Light Over Darkness

In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in the darkness; and the darkness apprehended it not (John 1:4-5).

The beginning of John’s Gospel highlights the themes that will pervade its message: Jesus as the Word, the means of creation (John 1:1-3), and now Jesus as life and light (John 1:4-5).

It stands to reason that since the Word was the agent of creation, that the Word provides life. This is not a new message; this is what God intended for Israel to learn in the Wilderness (cf. Deuteronomy 8:3). Man, ultimately, is sustained by his Creator and the words that come from Him.

Nevertheless, the Word is also the light of men. It is not coincidental that the first created thing in the universe is light (Genesis 1:3). Light is more than just a period of time during which people can see; light is the time for life and provides the energy that sustains life. Light and life are inseparable. Little wonder then that light ends up standing for all that is right, good, and beneficial– all the qualities of God.

Yet consider the flashlight. In a bright room, the light of a flashlight is difficult to see. In a dark room, however, the same amount of light emitted all of a sudden is much clearer. And so it is with the Incarnate Word.

Darkness, as the absence of light, is used to describe all that which is the absence of life. Dark days are unpleasant. People experiencing sadness speak of it in terms of darkness; when we feel that evil is ascendant, we associate that with darkness.

And the darkness in the world is vast. We are constantly reminded of the suffering, misery, and pain that is experienced throughout the world. Government agents, people in corporations, and other “institutional” figures are often to blame for such evil. And yet how much evil takes place among individuals? How many times do people hurt each other physically, emotionally, and spiritually? For that matter, as uncomfortable as it may seem, how often have we been the ones to engage in the works of darkness, rebelling against God, causing pain and grief for our fellow man (Romans 3:9-23, Titus 3:3)?

It is easy to be scared of the darkness. It often seems that the darkness wins. We see evils pile upon evils. We see it happen in other countries. We see it happening amongst our own friends, family, and other loved ones. Oppression. Violence. Natural disasters. Famine. Lying. Cheating. Adultery. Betrayal. Anger. Sometimes it is the people we expect; far more troubling is when it is done by the people we least expect to do it, or it is done to those who we believe deserve it least.

The darkness is terrible, and the suffering that exists in the world is indeed vast. But the situation is not hopeless: we are not left entirely in the dark. The Light has shined into the darkness, and try as it may, the darkness has not “apprehended” it (John 1:5). Darkness, try as it may, cannot overcome the Light of God.

This is our strong assurance and sustaining hope. The forces of darkness, however strong, cannot overcome the Light of God in Christ (cf. Ephesians 6:10-18). Love, compassion, goodness, and mercy will prevail. Even though we may experience great personal and collective suffering and loss, such cannot separate us from the light and love of God in Christ (cf. Romans 8:31-39). Therefore, we do not have to be afraid. We must not give up in exhaustion, assuming that the darkness has won. It has not. It cannot.

Our Creator took on the form of the creation and pointed the way forward for humanity. The darkness might be strong; the darkness might seem to be on the verge of swallowing up the light. But it never will. The Light has overcome the darkness; people can be freed from sin and death. We may suffer; we may hurt; but we can win the war and obtain the victory through Jesus Christ. Let us trust Jesus our Light and Life and be sustained in Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Firstfruits

But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; then they that are Christ’s, at his coming (1 Corinthians 15:23).

Despair turned to excitement on that first day of the week so long ago when Jesus arose from the dead (John 20:1-31, etc.). In the midst of all the excitement, however, there was one theological conundrum that needed to be addressed.

The idea of resurrection was not foreign to the Jews; the Pharisees believed in the resurrection (Acts 23:8), and no doubt many other Jews did also. But “the resurrection” in which they believed was the resurrection on the last day. That is what Daniel 12:2 seemed to indicate. It certainly was the expectation of Martha when Lazarus died (cf. John 11:24).

But someone rising from the dead in the resurrection before the end? This was not something you would automatically take away from a reading of the Old Testament, nor was it something immediately obvious to Pharisees and others. Perhaps this was part of the challenge the disciples faced in not understanding Jesus’ predictions of the event (Mark 9:30-32, etc.). How could it be that One could rise from the dead before everyone was raised from the dead?

The Holy Spirit, through Paul, would make this understandable. Jesus was the firstfruits of the resurrection!

The idea of the firstfruits comes from passages like Deuteronomy 18:4:

The first-fruits of thy grain, of thy new wine, and of thine oil, and the first of the fleece of thy sheep, shalt thou give him.

The firstfruits were the first part of a harvest– the first wheat or barley harvested, the first wine processed, the first of the fleece shorn, and so on and so forth. The Israelites were to devote the firstfruits to God (Exodus 23:19), and God gave them to the Levites for sustenance (Deuteronomy 18:4). After the firstfruits had been offered, the rest of the harvest belonged to the people for their own consumption and use.

The firstfruits image, therefore, helps us understand the relationship between Jesus’ resurrection and the resurrection on the final day. Jesus is the firstfruits– the first to rise from the dead, never to die again (1 Corinthians 15:20). He had been given as an offering to God to atone for the people (2 Corinthians 5:21, Hebrews 9:1-15). He paves the way for the resurrection to come, the resurrection of which we all take part (John 5:28-29, 1 Corinthians 15:12-57)!

There is something obvious about the firstfruits that is important for the resurrection. The firstfruits are not different in kind or type from the harvest that comes later. The firstfruits of wheat are wheat just as the “second fruits” or “third fruits” would be; the same goes for barley, wine, fleece, and the like. So it is with the resurrection: we should not believe that our resurrection will be something different from Christ’s resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:23). The difference involves time, not type or kind. As Jesus died in the flesh but remained alive in the spirit (1 Peter 3:18), and was then raised bodily from the dead, the tomb being empty, and His flesh being transformed for immortality (Luke 24:1-49), so it goes with those who serve Him. All who have died, and those who will be dead before His coming, remain alive in the spirit, but will then be raised bodily and transformed for immortality (1 Corinthians 15:35-57, Philippians 1:21-23, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)!

In reality, the resurrection is a challenging concept, for one of the few “guarantees” in the physical realm is that once one dies, one is always dead. We do not see people rising from the dead, never to die again.

Yet that is precisely the hope by which the Christian must live (cf. Romans 8:20-25). And we have confidence in that hope because of Jesus the firstfruits. We do not have to wonder whether God can or will raise the dead, for we know He raised Jesus from the dead. If He is able to raise Jesus from the dead, He is able to raise us from the dead also, and He has promised to do so (Romans 8:11)!

The last enemy, indeed, is death (1 Corinthians 15:26). Through Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and lordship, believers now can have confidence in their spiritual regeneration in this life (Romans 6:1-23, 8:1-9). The believer is able to be a new creature in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), yet we are all still cursed with physical death.

But death will be abolished. The day will dawn when we all will have the victory over not just sin but also death through Jesus Christ our Lord, and on that day the rest of the harvest will be brought in to the praise and glory of God in Christ (1 Corinthians 15:53-57, 1 Peter 1:6-7). We can have complete confidence in this because Jesus gained the victory over sin on the cross and over death in the resurrection, and He is the firstfruits! Let us all serve God so that we may attain to the resurrection of life (cf. Philippians 3:11-13)!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Departed For a Season

And when the devil had completed every temptation, he departed from [Jesus] for a season (Luke 4:13).

Jesus’ temptations by the devil in the wilderness are a famous part of His work and life. Even though Jesus was physically weak and hungry, He did not give into the temptation to turn stones into bread, to test God by falling, or to bow down to the Evil One. Instead, He refuted the Devil by quoting Scripture (cf. Luke 4:1-12).

The victory, however, was not complete. Luke provides a telling detail not found in the other Evangelists: while the Devil did depart, it was only for a season.

Even though Luke indicates that the departure was only for a season, neither he nor the other Evangelists ever explicitly relate another time in which Satan tempted or tested Jesus. Nevertheless there are many instances in the life of Jesus where we can find a significant temptation in which Satan was most certainly involved.

There is Peter’s rebuke of Jesus on hearing that He will die– “this shall never happen to you” (Matthew 16:22). Jesus speaks of Peter as “Satan” in response, indicating that he is focused on the things of man and not on the things of God (Matthew 16:23). It is not necessary to believe that Satan was personally indwelling Peter– Peter is motivated by his passion for Jesus and his mistaken impressions about the nature of His Messiahship and Kingdom and needed no devilish inspiration to come up with such a remark. Nevertheless, Peter was acting as the Opposer, providing a significant temptation for Jesus. Satan could have very easily said the same thing– “far be it that the Son of God should die for sinful men!”

Temptations also came when the time drew near. Satan may have been tempting Jesus while in the garden; without a doubt he was about to tempt the disciples (cf. Luke 22:39-46). While on the cross, the words of the people represented another similar temptation– “He saved others; let Him save Himself if this is the Christ of God!” They may have said it in a mocking and derisive manner, but it is a temptation nevertheless.

Again, we do not know every point at which Satan tempted or tested Jesus, but we have great confidence that he did. Jesus was ultimately victorious– He died and was raised again in power– and the power of sin and death was broken (1 Corinthians 15:54-57).

As Jesus Himself said, it is enough for the disciple to be like his master, and if the Master of the house was tempted by the Devil, then most certainly the disciples will also (cf. Matthew 10:24-25). We know that we suffer the temptations of the Evil One constantly (1 Peter 5:8)!

Let us learn from the example of our Lord. Lord willing, there will be times in our lives when we successfully overcome temptations to do evil or to avoid the good. When we do the will of God and not the will of Satan, God is glorified, and Satan is compelled to flee (James 4:7). Yet, as long as we live, the victory is not complete. The Devil will return at another season to tempt us again!

We must remember that the Evil One does not play fair. In overcoming one temptation we may fall prey to another temptation. On the other hand, even when we are weak, having fallen for a temptation or in distress and turmoil, the Evil One does not lighten up– temptations are sure to come (cf. 1 Peter 5:8). In good times or bad, in prosperity or poverty, in victory or defeat, the Devil has plenty of temptations available to cause us to stumble and, if we allow it, to lead us away from God.

This is why we must be perpetually on guard against temptation. We must always be clothed with the armor of God in order to resist the Evil One (cf. Ephesians 6:10-18), and if we ever slacken, we will find ourselves in sore distress.

When we are in that distress, it is good for us to reach out to fellow Christians and to be lifted up (Galatians 6:1-3, Hebrews 10:24-25). We must look to help lift up fellow Christians in distress, not with attitudes of superiority or arrogance, but humility and love, knowing full well that we may be the next ones that need lifting up.

Our conflict with evil is not one that any of us chose or would ever want to choose; nevertheless, it is ours to fight. We must stand firm against the Evil One at all times, knowing, as Jesus did, that temptations are sure to come at any moment. Let us stand firm for God no matter what and resist the Devil!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Victory!

But thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:57).

The thrill of victory. The agony of defeat. So much of what takes place in life involves “winners” and “losers.” We see it most clearly in sports games or in armed conflicts. It is also present in competitions in business, school, and in life in general. Everyone wants to win and be part of the winning team. No one wants to lose, and few have patience with constant loss.

Winning is sweet. Far too often, winning goes unquestioned. Everyone is happy when there is victory. But when people begin to lose, everything is questioned. Flaws and challenges come to the surface. Discord often rears its ugly head.

Losing, however, is not always such a bad thing. Humans tend to learn only by making mistakes. Losing tests endurance and resolve. Losing forces people to confront the difficult questions, and either continue to lose or to find a way to win.

So much of victory and defeat is mental and emotional– or, as it is said in sports so many times, games are most often won or lost before the players take the field. Some teams win because of talent and skill– others just have a stronger desire to win. Yes, many teams lose because of a lack of skill or poor execution, but far too often, such teams lack the will to win. It is not as if there is ever a perfect team or a perfect situation– challenges, flaws, and discord can always exist. Somehow, in some way, people find ways to be successful and victorious despite those flaws. And yet there are also times when people with so much talent, opportunity, and ability fail to achieve the victory that would seem to come to them, either through indolence or someone else just wanting it more!

These matters are profitable for Christians to consider, for the Christian life is compared to sporting competitions (1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Hebrews 12:1-2), spiritual conflict (Ephesians 6:10-18, 2 Timothy 2:4-5), and even in terms of business success (Matthew 25:14-30, Luke 19:11-27). We run the most important race there is; we fight the most important battle in history; we earn the most valuable profits. If we ever must pursue victory with everything we have, it must be in the spiritual arena!

When things go well in our lives as Christians, we do not question a lot of things. We are happy. It is when our lives begin to fall apart and/or we begin to fail that we begin to question. Our flaws, challenges, and discord are made evident. And yet those flaws and challenges were always there. Discord is always just around the corner. We must endure difficulties and struggles in our faith in order to be refined and to be made ready for the ultimate victory (James 1:2-4, 1 Peter 1:6-9). These are not pleasant, and we always wonder why we are not always successful in God. Character does not develop and mature through complete success– it is only when we are forced to confront our difficulties that we prove our mettle and whether we will shrink away and fail or endure and overcome (cf. Revelation 2:7, 12:11).

Victory and success is also an important mindset. It is too easy for us to expect failure so as to never be disappointed. This is precisely what losers do, and such losers, while rarely disappointed, do not amount to much. Instead, we must believe that we can and must win, trusting in God’s firm Word to us that we shall have the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord. That victory may not seem very possible at times, and the situations we find ourselves in may be bleak. This is when we must have the most fervent resolve to win no matter the circumstances, and trust in God’s power that we shall win.

A day is coming when the results of the ultimate contest will be made evident. Those who have failed through their ignorance, desire to lose, or failure to serve God will obtain eternal condemnation (Romans 2:5-11, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9). Those who trusted in Jesus for victory, who wanted that victory more than anything else, and devoted everything in their power to obtain that victory will share in that victory (Matthew 6:33, Romans 8:17-18, 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, 15:54-58)– and the taste of victory will never have been sweeter (cf. Revelation 21:1-22:6). How much do we desire to win it all? Let us trust in God through Christ and devote all of our energies to His cause so as to gain the ultimate victory!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Feet Bearing Good News

Behold, upon the mountains the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace! Keep thy feasts, O Judah, perform thy vows; for the wicked one shall no more pass through thee; he is utterly cut off (Nahum 1:15).

The Assyrian menace had haunted Israel for almost two hundred years. The Assyrians were notorious fighters, renowned for their cruelty. In 732, most of the northern Kingdom of Israel succumbed to their strength. In 722, Samaria was destroyed, and the rest of the northern Kingdom of Israel was ended (cf. 2 Kings 17). By 701, the Assyrians had turned against Judah, and the bloodbath was severe: the fortified cities of Judah destroyed save Jerusalem, spared by God’s intervention (cf. 2 Kings 18-19).

Not long afterward, the Assyrians exiled all of the Israelites out of the northern tribal areas, and imported other people to live there. The Kingdom of Judah, despite escaping with its survival, still had to contend with the existence of the Assyrian power. The Assyrians could come out and make another campaign at any time!

Yet, stunningly, in 621 BCE, the Assyrian Empire was entirely overthrown at the hands of the Medes and Babylonians. Nineveh was destroyed. The Assyrian menace was no more.

Nahum foresees that day and the messenger sent to proclaim the good news to the people of Judah. The great enemy of the people of God has been vanquished! The people can keep their feasts and perform their vows, for the great power that was opposed to them had fallen. One can imagine the festivities and the celebrations that the people of Judah would have enjoyed!

We also have a message of good news that brings peace. There is a menace that has haunted mankind for thousands of years– the menace of sin and death. Almost everyone has fallen prey to sin and death, and they have caused great suffering (Romans 5:12-18, 8:2-9). Yet God has vanquished these enemies through the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21-22, 1 Corinthians 15:55-58)! Those who believe in Him and obey His Gospel can share in that victory (John 3:16, 1 Peter 1:22).

Do we consider that message to be good news? Do we now rejoice in our salvation, and seek to do His will, as Judah was to keep its festivals and pay vows? Do we proclaim this message and make it clear for everyone? Are we trying to persuade people to become children of God and gain the victory over sin and death?

In the end, God always vanquishes all that which is opposed to Him. Let us stand with God and not against Him, and proclaim the good news of the Gospel of Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Spiritual Reality

And when the servant of the man of God was risen early, and gone forth, behold, a host with horses and chariots was round about the city.
And his servant said unto him, “Alas, my master! how shall we do?”
And he answered, “Fear not; for they that are with us are more than they that are with them.”
And Elisha prayed, and said, “O LORD, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see.”
And the LORD opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha (2 Kings 6:15-17).

By all accounts, the situation looked grim.

The Aramean king learned that Elisha was foiling his plans to raid Israel, and sent his army to end the threat.  The Aramean army comes toward Elisha– a terrible sight indeed.  Who can stand against the foe?  The Israelite army has enough problem, let alone some prophets!

We can understand and sympathize with the great concern of the servant.  According to the physical reality on the ground, there was little reason to hope.

Yet Elisha is unperturbed.  He recognizes the spiritual reality in their midst.  He knows that there are more on his side than there are for the enemy– even if such are invisible to man’s eyes.

We can only imagine what the servant felt when he suddenly sees the angelic host with its fiery chariots.  He, no doubt, felt amazement and wonder.  Stupefied is probably more like it.  None of it was visible a moment earlier.  Yet, in the blinking of the eye, everything was different.

Yet nothing was really different.  The angelic host was always there.  The servant simply did not perceive them!

This passage seems to teach us that there is a spiritual reality in our very midst that we do not perceive.  If our eyes were opened, we might feel amazement and wonder, utterly stunned at all that is around us.  Everything would seem different, but nothing would really be different.  It is always there, just past our physical senses.

Let us remember this when we feel alone or discouraged, believing that our situation is hopeless.  We may be struggling with a temptation to sin; we may feel some persecution for our faith; we might be experiencing some kind of trial, physical, spiritual, or otherwise.  It may seem that the forces of evil and darkness are too numerous, and we despair of victory.

Yet, as it is written,

Ye are of God, my little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world (1 John 4:4).

In Jesus Christ we will have the victory.  There is no force greater than His Lordship.  We just need to have faith that an overwhelming spiritual reality is all around us, and that there are more for us than there are for them!

Ethan R. Longhenry

He Has Done It

All the fat ones of the earth shall eat and worship: All they that go down to the dust shall bow before him, Even he that cannot keep his soul alive. A seed shall serve him; It shall be told of the Lord unto the next generation. They shall come and shall declare his righteousness Unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done it (Psalm 22:29-31).

While Jesus hung upon the cross, according to Matthew, He cried out with the introductory verse of Psalm 22– “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani”, or, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46, Psalm 22:1). While it is disputed whether this represents an actual separation between the Father and Jesus, or whether He is simply evoking the Psalm, the strong parallels between Jesus’ crucifixion and Psalm 22 cannot be denied.

David well expresses the agony and anguish that Jesus would suffer. He would be mocked and derided for His faith in God (Psalm 22:7-8). His hands and feet were pierced (Psalm 22:16). His enemies surrounded Him (Psalm 22:12, 16). His clothes are taken by others (Psalm 22:18).

Despite the suffering, however, neither David nor Jesus lose their faith in God. Their confidence is wholly upon the LORD of Hosts, the God of Israel, and they will be vindicated.

Jesus was not delivered from His enemies that day in any way that humans would recognize. Three days later He was alive again. The power, the glory, and the might were all now His.

And indeed, it was told to the next generation. And the generation after that. And in every generation until now.

And we continue to declare His righteousness, that He has done it.

He has done what was necessary for us to be saved (Romans 5:6-11).

He has done what the Law could never do– conquer sin and death (Romans 8:1-3).

He has done the reconciliation of Jew and Gentile, bringing people from every nation, tongue, and race to Him (Ephesians 2:11-18).

He has fulfilled all righteousness (Matthew 5:17-18).

He has accomplished the victory for all who would come to Him (1 Corinthians 15:54-57).

Let us never cease to praise Jesus who accomplished so much through His suffering. Let us continue to proclaim His righteousness to everyone.

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Consolation of Israel

And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Spirit was upon him (Luke 2:25).

Times were not easy in Israel.

The LORD of Hosts had promised that a Branch would come from the house of Jesse. Yet after Persian rule came the Ptolemies, followed by the hated Seleucids. Yes, the Maccabees gained freedom for awhile, but they brought in Greek practices, and now the Romans were in charge. Israel suffered under the Idumean Herod.

Simeon had seen some of these events take place. He was looking for the consolation of Israel. He looked forward to the LORD’s Messiah– the Christ.

Yet the LORD’s Christ was not coming to redeem Israel from Rome. He would not sit on a throne in Jerusalem and crush the Roman army. He would die on a cross, reckoned as a common criminal, to atone for the sins of mankind.

On the third day He rose from the dead, defeating both sin and death. The LORD’s Christ would rule– over all nations. The LORD’s Christ would defeat Israel’s true enemies– sin and death.

That is how Jesus of Nazareth represented the consolation of Israel: He showed the way of light and truth, the way of the Father: the way of eternal life, free of sin and death.

But Jesus is not just the consolation of Israel– He is the consolation of the whole world. Through Him Jew and Greek would be reconciled to become one Kingdom of God. His sacrifice could atone for anyone who believed in Him. Anyone could share in His victory over sin and death.

Jesus indeed is the consolation of Israel– and the consolation of the world. Do you find consolation in Him and His glorious work? Have you conquered the world of sin and death through your faith in Him?

Let us take comfort in the consolation of Israel: through Jesus Christ, we can overcome the world (1 John 5:4)!

Ethan R. Longhenry