For His Glory

This is the third lesson in a series on the mission of God. I started previously with a series of thoughts initially on the image of God filling the earth and then wrote the lesson itself over on the Search Party site.

From there, we moved on to underline the idea that God’s mission should fill the whole earth. That means that God’s redemption is available to everyone. God wants everyone to return to him, to be with him as he originally intended.

Now, we want to ask and answer the next questions such as, “Why is God doing this? Why is he going to all of this trouble?”

Created to Glorify God

Let’s start with a scripture in the book of Isaiah:

Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth — everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made. ”

Isaiah 43:5-7

Through Isaiah, God is saying that his people will come from the ends of the earth back to him. Those people whom God made and that called by name, he is now calling all of them back to himself.

But God says something interesting in the midst of calling the people back. He gives the reason WHY he created them. He says that he created them for his glory.

As God’s people, created in the image of God, we are created for a purpose. That purpose is to give God glory.

Killed to Glorify God

Now we move forward in the book of John to see if this is also Jesus’s perspective. Does he also believe that his purpose is to give glory to God?

At the end of Jesus’s life, he begins to teach and prepare his disciples for his death. As he speaks about his death, he admits that carrying out this mission even is difficult for him, but he wants to bring glory to the Father:

“Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!

John 12:27-28

Jesus’s overriding concern is that God would be glorified. Even if he is troubled; Even if it means difficulty or pain for him; Even if it means that he would lose his life, the most important thing is that God would be glorified. This is the overriding purpose for God’s people: To give glory to God.

What about me?

So let’s apply this to each of us. What does this have to do with me? If I believe in Jesus and am one of God’s people, what is my purpose?

As you probably have guessed by now, we must also live our lives to bring glory to God. Take a look at what apostle Paul said in the book of Romans:

For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written: “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing the praises of your name.”

Romans 15:8-9

In this passage, we see that there are two purposes for Jesus to become a servant of the Jews. Paul says that he did it so that the promises that God made would be fulfilled and that the Gentiles would glorify God. In this case, God’s credibility is upheld in that his promises are fulfilled. However, we see again the purpose of the people: that they give glory to God!

This, therefore, is also our purpose. We have been made to give glory to God. But how? How do we give glory to God?

We don’t need to look any farther than the way that God’s story finishes. God brings all of the nations back to himself exactly as we saw in the prophecy above from Isaiah. God said that all people, including both the Jews and the Gentiles, would come to him to give glory to him.

And that is exactly what happens:

And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. And they sang a new song, saying:

“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.

You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth.”

Revelation 5:8-10

Believing in Jesus and following him is not just about avoiding Hell. Instead, following Jesus is all about bringing glory to God. We bring glory to him when we join God in his plan and his mission to bring people from the ends of the earth to worship him.

To believe in Jesus and follow him is a first step, but there are many other steps to follow to be his disciple and follow him, all for the purpose of bringing God glory!

Study Questions

We actually ended up doing the study a little bit differently than what I wrote above. Instead of going through each of the scriptures, we actually worked through the concept in a different way this time. Here were the steps we went through:

Part 1

What do you thank God for this week?

What do you need prayer for this week?

How did you obey God from our last meeting?

Part 2

What does the word “glory” mean? What does it mean to give God glory?

Read Isaiah 43:5-7.

What is this scripture talking about? How would you summarize it?

This is what we were made for: To give God glory!

Cat vs. Dog Metaphor

Who considers themselves to be a cat person? A dog person?

How does a cat think? A cat thinks, “You pet me, you feed me, you love me.  I must be God.”

But a dog thinks differently. The dog thinks, “You pet me, you feed me, you love me.  You must be God.”

Is the point of the story of the Bible about you, or about God? Try these statments:

StatementCatDog
Jesus left the Father’s glory for…MeThe glory of the Father
He suffered for…MeThe glory of the Father
He died for…MeThe glory of the Father
He’s gone back to heaven to build a mansion for…MeThe glory of the Father
He’s interceding for…MeThe glory of the Father
He lives for…MeThe glory of the Father

Part 3

So if we understand and believe that the point of our lives is to give glory to God, and then if we understand that we also can have a tendency to make the story about God instead of me, what should we change? For example, here are a few questions we might ask ourselves:

  • How should my prayer life change if I live to give glory to God?
  • How should I spend my time if I live to give glory to God?
  • How should I spend my money if I live to give glory to God?

Does God accomplish his plan? Read Revelation 5:8-10.

Who is there around God’s throne?

What can I do this week to join God’s plan and give him glory?

Who can I share this lesson with this week?

Reference

I’ve worked through the Perspectives class several times and have heard Bob Sjogren share on this topic several times. He has been a great influence to me regarding this subject. I recommend checking out this whole video to hear Bob teach this subject. You will see that a portion of what Bob teaches has been included in this lesson.

Among All Nations

Last week, we started a new study on the mission of God, considering how God originally made man in his own image and commanded them to spread out across the face of the earth. We contrasted this with the Great Commission in Matthew 28 and asked the question: Has God’s mission changed? What do we see to be similar or the same between this initial command to multiply and fill the earth and that of Jesus to make disciples among all nations?

You can go back and read that post using the link above, but in summary, we found these two ideas to almost be exactly the same. This means that God is on the same mission today that he has been on since the beginning!

This week, we continued with our study of God’s mission, working to understand more about with whom, or among whom, God is working to accomplish his mission. To do this, we borrowed a component of a study from Frontiers called Embark and looked at 9 different scriptures, moving from the beginning of the Bible to the end to understand how God’s plan has remained the same regarding who he intends to reach and bring to himself.

As in the last lesson, we’ve also included the questions from the study. Feel free to skip ahead to the full list of Study Questions from the meeting.

As we read these scriptures, we asked a simple question: What do these scriptures teach us about God and his plan for the world? Let’s walk through them one at a time.

The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you;
I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you. ”

Genesis 12:1-3

In this first scripture in the book of Genesis, we can see that, from the beginning, God chooses this man Abraham to give a blessing. But that blessing also comes with a promise that others will be blessed through him. So we can see that God intends to use people to bless others on his behalf. Even more than that, we can see that God intends to bless ALL people on the earth through Abraham. Through this one man, the blessing of God will arrive upon everyone!

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Get up early in the morning, confront Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me, or this time I will send the full force of my plagues against you and against your officials and your people, so you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth. For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth. But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.

exodus 9:13-16

Now we skip forward to the story of Moses. He is now confronting Pharaoh telling him that God says that he must let his people go out of Egypt. God’s desire is that his people will worship him, and to do this, they must leave Egypt. Moses is commanded to give a warning to Pharaoh that he should either let the people go or face a punishing plague such that he couldn’t even imagine, even wiping them from the face of the earth.

God also says that Moses should tell Pharaoh that he has put him in this position to show his power and that his name would be proclaimed in the earth, something that many people continue to even do today as we talk about this story.

He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.

He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”

Psalm 46:9-10

David writes this Psalm talking about the power and strength of God while also worshiping him as a God who brings peace among the people. For this, David says that God calls us to be still and know that he is God, that he and his ways will be lifted up. He will be worshiped and exalted among all of the nations on the earth.

And now the LORD says—
he who formed me in the womb to be his servant
to bring Jacob back to him
and gather Israel to himself,
for I am honored in the eyes of the LORD
and my God has been my strength —
he says:

“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
to restore the tribes of Jacob
and bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

Isaiah 49:5-6

The prophet Isaiah points forward to Jesus, talking about how he will restore the tribes of Israel (Jacob) once again bringing them back to himself. But Isaiah also explains that, for God, this isn’t enough. He will also make him a light for the Gentiles. In other words, all other people as well, not just the Jewish people. The Jewish people had been God’s chosen people with their heritage line coming down from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and God had promised blessing for Abraham, but the blessing wouldn’t only be for Abraham. This blessing would come to all people. Now, Isaiah is pointing forward to Jesus to show how, from the Jews, the blessing of God would come upon all of the other people on the earth as well!

My name will be great among the nations, from where the sun rises to where it sets. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to me, because my name will be great among the nations,” says the LORD Almighty.

malachi 1:11

Once again, the prophet Malachi confirms God’s plan. He will be the last of the prophets and he reminds the people that God’s name will be great among the nations. This is one of the final messages before God goes silent for 400 years without more word from him to the Jewish people until Jesus arrives on the scene.

Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”

luke 2:27-32

Now we move into the story of Jesus. He has just been born within the last few days and has been taken into the temple for consecration and circumcision before the Lord. A man named Simeon takes Jesus in his arms and prophetically proclaims God’s plan for Jesus in front of everyone. He says that Jesus is God’s salvation for all nations and a light for the Gentiles. He even says that this child is the glory of the Israelites. Why would that be? Because Jesus is a Jew and comes from the Jewish people, just as we understood that he would as we learned about God’s blessing of Abraham above!

He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.

luke 24:46-48

At this point, Jesus has died on the cross and has been resurrected from the dead. He now appears to his disciples and explains to them what has happened. He says that the reason for his suffering and death, and for his resurrection on the third day is that forgiveness of sins is to be preached to all nations. It is now possible for all people to come to God because Jesus paid for the sins for all of them. This starts in Jerusalem, but extends to all people!

Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.”

Galatians 3:8

The Apostle Paul, writing a letter to the churches in Galatia, explains that they don’t need to follow the law of the Jews as the Judaizers have told them that they must do. Instead, he says that it is through faith that the Gentiles would be saved. God would make the Gentiles right with him (justify them) through their faith in Jesus. Paul says that this has been God’s plan since the time of Abraham right up to the present day.

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”

revelation 7:9-10

Finally, we reach the end of the story. All of the nations with their individual tribes and languages are gathered around the throne of God. God, in his varying persons, is being worshipped by all of the nations for having been saved by his great love and sacrifice.

Answering the Questions

So we have gone through each of the scriptures above, but now let’s answer a couple of questions that we also posed to the folks in our studies this week:

What does this teach us about God and his plan for the world?

In summary across each of the scriptures above, I think it is fair to say that God has been working out a plan to bring blessing to all people everywhere. He started this process through Abraham and continued to work out his plan until it was finished at the end.

But what does this word “blessing” mean? Is God talking about financial riches? Great relationships? Power? No, this is not it. In fact, we often see that the people who have been blessed by God experience the opposite. They may experience suffering, persecution, and many trials.

Instead, I think that we see a significant part of the answer to this question in the final verse from above. It said, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” God brings salvation to all people. He saves them all. Not just the Jews, his originally chosen people. Not just certain people. But all that will place their faith in Jesus and his sacrifice for their sins.

I said that this, the salvation that God has given, is a “significant part of the answer” because, while this is the greatest component, we do experience great joy as we see God carrying out his plan, both in us and through us for the benefit also of other people.

What does this mean for me? What does this teach me about my part in god’s plan?

As God is carrying out his plan to redeem all nations across the world, to bring salvation to everyone, we see that God uses his people to complete the task. So I need to understand where I stand in joining God within his plan. He is bringing salvation to all nations. Am I willing to go to my neighbor who is from another country to get to know him and share this word of salvation with him? Beyond being willing when God calls me, will I actually do it? If God brings someone to mind, will I meet them and share with them, committing to working to making them a disciple of Jesus Christ?

Study Questions

Here are the questions that we used in our training studies this week:

Part 1

What do you give thanks to God for from this last week?

What do you need prayer for in this week?

How have you obeyed God in this last week?

Who did you share with last week?

Part 2

Read this list of scriptures:

  • Genesis 12:1–3
  • Exodus 9:13–16
  • Psalm 46:9–10
  • Isaiah 49:5–6
  • Malachi 1:11
  • Luke 2:27–32
  • Luke 24:46–48
  • Galatians 3:8
  • Revelation 7:9–10

What do these scriptures teach us about God and his plan for the world?

What does this teach me about my part in God’s plan?

Part 3

What change does this make in us? What do you want to do in response?

Who can you share this with this week?

The Image of God Should Fill the Earth

Back in 2009, shortly after taking a new job and moving our family from St. Louis to Denver, I started to wonder whether or not we should have moved to China to help run an orphanage that we had become familiar with in 2006, around the time that we had adopted our daughter Ellie, also from China. These two locations, where Ellie was from and where this orphanage was located, were unrelated, but it certainly seemed to be interesting timing.

We met some new friends in Denver and explained a little bit of this story and they told us that we should really consider taking the Perspectives course to help us begin to consider what God may want to do in our lives. That started a journey, driving back and forth from Denver to Colorado Springs each Sunday evening, to ultimately bring us here to Catania where we live and work now.

The Perspectives class starts with a Biblical background, taking 5 weeks to establish a Biblical perspective for God on a mission and why, Biblically speaking, we should, as Christians, be part of this mission that God has been working to unfold since the beginning of time. Here is an outline of the Biblical section from the Perspectives course site:

#1. The Living God is a Missionary God
God’s purpose is three-fold: against evil—kingdom victory; for the nations—redemption and blessing; and for God—global glory in worship. God’s purpose revealed in promise to Abraham. Exploring God’s purpose for the nations: Blessing to the nations described.

#2. The Story of His Glory
Exploring God’s purpose for Himself: How God has been steadily unfolding a plan throughout all nations and generations to bring about His greater glory, ultimately drawing to Himself the worship of all the peoples. Passion and prayer for God’s glory.

#3. Your Kingdom Come
Exploring God’s purpose regarding evil: How God has accomplished a defeat of evil powers in order to open a season of history in which the nations can freely follow Christ. The kingdom of God as the destiny of all history. Christ’s mission seeks a hindering of evil to bring about a sign of the coming peace of the kingdom of God. Our prayers contend with evil in order to bring about the transformation of society with Christ’s kingdom in view.

#4. Mandate for the Nations
Jesus shows great strategic interest in Gentiles; wise strategic focus by initiating a global mission on a few disciples among the Hebrew people. The Great Commission and the ways of God’s sending in relational power. Dealing with the ideas of pluralism (all religions the same) and universalism (all persons saved).

#5. Unleashing the Gospel
The first followers of Jesus: obedient in costly, foundational ways. The climactic act of the book of Acts is the freeing of the gospel to be followed by Gentiles without Jewish traditions as a requirement. A foundational act of God which speaks to the situations where the gospel is hindered today. Strategic suffering and apostolic passion.

https://perspectives.org/About#/HTML/lesson_summaries.htm

Biblical Vision for God’s Mission in Italy

As a team, Search Party partners with local partners to see movements catalyzed amongst unreached people groups. We have developed training materials and even a full, field-based training course for missional workers who desire to work among the unreached here in Italy, but in talking together, we realized that we should consider going further in the development of training materials specifically for Italians who could, just as easily as us, reach out to the unreached who have come from the 10/40 window to live in Italy.

Also, aside from the fact that the nations are here, and despite the fact that Italy could generally considered to be one of the more “reached” countries in the world given its Catholic history, there is as much if not more need than ever for missional thinking and work here in Italy by the Italians. The nations are on their doorstep who could be reached by Italian believers. Their fellow countrymen need the Gospel as well as the country continues to decline into pure secularism. And beyond all of this, it is important that the Italians participate in reaching the “ends of the earth” by sending workers, something that many have admitted to me that they have not participated in.

Going back to Genesis

So this leads me to the question… what to do? I’m sure that there could, and should, be a much larger answer to this question, but for now, we happen to be at the doorstep of multiple new connections with Italians here in Catania that we are working to mobilize in new ways. To do this, we’ve wondered what we should do, and discussing it with one of my teammates last night, it seemed that going to the mission of God is probably the right first step.

The mission of God starts directly in the first chapter of Genesis. God creates Adam and Eve and gives them a command. Here is that part of the story:

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground. ”

Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food. ” And it was so.

Genesis 1:26-30

So where do we see the mission of God in this passage? There are at least a couple of important things for us to point out here:

First, we see that God creates mankind in his own image. What does that mean? An image is a representation of the actual object. For example, if I take a picture of the piano that I am sitting next to now, I have created a representation of the piano. It isn’t the piano itself, but that photo represents the piano, allowing me to easily show the piano in a picture to other people.

In a similar way, God makes man and woman in his image. We are made as a representation of God. We are not God, but we are made to represent him as his own image, here on the earth. We can see that God gives his image to both the man and the woman. They are both made in the image of God, made to represent him.

There is a nice video from the Bible Project which explains this concept further:

The second thing that we can see here is that God commands Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth. In other words, make babies! A lot of them! 🙂

God wants his image to propagate across the face of the earth. His image should be everywhere. Those that bear the image of God should fill the earth, and even represent God by subduing the earth, ruling over everything in the sea, in the air, and on the land. Of course, there is a responsibility for the earth that is implied here, but the more important point is that God wants his image to be spread everywhere.

God’s Mission

So we can see God’s mission spelled out from the very beginning. He wants his image to fill the earth. He wants men and women, those who carry his image and his name to go throughout the earth. This is the mission, and it is the same mission that is repeated over and over throughout the scriptures. We’ll later see this with Noah, with Abraham, with the people of Israel, and even with Jesus.

The Great Commission is essentially announced right here, immediately in the very first chapter of the book of Genesis. What did Jesus say as he sent his disciples on the Great Commission?

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20

God tells his disciples that they are to make more disciples, who will in turn also be obedient to the commands of Jesus and make disciples themselves. They are supposed to make more people who would bear the image of Jesus, doing the things that he commanded them to do.

Jesus returns back to the original plan, to the original mission that God gave to Adam and Eve, announcing it again for his disciples. This is the same plan and mission that he expects all followers of Jesus to continue and carry with us today.

Verses in the Quran about Jesus

Having many Muslim friends, I have found that many say that they know that the Quran speaks about Jesus, but most of them have never read the Quran. Over at the North American Mission Board, I found a list of verses about Jesus, although I was looking for a specific translation, so I went through each of the references and then pulled them from the Clear Quran translation into English by Dr. Mustafa Khattab. Here goes:

Indeed, We gave Moses the Book and sent after him successive messengers. And We gave Jesus, son of Mary, clear proofs and supported him with the holy spirit. Why is it that every time a messenger comes to you ˹Israelites˺ with something you do not like, you become arrogant, rejecting some and killing others?

2:87

Say, ˹O believers,˺ “We believe in Allah and what has been revealed to us; and what was revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and his descendants; and what was given to Moses, Jesus, and other prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them. And to Allah we all submit.”

2:136

We have chosen some of those messengers above others. Allah spoke directly to some, and raised some high in rank. To Jesus, son of Mary, We gave clear proofs and supported him with the holy spirit. If Allah had willed, succeeding generations would not have fought ˹among themselves˺ after receiving the clear proofs. But they differed—some believed while others disbelieved. Yet if Allah had willed, they would not have fought one another. But Allah does what He wills.

2:253

˹Remember˺ when the angels proclaimed, “O Mary! Allah gives you good news of a Word from Him, his name will be the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary; honoured in this world and the Hereafter, and he will be one of those nearest ˹to Allah˺.

3:45

And he will speak to people in ˹his˺ infancy and adulthood and will be one of the righteous.”

3:46

And Allah will teach him writing and wisdom, the Torah and the Gospel,

3:48

and ˹make him˺ a messenger to the Children of Israel ˹to proclaim,˺ ‘I have come to you with a sign from your Lord: I will make for you a bird from clay, breathe into it, and it will become a ˹real˺ bird—by Allah’s Will. I will heal the blind and the leper and raise the dead to life—by Allah’s Will. And I will prophesize what you eat and store in your houses. Surely in this is a sign for you if you ˹truly˺ believe.

3:49

And I will confirm the Torah revealed before me and legalize some of what had been forbidden to you. I have come to you with a sign from your Lord, so be mindful of Allah and obey me.

3:50

When Jesus sensed disbelief from his people, he asked, “Who will stand up with me for Allah?” The disciples replied, “We will stand up for Allah. We believe in Allah, so bear witness that we have submitted.”

3:52

˹Remember˺ when Allah said, “O Jesus! I will take you and raise you up to Myself. I will deliver you from those who disbelieve, and elevate your followers above the disbelievers until the Day of Judgment. Then to Me you will ˹all˺ return, and I will settle all your disputes.

3:55

Indeed, the example of Jesus in the sight of Allah is like that of Adam. He created him from dust, then said to him, “Be!” And he was!

3:59

Say, ˹O Prophet,˺ “We believe in Allah and what has been revealed to us and what was revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and his descendants; and what was given to Moses, Jesus, and other prophets from their Lord—we make no distinction between any of them, and to Him we ˹fully˺ submit.”

3:84

and for boasting, “We killed the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, the messenger of Allah.” But they neither killed nor crucified him—it was only made to appear so. Even those who argue for this ˹crucifixion˺ are in doubt. They have no knowledge whatsoever—only making assumptions. They certainly did not kill him.

4:157

Indeed, We have sent revelation to you ˹O Prophet˺ as We sent revelation to Noah and the prophets after him. We also sent revelation to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and his descendants, ˹as well as˺ Jesus, Job, Jonah, Aaron, and Solomon. And to David We gave the Psalms.

4:163

O People of the Book! Do not go to extremes regarding your faith; say nothing about Allah except the truth. The Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, was no more than a messenger of Allah and the fulfilment of His Word through Mary and a spirit ˹created by a command˺ from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers and do not say, “Trinity.” Stop!—for your own good. Allah is only One God. Glory be to Him! He is far above having a son! To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth. And Allah is sufficient as a Trustee of Affairs.

4:171

The Messiah would never be too proud to be a servant of Allah, nor would the angels nearest to Allah. Those who are too proud and arrogant to worship Him will be brought before Him all together.

4:172

Indeed, those who say, “Allah is the Messiah, son of Mary,” have fallen into disbelief. Say, ˹O Prophet,˺ “Who has the power to prevent Allah if He chose to destroy the Messiah, son of Mary, his mother, and everyone in the world all together?” To Allah ˹alone˺ belongs the kingdom of the heavens and the earth and everything in between. He creates whatever He wills. And Allah is Most Capable of everything.

5:17

Then in the footsteps of the prophets, We sent Jesus, son of Mary, confirming the Torah revealed before him. And We gave him the Gospel containing guidance and light and confirming what was revealed in the Torah—a guide and a lesson to the God-fearing.

5:46

Those who say, “Allah is the Messiah, son of Mary,” have certainly fallen into disbelief. The Messiah ˹himself˺ said, “O Children of Israel! Worship Allah—my Lord and your Lord.” Whoever associates others with Allah ˹in worship˺ will surely be forbidden Paradise by Allah. Their home will be the Fire. And the wrongdoers will have no helpers.

5:72

The Messiah, son of Mary, was no more than a messenger. ˹Many˺ messengers had ˹come and˺ gone before him. His mother was a woman of truth. They both ate food.1 See how We make the signs clear to them, yet see how they are deluded ˹from the truth˺!

5:75

The disbelievers among the Children of Israel were condemned in the revelations of David and Jesus, son of Mary. That was for their disobedience and violations.

5:78

And ˹on Judgment Day˺ Allah will say, “O Jesus, son of Mary! Remember My favour upon you and your mother: how I supported you with the holy spirit so you spoke to people in ˹your˺ infancy and adulthood. How I taught you writing, wisdom, the Torah, and the Gospel. How you moulded a bird from clay—by My Will—and breathed into it and it became a ˹real˺ bird—by My Will. How you healed the blind and the lepers—by My Will. How you brought the dead to life—by My Will. How I prevented the Children of Israel from harming you when you came to them with clear proofs and the disbelievers among them said, “This is nothing but pure magic.”

5:110

˹Remember˺ when the disciples asked, “O Jesus, son of Mary! Would your Lord be willing to send down to us a table spread with food from heaven?” Jesus answered, “Fear Allah if you are ˹truly˺ believers.”

5:112

Jesus, son of Mary, prayed, “O Allah, our Lord! Send us from heaven a table spread with food as a feast for us—the first and last of us—and as a sign from You. Provide for us! You are indeed the Best Provider.”

5:114

And ˹on Judgment Day˺ Allah will say, “O Jesus, son of Mary! Did you ever ask the people to worship you and your mother as gods besides Allah?” He will answer, “Glory be to You! How could I ever say what I had no right to say? If I had said such a thing, you would have certainly known it. You know what is ˹hidden˺ within me, but I do not know what is within You. Indeed, You ˹alone˺ are the Knower of all unseen.

5:116

Likewise, ˹We guided˺ Zachariah, John, Jesus, and Elias, who were all of the righteous.

6:85

The Jews say, “Ezra is the son of Allah,” while the Christians say, “The Messiah is the son of Allah.” Such are their baseless assertions, only parroting the words of earlier disbelievers. May Allah condemn them! How can they be deluded ˹from the truth˺?

9:30

They have taken their rabbis and monks as well as the Messiah, son of Mary, as lords besides Allah, even though they were commanded to worship none but One God. There is no god ˹worthy of worship˺ except Him. Glorified is He above what they associate ˹with Him˺!

9:31

He responded, “I am only a messenger from your Lord, ˹sent˺ to bless you with a pure son.”

19:19

She wondered, “How can I have a son when no man has ever touched me, nor am I unchaste?”

19:20

He replied, “So will it be! Your Lord says, ‘It is easy for Me. And so will We make him a sign for humanity and a mercy from Us.’ It is a matter ˹already˺ decreed.”

19:21

So she conceived him and withdrew with him to a remote place.

19:22

Then she returned to her people, carrying him. They said ˹in shock˺, “O Mary! You have certainly done a horrible thing!

19:27

˹Jesus˺ declared, “I am truly a servant of Allah. He has destined me to be given the Scripture and to be a prophet.

19:30

He has made me a blessing wherever I go, and bid me to establish prayer and give alms-tax as long as I live,

19:31

and to be kind to my mother. He has not made me arrogant or defiant.

19:32

Peace be upon me the day I was born, the day I die, and the day I will be raised back to life!”

19:33

That is Jesus, son of Mary. ˹And this is˺ a word of truth, about which they dispute.

19:34

They say, “The Most Compassionate has offspring.”

19:88

in protest of attributing children to the Most Compassionate.

19:91

It does not befit ˹the majesty of˺ the Most Compassionate to have children.

19:92

And ˹remember˺ the one who guarded her chastity, so We breathed into her through Our angel, ˹Gabriel,˺ making her and her son a sign for all peoples.

21:91

And We made the son of Mary and his mother a sign, and gave them refuge on high ground—a ˹suitable˺ place for rest with flowing water.

23:50

And ˹remember˺ when We took a covenant from the prophets, as well as from you ˹O Prophet˺, and from Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, son of Mary. We did take a solemn covenant from ˹all of˺ them

33:7

He has ordained for you ˹believers˺ the Way which He decreed for Noah, and what We have revealed to you ˹O Prophet˺ and what We decreed for Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, ˹commanding:˺ “Uphold the faith, and make no divisions in it.” What you call the polytheists to is unbearable for them. Allah chooses for Himself whoever He wills, and guides to Himself whoever turns ˹to Him˺.

42:13

When the son of Mary was cited as an example ˹in argument˺, your people ˹O Prophet˺ broke into ˹joyful˺ applause.

43:57

And his ˹second˺ coming is truly a sign for the Hour. So have no doubt about it, and follow me. This is the Straight Path.

43:61

When Jesus came with clear proofs, he declared, “I have come to you with wisdom, and to clarify to you some of what you differ about. So fear Allah, and obey me.

43:63

Then in the footsteps of these ˹prophets˺, We sent Our messengers, and ˹after them˺ We sent Jesus, son of Mary, and granted him the Gospel, and instilled compassion and mercy into the hearts of his followers. As for monasticism, they made it up—We never ordained it for them—only seeking to please Allah, yet they did not ˹even˺ observe it strictly. So We rewarded those of them who were faithful. But most of them are rebellious.

57:27

And ˹remember˺ when Jesus, son of Mary, said, “O children of Israel! I am truly Allah’s messenger to you, confirming the Torah which came before me, and giving good news of a messenger after me whose name will be Aḥmad.” Yet when the Prophet came to them with clear proofs, they said, “This is pure magic.”

61:6

O believers! Stand up for Allah, as Jesus, son of Mary, asked the disciples, “Who will stand up with me for Allah?” The disciples replied, “We will stand up for Allah.” Then a group from the Children of Israel believed while another disbelieved. We then supported the believers against their enemies, so they prevailed.

61:14

Sabbath Rest

Where we are here in Catania, we have taken particular notice that the churches that we are connected with don’t celebrate, or really barely even mention various religious holidays. For example, neither Christmas nor Easter, days that in America, we in the church would consider to be fairly important for remembering the birth of Jesus or the resurrection of Jesus, is essentially not discussed or recognized.

I think that there are a couple of reasons for this. First and foremost, it seems that this attitude and practice rejecting special days is a reaction against the Catholic church. The Catholic church has regular special days, even going so far as to have each day be connected to a particular saint, providing a potential special day for each day of the year. Unfortunately, this can stand in the way of spiritual practice and connection with God because the religious practice can focus on the celebrating of the day instead of the connection with God and a focus on the rebirth by the Holy Spirit through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

I think the second reason is actually a scriptural reason and is connected with both the first point above and to the scripture. We see that Paul points out a similar practice with his new converts and churches, teaching them not to simply go along with the Jewish practices because the Judaizers have told them that they need to follow the Jewish practices to be saved:

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God—or rather are known by God —how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.

Galatians 4:8-11

So it seems clear that celebrating special days as part of a religious practice in an effort to curry favor with God by following to celebrate those days should have nothing to do with our relationship with God.

Exceptions to the rule?

And yet, it still seems that there are points at which we should consider a little bit further. Does this idea of no celebrating special days mean that we shouldn’t observe or recognize what God has done in the past and the reasons for which he was doing those things? Does it mean that we should reject the things of the past and that the law given by God to the Jews in the past should not have any bearing on how we should live at all?

I’m thinking not… Let me give an example.

In Genesis 2, in the time of creation, God creates the heavens and the earth and all of the universe within 6 days, and then on the seventh day, he rests.

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

Genesis 2:2

God makes this seventh day, the day that he rested. It is a day that is blessed and he called it holy.

In this case, we see that the day is blessed, but the more important part is why. It is a time to rest following the work of the creation. God gives an example of what he wants his people to do. However, more than physical rest, God shows a connection between rest and holiness, something that I’ll try to dig into further in a moment.

Connection to Ramadan

This week is the second week of Ramadan in 2021. In talking with my Muslim friends, I frequently ask them what Ramadan means to them and why they fast. What is the reason? I get many different answers, but this week, a friend explained to me that he wants God to accept him. He wants to fast and pray enough that God will see his sacrifice and be pleased with him.

I asked him how he would know that God will be pleased with him and will accept his offering of fasting and praying. He explained that he didn’t know and couldn’t say whether God would accept his fasting and praying or not. He said that he felt tired, both physically and spiritually, and it was difficult for him to do the fasting during the daylight hours in this month.

As we continued the conversation, I explained that I thought Jesus had something to say about his situation. I think that, instead of God wanting us to do more for him, to pray more, to fast more, or to do more good works for him, he wants to give us rest. Not just physical rest, but spiritual rest.

My friend was baffled by this idea: “Spiritual rest? What are you talking about? How is that possible?” I showed him the words of Jesus from the book of Matthew:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

Jesus talks about giving rest for those who are tired. Those who have been trying so hard to please God by praying, by fasting, by trying to do many good works, and yes, even by closely keeping the Sabbath, Jesus will give them rest. They may have felt like they have a yoke upon their necks and that it is heavy, but Jesus says that their souls will find rest. They don’t have to wonder any longer whether or not God will accept them. They don’t have to carry the weight of sacrifice to make God happy. Instead, they can come to Jesus and be accepted. This rest is a rest for the soul, a spiritual rest that is easy with a light burden.

A Sabbath’s Rest in Jesus

God showed us an example as he rested from his work. He went on to command the Israelites to rest on the seventh day of each week. But all of this was pointing toward the day that Jesus would come to give rest for their souls. Physical rest is good, but it is short-lived. However, spiritual rest can be found in Jesus. As we put our faith in him, we can then have the burdens of our sins removed because of what Jesus has done for us. We no longer need to be weighed down as a result. Instead, we can rest in him.

The writer of the book of Hebrews outlines this idea in chapter 4. Here, he equates the Sabbath to resting in God:

There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.

Hebrews 4:9-11

The Bible Project did a great video on this idea, showing the connection of the Sabbath to the spiritual rest that Jesus offers us. Take a look here:

So now, we can see that God has given us a life where we can be at rest in him. We don’t need to live in anxiety. We don’t need to worry about the next calamity. But instead, we can look to Jesus to enter the rest that he gives us, free from worries or concerns because we are his.

The Scapegoat

In my last post on the Lamb of God, I mentioned a meeting where we spoke about John 1:29. Here is what it says in John:

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

John 1:29

As we were studying, one of the Christian men thought that the Lamb of God was the same as the so-called “scapegoat” that is mentioned in Leviticus 16.

I had heard of the scapegoat before, but I hadn’t ever heard of it from the perspective of Jesus being the Lamb of God, so I thought that it would be important for me to go back to read again in Leviticus to see if there was a way that it could be connected to Jesus being called the Lamb of God.

Here are some of the most important sections of Leviticus 16 for us to look at as we consider the idea of the scapegoat. First, God tells Moses how Aaron, who is the high priest at the time, should enter into the presence of God:

“This is how Aaron is to enter the Most Holy Place: He must first bring a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. He is to put on the sacred linen tunic, with linen undergarments next to his body; he is to tie the linen sash around him and put on the linen turban. These are sacred garments; so he must bathe himself with water before he puts them on. From the Israelite community he is to take two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering.

Leviticus 16:3-5

The important thing that I see here related to the scapegoat is that there are actually two male goats that he takes with him as a sin offering. I think this will become important as we go forward.

Next, we see what Aaron is supposed to do with the two goats:

Then he is to take the two goats and present them before the LORD at the entrance to the tent of meeting. He is to cast lots for the two goats—one lot for the LORD and the other for the scapegoat. Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the LORD and sacrifice it for a sin offering. But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the LORD to be used for making atonement by sending it into the wilderness as a scapegoat.

Leviticus 16:7-10

So we have the scenario that one of the goats is sacrificed and offered to God. Its blood is an offering for sin. On the other hand, we have the scapegoat. This goat is presented alive and is sent into the wilderness.

Finally, we get a sense of the significance of the goat that is sent into the wilderness. God says:

“When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the wilderness in the care of someone appointed for the task. The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a remote place; and the man shall release it in the wilderness.

Leviticus 16:20-22

So the first goat is a sacrifice. We see that God requires that its blood is offered for sin. But then we see that Aaron is also supposed to confess the sins of the people and symbolically pass them onto the goat by placing his hands on the goat’s head. The goat then carries the sins of the people away from them, showing us a picture of forgiveness and God removing the sins of the people away from them to a remote place.

Context

One thing that I think that is important here is to understand the context in which all of these are being given to Moses. There was a point at which Aaron’s sons approached God in the tabernacle in an unworthy, or you might also say unauthorized manner. As a result, both of these sons die and God is giving Moses instructions about how the Israelites should approach God. They must do it in a respectful way, in a way that makes atonement for the sins that the people have committed. God wants to remain with his people, but he can’t do that if the sins of the people are entering the tabernacle, defiling the holiness of God and where his presence lives with his people.

Is Jesus a “Scapegoat”?

This annual sacrifice was a sin offering to cleanse the Israelite community of their sins. It was an offering of blood with the one goat that was killed as a sacrifice and a symbol of what the sacrifice does with the other goat as the sins of the people are passed onto the other goat and sent away into the wilderness.

In one sense, this is an image of what Jesus has done for us. Jesus plays the part of both goats in this day of atonement in that he was killed as a sacrifice and all of the sins of the world are placed upon him. Our sins are taken away and he became the one that does this substitution for us, taking the punishment for us.

On the other hand, I would say that it is also, like many of the symbols and rituals from the Old Testament, a poor picture of the sacrifice and atonement that Jesus gave for us. Why? Because Jesus is the Lamb of God. We shouldn’t forget that God is, himself, coming to save his people. He sacrificed himself for his people. It is a perfect sacrifice. Not just an animal, but God himself. It is the only sacrifice that can take away the sins of the world, once and for all. God gives Jesus as the sacrifice with blood and to cleanse us and to remove our sins once and for all.

The Lamb of God

Yesterday, a few of us met together to continue reading John 1, this time focusing on verses 19 through 34 focusing on John the Baptist and what he said both about himself and about Jesus.

At one point, we read verses 35 and 36 which say:

The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”

So we talked for quite a while about what this means, that John called Jesus the Lamb of God. We were reading the scripture in a few different languages, so our first problem was that we had some translation issues between the languages to understand the meaning of this term, but then we had a few different ideas about what this meant, so I thought it would be useful to follow up this discussion to understand further this idea that Jesus is the lamb.

A lamb as a sacrifice

Looking back into the Old Testament, the lamb was frequently considered an animal that would be used as a sacrifice before God. If we look at the story of Abraham going to sacrifice his son Isaac, we can see that Isaac asks his father a question, directly implicating the use of a lamb for sacrifice:

Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

Genesis 22:7

God called his people to present offerings to him as a sacrifice. There were several different types of sacrifices, including a fellowship offering, a sin offering, a guilt offering, and others.

Regardless of the type of sacrificial offering, we can see that the lamb was frequently an animal that was offered as part of those sacrifices. In fact, each day started and ended for the Levites, those that carried out the sacrifices before God in the tabernacle and in the temple, with a sacrifice of a lamb:

“This is what you are to offer on the altar regularly each day: two lambs a year old. Offer one in the morning and the other at twilight. With the first lamb offer a tenth of an ephah of the finest flour mixed with a quarter of a hin of oil from pressed olives, and a quarter of a hin of wine as a drink offering. Sacrifice the other lamb at twilight with the same grain offering and its drink offering as in the morning—a pleasing aroma, a food offering presented to the LORD.

“For the generations to come this burnt offering is to be made regularly at the entrance to the tent of meeting, before the LORD. There I will meet you and speak to you; there also I will meet with the Israelites, and the place will be consecrated by my glory.

Exodus 29:38-43

The blood of the lamb for protection

We can also see in the scriptures that God uses a lamb, and most specifically it’s blood, for protection of his people.

God commanded Moses to return to Egypt, the land where he had grown up, and return to the palace of Pharaoh to tell him that God says that he must let the Israelites go out from Egypt and be freed from their slavery. Through nine different plagues, God demonstrates his power to Pharaoh and punishes him and the Egyptian people for the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart as he does not allow the Israelites to go free from Egypt.

On the tenth and final time, God unleashes the worst plague with the worst consequences. In the night, God goes throughout Egypt and kills all firstborn males, whether of Pharaoh, of the people, or even among the animals. However, God had commanded Moses to have the Israelites slaughter a lamb and place the blood of the lamb on the doorframes of their houses.

Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs.

Exodus 12:7

By doing this, God would “pass over” their homes and not enter the homes of the Israelites to kill their firstborn sons. In this way, then, the blood of the lamb became a protection for the Israelite people.

“On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.

Exodus 12:12

The blood of the lamb for forgiveness

For the Israelites and the levitical sacrificial system, there were several different types of animals that were used for sacrifice. These included bulls, goats, lambs, and birds, depending on who was sacrificing and for what the sacrifice was being given.

If we look at the establishment of the sacrificial system for the forgiveness of sins in Leviticus 4, we can see that a lamb could be offered by common people for the forgiveness of their sins.

“‘If someone brings a lamb as their sin offering, they are to bring a female without defect. They are to lay their hand on its head and slaughter it for a sin offering at the place where the burnt offering is slaughtered. Then the priest shall take some of the blood of the sin offering with his finger and put it on the horns of the altar of burnt offering and pour out the rest of the blood at the base of the altar. They shall remove all the fat, just as the fat is removed from the lamb of the fellowship offering, and the priest shall burn it on the altar on top of the food offerings presented to the LORD. In this way the priest will make atonement for them for the sin they have committed, and they will be forgiven.

Leviticus 4:32-35

God presents a lamb

So, given all of this background from the Israelite people, I think it is now important to focus on the fact that John says that Jesus is the lamb of God. Up to now, we have seen that people have sacrificed these lambs, presenting them to God for their sacrifices, for their protection, and for forgiveness of their sins.

But now, we see that John says that Jesus is God’s lamb. The people aren’t bringing a lamb to God. God is bringing a lamb to the people! That is a completely different thing to what has happened up to this point. So what is God doing?

We can begin to get a picture of what God is doing by reading from the prophet Isaiah. He talks about a man who would be killed – maybe we could say sacrificed? – for the sins of others.

He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.

Isaiah 53:7

This man’s life is made to be an offering for sin and he is compared to a lamb who is being led before the slaughter. While this man isn’t specifically identified within the prophecy here in Isaiah 53, we can see that it is fulfilled in Jesus.

At the end of his life, Jesus is led by the Jews to the Romans but does not defend himself. He lived a perfect life and was without sin. He was even pronounced innocent by Pilate, his judge, and yet he remains silent when Pilate asks him if the charges that the Jews have brought are true. Jesus is the man described in Isaiah 53 who would be taken like a lamb to the slaughter to be killed as a sacrifice for the sins of the people.

The lamb is worthy

Finally, we see Jesus presented as a wounded lamb through the prophetic revelation that John received and the we read in the book of Revelation. The time of judgment has come and the members of God’s throne room are looking for the one who is worthy and able to open the scrolls that would read out the plans of God’s judgment. The only one that was worthy was the lamb of God.

Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people.

Revelation 5:6-8

Again, we see a picture of a lamb who has been killed, consistent with the picture of the lamb throughout the scriptures and consistent with the prophecy in Isaiah 53.

In this case, though, we see a picture of the lamb as one who is worshipped. He is the lamb of God who has purchased, with his blood, people from every tribe, language, and nation. This means that God has rescued and saved these people from their sins and from a final judgment that would send those that are dead in their sin to a terrible death apart from God.

And they sang a new song, saying:

“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.

You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth.”

Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying:

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!”

Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honor and glory and power,
for ever and ever!”

The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

Revelation 5:9-14

Jesus is the Lamb of God

John the Baptist identified Jesus as the Lamb of God, demonstrating that Jesus would be a sacrifice presented by God to the world. This lamb would be given as a sacrifice for our sins to offer forgiveness for the people for their sins, if only they would believe in him and have faith that his blood and sacrifice will be a sufficient payment for their sins.

Monkey Mind Pong

Neuralink is a company started by Elon Musk. They have been working on making a chip that connects the brain directly to the internet.

I heard Elon Musk on a podcast not too long ago say that he feels that we are already cyborgs as we carry around a smartphone in our hands. He said that the problem is that the interface is too slow because we communicate with two thumbs. He says that even typing with our thumbs is a step down from the ten fingers that we have previously used as we typed on our computers.

Musk has talked about this for the last few years. Think about what he is saying in this video…

So Neuralink has been taking its first steps in the direction of making the mind connect to the computer. Take a look at what this monkey is able to do with its brain.

Jehovah’s Witnesses and Jesus

Where we are, we have found quite a few Jehovah’s Witnesses on the streets of Catania and in the refugee camps. They seem to primarily be trying to go after Nigerian Christians, representing themselves as just another group of people who follow Jesus.

Recently, I met a believer who had fallen prey to them and was meeting with the JW folks online through Zoom. In following discussions, I explained to my friend that the JWs do not see Jesus as divine. They do not believe that he is God that has come to earth. Here is a page on their website that mentions this in particular:

What do Jehovah’s Witnesses believe? – See point 3. Jesus

Here are three brief thoughts that come to mind after considering this perspective:

If Jesus is not God, John 1:1-3 cannot be true as Jesus could not have been there in the beginning, creating the heavens and the earth as the book of John says:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

John 1:1-3

If Jesus is not God, Luke 1:35 cannot be true. Jesus was born of a virgin as a result of the Holy Spirit placing the Son of God within Mary. Jesus is referred to as the “holy one”, a reference that cannot be made unless Jesus is himself God.

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.

Luke 1:35

If Jesus is not God, the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is invalid. God offered a perfect sacrifice in Jesus. Only if Jesus was divine, only if he was God himself, could Jesus be a perfect sacrifice to provide forgiveness for our sins. From Hebrews:

But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

Hebrews 9:11-14

A Relationship Based on the Gospel

I was recently talking with a friend about how I have typically tried to do my work. I was explaining that I had been working with people from an unreached people group and that I typically try to connect with someone personally, but then fairly early in the relationship, share the Gospel with them so that they understand who I am and what I am about. Based on this, the person can have a clearer picture of the nature of the relationship that I am hoping to form.

My friend asked, “But what if sharing the Gospel will drive them away?” It is a good question, and not an easy one to precisely figure out what to do.

I explained that I don’t know that I have the right answer in this, but that I can explain how I typically think about these scenarios. As I share my faith with someone else, I want them to be able to understand who I am and the things that are important to me so that they can either appreciate that about me…or not.

And I am happy to do the same with them. If I can understand who someone is and what they are about, then we can have a relationship “in the open”, if you will. They don’t have to guess what I might want from them, and I don’t have to guess what they want from me. It is clear from the start and we can each then evaluate if that is the type of relationship that we want to have with the other person or not.

As I am working in my role of trying to catalyze a discipleship and church planting movement, I want to try to do this with a clear-eyed vision of where I am hoping the relationship will go. With people who do not believe in Jesus, I try to share the Gospel soon after the start of the relationship. My hope, of course, is that they will believe and that we can begin to walk forward together, following Jesus together. If they do not want to do this, we can still continue to be friends and I will pray for them.

On the other hand, if I meet someone who is already a believer in Jesus, I try to share a vision for who we believe God wants us to be and what the Bible teaches us to do. For those that are interested in learning more, I typically try to invite them to continue to go forward with us.

All of this to simply answer my friend that the Gospel and who we are in Christ can be a “filter” of sorts. It is a filter in the sense that we are looking for people who want to learn to follow Jesus as far as he will take us. For those that already know that they aren’t interested in this or having that type of relationship together, that is OK. As I say, we can still be friends and I will still be happy to pray for them. But for those who are not interested in this, we can understand all of this from the beginning.