Jesus With Us

“Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20).

The good news according to Matthew ends with truly great news.

Matthew has set forth Jesus’ resurrection from the dead: the women have come to find the tomb empty, for an angel had rolled the stone away, sat upon it, proclaimed the good news of the resurrection to them, and declared how He went before them to Galilee (Matthew 28:1-8). Jesus then appeared the women and instructed them to tell the rest of the disciples to go to Galilee to see Him there (Matthew 28:9-10). The disciples went to Galilee and saw the Lord Jesus; many believed, but some doubted (Matthew 28:16-17). In His final words in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus gives the “Great Commission”: all authority has been given to Him in heaven and on earth, and so they are to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing and teaching them (Matthew 28:18-20a). The Great Commission ends with a promise: Jesus is with them always, unto the end of the αιωνος, “age” or “forever,” and thus “world” (Matthew 28:20b).

We can imagine how the disciples would have found this promise very comforting. And yet, within forty days, Jesus would ascend to heaven (Acts 1:1-11); He will only again walk the earth on the day of judgment (Matthew 25:31-46, Acts 1:11). So if Jesus no longer walked with them, or, for that matter, with us, how could He say that He would be “with” us until the end of the world?

Throughout the book of Acts the Apostles seem to interact frequently in some way with the Lord Jesus. Peter declares that Jesus is the one who, on the basis of the Father’s promise, poured out the Holy Spirit on them (Acts 2:33); Peter affirms that faith in Jesus provided the power which healed the lame man in the Temple (Acts 3:16). The Lord Jesus would give Peter a vision and speak with him in it (Acts 10:9-17). Stephen saw Jesus as the Son of Man standing at God’s right hand (Acts 7:55-56). Paul saw the Lord Jesus in the resurrection and heard Him speak (Acts 9:1-8, 22:6-10, 26:12-18), as would Ananias, whom the Lord called to minister to Paul (Acts 9:10-16). Paul would receive further messages from the Lord Jesus, both direct and spoken as well as through circumstance and hindrance (Acts 16:6-9, 18:9-10, 23:11). We do well to remember how Luke begins the book of Acts, speaking of the previous Gospel as “all that Jesus began to do and teach,” implying that the whole book of Acts continues Jesus’ work (Acts 1:1): Jesus is with the Apostles throughout, strengthening them, empowering them, reassuring them. He may not have been present in the way He had been during His ministry, but He was still there, reigning as Lord, sustaining His people to do His work.

Is Jesus still there since the days of the Apostles? Some have suggested that Jesus’ promise extended only to the destruction of Jerusalem, and such “ended the age.” Such is inconsistent with the promises of Jesus and His Apostles and the reality of the faith ever since. It is true that Jesus made Himself known to the Apostles in ways which He no longer does so; they saw Him in life, fully experienced Him, and bore personal eyewitness testimony to His resurrection, and no one since the first century can do so (1 John 1:1-4). There is nothing further to be made known about the good news of Jesus Christ than has already been made known through the Apostles and their associates. And yet Jesus’ promises remain. The universe continues to exist through Him and for Him and is upheld and sustained by Him (Colossians 1:15-17, Hebrews 1:3). Jesus still reigns as Lord (Hebrews 13:8). Where two or three of His people are gathered, He is in their midst (Matthew 18:20). In Revelation 4:1-5:14 John is able to see what goes on in heaven beyond the veil: God is on the throne, and the Lamb with Him, and they reign in glory and honor. We may not be able to see past that veil, yet such makes it no less true and no less real. Furthermore, if we are in Christ, we have His Spirit, the Spirit of God (Romans 8:9-11); by means of the Spirit He maintains His presence in and among His people individually and collectively (1 Corinthians 3:16-17, 6:19-20, 2 Corinthians 5:5, Ephesians 1:13-14). Jesus, therefore, remains with us.

The end of the Gospel of Matthew is as its beginning. When narrating Jesus’ birth Matthew directs our minds to the prophecy of Isaiah, that the child born of the virgin would be Immanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:22-25; Isaiah 7:14); Matthew ends the Gospel with Jesus’ own promise that He will remain Immanuel, God with us (Matthew 28:20).

Thus it cannot be said that Jesus merely was Immanuel, human and in the midst of mankind for a short time, only to depart and abandon humanity. Jesus is Immanuel; He still is “God with us.” Is He with us in the exact same form and way He was with the disciples in Galilee and Judea? Not at all; instead, He is with us in more profound and compelling ways, ruling heaven and earth from the right hand of the throne of God, actively sustaining the creation, and strengthening His people through the Spirit. And so we can have the great confidence, as John declares, that He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4); we have hope that as Jesus now is we will be in the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20-58).

We will experience difficult times and wonder if God has abandoned us. At those times we do well to remember Jesus’ final promise in Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus is Immanuel; He is with us until we will be with Him in eternity in the resurrection. We may not see Him with our eyes of flesh but we can discern Him through eyes of faith and spirit. We can know that He is there, for in God we live and move and have our being, and Jesus sustains our life (Acts 17:27-28, Hebrews 1:3). It may seem that the forces of darkness are prevailing, but we know that the Lord Jesus truly reigns and will gain the victory over them, having already sealed those who are His (Ephesians 6:12, 1 John 4:4, Revelation 12:1-20:10). May we entrust ourselves to the Lord Jesus and make disciples of all nations as He commanded us, reliant on His strength!

Ethan R. Longhenry

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 Intercession of the Holy Spirit

And in like manner the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity: for we know not how to pray as we ought; but the Spirit himself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered; and he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God (Romans 8:26-27).

People have a tendency to romanticize childhood for many reasons. Many people remember childhood as a time of innocence, a time with far fewer cares. Sure, we thought we had problems, challenges, and difficulties as we grew up, but most of us would gladly trade our present understanding and trials for the “difficulties” of childhood!

Childhood is only care-free when parents and other adults foster an environment in which children can be care-free. Plenty of trials, sufferings, challenges, and responsibilities need to be addressed, but the adults most often handle them. Sadly, many children grow up too quickly because of their circumstances: governmental oppression, loss of parents, divorce, illnesses, or other factors may cause children to learn more about the reality of life than they probably should at their age. Children, therefore, are care-free because they do not know much better; they have not yet been exposed to the challenges of life that their parents take care of for them.

There is only one problem with all of this: we “grow up” and start thinking that we now all of a sudden do understand all of the difficulties, challenges, and issues that surround us. We think we have a handle on reality.

As Paul seeks to encourage the Romans, he makes a startling declaration in Romans 8:26: the Spirit helps us in our infirmity, or weakness: we do not know what to pray for as we ought.

But wait a moment: we know what we should pray for, right? We should pray to thank God for all the blessings with which He has blessed us in Jesus (1 Corinthians 14:16-17). We should pray for all men so that we can live in tranquility and for them to come to the knowledge of the truth and be saved (1 Timothy 2:1-4). We should pray for one another for each other’s welfare (James 5:16). We should always be in constant communication with God our Defender (Ephesians 6:18). How, then, can Paul say that we do not know what to pray for as we ought?

All of these things are well and good, and we should pray for them. Yet, as Paul says, we are weak. For one thing, we are often forgetful and take many things for granted; there are many things for which we know we should pray but we forget or overlook them. For that matter, we do not really understand reality as well as we think we do. There is an entire realm beyond our perception but is very real: the spiritual realm, in which the spiritual forces of good and evil constantly conflict (Ephesians 6:10-18, Revelation 4:1-22:6). There is much to the “secret things” of God, far beyond human understanding (Deuteronomy 29:29, Isaiah 55:8-9). We cannot perceive the spiritual realm all around us; therefore, we are very much like children, oblivious to all sorts of things that may endanger us or cause us difficulty.

But just as parents do all they can to take care of their children and often to shield their children from many of the difficulties and hazards of life, so God provides a way to take care of the needs of believers they neglect to mention or concerning which they are completely ignorant: the Holy Spirit intercedes on their behalf with groanings too deep for words (Romans 8:26). The Father knows the mind of the Spirit, for the Spirit intercedes for believers according to the will of God (Romans 8:27).

There are many who question this understanding of the passage, wondering whether Jesus is the only true intercessor for believers, and that the spirit of the believer, not the Holy Spirit, is under discussion. The challenge cannot be sustained. For one thing, we do not see such a complete contrast between a believer, a believer’s “heart,” and a believer’s spirit as such an interpretation would demand. The solution does not get rid of the perceived problem anyway, since Paul says that the “spirit” intercedes for the saints according to the will of God in Romans 8:27, and so there remains an intercessor for saints beyond Jesus. While it is true that Jesus is the only Mediator (1 Timothy 2:5), mediation and intercession, while similar, are not the same thing. A mediator (Greek mesites) is like an arbitrator, standing between two parties; in this case, Jesus stands between God and man, having partaken of the nature of each. An intercessor (Greek noun enteuxis, verb entugchano) speaks on behalf of another without necessarily taking on the nature of each or the case of each. Yes, Jesus does intercede for us before the Father as well (cf. Romans 8:34, Hebrews 7:25), but intercession is never considered something that only He can do. Believers are to intercede for all men (1 Timothy 2:1); the Holy Spirit, as we see in Romans 8:26-27, intercedes for believers before the Father with groans too deep for words.

What an encouraging and comforting message! There are all sorts of pitfalls, problems, and dangers we happen upon in life; how well do we remember to pray regarding them? There are many times when we get so caught up in ourselves and the way we see things in our weakness; how many times have we forgotten to pray to obtain perspective? There are innumerable details that make up our lives; how many of those details do we take up in prayer before the Almighty? How many times do we feel as if we have been neglected by God? What if God has always been there and the Spirit has always been interceding for us, taking very good care of us, and yet we never had an inkling or an idea since it did not involve things we could see or hear?

We must remain diligent in prayer and never allow any excuse or rationalization to keep us away from praying about anything and everything (Luke 18:1-8, 1 Thessalonians 5:17, 1 Peter 5:7). Nevertheless, we will remain weak, and God knows that. The Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Godhead, intercedes for us before the Father for innumerable and untold concerns, issues, and opportunities. Meanwhile the Son intercedes as well before the Father; two of the three Persons of the Godhead intercede before the other Person on our behalf (cf. Romans 8:34)!

God cares for us. God intercedes within Himself on our behalf. He does not abandon us or forsake us. How much humble pie will we be served on the final day if or when God makes it evident to us just how active He had been in our lives, with the Son and the Spirit interceding on our behalf, seeking our welfare in ways we neglected, took for granted, or could never even understand? Those among us who are parents may have an inkling of it when we look back and see how our parents took care of us and how much that involved concerning which we were entirely ignorant! Let us therefore trust God, ever thankful for His care, praying constantly for those things concerning which we understand, sustained by the intercession of the Holy Spirit for all that which we do not!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Jesus in Acts

“But ye shall receive power, when the Holy Spirit is come upon you: and ye shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea and Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

In the Acts of the Apostles, Jesus is physically present with the Apostles for all of eleven verses (Acts 1:1-11). Within those eleven verses, He makes two statements to them: Acts 1:4b-5 and Acts 1:7-8. After this there will be twenty-seven and a half chapters full of action featuring Peter and Paul in Jerusalem, Judea, Asia Minor, Greece, and Rome. No wonder we call it the Acts of the Apostles!

It is true that we see the Apostles working diligently in the book of Acts. But is what is happening throughout Acts really just because of the Apostles?

To believe that would be to say that twelve ignorant Galileans, mostly fishermen with a tax-collector and a political revolutionary thrown in, along with a noted Pharisee and a Cypriot Levite, with a few other characters, took the Roman world by storm, all by their own powers of persuasion and strength? That would be a fantastic miracle indeed!

While it is true that Jesus’ direct physical presence is rarely evident after Acts 1:11, the declaration of Acts 1:8 is quite important to the story. It is often noted that Acts 1:8 presents the paradigm and structure for the rest of the book of Acts: the witness regarding Christ in Jerusalem (Acts 2-7), in Judea and Samaria (Acts 8-12), and to the end of the earth (Acts 13-28). This is well and good, but who is the One who makes this declaration? It is Jesus. Jesus is the One who is directing this enterprise. Yes, the Apostles are the ones providing the testimony, but they are testifying regarding what was done by Jesus of Nazareth!

This emphasis is evident throughout the book. When it comes to appointing someone for Judas’ place, the eleven turn to Jesus (Acts 1:23-26). Peter’s first sermon is all about what God has done through Jesus of Nazareth in His resurrection and now Lordship (Acts 2:22-26). When the lame man is healed, Peter makes it evident that it is not any power within himself, but the power in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, that made him strong (Acts 3:11-16). Time and time again the story is all about Jesus: what He did, His death and resurrection, and His current authority over heaven and earth, as the Scriptures testified to Him.

Therefore, it is evident that Jesus is there throughout the book of Acts, even if He is not physically present. The Holy Spirit is empowering the work of the Apostles, and who is empowering the Apostles with the Spirit but God in Christ (Acts 1:4-8)? Everything the Apostles do is for the glory of God in Christ.

Some people find it difficult to reconcile the Gospels with the book of Acts; after all, what Jesus sets forth in the Gospels is not always what is seen in Acts, and vice versa. But we do well to remember Acts 1:1-11. After Acts 1:11, His Lordship is realized; the message of His life, death, resurrection, and lordship can now go out to Israel and then all the nations, and the Kingdom of which He spoke could now be realized. It is not as if Jesus stops and the Apostles somehow take over in the book of Acts; without Jesus and His Lordship, and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, the Apostles would have no direction or idea of how to proceed. We can be certain, based on the question of the Apostles in Acts 1:6, that if all of this were up to them, the result would be much different than what actually took place. They would not have thought on their own to overwhelm the world through the preaching of Jesus crucified and raised, and they certainly would not have taken that message to the uncircumcised Gentiles!

The Acts of the Apostles are really the Acts of Jesus accomplished through His Apostles by the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is there throughout, and Jesus’ power, lordship, and work do not end with Acts 28. He is still Lord; He still should be guiding and directing our lives through the Holy Spirit and His message. Let us honor Christ as Lord, and follow Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Ask to Receive

And [Jesus] said unto them, “Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine is come to me from a journey, and I have nothing to set before him;’ and he from within shall answer and say, ‘Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee?’
I say unto you, though he will not rise and give him because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will arise and give him as many as he needeth. And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. And of which of you that is a father shall his son ask a loaf, and he give him a stone? or a fish, and he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he give him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” (Luke 11:5-13).

The Lord’s Prayer (cf. Luke 11:1-4) is a wonderful model prayer, and we remain amazed at how much could be said with so few words. Yet we should not think that Jesus’ instruction about prayer ends with the conclusion of the prayer. There is much more to learn about prayer than just that for which we should pray!

Jesus uses a very real world example. If you had a friend come up to you at a most inconvenient hour and request something from you, would you not give him what he needs not inherently out of friendship but just because of the sheer impudence of the act? This is compared to our petitions before God– even if we think that we are taxing or greatly inconveniencing God, we may still ask, and God will be willing to grant what we need.

Jesus tells us that we must ask if we wish to receive, seek in order to find, knock in order to have the door opened. His emphasis is on initiative. God stands ready, willing, and able to bless us beyond our imagination (cf. Ephesians 3:20-21). The only ones who are in the way, really, are us. We often do not receive because we do not really ask– not because we never pray, or that we never make requests to God, but we can become afraid of asking for too much or going beyond what we believe possible. We often do not seek because we find it difficult to have sufficient trust in God. We will seek the short route or path and perhaps find something small; we often feel too daunted to seek on the long, arduous, and difficult path, and thus never really find what we desire. The door will open if we only gain the courage to go up and knock upon it.

What Jesus is categorically not telling us is that whatever we ask from God, no matter how carnal or selfish, we will receive it. This is an utter perversion of the Gospel that should not be named among saints; James makes it clear that people who ask to spend upon their passions will not receive it (James 5:3). Jesus’ referent is that which is spiritual and leads to growth in God’s Kingdom, not a nice new car or a million dollars that you would probably end up using to wander off into sin anyway.

The reason for this confidence is centered in God’s kindness and goodness for us, a kindness and goodness we often question. It is easy to look at God like so many do– a bitter old tyrant of a curmudgeon always looking for a way to condemn us. This is not the way of the Father at all!

Jesus provides us with two startling mental images. If your child asks for a fish, would you give him a serpent? Or if they needed an egg, would you give them a scorpion? Of course not. The very idea is perverse and shameful. And that is precisely the point. Even sinful people (like we all have been and unfortunately too often still are, Titus 3:3, 1 John 1:8) will provide benefits and good things to their children. If sinful people are that way, will not the Heavenly Father, who is infinitely more good, give the Holy Spirit and the blessings that come from His revelation and knowledge, to those who ask?

In Matthew’s rendition of similar lines (Matthew 7:7-11), God is willing to give good things, and there is no contradiction here, for the Holy Spirit is good (cf. Romans 8:1-11).

These statements of Jesus are designed to give us confidence in regards to our petitions before God. We need not be afraid of a thundering tyrant of a god for whom our requests will never be good enough. Instead, we are to approach God, take the initiative, live by faith, and be willing to step out and ask for the big things, seek the challenging path, and have the courage to knock the door so as to receive the blessings. We do not have to fear– God is infinitely more good than we are, and just as we want to do good for our own children, so God stands ready, willing, able, and desirous of giving His children all things (cf. Romans 8:32).

All those spiritual blessings, therefore, are there for the taking– if we only ask. Do we have the faith and confidence to do so?

Ethan R. Longhenry

Jesus the Temple

Jesus answered and said unto them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
The Jews therefore said, “Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou raise it up in three days?”
But he spake of the temple of his body (John 2:19-21).

The carpenter’s Son seemed to really overdo it this time.

The Temple in Jerusalem was the greatest building project of the age. The second Temple, built in the days of the Persians, was not much of a spectacle (Ezra 3:12), but Herod wanted to project his power, his “Jewishness,” and his glory, and in the eighteenth year of his reign, around 20-19 BCE, began to rebuild the Temple (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 15.11.1). While the Holy Place itself was done after a year and a half, work on other buildings would continue for a long time. As the text in John says, 46 years later, thus around 27 CE, it was still not entirely finished. According to Josephus, it would only be completed in the days of Agrippa and Florus, around 64 CE, 84 years after it had been started (ibid., 20.9.7). It was a marvelous piece of architecture according to all accounts (cf. Mark 13:1).

And yet here is Jesus of Nazareth saying, “destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

It seems so ridiculous– how could such a thing be? The Jews are quite dismissive. His disciples are more than likely confused (cf. John 2:22). Ultimately, a garbled account of this event will be used as an accusation against Jesus at His trial (Mark 14:58).

We know that if He so desired Jesus could have done what everyone around Him had imagined Him saying– through God’s power He could have destroyed Herod’s Temple and to re-establish it three days later. But this is not what Jesus meant. This is not the sign that Jesus will show to indicate His Messiahship (cf. John 2:18). As usual, Jesus is getting to the heart of the matter.

What is a temple, anyway? A temple, as Jesus knew well, is the place where people believe a divinity dwells. The original Temple in Jerusalem was most often called the “House of YHWH,” for it was where God established that His name would dwell (cf. 1 Kings 9:3). The Temple’s value had everything to do with God’s Presence. If God’s Presence was in the Temple, then the Temple served its purpose. If God’s Presence departed from the Temple, it was just another building.

Yet now something greater than the Temple was present (cf. Matthew 12:6). The Word, being with God and God Himself, became flesh and dwelt among mankind (John 1:1, 14). God’s presence was “in” Jesus of Nazareth (John 1:18, Luke 4:1, 14). He was the true Immanuel, “God with us” (Matthew 1:22). The body of His flesh contained the presence of God!

Therefore, Jesus is not speaking of Herod’s Temple when He makes His grand declaration of John 2:19. Instead, He is talking, as John says, about the “temple of His body” (John 2:21). Those very Jews would work to accomplish the sign: they would put Jesus to death, destroying that temple (cf. Matthew 26-27, John 18-19), and three days later, God raised Him up in the resurrection (Matthew 28, John 20). All had come to pass.

John indicates that the disciples remembered His saying after His resurrection and believed firmly in Jesus (John 2:22). They now understood Jesus’ powerful message, echoed in John 4:20-24. Temples were no longer about physical structures– in Jesus we return to the original idea of the temple, the location in which God’s Presence dwells. What Jesus said about His physical body now holds true for His spiritual body. The spiritual Body of Christ is His church (Ephesians 5:23, Colossians 1:18, 24), and the church is described in a figure as a temple (1 Corinthians 3:16-17, 1 Peter 2:4-5). This is only possible because the church represents the body of Christ, the dwelling place of God.

Paul goes further in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, declaring that Christians are temples of the Holy Spirit Who is within them, and thus they are to glorify God in their bodies. What was true of Jesus then is now, in a sense, true of us if we are His disciples. God’s Presence is said to dwell with believers (Romans 8:9-11, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20), and thus we are temples ourselves. Let us be sanctified in God’s Presence and seek after His will!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Righteousness, Peace, and Joy in the Holy Spirit

Let not then your good be evil spoken of: for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:16-17).

God desires for all who believe in the name of Jesus to be one (John 17:20-23) and to have the same mind and the same judgment (1 Corinthians 1:10). In order even to begin this process we must all submit ourselves under God’s mighty hand and to be instructed by Him and not the world around us (1 Peter 5:6, Colossians 2:1-9, Romans 12:1-2). And yet, even though we are to be of the same mind and the same judgment, there are matters concerning which God has provided liberty and are not of significant concern. In matters relating to the faith, we must hold firm and not compromise (Galatians 1:6-9). In matters of liberty, we must consider the interests of others and resolve to not put a stumbling block in a fellow Christian’s way (Philippians 2:1-4, Romans 14:13).

This is why the message of Romans 14:17 is so essential: we must use proper judgment to discern the matters of “eating and drinking” so as to not violate or grieve the “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

“Eating and drinking” are the matters of liberty– in context, the eating of meats (Romans 14:2). Observing days is a similar issue that is mentioned, demonstrating that we should not interpret “eating and drinking” exclusively literally (cf. Romans 14:5). These liberties involve practices or means of accomplishing practices that are within the realm of Biblical authority (Colossians 3:17) and yet for which God has not made specific provision.

“Eating and drinking” is contrasted with “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” The Kingdom of God is not about the former, but it certainly is about the latter.

“Righteousness in the Holy Spirit” involves that which God has established– doing what God has determined is right, and avoiding that which God has determined is wrong (Romans 12:9). There can be no room for compromising these standards– those who approve what God condemns or condemns what God approves are considered accursed (Galatians 1:6-9, 5:19-21). To believe that Romans 14 can provide “flexibility” in God’s standards of righteousness is misguided and certainly not Paul’s intent. The matters concerning which Paul speaks in Romans 14 are the matters of “food and drink” which are not to hinder the Kingdom of God. If God says we must do something, we must do it. if God says we must avoid something, we must avoid it.

Paul does not stop there. He also speaks of the “peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Peace is not merely the absence of hostility or strife– it involves killing hostility (cf. Ephesians 2:15-17). To have peace requires each person to seek the best interest of others and not themselves, and to work to build up– even if one’s personal preference must be sacrificed (Philippians 2:1-4, Romans 14:19). We must remember that in order for us to have the peace that surpasses understanding and to be reconciled to God, Jesus needed to kill the enmity through suffering and enduring the cross (Ephesians 2:11-18). If we will have peace in the Kingdom, we are going to have to suffer and endure (cf. Romans 8:17-18, 15:1)!

“Joy in the Holy Spirit” is based in our great salvation that God is accomplishing (cf. 1 Peter 1:3-9). There is joy when people repent and do what is right (Luke 15:7). There is joy when we walk in the truth (3 John 1:4). We are to take joy and happiness in one another and the encouragement we derive from one another in our walk of faith (cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:19, Hebrews 10:24-25). In Philippians 2:2-4, Paul tells us exactly how we can make the joy of God complete: to be of the same mind, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind, doing nothing out of rivalry, considering everyone better than themselves, looking toward the interests of others. This is the happiness we can have in the Spirit!

While we have examined righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit separately, it only works when all three are present. The Kingdom requires not just the righteousness of the Holy Spirit– peace and joy in the Spirit must also be present.

“Eating and drinking” may not violate the righteousness in the Holy Spirit, but if people insist on their liberties to the detriment of the consciences of their fellow Christians, or if Christians vigorously condemn fellow Christians for matters of liberty and not on the basis of revealed truth, the peace and joy of the Holy Spirit is violated, no matter how “right” or “legitimate” the doctrinal position.

God is not merely concerned about truth– He is also concerned about people (1 Timothy 2:4). We are to be known as Jesus’ disciples by our love for one another (John 13:35), and biting and devouring one another on the basis of liberties does not reflect that love (cf. Galatians 5:15).

We must hold firm to the truth and proclaim it to all men, embodying the righteousness of the Holy Spirit. But we must also work to kill any hostility that may exist among us and to seek the best interest of one another and to share in the peace and joy in the Spirit– and that is going to mean that we are going to have to sacrifice some personal opinions, desires, and liberties for the sake of one another. Let us seek to uphold the righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit, building up the Kingdom, and glorify God!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Gospel in Jesus’ Birth

And the angel said unto her, “Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God. And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1:30-33).

This is the day that many in the world set aside to consider the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. It is important for us to take note that God never commands us to observe the birth of His Son, and we have no example from the New Testament of such an observance. We do not even know the day of His birth– December 25 was fixed hundreds of years later, and more because of the pagan festivals that surround that date than anything from the Scriptures. Since the shepherds were out at night with the flocks (Luke 2:8), it is most likely that He was born in spring or fall.

Nevertheless, the birth of Jesus is an important event. It is the moment at which the Word becomes flesh and dwells among mankind (John 1:1, 14). It is the occasion of the miracle of the virgin birth (Matthew 1:22-23). It is also the beginning of the fulfillment of the hope of Israel– and it is the feeling of hope that is about to come to pass that makes the story of Jesus’ birth so memorable. Isaiah spoke of the one who would prepare the way of the Lord (Isaiah 40:3-5) and Malachi speaks of the Elijah to come (Malachi 4:5-6): the angel Gabriel told Zechariah that his son would fulfill these things (Luke 1:13-17).

As a good Jewish girl, Mary would know all the predictions that were made about the Messiah– born to be the King, the One favored by God (cf. Isaiah 9:1-5, 11:1-10, etc.). And then the angel Gabriel comes to her and tells her that the child she will bear by the Holy Spirit will fulfill these things. He will be called great, the Son of the Most High. He would receive the throne of David. His Kingdom would never end.

These promises were no longer in the distant future. They were here in the flesh. God’s great plan was being realized in the flesh (Ephesians 3:11)!

The Good News of Jesus of Nazareth begins here. In the messages of the angel Gabriel and the Holy Spirit through Zechariah, Mary, Simeon, and Anna, we learn how Jesus will overturn the way the world works (Luke 1:47-55), suffer and die (Luke 2:35), but would rule over a Kingdom without end (Luke 1:30-33), and would be light of revelation to both Jew and Gentile (Luke 2:31-32, 38). Redemption was here!

Jesus of Nazareth was not born on December 25, but we can take advantage of the focus on Jesus’ birth to proclaim the message of His birth, life, death, resurrection, and lordship, just as Gabriel and the Holy Spirit did in those days of pregnant expectation so long ago. Let us find our hope in God’s redemption through Jesus Christ, and proclaim the wonder of Jesus in our lives!

Ethan R. Longhenry