Placed in God’s Garden

And YHWH God planted a garden eastward, in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed (Genesis 2:8).

When we think of the Garden of Eden, we tend to do so in terms of paradise lost: man sinned and was forced out (Genesis 3:1-22). Yet we can gain lessons about man’s relationship toward God based on what God sought to accomplish in Eden.

Genesis 2:4-25 provides greater detail regarding the creation of man and woman as mentioned in Genesis 1:26-30. Much is made of Genesis 2:4-25 as a “competing” account of creation; the Genesis author has no such idea in mind, but presents to further explain man’s creation. We make much of God making man from the dust of the ground and breathing into him the breath of life (Hebrew neshama, Greek psyche; Genesis 2:7), and for good reason: such explains how man is both earthly and divine, energized dust. Thus man returns to the dust from which he came (Genesis 3:19); the breath of life in him is a gift and is not to be treated flippantly. Yet what does God then do with the man? YHWH planted a garden, made every tree with fruit good to eat grow there, and He put the man into that garden where he was to work it and keep it (Genesis 2:8-15). God does not just drop the man anywhere in the creation. He places the man in His garden.

“Eden” seems to connote delight and pleasure, as can be seen in the related Hebrew word found in Genesis 18:12, 2 Samuel 1:24, Psalm 36:8, and Jeremiah 51:34; not for nothing does the Greek translator of the Septuagint translate “garden” with paradeison, “paradise,” in Genesis 2:8. The Greek term itself derives from a Persian word describing a “walled enclosure”; a “royal park” is really in view, a well-planned, well-maintained garden, not terribly unlike the gardens of palaces, manors, and estates still visible in Europe, even if reflecting different tastes. Thus Eden was never really “raw nature”; it was a divinely created and organized garden estate, featuring aesthetically pleasing plants, plants good for food, and most likely embodying divine creativity and organization throughout.

A garden, by its very nature, is artificial; if left untended it will become overgrown and lose the properties which distinguish a garden from a forest or other form of natural environment. Man, therefore, was to work and keep God’s garden. Man is made to work; the ultimate futility of the endeavor is the curse of the fall, not the desire for the endeavor itself (Genesis 3:17-18; cf. Ecclesiastes 1:2-11). But man is not made to work in a vacuum: he is made to work and keep God’s garden. Man does not make the garden; man does not innovate in the garden; man is placed in God’s garden to keep it, to enjoy it, and to relish the sublime beauty and truth established in how God has composed that garden.

Since the fall man has been removed from that garden and has lost his innocence; from Eden man will end up at Babel, using his creative energies to make monuments to his own greatness (Genesis 11:1-8). Not much has changed since. Man was made to explore God’s garden and world in wonderment; we have perverted that impulse into a desire to become the masters of the universe. When we “discover” something, we presume some sort of ownership or control over it. In the grand scheme of things such claims seem petty, as a child’s game. It reminds us of the claims of certain Europeans having “discovered” America and other places; the Native Americans of the time were unaware that their lands needed “discovering,” and were quite aware of its existence for millennia without any Europeans around. Likewise, when humans learn about things, they are not really new; they have always existed, testifying to God’s majesty and power (Romans 1:19-21). We could learn about such things and give glory to God; instead, we tend to try to take them back to the Babels which we have built and use them to magnify ourselves. The results are less than aesthetically pleasing.

And yet, ever since the fall, God has called humanity back into restored relationship with Him. We now have opportunity to return to God and seek His purposes through His Son Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1-11). In Jesus we have the hope to return to paradise, to recover what was lost in the fall (Luke 23:43, 2 Corinthians 12:4, Revelation 2:7, 22:1-6). We yearn for full restoration and to bask in the glory of God’s presence without hindrance for eternity (Romans 8:18-25, Revelation 21:1-27). We want to go back to the Garden.

While we do await that full restoration, we are also told that we are a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). God “undoes” the curse of Babel on the day of Pentecost when the assembled Jewish people hear in their own languages the mighty works of God (Acts 2:11). In our lives as Christians we are again invited to participate in the work of glorifying God in His Kingdom, to do His work for His purposes (1 Corinthians 15:58, 2 Corinthians 9:8, Philippians 2:13, Colossians 1:10). Thus, in a real way, Christians are invited to “keep God’s garden” by working in His vineyard, the Kingdom (Matthew 21:33-44).

In many ways God invites us into His garden to enjoy its delights and to work and maintain it. The whole creation is, in a real sense, God’s garden. Through science and technology we learn much about God’s creation; we should not presume to be able to master and manipulate it fully to our own ends, to bring it back into our philosophical boxes to serve our ends, but should glorify God in wonderment for what He has made and how (cf. Psalm 8:1-9). God has given us of His Word (Hebrews 1:1-3, 2 Timothy 3:15-17). We ought to spend time in that Word, diligently applying ourselves to learn it and to accomplish its purposes in our lives (2 Timothy 2:15). Yet, just as Adam could never truly innovate in or master Eden, so we should never presume that we can discover something new through our investigation or mining of the Word, or imagine that we can take God’s Word to our Babel of philosophical ideologies and structures and in that way improve on it or understand it better than all who have come before us (cf. Colossians 2:8). We will never master the Word; we submit to God through the message of the Word and find ourselves mastered by it (Hebrews 4:12). The Word is to be one of God’s gardens of delight for us, a place in which we may find constant surprise which is to lead to confidence in God, adoration of His beauty, and praising and glorifying His name. God has given us important people and relationships in our lives; man was not made to be alone, for God Himself is not alone, but one in relational unity (Genesis 2:18, John 17:21-23). Those people in our lives are not there to be mastered or manipulated; instead, we are to enjoy their presence, seek to encourage them and help build them up, and glorify God for their presence. Every time we are tempted to make a Babel of something which God has made we do well to instead frame it as part of God’s garden, something on which we cannot improve, but something which we can cherish, enjoy, and learn about, all to the glory of God.

God has made us; in Him we live and move and have our being; we are made to seek Him (Acts 17:26-28). It is not for us to master, manipulate, and presume that we can make better than what God has already made. Instead, since the beginning, it has been for us to enjoy with wonderment God’s garden, to work in God’s creation and maintain things, and to give God all the glory. May we seek alignment with God’s purposes, renounce our impulse for mastery and control, submit to the Lord Jesus, and work in His Kingdom to His glory for all eternity!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Placed in God’s Garden

The Power of the Word

By the word of YHWH were the heavens made / and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.
He gathereth the waters of the sea together as a heap / He layeth up the deeps in store-houses.
Let all the earth fear YHWH / Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him.
For he spake, and it was done / He commanded, and it stood fast (Psalm 33:6-9).

God is the Creator. Among God’s people, “everybody knows that.” But did you know that the Psalms are grounded and rooted in what it means for YHWH to be the Creator?

Among the many psalms affirming YHWH’s role as Creator is Psalm 33. The Psalmist considers the implications of not only YHWH’s role as Creator but specifically how He accomplished the creation and what it means for Israel and the universe.

Of special note is the Psalmist’s motivation: the righteous and upright are to rejoice in and praise YHWH (Psalm 33:1-3). The Psalmist has no expectation that he can somehow gain mastery over YHWH by understanding what He has done; instead, he seeks to know more about YHWH and His deeds so as to praise and glorify Him.

In Psalm 33:6-7, 9 the Psalmist affirms that YHWH created the heavens and the earth by His word: He spoke and it happened just as He said. By His word the hosts of heaven came about; through His Word the waters were gathered (Psalm 33:6-7).

Am Anfang schuffF GOtt Himel vnd Erden

The Psalmist is meditating on the way Genesis 1:1-31 explains the means of creation: God spoke and it came forth. At other opportunities he notes the structure of the creation and the structure of God’s instruction (e.g. Psalm 19:1-14), yet in Psalm 33:6-9 he focuses instead on the power inherent in YHWH’s Word. The earth is to fear–to stand in awe–of YHWH (Psalm 33:8). He exercised His power through His Word to create the heavens and the earth; will not the same power energize His Word which He has spoken to Israel to determine right and wrong, to show covenant loyalty to the righteous but condemnation to the wicked? If His Word is what established the heavens, will He not establish the truth of His Word throughout all generations? Yes, as all Israel knows, YHWH is their Creator God. Yet if they recognize that YHWH created by His Word, then they should be all the more diligent to keep the word He gave to Israel, for it comes with no less power.

For Christians this idea takes on more compelling meaning thanks to John 1:1-18; the Word which God spoke, the Word by means of which all things were created, became flesh and dwelt among us as Jesus of Nazareth. God has spoken powerfully through His Son Jesus to establish what is right and wrong, true and false, the way which leads to life, and the way that leads to death (cf. Hebrews 1:1-3). Yet the Word which made the heavens proved willing to suffer and die on a cross for the sin of the world; the breath by which life was given cried out in the agony of death (cf. Matthew 27:46, Romans 5:6-11). In so doing the Word through which all things were made in this creation paved the way for the new creation when He was raised from the dead in power (1 Corinthians 15:20-58). The Word, Jesus of Nazareth, now reigns over His Kingdom; all the earth is to fear the Word of God, and its inhabitants stand in awe of Him (Philippians 2:9-11). The Word spoke, and it is done; He commands, and it stands fast (Matthew 16:16-19, 28:18-20).

We may know that YHWH is the Creator but we do well to meditate on what that means. If this present heavens and earth were created by means of God speaking His Word, then every Word which has proceeded from God maintains the same amount of power. YHWH spoke, and the heavens were established; when YHWH speaks to His people, His Word will be established firmly. The Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us, and we do well to follow Him (John 1:14, 1 John 2:3-6). Let us revere YHWH, stand in awe of the power of His Word, and seek to practice His Word in our lives firmly and wholeheartedly, never doubting its power, since by the same Word all things exist and continue to be sustained!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Power of the Word

Heard From the Beginning

As for you, let that abide in you which ye heard from the beginning. If that which ye heard from the beginning abide in you, ye also shall abide in the Son, and in the Father (1 John 2:24).

Even the early Christians of the first century had to contend with false teachers and divergent teachings regarding the faith. Their presence and tactics upset the faith of some. Part of John’s purpose in writing his letter is to assure, comfort, and confirm them in their faith in the Son of God.

John provides some clues as to the nature of these opponents. He calls them “antichrists,” those teaching and working in opposition to Christ (1 John 2:18). They participated in Christian assemblies for some time, seemingly a part of the group, but departed and no longer maintained that association (1 John 2:19). They denied that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; in doing so, they denied the true nature of the Father as well (1 John 2:22-23). They are actively working to lead Christians astray and follow their doctrines (1 John 2:26). They likely do not practice righteousness as defined by God in Christ (1 John 2:29, 3:3-10). Since John uses similar ways of speaking of the opponents in 2 John 1:7-11, they may well be the same or closely related groups; in 2 John the opponents deny that Jesus came in the flesh (2 John 1:7).

These opponents, at the least, are docetists: docetists taught that Jesus was not really flesh and blood human, but only seemed to be human (from Greek dokeo, “to seem”). They perhaps saw Jesus something akin to our idea of a hologram or some spiritual being that seemed to have physicality but did not. These opponents may also have been developing the ideas that would become manifest in many Gnostic groups in the second century and beyond; Gnostics (from Greek gnosis, knowledge) were as internally divided as they were opposed to “orthodox” Christianity, but most Gnostic groups believed they had a superior knowledge to that of Christians and understood the “real” spiritual story behind what is found in the Bible. They often infiltrated Christian assemblies, seeming to go along with everything being said and done while privately attempting to influence individual believers to consider their extra level of knowledge. Gnostic versions of the Jesus story proved to be some of the most dangerous and pernicious heresies to challenge the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ in the first few centuries following the death of the Apostles. Even in its nascent forms John perceives the danger in these teachings: they deny the physicality of Jesus, and therefore undermine the Apostolic proclamation of Jesus’ Incarnation, death, and resurrection, for if Jesus were never truly human, He was never truly born, did not really die, and therefore could not have been raised from the dead. If Docetism and Gnosticism were accurate, the Christian faith was a lie, since Jesus was not raised from the dead, and we all remain in our sins (1 Corinthians 15:12-20)!

John must assure and confirm his beloved fellow Christians in their faith, reminding them of the truth of the Gospel, persuading any who might be falling prey to these false teachers. He reminds them of the anointing they received from God, their knowledge of the truth, their confession of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, and their persistence in the Lord’s commands and walking as He walked (1 John 2:3-6, 2:20-23, 3:3-10). One can have confidence in faith when one follows after the Spirit and accomplishes righteousness (Matthew 7:15-20, 1 John 2:1-3:10), and this fruit is clearly not evident in the opposition. Yet one of the lynchpins of John’s argument is found in 1 John 2:24: early Christians should abide in what they heard from the beginning, for if they preserve themselves in the message they heard from the beginning, they will abide with the Father and the Son. “From the beginning” is the Word of Life, manifest as the Lord Jesus Christ (John 1:1-5, 14-18, 1 John 1:1-4). The beginning of Christianity is Christ, the Incarnation of Jesus of Nazareth, His life, death, resurrection, ascension, lordship, and promised return, and the original Apostolic proclamation of Jesus as the Christ over the Kingdom of God (Acts 2:14-41, 1 Corinthians 15:1-10, Philippians 2:5-11, 1 Timothy 3:16, Hebrews 7:12-9:28). This was the truth of the Gospel proclaimed from the beginning; these docetic and gnostic ideas came later. John affirms the truth of God was lived and proclaimed before it was perverted and distorted by later false teachers (cf. 2 Peter 3:15-16). John’s beloved fellow Christians should not be troubled or disturbed in their faith because of these Docetists and/or Gnostics; they had come to know and believe in the faith in Christ as originally proclaimed by the Apostles, the true, “orthodox” (from Greek ortho doxos, right belief) faith. They had learned the authentic faith; they had no need to follow after later, poorer imitations.

John’s exhortation has resonated throughout Christianity ever since. Early Christian apologists appealed to the principle of the existence of orthodox teachings before heresy, and sought to demonstrate continuity between the churches of their day and the churches founded by the Apostles (this has, in part, led to the idea of apostolic succession in Roman Catholicism, but the entire argument falls apart if a given church’s teachings today vary greatly from its teachings in the past). John’s exhortation should resonate with Christians today as well.

Over the past 1900 years many more divergent teachings have been introduced in Christianity; many are hopelessly confused about how to truly follow Jesus on account of all of these competing voices. In such a confused religious environment we do well to reclaim John’s message in 1 John 2:24: let us abide in what was heard, and therefore, proclaimed, from the beginning, the original and apostolic Gospel of Christ. This Gospel is still preserved for us in the pages of the New Testament, and can be proclaimed, believed, and acted upon in its original, primitive purity. Such is why the call for restoration of New Testament Christianity ought to remain relevant in the twenty-first century: not because Christians should live in the Mediterranean basin, speak Koine Greek, and wear tunics, but because the original, apostolic, primitive Gospel is the only message which has received God’s seal of approval in Christ (Romans 1:16). It remains the faith delivered once for all to the saints (Jude 1:3). It is the only Gospel by which people can come to the full truth and understanding of Jesus of Nazareth, the Word of Life made flesh, who lived, died, was raised again in power, and now reigns as the Risen Lord in heaven, and who will come again on the final day, and of the Kingdom of that Christ, in which God calls all men to participate in Him to this day. When we abide in the original, pure Gospel of Christ, we abide in the Father and the Son. If we pursue a divergent message which came later, shaped by the philosophies of the world or in reaction to the errors of others, we are left with no confidence, from Scripture, that we would continue to abide in the Father and the Son.

John is absolutely right: the truth comes first; error comes later. Let us prove willing to uphold the pure, primitive, apostolic Gospel of Christ as proclaimed from the beginning, restoring New Testament Christianity in the twenty-first century, and abide in the Father and the Son!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Heard From the Beginning

The Word of Life

That which was from the beginning, that which we have heard, that which we have seen with our eyes, that which we beheld, and our hands handled, concerning the Word of life (and the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare unto you the life, the eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us) (1 John 1:1-2).

This is not your average introduction to a letter. John is also not your average writer.

John began his first letter, like he began the Gospel he wrote of Jesus’ life, with emphasis on Jesus as the Word of God (John 1:1-18, 1 John 1:1-4). In his Gospel John correlates the activity of Jesus as the Word with the creation, writing John 1:1-5 in parallel with Genesis 1:1-5. John wrote that Gospel so that people would believe that Jesus is the Christ, and through their faith in Him might have life in His name (John 20:31).

John writes his first letter to Christians, his “little children,” those whom he loves in the Lord Jesus (1 John 2:1, 5:21). They have already come to believe in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God. Yet many false teachers seek to lead Christians astray (cf. 1 John 2:18-27, 4:1-3); John feels compelled to begin his letter by reminding his readers why they have good reason to have confidence in the truth of what he says. John can be trusted because he, along with the other Apostles, have experienced the Word of life: they heard Him, saw Him, touched Him, participated in His work, and now bear witness that He is the Lord, the Son of God, who died but was raised again in power, exactly as the Lord Jesus commissioned them (1 John 1:1-2; cf. Matthew 28:18-20, Luke 24:44-49). As they read what he has to say, the early Christians who received this letter could have every confidence in the truth of its message, since its author had personally experienced Jesus as the Word of life.

Over nineteen hundred years later we also can maintain confidence in what John is saying since he has experienced the Word of life manifest in the Lord Jesus. We do well to make sure that our faith and practice are consistent with Apostolic faith and practice, since the Twelve are the unique witnesses and emissaries of the Lord Jesus, having seen Him in life, death, and in the resurrection, a privilege none since have enjoyed. We have no right to add to what has already been revealed by the Apostles regarding the faith; it cannot be rooted in the actual, physical experience of the Lord Jesus (Jude 1:3).

There is much we can gain by seeing how John presents this testimony and witness. The tendency has existed, especially in the Western world, to put a lot of emphasis on doctrines, teachings, and instructions. The Greeks were enamored with philosophy; it would not take long for many to attempt to reduce Christianity down to a system of precepts, principles, and to put the priority on doctrine and the formulation of intellectual systems of thought. Religions around the world feature books of wisdom handed down from wise men or influential instructors of the past. Many times the examples of those instructors do not live up to what they taught. For so many, religion is akin to philosophy: a bunch of abstractions that may not have much to do with real life, an ideal attempting to come to grips with the real.

This is why John’s emphasis is so important. John does not begin by saying, “we heard Jesus’ instructions.” Instead, he speaks of how he and the other Apostles experienced the Word of life: sure, they heard Him, but they also saw Him, touched Him, and participated in Him (1 John 1:1-3). John does not yet speak of Him as Jesus or Christ; he speaks of Him as the “Word of life.” All of these other religions, philosophies, etc., have focused on a set of written down doctrines and teachings to consider and follow. Christianity is unique in insisting that the message of God was manifest and embodied in Jesus of Nazareth! He did not just say the Word; He was, and is, the Word (John 1:1-18, 1 John 1:1-3)! In Christianity we do not just have many true statements or accurate teachings; we see the teachings lived and practiced by Jesus of Nazareth. No one else–not Abraham, Moses, David, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Buddha, Confucius, or anyone else–has claimed to be the way, the life, the truth, and/or the resurrection (John 11:25, 14:6). Therefore, John is right to make it clear that he did not just hear the correct teachings; he experienced the right teachings. He was not just told how he and others should live; he saw that life lived (John 13:34, 1 John 2:6). Christianity, therefore, is not just a set of abstract principles or doctrines; Christianity is the pursuit of the Life that was in Jesus of Nazareth and given to all who would follow after Him.

It is true that we do not encounter the Lord Jesus as John did, but encounter Him through the written down testimony of the Apostles in the New Testament and through the prophecies of His coming in the Old Testament. If Christianity only involved just another written down story with good ethical principles, it would have no more value than Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, or philosophical works. Yet Christians make the radical claim that the Jesus of whom we read in the New Testament is still alive and reigns as Lord to this very day (Ephesians 3:10-11, Hebrews 13:8). Jesus remains the Word of life, and through His message as revealed in Scripture we can have joint participation with the Apostles who proclaimed that message and with Him in God the Father (1 John 1:3-4). We can share in the Word of Life today, and walk today as He walked, and do His commandments, all through the cleansing and strength which He provides, a claim which no other religion or philosophy can make (Philippians 4:13, Ephesians 6:10-18, 1 John 2:3, 6). The Word of life was with the Father, manifested to us, and returned to the Father, and all to provide all who would believe life, even to this day!

We may not be able to experience the Word of life as John did almost two thousand years ago, but we can still share in that life forever. Let us put our trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and take hold of that which is life indeed!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Word of Life

The Word Became Flesh

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father), full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

Conventional wisdom declares that only two of the Gospel accounts–Matthew and Luke–tell the story of Jesus’ birth. That the situation surrounding Jesus’ birth and the specific event of Jesus’ birth are more fully narrated in Matthew and Luke and nowhere is is beyond doubt. Yet John has captured, in one verse, what is implied in the birth accounts found in Matthew and Luke, speaking of the power of the Incarnation. He does so simply and elegantly: the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14).

It is so quickly addressed that one might pass over it without notice if reading somewhat carelessly. Yet these seven words (in Greek; eight in English) are in many ways the pinnacle of the chapter and the driving force behind the rest of John’s Gospel.

It is one thing to speak of the Word, His divinity, His relationship with the Father, His role in creation, and His righteousness, as John does in John 1:1-10. Moses perceived how Israel subsisted on God’s word (Deuteronomy 8:3); the Psalmist understood how the creation came to be through the agency of God’s Word (Psalm 33:6); Solomon personified Wisdom in Proverbs 8:1-36 and spoke of it as present during the creation. All of these, among others, were glimpses of the divine reality about to be fully revealed to mankind, and a lot of people, both among the Jews and the Greeks, would easily accept what John said about the Word in John 1:1-4, 9.

And then John provides the bombshell. This Word, the Agent of Creation, Light of the World, Provider of Life and Sustainer of Creation, God and with God, “became flesh and dwelt among us.”

Yes, Isaiah spoke of the Immanuel child in Isaiah 7:14, “God with us,” but very few understood it that concretely. The idea boggled the mind of the Jews and the Greeks then and plenty of others ever since: how could God become flesh? For that matter, why would God humiliate Himself and decide to become flesh? How could the Creator take on the form of the creation? What is going on here?

It was a challenging statement then, and it remains a challenging statement to this day; many find the concept foolish (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:20-25). Whenever Jesus would speak of His divinity, the Jews would be flabbergasted and sought to kill Him for blasphemy (cf. John 5:18, 8:57-58, 10:30-33). Some of the Greeks who saw value in Jesus’ teachings nevertheless could not tolerate the idea that He actually became flesh; such led to the “docetic” heresy, the suggestion that Jesus was not really flesh and blood, but only seemed like flesh and blood; John roundly denounced this view (2 John 1:7-9). Ever since there have been many who have found it easier to reject or downplay what John is saying about the Word becoming flesh since the idea is so strange and offensive to “realistic” sensibilities.

Yet the questions remain. The “how” questions are completely beyond us; we could dwell upon them to our hurt or be willing to recognize that we do not have all of the answers and that the Creator evidently so created the universe so as to allow the Word to become flesh. As to the “why” questions, we may intellectually understand that the Word was willing to humble Himself to the point of becoming flesh because of His love for mankind (Romans 5:6-11, 1 John 4:7-21), but it still remains an astounding, almost unbelievable idea: God became flesh to save flesh. The Creator took on the form of the creation to redeem the creation. We cannot imagine the depth of the humility this demanded; therefore, we cannot imagine the depth of the love God has toward us which motivated this humility. God became flesh!

The implications and consequences are many. The Incarnation is a powerful antidote to the concept of total depravity: yes, human beings are deeply sinful, but there must be some dignity and integrity left in flesh for God to have become it and dwell among us. To try to carve out an exception for Jesus on the basis of the “Immaculate Conception” is almost insulting to the Incarnation, as if Jesus’ flesh had to be somehow different from all other flesh in order to be God in the flesh. And, beyond all of this, God did not just become flesh, stay aloof, look down on people, enslave others, act arrogantly around them, or any such thing. God became flesh and then dwelt among us. He lived simply and humbly and went about doing good for people, even though He often received evil in return (cf. Acts 10:38-39). God became flesh not because it was some kind of accident, or as if an alien had taken over a human. When God became flesh, He showed mankind all the essential characteristics and attributes of God, so that it could be said that if you saw Jesus, you saw God the Father (John 1:18, 14:6-11); nevertheless, He also lived the perfect life and through His teachings and deeds exemplified true humanity (Hebrews 4:15, 5:7-8). God in the flesh did not just show us who God is; He also shows us what man can and should be. He is not just the perfect God; He is also the perfect Man!

God came in the flesh, presenting the glory of the only begotten from the Father, and He came full of grace and truth. From a human standpoint it is unbelievable; from a godly standpoint, it was inevitable. God loved His creation; God saved His creation by entering it, suffering for it, and overcoming its worst plagues. We may not be able to fully make sense of it; we will never deserve it; yet we can constantly praise God for it. God became flesh; God can understand our difficulties because He experienced them. He overcame them. In Jesus we understand who God is and who we are supposed to be. Let us follow after the God who became flesh and dwelt among us and obtain victory through Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Word Became Flesh

The Word

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him; and without him was not anything made that hath been made (John 1:1-3).

In the beginning…

Even to this day, thousands of years after it was written, most people know the line: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). It is the foundation of all that will follow in Scripture: God is the Creator of the universe and of mankind, and that is why everyone should heed Him and what He says.

In the first century, this text was well-known to all of the Israelites. They would tell you how, “in the beginning,” YHWH created all things. No great cosmic upheavals and battles among gods; the creation was a very powerful but orderly affair. YHWH spoke, and it was so (cf. Psalm 33:6).

As John begins his Gospel, he evokes the same language: “in the beginning…”. The mind is immediately transported back to Genesis 1:1.

Yet here, “in the beginning” was the Word. The Word was with God, yet the Word is also God (John 1:1). The Word existed before the creation did, for He was in the beginning with God (John 1:2). Furthermore, all things were made through Him– thus, nothing that exists was created apart from Him (John 1:3).

This passage is as controversial as it is powerful. Many want to make much of the use of the “Word,” in Greek, Logos, and the many different possible meanings for Logos: speech, reason, account, and so on and so forth. Others are as offended as many Jews were at the suggestion that the Word was with God and yet was God (cf. John 8:58-59); they thus want to minimize the idea that the Word was God.

Yet there is an elegant simplicity to what John has presented, just as there is elegant simplicity in the creation account in Genesis 1:1-2:3. We should not allow the controversies and the argumentation to lead us to miss the force and impact of what John is trying to say here. He intends for us to never understand the creation account in Genesis– the beginning story of mankind– in the same way ever again.

God creates by speaking, and it happens– “Let there be light,” and there was light (cf. Genesis 1:3). We are to now understand that when God “speaks,” that which God speaks is the Word, and the Word effects what God has intended. How this process works is not described and is most probably beyond our understanding; it is very challenging for humans to comprehend how that which God speaks has life and personality in and of itself, and is to be reckoned as God along with God. And yet this is how the Word is active in the creation of all things (John 1:3).

This understanding helps to melt away a lot of the controversy. Yes, there may be different meanings of the word Logos, but we can understand what John means because of the referent in the Genesis story: that which God has “said,” or communicated, is done by means of the Word. There is no justification for turning “the Word was God” into “the Word was a god”; the constitution of the Greek text simply does not allow it, and the testimony regarding the full divinity of Jesus can also be found in Colossians 1:15-17, 2:9, and in other places. That which God “spoke” was as much God as the One “speaking” it, and this understanding is designed to transform how we view not just the account of Creation but also every other time in Scripture when God “speaks.” Little wonder, then, how early Christians connected all of God’s communication with mankind to the Word, the Son of God (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:1-12, Jude 1:5)!

Ultimately, however, John is setting the tone for the rest of his Gospel. The Word will be speaking to mankind again in the first century as had happened in the past; this time the Word has become flesh and speaks as Jesus of Nazareth (John 1:14). That which Jesus says about Himself throughout the Gospel of John is to be understood in terms of the Word through whom God created all things and has communicated His message.

John is making it clear that the message of the Gospel and the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth are not some mere appendage, “update,” or “fix” to the story that had already been presented; it is the fulfillment of that story, the unveiled revelation, making sense of all that came before and demonstrating that the whole story of creation points to the creative act that took place through the Word and how the Word would redeem that which was created. God sending His Son was not an aberration in the plan; it was the plan (cf. Ephesians 3:10-11). Despite all the sin and evil in the world, God is still in control.

In the beginning, God spoke, and the Word which He spoke effected the creation. In the first century, God “spoke,” and the Word which He “spoke” effected redemption for mankind and communicated the very nature of God to mankind in bodily form (John 1:18, 23). As the Word brought forth life, so now we can only find that which is truly life by trusting in that Word. Let us follow after God our Creator and be saved!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Word

Relating the Father

No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him (John 1:18).

In both the Gospel and the first letter that bear his name, John affirms that no man has ever seen God (John 1:18, 1 John 4:12, 20). This seems to be a most baffling statement considering everything else that John is trying to teach, and, for that matter, what has been revealed in the Old Testament. How can John say that no one has ever seen God after saying that the Word was God and the Word became flesh (John 1:1, 14)? Didn’t Jacob wrestle with God (Genesis 32:28-30)? Didn’t Moses see God’s back (Exodus 33:18-23)? This is a conundrum indeed!

We should not believe that John is terribly inconsistent and ignorant of the Old Testament. He understands what he has written earlier in the Gospel, and he knows what is revealed in Genesis and Exodus.

Instead, John is trying to get us to understand a profound truth. As Jesus says, “God is spirit” (John 4:24). In that form, as He truly is, no man has seen Him nor can see Him. Humans have only seen manifestations of God– His glory, His power, and/or His messengers, the angels. Jacob most likely wrestled with an angel. Moses, no doubt, saw God’s glory. Jesus the Word is truly God in the flesh, but no man can see the spirit in Him.

But if no man has ever seen God, how can we know about God? This is the focus of John’s statement in John 1:18– even though we have not seen God, we can know all about God, because we can know about Jesus the Word.

John says that the Son, Jesus, has “declared” God. The word translated “declared” involves the idea of relating or telling a story (cf. Acts 10:8, 15:14, 21:19). According to John, therefore, the very nature and essence of God is related to us through Jesus.

But how can this be so? Jesus explains it for us in John 14:6-11. He boldly declares that if you have seen Him, you have seen the Father (John 14:9). The Father is “in” Jesus, and the words Jesus speaks and the deeds Jesus does are from the Father (John 14:10-11).

As Paul will say, Jesus is the “image of the invisible God,” in whom “dwelleth all the fulness of Godhead bodily” (Colossians 1:15, 2:9). If we want to understand what God is like, all we need to do is consider Jesus. As God is love, so Jesus loved (1 John 4:8, John 13:1). As God is just, so Jesus will be the judge (Matthew 25:31-46, Romans 2:5-10). As God is the Creator, so through Jesus were all things created (Genesis 1:1, John 1:1-3, Colossians 1:15-17).

A lot of people have a very negative picture of God the Father. They imagine Him as a cantankerous old man with a long white beard who sits in Heaven all day trying to figure out new and inventive ways of smiting people and condemning them. Yet many of these people have a much more favorable view of Jesus, picturing Him as the loving Savior of the world, the Good Shepherd laying down His life for the sheep.

We haven’t seen God. Nevertheless, it should be clear that God is not a cantankerous old man, but instead a loving Father who wants to bless His children (cf. Romans 8:1-39). We know this because we can see Jesus through what is revealed of Him in the New Testament, and when we have seen Jesus, we have seen the Father. We know of God because Jesus has made Him known. Let us praise God for His great love and care, and seek to reflect His attributes in our own lives (cf. 1 John 2:3-6)!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Relating the Father

The Incorruptible Seed

Having been begotten again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, through the word of God, which liveth and abideth. For,
“All flesh is as grass, And all the glory thereof as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower falleth: But the word of the Lord abideth for ever.”
And this is the word of good tidings which was preached unto you (1 Peter 1:23-25).

God has always found the imagery of plant life fruitful for comparison with spiritual things. Many of Jesus’ parables feature agricultural images. Since most people are at least somewhat familiar with plants, the value of this imagery is quite understandable.

When Isaiah wanted to encourage the Jewish exiles of the sixth century he turned to the frailty of grass and flowering plants (cf. Isaiah 40:6-8). They grow for a season and look beautiful and impressive for that season– but it does not take long for them to die when exposed to hot winds or freezing cold.

Isaiah compares people and their ideology to those plants. Sure, for the time being, the Babylonians who had conquered the Jews seemed impressive. Babylon was a large city with a great empire. The people boasted of their gods. The Jews were an oddity, believing firmly in their one God even though He had not saved them from Babylon’s hand. It would be very easy for the Jews to “fall in line” and believe just as the rest of the people believed.

But Isaiah knew that the day of the Babylonians would be short. The time of all flesh is short– humans live for a short period of time, in the grand scheme of things, and pass away. Another generation then arises, and it too shall soon pass. The ideologies of men tend to live a bit longer than an individual generation, but they also pass. The one constant, Isaiah notes, is the word of the LORD.

Peter writes to encourage his fellow Christians six hundred years after the height of Babylonian power. Rome is the new Babylon. Their empire was even more impressive than the Babylonian empire. Their military might was unequaled. The Emperor was hailed as a god, and even if the traditional gods of the Greeks and Romans were doubted, pretty much everyone else fell down before the Power of Rome. The Christians were very much the odd ones since they claimed that it was really Jesus who was Lord, not Caesar, even though Jesus was crucified in the days of Tiberius. As before, it would be very easy to “fall in line” and accede to Roman power.

Yet Peter wants to remind the Christians of the same lesson that Isaiah did: the word of the LORD, now enshrined in the message of the Gospel of the Kingdom, endures forever.

We now live almost two thousand years after Peter wrote those words. Even in the days of Peter, Babylon was a ruin. Its glories would only be re-discovered in the nineteenth century by archaeologists looking to better understand the “word of the LORD” found in the Old Testament of those very Jews whom the Babylonians mocked. Within three hundred years of Peter’s letter, Christianity was made the official religion of the Roman Empire, and the Emperors who used to claim divinity for themselves now called Jesus of Nazareth Lord, at least in name. Today the Roman Empire is as distant of a memory as the Babylonian Empire, and their ideologies have been relegated to the interest of historians. And yet the word of the LORD, the Gospel of the Kingdom, is still preached throughout the world.

As assuredly as Babylon and the Babylonians rose and fell, and Rome and the Romans rose and fell, so too will America and Americans. The ideologies of modern society will have their day in the sun and then they too will pass away!

We would do well to heed the warning of Isaiah, Peter, and also John (cf. 1 John 2:15-17). It is very easy to trust in what contemporary society calls “common sense” and “the way things are,” just as it was easy to trust in those things 2600 and 2000 years ago. But, as John says, the world and its lusts are passing away. Only the word of the LORD will remain.

If we believe in Jesus Christ and seek to imitate Him and keep His commandments (1 John 2:3-6), we will demonstrate that we have been born again of that incorruptible or imperishable seed. Our minds, hearts, and actions will be conformed to how God would have us think, feel, and act, as was manifest in His Son (John 1:18, Romans 8:29). That way of living will not change with the winds of culture. If it is truly based in the imperishable seed, it will always endure.

But we must watch out for the corruptible or perishable seed of the world. It is easy for the “weeds” to take root and dominate in life (cf. Matthew 13:24-30). It is easy to allow worldly mindsets, attitudes, and actions to take over, either boldly in denying that which is divine, or more subtly by attempting to appear pious and holy. But its end will not be the fruit of the Spirit or anything conforming to Christ, but instead will at some point show its true worldliness (cf. 1 John 4:5-6). It will have to be cast away, either by this generation or a future one, for it cannot last!

Jesus says that we will be known by our fruits (Matthew 7:16-20). You do not get the imperishable plant from the perishable seed, nor do you get the perishable plant from the imperishable seed. If we think, feel, and act according to the ways of the world, we will pass away along with the world. But if we think, feel, and act according to the enduring, living, and abiding word of God, manifesting the Gospel of Christ in word and deed, we will obtain eternity (John 3:16). Let us cling to the incorruptible seed and reflect Christ to the perishing world!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Incorruptible Seed

The Author of Life and the Murderer

“But ye denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted unto you, and killed the Prince of life; whom God raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses” (Acts 3:14-15).

The irony of it all was not lost on Peter.

Jesus of Nazareth did good for people– He healed the sick, cast out demons, raised the dead, and taught excellent standards of living (Matthew 9:35, Luke 6:27-36, Acts 10:38).

Barabbas was a robber, an insurrectionist, and a murderer (Mark 15:7, John 18:40). He was in prison.

Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God, the Author of life, the Word made flesh (Acts 3:14, John 1:1-3, 14).

Barabbas took life.

Jesus of Nazareth upheld the right of authority while maintaining in Himself even greater power (Matthew 22:21, John 19:12, Matthew 7:29, 8:27, 9:6, Mark 1:27).

Barabbas worked hard to undermine Roman authority and wanted nothing more than to get Rome out of Jerusalem.

Jesus was not of this world (John 1:1-14).

Barabbas most certainly was of this world.

And yet, in the end, Barabbas goes free, and Jesus dies on the cross (cf. Matthew 27, etc.).

The Jews, in their ignorance and the hardness of their hearts, demanded that Pilate hand over to them a murderer while they handed over the Author of life to be killed. One can only imagine how this line fell upon Peter’s audience– the very people who had demanded His crucifixion– and the strong impact it would have made upon those who believed it. The sudden weight of the horror of the actions they themselves had perpetrated would have suddenly fallen upon them. The terror! The horror!

But this was how God fulfilled His plan (cf. Acts 3:18)– and it was accomplished with subtle and profound irony.

Nevertheless, we should not be hard on Barabbas. After all, what Jesus did for him physically, Jesus has done for all of us spiritually. Barabbas deserved death for his deeds, but found himself released while Jesus bore the cross intended for him and died upon it. All of us deserve spiritual death and condemnation for the sins we have all committed (Romans 3:23, 6:23), but He bore the cross and the penalty of our sin so that we could be redeemed and have eternal life (Romans 5:1-11, 2 Corinthians 5:21, Ephesians 2:1-18)!

We may not have sinned as grievously as Barabbas did, but Jesus endured the penalty of all such sin nonetheless. Let us praise God for His plan of salvation and the willingness to sacrifice His Son for our redemption, and serve Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Author of Life and the Murderer

It Is Written…

And Jesus answered unto him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone’…”
And Jesus answered and said unto him, “It is written, ‘Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve’…”
And Jesus answering said unto him, “It is said, ‘Thou shalt not make trial of the Lord thy God'” (Luke 4:4, 8, 12).

As Jesus submits to the temptations of the Devil in the wilderness, it is interesting to note the way that Jesus responds to each temptation. With each temptation, He responds with “it is written,” quoting Old Testament Scripture.

As the Incarnate Word (John 1:1, 14), Jesus has no such obligation to do so. He has the authority to say “no” to the Evil One on His own merit (cf. Matthew 7:29). Nevertheless, He responds by appealing to a standard beyond Himself– the revealed Word.

This is not the only time that Jesus makes reference to the Scriptures. In fact, He constantly appeals to the Scriptures when defending Himself against His critics (cf. Matthew 12:1-8, Matthew 19:3-6, Matthew 21:12-13, etc.). By appealing to the revealed Word, Jesus legitimates it and provides an example for us.

Almost twenty centuries have passed since Jesus, the Incarnate Word, walked the earth. The only place that we can find testimony regarding Jesus the Incarnate Word is within the written revealed Word, since all witnesses and apostles have now passed on (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:8-10, John 21:23). Therefore, the written revealed Word– the Scriptures as found in the Bible– are quite important for us! We learn about the life, death, resurrection, and lordship of the Incarnate Word within the Scriptures. We learn how to serve the risen Lord and live like the Incarnate Word through the message of Scripture (1 John 2:1-6). The Scriptures, as the written revealed Word, point to and help us understand the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, so that we may believe in Him and have life in His name (John 20:31).

The Scriptures are said to equip the man of God for every good work, appropriate for encouragement, exhortation, rebuke, correction, and instruction in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16-17). It is evident, therefore, that we must know what the Scriptures teach if we are going to be able to believe in Jesus and to do His will (2 Timothy 2:15)!

Therefore, just as Jesus was prepared with an answer from Scripture for every temptation of the Devil, so must we prepare answers from Scripture for every argument and temptation that comes against us (2 Corinthians 10:5, 1 Peter 3:15). We must understand that just as Satan attempted to quote Scripture to Jesus and distort its purpose, many times people will also quote Scripture and distort its purpose. And, just as Jesus did, we must demonstrate with Scripture what is true, understanding all things within the sum of God’s truth (Psalm 119:160).

Jesus understood what was written in Scripture and was not afraid to quote it or live it. Let us be the same!

Ethan R. Longhenry

It Is Written…