The Greatest Value

Jesus told a parable of a man who found a treasure hidden in a field and a businessman who found a precious pearl. Here are the stories:

 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.  When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

Matthew 13:44-46

Personally, I think these are some of the most important verses in the Bible. I think it speaks to what we value and shows us how we can make the Word of God very practical as we live our daily lives. Let’s walk through these one step at a time.

First, Jesus is specifically talking about the Kingdom of God. He isn’t speaking of our faith, our salvation, or anything related to us. He is speaking about God’s Kingdom. The Kingdom is what the man found hidden in the field and what the merchant found as he was looking for fine pearls.

Given that, we should take a moment to understand what we are talking about when we speak of the Kingdom of God. We are not speaking of a physical location here on earth or any type of geography. Instead, we are talking about the lives of those people where God reigns. Those who have submitted themselves to the King.

And who is the King? Jesus said that God has given him all authority in heaven and on earth, thus making Jesus the King over all kings, reigning in his Kingdom over all kingdoms. There is no higher authority than Jesus. He is King and sovereignly rules over all things.

So as we look back to the parable, we see that the first man sort of stumbles over the treasure in the field. He wasn’t necessarily looking for the treasure but he found it nonetheless.

Meanwhile, in the case of the pearl merchant, he was looking for a pearl of great value. He was searching, and he eventually found what he was looking for.

But in both cases, both for the man who found the treasure as well as for the pearl merchant, they recognized the value of what they found. What they had found was worth everything that they owned. It was worth their home, their vehicles, their other investments, and all of their possessions. Nothing should be held back, nothing should be retained. Instead, they knew that they must obtain the treasure and the pearl that they had found because these things were worth the price that they were paying.

Jesus is saying that this is how God’s Kingdom operates. There are some who stumble onto the Kingdom and others who are specifically looking for it. But the one who finds it gives up everything that they have to obtain it.

Is this just a metaphor? Do we just metaphorically sell everything to get the Kingdom? How does someone do that?

There are many ways that we could rationalize away what Jesus says here in these parables, but it seems very clear that the Kingdom of God should be seen as having the greatest and highest value over everything in our lives. There is nothing – our possessions, our family or friends, our status in life, or anything else – that should have a higher place than that of the Kingdom. Jesus tells us these parables so that we will understand that it is worth it all, that to obtain and live in the Kingdom of God is of the highest and greatest value, over everything else.


Awesome, Terrible, and the Meaning of It All

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been in the middle of reading Romans 9, 10, and 11 during our “Bible time” with my family. We read a little bit each morning and just talk through what we have read as we eat our cereal, or in the case of some of my kids, last night’s pizza or pasta…yummm…???

As we’ve read some of these passages and discussed them, I’ve found myself wondering: Have I been paying attention to what the scriptures say as I’ve read them previously?

And so then I began wondering further: Am I the only one who hasn’t been paying attention to what these scriptures say? Or are there a lot of people sort of reading lightly and skipping over it?

Or is this just the nature of reading the Word of God, that we continue to see new things along the way?

Paul’s Anguish

Alright, so enough of the preamble. Let’s get to it in Romans 9. Paul starts the first section worried about the Israelites. He says:

I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit— I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.

It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.

Romans 9:1-6

Paul is sad because the Israelite people are being rejected and will not continue to be God’s people. He says that he is sorrowful and has unceasing anguish in his heart for his people. He even wishes that he could be cut off and cursed from Christ if they could be accepted again. But, he knows and says that not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.

What does that mean – not all who are descended from Israel are Israel? The term “Israel” can be used in a few ways.

One is the man himself, Jacob, who was renamed “Israel”.

The second way would be the reference to his physical descendants. We might also call them the Jewish people, those who physically descended from Jacob.

And the third way would be a more direct reference to God’s people. The people with whom God has made a covenant to be their God and that they would be his people. These are also referred to as Israel.

So as Paul says that not all who are descended from Israel are Israel, he is saying that not all of the physical descendants of Israel (the second way we can refer to Israel above) are considered to be Israel, the people of God (the third way we can refer to Israel).

But how is that possible? Aren’t the Israelites all the people of God? Or at least they were? Paul continues on describing how God has made choices along the way.

Through Isaac

Paul explains that God made a choice when he told Abraham that his covenant would be through Isaac. Of course, the implication is that the covenant, the promise, would not come through Ishmael. Here is what Paul says:

Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring. For this was how the promise was stated: “At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son.”

Romans 9:7-9

Of course, if we go back and look at this in the original story in the book of Genesis, here is what happened specifically:

God also said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.”

Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!”

Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.” When he had finished speaking with Abraham, God went up from him.

Genesis 17:15-22

And so we see that God will bless Ishmael. He will prosper him on the earth, make him fruitful and have a large family, even making him the father of twelve rulers and to become a great nation.

But God says that he will establish his covenant through Isaac, not through Ishmael. This is a very key point because it creates a significant distinction between the two. What is the covenant that God is saying that he will establish with Isaac, but not Ishmael? God had actually said this just a little bit before in chapter 17:

I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God. ”

Genesis 17:7-8

So here we see that the distinction is that God will be their God and they will be his people, both for him and for his descendants. But the question is: Which descendants? In this case, God is specifically saying that the descendants of Abraham that he has chosen are those that come through his wife Sarah, that is through Isaac.

But what about Ishmael? What will become of him? We’ll come to that in a moment…

Jacob, not Esau

So Paul continues and explains the next generation after Isaac. Isaac marries Rebekah and has twins. This is how Paul recounts what God does in this situation:

Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad —in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

Romans 9:11-13

Paul says it correctly, of course: Even before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad, God shows that he has chosen Jacob but did not choose Esau.

So, hang on just a moment… We’re starting to see a pattern form, aren’t we? We’re seeing that God establishes his covenant that he will be their God and they will be his people, but through Isaac, not through Ishmael. And then we see that God chooses Jacob, not Esau. And in both of these cases, God does this before these sons are even born.

How could God choose Isaac before he was born? God hasn’t seen what kind of person Isaac is yet. In fact, in Isaac’s case, he wasn’t even conceived yet!

And in Jacob’s case, Paul says it directly that, before they either of the sons had done anything good or bad, God loves Jacob but hates Esau.

But doesn’t God’s love and mercy depend upon how we act? Or surely whether he accepts us not depends on whether we have faith in him, or faith in Jesus, right? Well, at the least, we can see that wasn’t the case for Isaac or Jacob. God declares his choice and his mercy upon them before they even had the chance to consider who God is in their lives, before they are even born!

Last example: Pharaoh

Paul now comes to the core question: Is God unjust? How can God love or show mercy to someone before they are even born?

What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses,

“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,
and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”

It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. For Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.

Romans 9:14-18


So Paul doesn’t leave it that God is making his choice and showing love and mercy for certain people. He goes even further! He uses the example of Pharaoh in the time of Moses where he says that God actually hardens Pharaoh’s heart because, through Pharaoh, God is going to display his power in him and make his name known across the entire earth. In fact, God says that he raised Pharaoh up for this very purpose. This means that God put Pharaoh in the place of the king of Egypt, in the time of Moses, hardening his heart so that the nation of Egypt would essentially be destroyed by the God of the Israelites, the slaves that the Egyptians held to build out their land.

Amazing. So in the case of Pharaoh, God made him to destroy him so that he could show his power and make his name known across the entire earth. Can that be true?

Paul is building up, through these examples, to show that God is sovereignly in control of all things, making his choices along the way. But why? For what reason?

The Riches of His Glory

So now let’s skip down to the last part for today. Paul is now going to reveal what God is doing and we come full-circle as well back to the original point that Paul made at the beginning of the chapter:

What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory — even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?

Romans 9:22-24

Paul says that God is going to show his wrath and make his power known. He says that there will be objects of his wrath upon people that are prepared for destruction. And he does this for a reason:

To make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy.

So there are people that God has made with the specific idea that they are intended for wrath. And there are people that God has made that are specifically intended for his mercy. There are those that he has prepared for destruction and those that he has prepared for glory.

Of course, it goes without saying – but I will say it anyway – that God is doing this. Not man. It is God’s wrath and God bringing destruction, not man. It is God doing this to show his mercy. Not man. It is God who has, and even gives glory. Not man.

If we consider what Paul said earlier in verses 1-6, we can see that Paul is talking here about the Israelites. He said not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. So he is saying that the Israelites have been made such that they will be rejected, so that they will receive God’s wrath. But even this has a purpose: To bring in the Gentiles, the non-Jewish people into “Israel”, the people of God.

The Gentiles now are offered a place as part of God’s people. They will be the objects of his mercy and God is showing his mercy and grace to them so that he will be known throughout the earth and will be glorified as God!

So this leads me to one final question: If this is the reason that God is doing this, what does that mean for my life? It means that the entire purpose of my life is to reflect God’s glory back to him. My life is not my own. I was not created to do everything that I want to do. I was not created to be everything I want to be. Not my best self. Not my all. Instead, my life is intended to give glory to God.

God is choosing some, and for those that he has chosen, his plan is that we bring glory to him for the love and mercy that he has shown to us. We have earned nothing. We have nothing that we can boast about, either before God or in front of anyone else. We can only live our lives to bring him glory.

How to do that? Coming soon! 😉


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.


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.


The Son of Man

Writing my last post on doing your research, combined with our family’s recent reading and study in the book of Revelation, and connected with my day-to-day work where I am routinely sharing my faith with non-believers, I was thinking about a particular subject that I wanted to write about here. This subject is related to Jesus calling himself the son of man.

I’ve read the Bible with several non-believing friends here in Catania. There have been a few times when my friends clearly understood the implications of what they were reading and became offended because it was significantly different from what they had learned in their youth and as they were growing up in a different faith.

I can remember one interaction like this where they simply said:

Jesus never said, “I am the son of God. Worship me!”

Aside from the fact that I knew that they were simply repeating what they heard someone else say on a YouTube video, I also knew that they were trying to deflect from the conversation and the realities about the story from the scripture that we were reading. It was an objection that wasn’t specifically germane to the conversation but they were looking for something to hold onto their position that Jesus is not God incarnate here on the earth.

At the same time, they were right. While Jesus did say that he was the son of man and the Messiah, and confirmed to Peter that God revealed to him what he had said when he called Jesus both the Messiah and the son of God, he never did say “I am the son of God.”

Instead, Jesus called himself the son of man. In fact, he referred to himself this way 78 times in the Gospels.

But I think the important question here is to understand what that title means. I can say that I am the son of a man and it is pretty clear that I simply mean that I am a person, a man. Did Jesus mean the same thing?

There is history and background that we have to take into account, and this knowledge is, I believe, what my non-believing friends are missing. If we look back into the book of Daniel, which includes prophecies about the end times, we can see a first reference to the son of man. Here is what it says:

“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

Daniel 7:13-14

When Jesus refers to himself as the “son of man”, what does it mean? Here are a few things that I can take from these two verses in Daniel 7:

  • He was coming on the clouds of heaven.
  • He was worthy to approach God, the Ancient of Days.
  • He was given authority, glory, and power over the earth.
  • He was worshiped by all people, of every language.
  • His kingdom and rule (dominion) will never end and will never be destroyed.

So now, I ask myself, What did Jesus mean when he called himself the son of man? Just looking at this list, I think it should be clear to say that he is a spiritual being who was given authority by God to set up a kingdom of earth and be worshiped by people across the face of the earth. And this is precisely the story, that if we are paying attention to Jesus’s words and deeds, that Jesus is telling throughout the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and is the same story that is affirmed by the apostles that come after him and the prophecy that later comes by John in the book of Revelation.


God is about to do something great

The title of this post is a refrain that I have heard throughout my life in the church. I’ve heard this regularly from pastors, from people who are explaining what they believe is a prophecy from God, or just from someone who is telling us what they think God is doing within us or around us.

As I write here on this blog site, I don’t like to write in the negative or be a critic, so I want to say that this is not my intention here. However, what I do want to say is that I have frequently been disappointed by these statements that “God is about to do something great”, because, through my eyes and in my experience, life seems to kind of roll along normally without anything seemingly “great” happening.

I want to allow for some possible explanations here that I think should be considered. Here are a few that I can think of:

First, I might have my head down or my heart closed such that I don’t see the great things that God is doing around me. This is a very real possibility and something that I have realized about myself at times after I have looked back in hindsight. After having realized this, I have put myself through seasons where I was specifically trying to look for God at work around me, and thankfully I have been able to see it at times. Thank God for this!

Second, connected to the first point, my expectations of what “great” means may be a bit too grand. I, of course, believe that God can work through everyday events as much as the spectacular, so looking for God within the everyday is important as well.

Third and finally, it may actually be that there is an optimism about God’s movement and working among us that is unwarranted given our lack of obedience and taking action upon his commandments.

Recently, I was talking with a friend about a difficult situation that he was facing. He told me that God would need to intervene and that he felt like Moses facing the Red Sea. He knows that God will need to act for him to go forward in the situation that he is in and he quoted what Moses said to the Israelite people in Exodus 14:

Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

Exodus 14:13-14

We find out that Moses is exactly right. God does fight for the Israelites. As we go forward in Exodus 14, we see that God gives the Israelites a rear guard throughout the night, he parts the Red Sea so that they can cross, and then he covers the Egyptian army with the sea such that it wipes out both Pharaoh and the entire army. Truly, Moses is correct that God will fight for them, and we see that God follows through on this promise!

My sense is that this is the nature of these promises from the pastors and the prophetic words that say God is about to do something are similar to the words from Moses. In many ways, I think that they are right. I believe that God is typically up to something and ready to move, ready to draw others to himself, ready to use someone.

So why have I not, then, sensed significant movement when these things are proclaimed and declared? Wouldn’t I expect to know that, if God is moving around me, I should be able to recognize it? It certainly seems that way as we look in the scriptures as the people typically knew that God was moving, even if they didn’t know precisely the nature of what he was doing.

Keeping in mind that it could be any of the three areas that I mentioned above, I want to suggest that I think it really is related to the third issue above, a lack of obedience in the things that we have already been told to do.

Interestingly, about the time that I had this conversation with my friend, I also had been reading this exact same passage with my family during our morning time in the Bible that we have while eating our breakfast. At that time, I noticed that God, right after Moses told the Israelites to be still and to stand firm, God immediately then tells Moses to get moving! Directly in the next verses, here is what God says:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground.

Exodus 14:15-16

We see, therefore, that God tells Moses to get moving. He doesn’t want them to stay put. He wants them to go!

So was Moses wrong when he told the Israelites to stand firm, and to be still? Was God overruling him? Maybe / maybe not. In my opinion, I think that, if Moses means that the Israelites need to have a dependency upon God and that he will do everything that they need to escape, then he is exactly correct. And in truth, I think that this is precisely what Moses means.

But if we look at the entirety of the passage, we see that God calls Moses and the Israelites to move, to continue their escape from Egypt, to continue to do what he had already told them to do. He wants them to continue to obey him. They are to continue to trust him, that he would deliver them, but they are to continue in their obedience because of their trust in him, and in this way, God will save them from destruction at the hand of the Egyptians.

How do we apply this, then, to our situation today? When people say, “God is about to do something great”, can’t we also say that we must trust that God is working while at the same time being certain that we’re doing what he has already told us to do?

Jesus said:

If you love me, keep my commands.

John 14:15

Here are some foundational commands that we might consider:

Are we loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength?

Are we loving our neighbor as ourselves?

Are we making disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey everything that he commanded?

In what real, practical ways are we doing this? If we say that we are doing it, is it the case that we are simply agreeing with the scriptures that these things are right without making it practical in our lives, or are we actually putting time, energy, money, and effort behind making these things real? How? In what way?

I believe that it is true that God is about to do something great, but I don’t know that we will see it unless we are doing the things that he has already told us. God is always doing something new, but as his people, we need to remember that God has already given us all sorts of things to do, and we need to be sure that we’re doing those things. I believe that it is likely that through our doing the things that God has already told us to do that we will see God do something great.



This scene is from a video series that was recently released called The Chosen. It is a dramatization that pulls together the writer’s ideas about certain Biblical characters and gives extra, non-Biblical storyline in an attempt to provide context for the time that Jesus begins his ministry. If you’re interested in seeing more, I recommend checking out the series, either on their website or on their YouTube channel.

This last Sunday was Easter Sunday, and here in Italy, we have been in quarantine during the coronavirus lockdown. That has meant that we have been worshiping together as a family, reading and discussing them together.

On Saturday night, the night before, we watched the first couple of episodes of The Chosen, and I was struck by how Jesus, in this scene, called Mary Magdalene by name and how similar that seemed to the time when Jesus called her by name on Easter morning outside of the tomb.

In the dramatization (and keep in mind, this is fictional), Mary is called Lilith, who, as I understand, was a demonic figure in Jewish folklore. But this does align with our understanding of Mary Magdalene from the Bible because we know that Jesus healed her by casting out seven demons.

In this scene, we see Jesus call Mary by her real name and then he quotes a passage to her from Isaiah 43:

But now, this is what the Lord says—he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.

Isaiah 43:1

This becomes a dramatized scene, therefore, of the time that Jesus healed Mary and sent out the demons. This is the time that Jesus redeemed Mary.

But what does this mean, to be redeemed? When the prophet Isaiah speaks for God and says, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you”, what is this saying?

This idea of redemption comes from the idea that, if someone were to sell themselves into slavery, they could be brought out of that slavery by a redeemer, someone who would pay the price for the person to be brought out of that slavery. Here are a couple examples of how this worked in ancient Israel:

“‘If a foreigner residing among you becomes rich and any of your fellow Israelites become poor and sell themselves to the foreigner or to a member of the foreigner’s clan, they retain the right of redemption after they have sold themselves. One of their relatives may redeem them: An uncle or a cousin or any blood relative in their clan may redeem them. Or if they prosper, they may redeem themselves.

Leviticus 25:47-49

Meanwhile Boaz went up to the town gate and sat down there just as the guardian-redeemer he had mentioned came along. Boaz said, “Come over here, my friend, and sit down.” So he went over and sat down.

Boaz took ten of the elders of the town and said, “Sit here,” and they did so. Then he said to the guardian-redeemer, “Naomi, who has come back from Moab, is selling the piece of land that belonged to our relative Elimelek. I thought I should bring the matter to your attention and suggest that you buy it in the presence of these seated here and in the presence of the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, do so. But if you will not, tell me, so I will know. For no one has the right to do it except you, and I am next in line.”

“I will redeem it,” he said.

Then Boaz said, “On the day you buy the land from Naomi, you also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the dead man’s widow, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property.”

At this, the guardian-redeemer said, “Then I cannot redeem it because I might endanger my own estate. You redeem it yourself. I cannot do it.”

(Now in earlier times in Israel, for the redemption and transfer of property to become final, one party took off his sandal and gave it to the other. This was the method of legalizing transactions in Israel.)

So the guardian-redeemer said to Boaz, “Buy it yourself.” And he removed his sandal.

Then Boaz announced to the elders and all the people, “Today you are witnesses that I have bought from Naomi all the property of Elimelek, Kilion and Mahlon. I have also acquired Ruth the Moabite, Mahlon’s widow, as my wife, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property, so that his name will not disappear from among his family or from his hometown. Today you are witnesses! ”

Then the elders and all the people at the gate said, “We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the family of Israel. May you have standing in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem. Through the offspring the Lord gives you by this young woman, may your family be like that of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah.”

Ruth 4:1-12

I love how Jesus called Mary by name, both in this dramatized scene as well as in the resurrection story. This directly aligns with the action of the redeemer that we read in Isaiah 43. The redeemer calls them out, purchasing them from their slavery, and setting them free.

This redemption happened for Mary, and is also the freedom that Jesus wants to give to all of us. Whether we realize it or not, we have been in slavery to our sin and Jesus gave himself to redeem us and to set us free. Through his death we have a sacrifice as a payment for the sins, but through his resurrection, we have life that sets us free. Like Mary, Jesus calls us by name, so we no longer need to be afraid of anything, but instead can be free because we are his.


Rapid Growth?

As I was growing up, I was a competitive swimmer. From the time that I was 10 until 18, I swam as part of several clubs and school teams.

At Eastern High School, the school that I went to from my earliest days, there was a poster that hung on the wall. It was a picture of Greg Louganis, a competitive diver who was making a name for himself for several reasons around that time. His greatest platform was that he was simply a great diver, winning gold medals at two Olympics, in 1984 and 1988, in multiple events.

The poster on the wall, while I can’t remember exactly what it said, essentially talked about Greg’s “Overnight Success”. It went something like:

After 20 years, they called him an overnight success.

The point of the poster was that, if you think that you will have success quickly, in whatever you do, think again. If you want to have the kind of success that Greg has had, it will take long-term commitment. It will take work to improve yourself and your techniques. Work that must be sustained for years and decades. And then success may come your way.

I thought of that poster this week when I read this article by Elliot Clark on the Gospel Coalition’s website. The article is actually a critique of the type of work that we do. He speaks of some who are placing expectations on others to grow rapidly in their discipleship work, creating “overnight success” in their missional work. In response, I had three thoughts I wanted to share.

First, I wanted to say that I generally agree. As you hopefully see from my thoughts above, I don’t really believe much in overnight success. Not because it is terrible if it would happen, but instead that it just typically doesn’t work that way. Like the example of Greg Louganis, the norm is that you work for a long time, doing the right things over a sustained period, and then you might see success. There are no guarantees in life, but generally speaking, if your goals are worth working for, they are worth working a long time to achieve.

Second, I do believe that quick, exponential growth is certainly possible in our line of work, but it would come as a result of having multiple people doing the work. In disciple-making, a multiplying effect would come if there are people who are multiplying the work. It only makes sense that if you have 1 person who makes another disciple, you now only have 2 disciples. Even though you’ve grown by 100%, it still doesn’t look like much to others looking in from the outside.

But after that, you have 2 that will make 4, and 4 that make 8, and 8 that make 16, and so on. And after some time, you see the multiplying effect that you’re looking for. If you were to just start to know these people after they hit this stride of the multiplying effect, and if you weren’t careful to think deeply about the history of how the group arrived at this place where you have now found them, you might start telling a story of an “overnight success” with rapid growth, one who should be formulaically copied because of the speed of their success, meanwhile having forgotten all of the time and effort required from the beginning.

Third, I think it would be much more helpful if Elliot were to speak more specifically. Instead of throwing a blanket over an entire group of people and their work, thus making it sound like everyone who does this kind of work thinks this way, I believe it would be better to call people out directly. Anyone can write a criticism that sweeps across multiple people, but it takes someone who actually cares more deeply to dive into the issue with individuals and effect change.

In my opinion, throwing blanket criticisms can have some pretty divisive effects. Even if it is not Elliot’s intention, the results can be – and I can experientially confirm this to be the case – that people will believe that anyone who is working to do disciple-making work and using similar terminology to what he is criticizing, believe just as he suggests.

So, because I have personally heard these types of criticisms before where it has been suggested that I advocate speed of evangelism and conversion with a superficial layer of learning instead of a depth of discipleship, I’d like to be clarify how I see this issue:

  1. We must sow the Gospel broadly across multiple people.
  2. Those that respond, we must teach to follow Christ. This takes study, experience, time, correction, repentance, and many other steps.
  3. Part of following Christ is teaching these followers to teach others. I see no need to wait a long time for someone to share and teach others what they have learned, but instead, as a disciple receives something from God, they should pass it along to another.
  4. This will likely go on in small numbers for quite some time. However, after a while, you will have multiple people who are doing this together – walking in Christ together, making disciples together – and this will begin to produce a multiplying effect.
  5. As a result, you will likely initially go slow, working closely with smaller numbers of people at first, but after a while, looking at the group as a whole, you will see that a group will become much larger and it will appear to be growing quickly. This will be due to the fact that there are multiple people going through this discipleship process at the same time, not because the process itself necessarily suggests that you must move quickly.

Baptism in the Name of Jesus

I have recently had some conversations with some friends within our discipleship network about baptism. A video, in fact, was sent to me with a teaching on why we should baptize in the name of Jesus instead of in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as Jesus says in Matthew 28:19.

I hope to represent the discussion well, and I write this primarily to help myself think this through as I tend to do best when I can organize the ideas coming to me and then organize my ideas as well.

So, let’s start with an outline of the teaching that was sent to me.

Looking at Matthew 28, we see that Jesus is returning to heaven to be with the Father and he is giving his final instructions to his disciples. He says:

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

However, later, in the book of Acts, we see that the apostles baptize in the name of Jesus. Here are some examples:

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 2:38

When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.

Acts 8:15-16

“Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.

Acts 10:47-48

On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.

Acts 19:5

The assertion here, then, is that the apostles did not baptize as Jesus told them, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but instead in the name of Jesus.

So why, according to my friends who are teaching this, would the apostles do this?

The first justification is that they believe that Jesus gave them additional revelation and instruction through the Holy Spirit. In the book of John, we can see that Jesus tells his disciples this:

“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”

John 16:12-15

So in this scripture, we see that Jesus says that he has more to say to them and that the Holy Spirit will guide them in the truth. As a result, my friends say that baptizing in the name of Jesus – as we see in the four scriptures above – is one of those things that Jesus teaches the apostles through the Holy Spirit.

Another scripture that they point to is in Colossians where Paul admonishes the Colossian church:

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Colossians 3:17

Clearly, baptizing someone is something that we would do in deed, so this also would fall into the category of being done in the name of Jesus.

I’ve asked whether or not they consider this to be a contradiction between what Jesus said and what they are saying is the practice of the apostles to baptize in the name of Jesus. They say No, there is no contradiction. Here are the points to explain why:

First, they say that we know that when Jesus says to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we aren’t actually “saying their names”. We know the name of the son – Jesus – but otherwise the Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of Christ.

In terms of the “name of the Father”, they point to John 17:26 where they say that, in the Greek, Jesus says that he has revealed the Father’s name to the people, not only that he has made the Father known to the people as it is translated in English in the NIV.

Second, they say, we know that the name of Jesus is the only name that saves, so why is there a need to say another “name”?

Finally, they point out that when the Holy Spirit came, the disciples, now as the apostles, would have understood that the name Yeshua means Yah saves, so if we say that we’re baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, then by baptizing in the name of Jesus creates no contradiction.

Framing the issue

OK, so now we’re asking… what do we think about this? From my perspective, I’m thinking about a few different components to this question:

First, theologically, is there a problem here? Is this interpretation creating a contradiction within the scripture, or is it possible that the method being used here is flawed?

Second, the goal of our work is to make disciples that make disciples. Therefore, it is clear that what is taught is, by definition, intended to be passed down and practiced. We are teaching one to teach another to teach another, etc., over multiple generations. If we endorse a practice that is not good in one way, we would expect to see this practice handed down from one generation to the next.

Third, in our Christian world where we are known for division, I think that it is important to fight for unity. If that is the goal, then, what are the criteria that we should use to be certain that, if we are to divide, we are doing it based on very good reasons that address the core of our faith, not on a secondary issue that shouldn’t be significant enough to ultimately regret making a decision for division.

Theological discussion

Theologically speaking, here are a few thoughts that I’ve had regarding baptizing in the name of Jesus.

First, I acknowledge that, at the least, the book of Acts says that the apostles call for new believers to be baptized in the name of Jesus. The question that I have, then, is whether or not that necessarily means that they are doing something different than what Jesus had directly told them to do. To make a couple of examples, could it be that they were drawing a couple of possible distinctions here? Here are two possibilities that I can think of:

One option might be that they are drawing a distinction between the baptism of John the Baptist, the other popular baptism happening at that same time done as a sign of repentance before God, and a baptism in the name of Jesus. In that case, maybe they would call for people to be baptized in the name of Jesus but yet, at the point of actually baptizing someone, they do as Jesus commanded and baptize “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”.

A second possibility that I have seen in the commentaries is that the apostles, when saying that people should be baptized in the name of Jesus, are drawing a distinction for the Jewish people. For them, and for any others who are already part of monotheistic faiths, to be called to be baptized in the name of Jesus would be a distinguishing factor from what they have known previously. Belief in the ability to come to God through Jesus distinguishes the new believer from their previous faith of some other ways to connect to God, whether through sacrifices, good deeds, or otherwise.

So as I’ve thought about this, I’ve sort of (I think – I’m not sure, yet…) convinced myself that, if I were to go to a baptism today, and the person baptizing said to the one being baptized, “I baptize you in the name of Jesus Christ!” and then dunked them in the water, I might think – Hmm… that seems different than what I understand, but… OK…

But it is the next part of the discussion where I sense some concern welling up within myself and a sense of potential danger. When my friends pointed to John 16:12-15, it seems to me to be a problem. As a refresher, it says:

“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”

John 16:12-15

Here are a couple of reasons why this concerns me:

First, Jesus says that he has much more to say than his disciples can now bear. To me, this suggests that there are things that he will explain to them that he hasn’t explained to them previously, things he hasn’t spoken about. An example of this might be how the church should function and how leadership might work amongst them as they form their community. These will be important issues for them in the future as they lead others, but the specifics of these issues haven’t been addressed to date from Jesus, at least as far as we know. So this might be something that the Holy Spirit would speak to them about and could be something more than they could bear.

And second, the invocation of this verse, saying that the Holy Spirit spoke to the disciples, telling them to do something different than what Jesus had told them to do previously seems pretty difficult to swallow from my perspective. Why would Jesus tell the disciples to do one thing only to have the Holy Spirit tell them something different just a few days later?

As a result, this is where I have a concern because if we are willing to make an interpretation here that Jesus would say one thing and then subsequently say, without any direct evidence, that the Holy Spirit told the apostles something different, that leaves a lot of the scripture up in the air. It is a “slippery slope”, as they say, because if you can interpret one scripture in this way, you could do the same with others.

It seems to me that, instead of saying that there is a “new revelation” we should be considering some other explanation for the difference between what Jesus said and what we see the disciples saying within the book of Acts. Is it possible that one of the explanations above, or potentially yet another explanation, could be the reason for the difference?

How we practice

Now, moving on to the issue of how we practice… Within our network of disciples and disciple-makers, I think that there are a few things that we should keep in mind:

First, we should assume that there will be theological differences and differences in practice between us and the people that we are working with. We should both be prepared for this and prepared for how we can distinguish between issues that are at the “core” of both our theology and our practice and those that are not. In this case, we need to confirm, theologically, how close to the core these issues are, and for what reasons.

Second, because the very nature of our work is to create generations of disciples (disciples making disciples), we need to be sure that we are OK with the passing down of a particular type of teaching.

Beyond that, what are the points that we want to make sure are taught in a particular way. For example, our second lesson within the Commands of Christ specifically teaches a way of baptizing, and that in the name of the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit. Are we OK with someone leading others in a way that is different from others that we are teaching?

It seems that changes are likely to happen in other contexts as well, especially as we think about the use of specific disciple-making tools as we are likely to run into various types of tools that individuals will use. I suppose this, then, probably ultimately connects back to our theological views. Are we OK with what would be not only a change in the practice but also the theological perspective?

Fighting for Unity

In the last point around fighting for unity, I think that we need to seriously consider what it means to fight for unity among us as believers. Below are some questions to ask ourselves that I have been considering for this question, and potentially for other things that will likely come up in the future:

  • Is Jesus being exalted and held up as our King and Savior if we do this?
  • Is God being glorified if we do this?
  • Are we certain that we are hearing from the Holy Spirit if we do this?
  • Can we maintain a core connection to our faith while continuing to work together without sacrificing what we believe is correct biblically?
  • Are we continuing to speak the same ministry “language” and staying true to our vision of seeing a movement go forward if we do this?

I think that, if we can answer Yes to these questions, we should probably have good reason to continue to maintain unity amongst us.