What Is the One Thing Jesus Spoke Plainly?

TODAY’S READING: MARK 10-11

“And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.'” – Mark 10:32-34

This is the third and final time in Mark that Jesus tells the twelve disciples that he was going to be delivered to his death and rise three days later. Mark writes something very interesting the first time Jesus speaks about his death and resurrection.

Mark 8:31-32 says, “And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly.”

“And he said this plainly.”

The Greek word for plainly is parresia. It means boldness, confidence, plainly, frankness. According to the Theological Lexicon of the New Testament parresia means freedom of speech, candor, boldness, public speech, categorical affirmation. It was originally a political term, which was the sign of one’s political liberty. The very act of speaking with such freedom implied the truth of what was being said. But, speaking with such freedom exposed the speaker to significant danger.

So, when Jesus spoke of his death, he spoke boldly, confidently, plainly, frankly. He did not mince words. Jesus was clear. He was not trying to obfuscate what he was saying or making it hard to understand.

His suffering, death, and resurrection is the one thing that Jesus spoke about plainly.

Mark 4:2 says, “And he was teaching them many things in parables.”

Mark 4:33-34 says, “With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.”

Why would Jesus speak so plainly about his suffering, death, and resurrection with his disciples but only speak in parables to everyone else?

Mark 4:11 says, “And he said to them, ‘To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables.”

Jesus gave the secret, the mystery, of the kingdom of God to his disciples. He spoke to them plainly about it. The secret, the mystery, of the kingdom of God is that the Christ must suffer, die, and be resurrected three days.

Why did Jesus tell his disciples this one thing – his suffering, death, and resurrection – so plainly?

I believe because it is so antithetical, so opposite, to the way we naturally think.

Mark 8:29 says, “And he asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, ‘You are the Christ.'”

It was immediately after Peter’s confession, on behalf of all the disciples, that Jesus began to teach that he would, be killed, and rise three days later. But, even though Peter had just confessed Jesus as the Christ, this plain teaching of Jesus made no sense to him.

Mark 8:32 says, “And he [Jesus] said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.”

The one thing Jesus taught plainly, Peter said no way.

Jesus taught about his suffering, death, and resurrection a second time in Mark 9:30-32. Immediately after the second teaching, Jesus and the disciples journeyed to Capernaum. Along the way, the disciples argued, not about Jesus’ teaching that he would suffer, die, and rise even though they did not understand it, but about who would be the greatest in the kingdom. So, Jesus told them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”

The third and final time Jesus teaches that he will suffer, die, and rise, James and John ask Jesus that he would grant them to sit on his right and left hand. Yet, again when Jesus teaches plainly the secret of the kingdom – that the Christ, the Messiah, the king would suffer, die and rise – the disciples are still trying to be great according to the way of the world. They want to rule.

The other disciples became indignant at James and John. They are still arguing about who is going to be the greatest. In Mark 10:42-45, Jesus responded, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus had to speak the secret, the mystery of the kingdom, plainly to his disciples because it was completely the opposite of everything they thought and believed about the way the world worked, who the Christ was, and what he would do.

Not only did Jesus speak plainly that he would suffer, die, and rise, but he acted plainly. In John 16:25, Jesus said, “I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly [parresia] about the Father.”

Jesus would tell them plainly about the Father in the hour. The hour is a reference to Jesus’ crucifixion. It was on the cross that Jesus’ actions would plainly reveal the Father just as he had spoken plainly to the disciples about his suffering, death, and resurrection.

Colossians 2:13-15 says, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to an open [parresia] shame, by triumphing over them in him.

The crucifixion of Jesus was God disarming the rulers and authorities, those that had all mankind bound in sin and death. The crucifixion was Jesus plainly showing us who God is.

Did you catch the significance of this plain speaking about the Father in Colossians 2:13-15?

“Having forgiven us all our trespasses.”

Jesus taught his suffering, death, and resurrection clearly because he wanted to boldly, confidently, frankly tell us that God forgives us.

Why did Jesus speak clearly to the disciples the secret of the kingdom yet in parables to those outside?

Mark 4:11-12 says, “and he said to them, ‘To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that ‘they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.'”

Here Jesus links his plain speaking as opposed to his teaching in parables with forgiveness.

When Jesus was on the cross, when his actions most plainly told us about the Father, what did Jesus say?

Luke 23:34 says, “And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.'”

The secret, the mystery, of the kingdom is so foreign to us that despite Jesus’ plain teaching and acting out his teaching on the cross, the disciples still did not understand.

Luke 24:25-27 says, “And he said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

So, Luke 24:44-48 says, “Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled,’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for [the correct word is and] the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”

Why did Jesus speak plainly about his suffering, death, and resurrection?

So, that repentance and forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed.

How did you Jesus start his ministry?

Jesus first words in the gospel of Mark are, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Repentance is the first message of the kingdom.

How did Jesus end his ministry?

Luke 23:34 says, “And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.'”

Forgiveness is the last word of Jesus’ ministry.

So, Jesus told the disciples to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins to the whole world. This was the evidence that the disciples had been transformed. See yesterday’s post.

Proclaiming repentance and forgiveness of sins to the world is just what the disciples did. And, they did it plainly.

In the first sermon, Peter preached “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raise him up.” Peter preached that the Christ must suffer, die, and be resurrected. Peter did not preach, “Believe in Jesus, get saved, or you are going to burn in hell forever.”

The disciples never once preached hell. They preached the secret, the mystery, of the kingdom – Jesus Christ suffered, died, and was resurrected. They preached the gospel.

In acts 2:29, 32, Peter said, “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence [parresia] about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb us with us to this day…This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses.”

When confidently, boldly, plainly taught the secret of the kingdom, the gospel, those who were gathered were cut to heart and asked what should they do?

“And Peter said to them, 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 Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)

The disciples knew the secret of the kingdom, the gospel – Jesus Christ suffered, died, and was resurrected. Therefore, they proclaimed repentance and the forgiveness of sins to all.

Acts 4:13 says, “Now when they saw the boldness [parresia] of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.

Acts 4:29-31 says, “‘And now, Lord, look upon their hearts and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with boldness [parresia], while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.’ And when they had prayed, the place in which there gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness [parresia].”

Acts 28:30-31 says, “He [Paul] lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness [parresia] and without hindrance.”

To speak the word with boldness is not

  • proclaiming the ten commandments
  • quoting the law and the prophets literally
  • telling people to obey rules and moral commands
  • preaching get saved or burn in hell forever.

To speak the word, the word of God, Jesus Christ with boldness is to proclaim that Jesus is the Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords. And, as the Christ, the true king of the world, Jesus became the least of all, a servant, a slave. He willingly suffered and was crucified at your hands. But, God raised Jesus up. Jesus did this so that you could repent of your violence, your desire for vengeance, and receive God’s forgiveness for your sins and proclaim God’s forgiveness to the world.

This is what Jesus spoke plainly.

As the Lord Lives, or Jesus Is Lord

TODAY’S READING: JEREMIAH 4-5

“If you return, O Israel, declares the Lord, to me you should return. If you remove your detestable things from my presence, and do not waver, and if you swear, ‘As the Lord lives,’ in truth, in justice, and in righteousness, then nations shall bless themselves in him, and him shall they glory.'” – Jeremiah 4:1-2

If Israel was going to return to God and if they were to swear “As the Lord lives” in truth , justice, and righteousness, then the nations would be blessed and glory in the Lord.

Israel was originally called by God to be a witness of him, a light, to the Gentile nations. They had failed in that calling because they had become enslaved to idols and false gods. But, if they would return to God, turn from their false idols, then they would once again be a witness of God to the nations and the nations would be blessed through them.

A condition of their returning to God was to proclaim “As the Lord lives” in truth, in justice, and in righteousness.

What does “As the Lord lives” mean?

And, how do we see Jesus in this proclamation?

“As the Lord lives” was something Israel was to swear. Therefore, this phrase is an oath. And, it is used that way all throughout the Old Testament.

However, you could swear “As the Lord lives” falsely.

Jeremiah 5:1-2 says, “Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, look and take note! Search her squares to see if you can find a man, one who does justice and seeks truth, that I may pardon her. Thought they says, ‘As the Lord lives,’ yet they swear falsely.”

Israel was proclaiming “As the Lord lives,” but no man could be found who did justice and sought truth in all Jerusalem. In other words, men were claiming “As the Lord lives” but their actions revealed that oath they swearing was not a reality in their lives. So, the profession “As the Lord lives” was false because their words did not line up with their actions.

Jeremiah 23 connects the oath “As the Lord lives” to Jesus.

Verses 5-6 say, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.'”

Remember that Israel was to declare “As the Lord lives” in truth, justice, and righteousness but not one man could be found to do so. However, in Jeremiah 23:5-6, we find just such a man.

Of course, these verses are referring to Jesus, the righteous branch, that came forth from David. This one man, Jesus, does not profess the oath, “As the Lord lives,” verbally, but he does profess it with his life. Notice that these verses say Jesus would reign as king and deal wisely and execute justice and righteousness. In other words, by the life he lived, Jesus professed “As the Lord lives” in truth, justice, and righteousness and all the nations are blessed in him, just as Jeremiah 4:1-2 says. Here is the one man in all the streets of Jerusalem that could not be found in Jeremiah 5:1-2.

In Revelation 1:18, Jesus said, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” Jesus declared of himself that he is the living one, alive forevermore, the Lord that lives.

In the New Testament, we do not find the words “As the Lord lives,” but we find a similar oath.

Romans 10:8-9 says, “‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

1 Corinthians 12:2-3 says, “You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says ‘Jesus is accursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.”

In the New Testament, instead of professing “As the Lord lives” we profess “Jesus is Lord.” This is our oath. This is the declaration we swear to live by. But, we can swear it falsely, just like in the Old Testament, if our the actions of our life do not line up with the words we say. This is why Paul says that no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit. Not because you can’t literally say the words “Jesus is Lord” without the Holy Spirit, but because you can’t actually live the life that reflects the reality of the words “Jesus is Lord” without the Holy Spirit.

How do we go about professing “Jesus is Lord?”

Notice that back in Jeremiah 4:3-4 it says, “For thus says the Lord to the men of Judah and Jerusalem: ‘Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns. Circumcise yourselves to the Lord; remove the foreskin of your hearts, O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem.'”

Jeremiah stated that in order to swear truthfully “As the Lord lives” one had to break up their fallow ground and be circumcised, removing the foreskin of their hearts. In other words, one had to repent and be baptized.

This is exactly what we see in the New Testament. In Acts 2, Peter delivers the first sermon in church history. He closes it in verse 36, saying “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” In other words, Peter closed by saying, “Jesus is Lord.”

What was the response of the hearers?

Verse 37 says, “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?'” The hearers had come to see that “Jesus is Lord” just as Peter proclaimed. What should they do in response?

Verse 38 says, “And Peter said to them, ‘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.” Just like Jeremiah 4, you need to repent and be baptized to truly profess “Jesus is Lord.” And, Peter says that you will receive the Holy Spirit to ensure that the profession of your mouth lines up with the profession of your life.

So, what will the life of one who proclaims “Jesus is Lord” with his mouth and the actions of his life look like?

I believe there are threes specific actions the flow out of allegiance to the oath “Jesus is Lord.”

Isaiah 53:9 says, “Although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.”

Daniel 9:9 says, “To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness.”

Jesus lived a life that was marked by absolutely no violence and no lies. This is why he was also to go to the cross and be crucified to be free us from our bondage to sin, idols, and false gods. And, it was because Jesus lived a life marked by no violence and no lies that he was able to proclaim forgiveness, mercy, to us from the cross.

Jesus proclaimed that the same should be true of us. In John 8, Jesus said that Satan was the father of lies and a murderer from the beginning. He told the Jews he was talking to that Satan was their father, meaning their lives were marked by murder, violence, and lies. But, Jesus told them that those whom the son sets free are free indeed. Therefore, to say that “Jesus is Lord,” means that your life is no longer characterized by the works of Satan – murder of lies – but by Jesus, who did no violence and no lies.

In the context of loving your enemies, in Luke 6:36, Jesus said, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” The ultimate display of that mercy was Jesus’ forgiveness of us even as we were crucifying him. Therefore, our lives should be marked by the same level of forgiveness.

Remember that Jeremiah 23 said that Jesus was the one man that was found who said “As the Lord lives” in truth, justice, and righteousness. And, that Israel would truly swear “As the Lord lives” if there profession was lived out in truth, justice, and righteousness.

To live in truth is to live without lies.

Righteousness is not the right moral action alone. It is more than that. Righteousness is setting things right. For Jesus, this meant bringing to life. In John 10:10, Jesus said he came to give life and life more abundantly. This will be fulfilled when the last enemy, death, Satan’s chief weapon, is defeated. To live in righteousness is to bring life and overcome death, murder, violence.

To live in justice is to give mercy. Mercy, forgiveness, was Jesus’ justice from the cross. James 2:13 says, “For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”

Paul sums this profession, “Jesus is Lord,” in two ways for me.

First, in 1 Corinthians 1:31 and 2 Corinthians 10:17, he says, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” And, in Galatians 6:14, Paul says, But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”

Second, in Galatians 2:20, Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Let me close with two final points.

First, “As the Lord lives” is used eight times in the book of Jeremiah. Eight is the number of new beginning or new creation. When we proclaim “Jesus is Lord” and truly live a life marked by no violence, no lies, and complete forgiveness as Jesus did, then we participate with him in ushering in the new creation and causing the nations of the world to be blessed and glory in Christ.

Second, “As the Lord live” us used 35 times in the Old Testament. The number 35 speaks to vindication and hope. Remember, we can say Jesus is Lord because he is the living one who died and is alive forevermore. That Jesus lives and is Lord is both or vindication and our hope.

1 Corinthians 15:13-14 says, “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” In other words, if Christ has not been raised, then our faith would be without hope, without vindication.

However, 1 Peter 1:21 says, “God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

Jesus has been raised, resurrected. He is the living one. “As the Lord lives” he is our vindication and hope.

Jesus is Lord!

Why Are God’s Thoughts and Ways Higher than Ours?

TODAY’S READING: ISAIAH 53-56

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:8-9

Why?

That is the all important question.

Why is an important question. It is a particularly important question in regards to these verses because these verses are a favorite of Christians.

I have heard Christians use these verses to justify the violence attributed (wrongly I might add) to God in the Old Testament. When I have asked if God would really have women raped, babies dashed against the rocks, or whole cities and everything in them burned to destruction, I have had Christians respond, “Well, God’s ways are higher than our ways and his thoughts higher than our thoughts. So, yes, God can do whatever he wants and he really did those things.”

And, because many Christians believe God’s higher ways and thoughts can be used to justify a violent God, they then use God’s higher ways and thoughts to justify a God that would torment someone in hell in flames forever.

But, these Christians have completely missed the reason why God’s thoughts and ways are higher than ours.

Why are God’s thoughts and ways higher than our thoughts and ways?

All we need to do to know why God’s thoughts and ways are higher than ours is look at the previous two verses. Indeed, that is what the word “for” at the start of verse 8 is telling us to do. The “for,” which also means because, is telling us to look at what we just read to know why God’s thoughts and ways are higher than ours. For (linking back to what I just said), there is a very specific reason why God’s thoughts and ways are higher than ours.

“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” – Isaiah 55:6-7

Why are God’s ways and thoughts higher than our ways and thoughts?

Pardon.

Which is a synonym for forgiveness. In fact, the Hebrew word literally means to be indulgent towards, to forgive.

But, not just forgiveness.

Abundant forgiveness!

God’s ways and thoughts are higher than our ways and thoughts because of of one very specific reason – God’s abundant forgiveness!

Therefore, the reason God’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours is actually just the opposite of the way many Christians use God’s higher thoughts and ways to justify a violent God maiming, torturing, slaying and destroying whomever he wants.

At least one of Jesus’ parables reveals that God’s abundant forgiveness was the reason God’s thoughts and ways are higher than ours.

In Matthew 18:21-35, Peter asks Jesus, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus answered Peter, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Some translations say seventy times seven.) While Peter thought seven times would be enough forgiveness, Jesus told Peter to forgive so much that you would lose count of how many times you had forgiven. In other words, Jesus told Peter to be life the Father, to make his thoughts and ways like God’s by practicing abundant forgiveness.

In the parable itself, Jesus showed how God’s abundant forgiveness, his thoughts and ways, is dramatically higher, higher as the heavens above the earth, than ours. In the parable, the king completely forgave the debt of the servant, which was an incredibly high amount that the servant could only have paid back if he had lived thousands and thousands of years. However, when the servant left the king’s presence, having received his forgiveness, he wouldn’t even forgive the relatively tiny amount that a fellow servant owed him.

So, Jesus revealed God’s abundant forgiveness in the parable of the wicked servant, but the Hebrew word for forgiveness tells us something about God’s abundant forgiveness as well

The Hebrew word for forgiveness is salah. According to the Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament, the only individual in the Old Testament that is the subject salah, to forgive, is God. In other words, God is the only one the Old Testament associates with the capability of forgiveness. That right there shows that it is forgiveness that makes God’s ways and thoughts higher than ours.

The root word salah occurs 50 times in the Old Testament. The number 50 is significant because it was the year of Jubilee.

Deuteronomy 15:1-2 says, “At the end of every seven years you shall grant a release. And this it the manner  of the release: every creditor shall release what he has lent to his neighbor. He shall not exact it of his neighbor, his brother, because the Lord’s release has been proclaimed.” Israel was commanded to release, or forgive, the debts of their neighbor every seven years because God’s release, or forgiveness, had been proclaimed.

But, God magnifies this idea of the seventh year in Leviticus 25. Leviticus 25:8, 10 says, “You shall count seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the time of the seven weeks of years shall give you forty-nine years…And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his clan.” In the 50th year, all debts were completely forgiven and liberty proclaimed to everyone.

Of course, this is linked to the day of Pentecost, which took place 50 days after Jesus was crucified. In Acts 2, on the day of Pentecost, Peter quoted from Joel 2 that God was pouring out his Spirit on all flesh. This pouring out of the Spirit was a result of Jesus having been exalted because of his crucifixion.

And what is the supreme revelation from Jesus on the cross?

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” – Luke 23:34

On the cross, while we were maiming, torturing, slaying and destroying Jesus, the innocent and perfect man, the son of God, Jesus was revealing God’s abundant forgiveness. When Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” he was revealing exactly how God’s ways and thoughts  were higher than ours.

Also, tt was Jesus’ crucifixion, the moment of revealing God’s abundant forgiveness, that brought about our jubilee, the canceling of all our debts.

“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” – Colossians 2:13-14

Why are God’s thoughts and ways higher than ours?

Forgiveness.

The forgiveness of all our trespasses.

Now that we know why God’s thoughts and ways are higher than ours – abundant forgiveness of every sin, every debt, complete and total – how is that God’s thoughts and ways are higher than ours?

How is such abundant forgiveness possible?

“God is love.” – 1 John 4:8

God’s abundant forgiveness is possible because God is love.

How do we know God’s love?

Consequently, how do we know God’s forgiveness?

“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us.”- 1 John 3:16

We know God’s love, and therefore his abundant forgiveness, which reveals God’s ways and thoughts as altogether higher than our ours, because Jesus Christ laid down his life on the cross.

And, what does Jesus tell us about God’s love?

“But i say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends his rain on the just and on the unjust.” – Matthew 5:44-45

God’s love is indiscriminate. God gives his love to all, deserving or not, just as the rain and sun fall on every person, deserving of their blessings or not.

And, if God’s love is indiscriminate in its nature, and God’s forgiveness flows from his flow, then God’s forgiveness is indiscriminate too.

Notice that on the cross Jesus put no qualifiers on who he was praying forgiveness for. Jesus simply prayed for “them.”

How marvelous is God’s forgiveness, the very reason his thoughts and ways are higher than ours.

What a wonderful revelation from Jesus.

Jesus: I Am the Burning Bush

Today’s Reading: Exodus 1-4

In John 1, we read that the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. Rightly, we understand that this is Jesus. We know that Jesus came into the world. Wrongly, many of us think that this is the first time that Jesus appeared in the world. The Word made flesh was when Jesus, God, became a man, became like one of us. But, it was not the first time that Jesus appeared in the world. Jesus, the Word of God, was and living active in the creation from the beginning of creation. The entire Old Testament testifies to this.

Exodus 3 is one such testimony of Jesus.

In this chapter, Moses leads his flock to the west side of the wilderness. Throughout the Bible, east is the direction away from the presence of God. But, as we move west, we draw closer and closer to God’s presence. So, it’s important to recognize that Moses led his flock to the west side of the wilderness to Horeb, the mountain of God.

Verse 2 says, “And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed.”

It is important to recognize that the angel of the Lord is Jesus in his pre-incarnate form, before he took on flesh and became a man. I have written about this before – most recently in Jesus Meets a Woman at a Well and God Provides Himself the Lamb.

The angel of the Lord is not just another angel that God sends to do something. We know this because in every place the angel of the Lord appears he speaks in a way that equates himself with God, but he also seems to be in submission to God. After the angel of the Lord appeared, notice that the rest of Exodus 3 says that “God called to him”, “I am the God…”, “the Lord said…”, “Moses said to God”, “God said to Moses”, and so on. Is it the angel of the Lord or God speaking to Moses? Is Moses speaking to the angel of the Lord or to God? Yes and yes.

Also, it is very important to see that the angel of the Lord “appeared” to Moses. Typically, when the angel of the Lord shows up in scripture, we read that he “appeared.” This is not referring to a vision, but a physical manifestation of the presence of God. Not physical in the sense of God made flesh, but a physical manifestation none the less. Appeared is the Hebrew word ra’ah. Generally, it means to see, to show, to look at. But, most of the time when it is translated “appeared” it is referring to the Lord manifesting himself to someone.

John 1:18 says, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” Then, in John 6:45-46, Jesus says, “Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me – not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father.” Jesus says we can hear the Father, but we can’t see him. If we have heard the Father, then we will come to Jesus. Jesus, the angel of the Lord, who is from God, is the only one that has seen the Father.” Further, in John 14:7, Jesus says, “If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” To see Jesus is to see the Father, because Jesus is in the Father and the Father is in him.

Therefore, when the angel of the Lord appeared to Moses, he did not see the Father. No one has ever seen the Father. But, Moses did see Jesus.

How did the angel of the Lord appear to Moses? In a flame of fire out of the midst of the bush.

This Hebrew word for bush (which sort of sounds like Sinai – is it a pun?) is only used five times in the Bible. Four are found in the passage we are looking at. The fifth is in the blessing Moses speaks to the tribe of Joseph in Deuteronomy 33. Joseph will be blessed by “the favor of him who dwells in the bush.” This bush is a brier or species of bramble. What is significant about brier or bramble bushes? They have thorns. Adam’s sin caused the ground to be cursed and, because of the curse, the ground would produce thorns. (Consider that the dry ground that appeared on day three in Genesis refers to Jesus.) So, in this sense, thorns are the fruit of sin. The angel of the Lord, Jesus, appeared in the thorny bush. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For our sake he [God] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin.” And, seeing Jesus in this thorny bush gives new meaning to 1 Peter 2:24, which says, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree.”

The angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in a flame of fire. Did you know that there are actually bushes in the wilderness that secrete an oil that, when under enough heat, will catch fire? They are called gas plants, or burning bushes. But, generally the flame burns out quickly. But, in verse 3, Moses says, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” I think Moses was used to seeing one of these bushes catch fire. But, what caught his eye was that the fire on this bush lingered. The fire on this bush did not go out. Moses saw that the bush was burning but was not consumed. The word “consumed” literally means to eat or devour. But, it also means destroyed. The angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in a bush that was burning but was not destroyed.

In the Bible, fire symbolizes judgment. The angel of the Lord appeared in a thorny bush that was on fire but not destroyed. Jesus was made sin for us and bore our sins on the cross but was not destroyed. Jesus is the burnt offering. Referring to his crucifixion, Psalm 22:14 says, “My heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast.” Jesus’ heart was burned and melted like wax on the cross. And, when Jesus’ side was pierced on the cross blood flowed out. Revelation 1:15 says that John saw Jesus’ “feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace.” His feet that touched the ground, which was cursed and produced thorns, were burnished like bronze in a furnace. But, immediately after John sees this, in verses 17 and 18, Jesus says, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore.” Jesus was burned but consumed, burned but not destroyed. “I died, but ‘I Am’ alive forevermore.”

Notice that angel of the Lord, Jesus, appeared out of the midst of the bush. The midst is the place where God dwells. The Word of God, Jesus, was made flesh and dwelt (tabernacled) among, in the midst of, us.

Meditate on where the angel of the Lord appeared to Moses. And, meditate on where Jesus has appeared to you. We truly see Jesus in the innocent, just, and righteous one that was made the thorny bush of sin, burned on the tree, died, but was not destroyed, and is alive forevermore. The sin, the burning, the death Jesus died was done by his own creation. Jesus, the one through whom all things were made (John 1:3). Or, as Colossians 1:16 says, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him.” What Jesus created murdered him.

How was Jesus burned but not destroyed? How was Jesus burned, murdered by his own creation, but not destroyed, alive forevermore?

In Luke 23:34, when Jesus was on the cross, in a flame of fire in the midst of his creation on the tree, he said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Forgiveness. Life overcoming death.

He was not destroyed because he forgave. He defeated death and became a life-giving Spirit because he forgave.

This is to know Jesus. In 2 Corinthians 5:21 and 1 Peter 2:24, why did Jesus become sin for us? Why did he bear our sin in his body on the tree? “That we might die to sin and live to righteousness.” “So that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

What does this look like?

In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus tells us to pray “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” In Mark 11:25, Jesus says, “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” Paul writes in Colossians 3:13, “bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”

To know Jesus is to be aflame in the burning bush with him and not be destroyed but live forevermore with him through forgiveness. But, this is to know, not just Jesus, but God.

Moses sees this burning bush that is not consumed and asks the name of the one he is speaking to. The angel of the Lord responds, “I Am.” Reread Revelation 1:17-18. Jesus says “I Am” the first and the last. “I Am” the living one. I died. But, “I Am” alive forevermore.

In Exodus 3:15, the angel of the Lord, Jesus, says, “This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.”

Jesus! I am the burning bush in the midst of all men that was not destroyed. I forgive you!