His earthly family members thought that He was delusional and felt compelled to try to intervene (Matthew 12:46-50). He had returned to His hometown of Nazareth and was rejected by those with whom He had significant contact in His life (Matthew 13:53-58). And then word came that John the Baptist, the Elijah who prepared the way for the Lord, His cousin in the flesh, a kindred servant of God, one who understood rejection and the weariness involved in speaking truth to power, had been executed by Herod (Matthew 14:1-12).

It is little wonder, then, that Jesus takes out some time alone to pray (Matthew 14:13). We can only imagine the distress He might be feeling– the pain of rejection, grief over the death of His compatriot and cousin, and perhaps many other difficulties. Nevertheless, while He withdraws to pray, the people follow after Him to seek Him (Matthew 14:13). Even at a time like this there is little peace and little quiet. What would Jesus do?

We can imagine perhaps what we would do. We might lash out, taking out our distress on the people. If we had more control we might politely inform them of our difficulties and attempt to get some space.

Yet Jesus did no such thing. He sees the multitude, and while He might still be experiencing His distress, He also perceives the distress of those who have gathered to Him. He might be feeling pained, but He also knows that many of the people before Him have been experiencing great pain and distress for many years. He has compassion on them and heals those who are sick.

Jesus would later teach that the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and this is a great example (Matthew 20:28). He was sent for a purpose, and the best way to endure the challenges and distress that came along with that purpose was to persevere. What He was experiencing was not really peculiar to Him; many people throughout time have experienced similar forms of rejection, grief, and pain. He looked to His Father for strength, received it, and continued to do the Father’s work.

The whole reason why Jesus mentioned that He came not to be served but to serve was to instruct His disciples that they were going to have to serve to fulfill God’s purposes in the Kingdom (Matthew 20:25-28). To that end, therefore, Jesus’ example is a path for us all (1 John 2:6).

There will be times in our lives when we are going to be in great distress. We may have all sorts of bad news come at us in rapid succession. We may be rejected by some people and alienated from others. We might experience challenges relating to family, friends, and other people with whom we have frequent interaction. We may get news of the untimely end of someone whom we love deeply. There will be times of pain, distress, grief, and suffering.

What shall we do? It would be easy to withdraw and speak sharply to anyone who would disturb our quiet, but what does that really accomplish? We could attempt to politely decline opportunities to work with others, but what is the end of such things?

Jesus provides the way. Our pain and distress is real, and it must be handled as if it is real. As opposed to lashing out against others, or just letting it tear us up internally, we are to take it before God in prayer (1 Peter 5:7). We are not able to endure it on our own, but God has the strength to endure it and sustain us through it. Other people can provide sympathy; God can comfort you and give you peace (Colossians 3:15).

Then we must realize that others in our lives are also in pain and distress, and we do best to help serve them as Christ has served us. It is in service that we have the opportunity to lose ourselves so as to help others; our troubles and trials can be relegated to the back burner when we support others throughout theirs!

God has a purpose for us, and He guaranteed that we would experience times of distress (Acts 14:22, Ephesians 3:10-11). We can shut down and turn inward to our own hurt or we can reach out to God and then serve others, as Jesus did. Let us choose the path of Christ and serve despite distress!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Value of the Kingdom

“The kingdom of heaven is like unto a treasure hidden in the field; which a man found, and hid; and in his joy he goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is a merchant seeking goodly pearls: and having found one pearl of great price, he went and sold all that he had, and bought it” (Matthew 13:44-46).

Everyone is taught to be wary of the deal that is too good to be true, because more often than not, it is. A free car is never really “free.” That e-mail from Nigeria promising you hundreds of thousands of dollars is a scam; do not send them any money! While that “hot stock pick” sometimes might make you money, more often than not, it probably will not. Most everyone has a story about having high expectations for some great and wonderful thing that proved to be too good to be true.

But what happens if we actually do come across something that is wonderful and good– and it is true? What if we could discover something that, in reality, is worth far more than anything we could ever own or dream to own? What if you were promised security in the midst of every situation? Peace no matter the circumstances in which you find yourself? Unwavering hope for the present and future? The prospect of unimaginable glory for eternity? How much would that be worth to you?

These things are what Jesus offers people in His Kingdom (Romans 8:18-25, 31-39, Philippians 4:7). He describes this Kingdom for us in many parables, and two of them really show us just how valuable we are to consider His Kingdom to be: the parable of the treasure in the field and the parable of the pearl of great price (Matthew 13:44-46).

In the parable of the treasure of the field, a man, for whatever reason, is digging in a field, and he finds treasure in it. He buries the treasure, joyfully goes and sells all that he has, buys that field, and thus obtains the treasure (Matthew 13:44). In the parable of the pearl of great price, a merchant is seeking pearls to buy, and happens to come across one magnificent pearl, and he goes and sells all that he has in order to buy that pearl (Matthew 13:45-46).

There are some distinctions in these parables that are profitable to consider. In the parable of the treasure in the field, the Kingdom is likened to the treasure itself; in the parable of the pearl of great price, the Kingdom is likened to the merchant seeking pearls. The merchant is more of a “specialist”– he has seen many pearls, he knows what he is seeking, and he finds the ultimate pearl. The man in the field, on the other hand, does not seem to be a “specialist”; it would seem that he discovered the treasure by chance.

Some people, therefore, come upon the Kingdom of God by chance. Others are seeking the Kingdom and then find it. Some may not be very knowledgeable about God; others might be quite knowledgeable about spiritual things, seeking divine truth. Nevertheless, however one ends up finding the Kingdom, the result is to be the same: it is to be held in such high esteem that it is worth getting rid of any hindrance, any possessed object, so as to obtain that Kingdom.

Thus we return to the question: what is the Kingdom worth to us? How much is confidence, hope, peace, and ultimate glory worth to us? We know what the answer to the question should be– it should be worth giving up everything else in our lives so that we obtain it. This is what Paul emphasizes in Philippians 3:8-15: counting everything as rubbish so as to gain Christ, to strain forward toward the upward call of God in Christ.

But do we really think the Kingdom is that worthwhile? Are we really willing to suffer the loss of everything else in life so as to gain the Kingdom? Are we willing to be entirely transformed so as to conform to the image of Jesus, and no longer walk in the ways of the world (Romans 8:29, 12:1-2, 9; 1 John 2:15-17)? Are we willing to be entirely expended for Jesus’ cause and suffer in order to obtain that glory (Romans 8:17-18, Galatians 2:20)?

The Kingdom costs everything because it is worth more than anything else we can have or imagine. Perhaps we may not have been looking for it; nevertheless, the treasure is before us. Perhaps we have been searching; the pearl is there for us to find. But once we have found it, what then? Will we understand that the Kingdom is good and it is true, and be willing to suffer the loss of everything in order to obtain it? Or will we find the cost too high and walk away? Let us recognize the exceeding value of the Kingdom of God, and be willing to be entirely expended for Christ’s cause today!

Ethan R. Longhenry