John 3:22-30 NIV
Jesus and his disciples
spent some time
John also was baptizing
This was before John was put in prison
An argument developed
over the matter of ceremonial washing.
They came to John and said
the one you testified about
is baptizing,everyone is going to him.
John replied, “A person can receive only
what is given them from heaven.
I am not the Messiah
The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him,
That joy is mine,
He must become greater; I must become less.
• What is the general theme of the passage?
This is the same desert place where Jesus’s triumphed over His own temptations. That fact, and this place has now become the meaningful locus of the ministry of these two cousins that begins to merge their parallel tracks into the Cross of Christ. There is some competitive controversy brewing between John’s disciples and a certain Jew[?]. Was baptism a process for purification by the symbolic removal of things determined by a set of rules that made you unclean OR was it an action of repentance with sincere regret and remorse for the unclean things only the heart knew? John clearly settles the controversy with his own recognition of the greatness of Christ and His joy that he’s been given his role as the friend who attends the bridegroom.
• What does it say about God (or Jesus or the Spirit?) It’s year one of both Jesus’s and John’s ministry. Jesus has been baptized by John who identified Him as the one sent from God. Jesus has been through the preparation of His own temptations. Peter, Andrew, Philip and Nathanael have been called, the water has been turned into wine, the temple has been cleared and Jesus has begun his ministry of transforming faith from a corporate expression of worship to a personal one with a nighttime conversation with Nicodemus.
• What does it say about people?
Human nature is competitive and competition can breed controversy. The desire to control circumstances of obedience and observance happens because of the parallel tracks of faith and personal behavior.
• Is there truth here for me?
Reading about Judea being the place Jesus returned after His own temptations made me think about my own baptism. I was about 12, but it was a meaningless process until I met Jesus twenty-one years later. That was my own time in the desert of temptations that made me realize life is like parallel tracks for many of us who know there IS a God but that’s about it! I knew enough to want to try to keep those two tracks somewhat parallel but still didn’t recognize that was my desert until the action of a repentant heart revealed there was more to life than being “not Godless, but not Godly either.” That’s when my two parallel lines began to merge into the locus that looks more and more like a Cross to me.
4 So she [Rachel] gave him her servant Bilhah as a wife. Jacob slept with her, 5 and she became pregnant and bore him a son. 6 Then Rachel said, “God has vindicated me; he has listened to my plea and given me a son.”Because of this she named him Dan. 7 Rachel’s servant Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son. 8 Then Rachel said, “I have had a great struggle with my sister, and I have won.” So she named him Naphtali. 9 When Leah saw that she had stopped having children, she took her servant Zilpah and gave her to Jacob as a wife. 10 Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob a son. 11 Then Leah said, “What good fortune!” So she named him Gad. 12 Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob a second son. 13 Then Leah said, “How happy I am! The women will call me happy.” So she named him Asher.
• 8 …Then Rachel said, “I have had a great struggle with my sister, and I have won.
• 13 Then Leah said, “How happy I am! The women will call me happy.”…
Wow! Talk about an “R-rated” story. Multiple wives, surrogate mothers, competitive sisters, owning people to give away and believing you are entitled! This could be a prime time reality show today. Richard Dahlstrom did a post awhile back called Real Housewives of Mesopotamia. It’s focus was different but when I read this Scripture that title seemed a perfect one for Leah and Rachel. News Flash: R-rated is not just for current events and entitlement apparently isn’t a new thing. I realize that was a different culture but I’m reading it for today and this is what I see.
Rachel’s words are so telling…”I have won.” Leah, who I’ve always had more sympathy for in general, has discovered that any-means-to-an-end makes her look good to others and is happy about it! These women were busy “reasoning” how to meet their needs, how to get their own way and then crowing, or moaning, over the end results they’d managed to achieve.
I have the advantage of seeing “the big picture” of their lives. I think that’s why they’re in the book. I can see the long-term reality of thinking that is so tempting, so self-involved, so human, so Not Godless but not Godly either.
16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.” 18 Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. 19 He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz. 20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear 21 so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord will be my God 22 and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.”
Two things today: “gate of heaven” and “then the Lord will be my God.”
Before this moment Jacob has been an “environmental” believer. He’s lived in a family with a history of God. He’s probably spent his life listening to, and participating in, family rituals of faith. That’s been his environment, his custom, but not necessarily his choice. He must have had some historical awareness of this area being the gateway to Heaven…maybe Eden fits in there too… but now it seems to come as a surprise to him that he hadn’t been aware of it before. God has been present but not “in” him until this awakening. He has been “not Godless but not Godly” either. He is just like us.
After he awakes it’s a whole new ballgame. Finally there is an inner understanding, not just a casual awareness. “How awesome is this place!” This is Jacob’s moment of redemption. Now it is more than the faith of Abraham or Isaac, it’s his own personal faith. Look at his response now – the If/THEN statement.
“If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear 21 so that I return safely to my father’s household…then The Lord will be my God…”
A brand new awareness of God… awesome yes…but still needing the reassurance of the “IF” just like us!
2-4 Isaac: “I am an old man now, and expect every day to be my last. Take your bow and arrows out into the fields and get me some venison, and prepare it just the way I like it—savory and good—and bring it here for me to eat, and I will give you the blessings that belong to you, my firstborn son, before I die.” 5 But Rebekah overheard the conversation. So when Esau left for the field to hunt for the venison, 6-7 she called her son Jacob and told him what his father had said to his brother. 8-10 Rebekah: “Now do exactly as I tell you. Go out to the flocks and bring me two young goats, and I’ll prepare your father’s favorite dish from them. Then take it to your father, and after he has enjoyed it he will bless you before his death, instead of Esau!” 11-12 Jacob: “But Mother! He won’t be fooled that easily. Think how hairy Esau is, and how smooth my skin is! What if my father feels me? He’ll think I’m making a fool of him and curse me instead of blessing me!” 13 Rebekah: “Let his curses be on me, dear son. Just do what I tell you. Go out and get the goats.”
Just do what I tell you. Go out and get the goats!”
If you’re a parent those words “Just do what I tell you,” may seem very familiar. This time though, they bring to mind how frustrated, manipulative and controlling they sound when I read Rebekah’s words…and they are. I don’t know whether to be consoled by the realization that I am not alone having spoken them or appalled that I didn’t know any better when I uttered them. It seems like a bit of both actually…the flesh and the Spirit locked in their lifelong struggle.
Rebekah is today’s Biblical looking glass for me to see the reality and opportunity found in her example. These are lyrics to a song I wrote in bygone days.
“In the mirror I see
Two eyes looking back at me.
Two eyes trying to see
A picture of what I can be.”
That’s the flesh part and the reflection is not always pretty but the song goes on…
“Won’t you picture God for me my friend?
Won’t you be my mirror when I pretend?
Won’t you help me to see?”
That’s the Spirit part. I can’t always see myself clearly. The reality is there are times when only a friend can help me to see.
Some might say Rebekah is just an Old Testament character, long gone, but maybe she’s in the Bible to be that friend for me today. A friend who has the ageless ability to show me how God works even when I’m at my manipulative worst…a Kingdom friend who says: “Look in that mirror once more and see what I’ve pictured for you. This is what ‘not Godless but not Godly either’ can look like. I’ve shown you my humanity so you can recognize it in yourself and choose something better.”
The angels questioned Lot. “Do you have any other relatives here in the city?” they asked. “Get them out of this place—your sons-in-law, sons, daughters, or anyone else. For we are about to destroy this city completely. The outcry against this place is so great it has reached the Lord, and he has sent us to destroy it…” When Lot still hesitated, the angels seized his hand and the hands of his wife and two daughters and rushed them to safety outside the city, for the Lord was merciful.
“…the angels seized his hand and the hands of his wife and two daughters and rushed them to safety outside the city….”
This brings to my mind, “once saved, always saved.” Right now Lot seems like the most stupid of men doesn’t he? Does he hesitate because of the need to act immediately without time to reason and prepare OR is he questioning if the message is really from God? Either of those options lead to the same conclusion. Lot is unsure of who he’s to follow. Not Godless (maybe) but not Godly either!
However God is not unsure about Lot. It’s hard to fathom why, but God has committed himself to Lot and He will not hesitate to act to save him, and his family. And therein lies the seed of forever. We think we have chosen God, but remember I John 4:19? We love because he first loved us. We think we have committed ourselves fully but our choice is limited by the truth we now have. God says “So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have.” 2 Peter 1:12
Here’s the Good News. God ‘s heart is not limited by the truth you now have. He has all truth. When your heart spoke those words of your personal commitment, God chose to accept the Christ in you and your words, without reservation, totally and completely…forever. His intention is for YOUR forever, even if he has to “seize” your hand and drag you to safety. It’s a sure thing.
v2. He [Abraham] looked up and noticed three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he ran to meet them and welcomed them, bowing low to the ground… v10 Then one of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.” Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. 11 Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?”
13 Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”
15 Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.” But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.”
…[Sarah] “I didn’t laugh.” But the Lord said, “No, you did laugh.” so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.” But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.”
v 13 Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ I had to double back to Genesis 17:17 to find this; “Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old?” So laughter isn’t the issue here, nor is eavesdropping. I think it’s the “little white lie.” Sarah tells that is the story.
She’s been overheard and now she’s worried. These men are honored guests but they are strangers to Sarah. She’s worried when caught that she’ll be in trouble. Right at the beginning the tense changes from strangers to v10 “Then ONE of them said…”. And that “one” may be the key. We don’t hear much about SSarah and her relationship to the Lord. Maybe God really is a pretty much a stranger to her at this point. There is evidence that she has prayed before. She has been saved by her prayers out of some terrible situations her previous lies put her in. …Maybe those were just “foxhole” prayers. Maybe Sarah is caught in this place; the “not Godless, but not Godly either” way of life. Whatever her flaws, God has a plan that includes her and a miracle in store for her.
Isn’t that just how life goes for us? We fumble about, manipulating life with “little white lies” and sometimes acting like God must be a stranger to us. We pray our own foxhole prayers to get us out of sticky situations. Then Grace steps in and we discover, at long last, that God has indeed included US in his plan despite our flaws. We can hardly believe it, but that realization is when we begin to understand what a “miracle.” God has for our future as well.
Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had not been able to bear children for him. But she had an Egyptian servant named Hagar. So Sarai said to Abram, “The Lord has prevented me from having children. Go and sleep with my servant. Perhaps I can have children through her.” And Abram agreed with Sarai’s proposal. So Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian servant and gave her to Abram as a wife. (This happened ten years after Abram had settled in the land of Canaan.)
The three main characters.
Only three people; Abram, the righteous one, Sarai the barren wife and Hagar the Egyptian servant. It’s not hard to understand the humanity of these three people. That great cartoon philosopher, Pogo, said it all, “we have met the enemy and he is us.” Abram, Sarai and Hagar prove that everything old is new again. Without an interactive relationship with God and our faith we are like them; our own worst enemy. No wonder the modern day solution often is use any means, any person, any activity as long as it produces the result we want and think is right.
I wonder if our biggest sin is not really so much the “bad” stuff we do as the fact that while we’re not Godless, we’re not Godly either. We are carelessly busy portraying the one whose image we represent in our world as ineffective and of no practical use in real life. Could anything be worse than that? Thank God for Grace and time to grow. Thank God he’s given us Jesus, his Spirit and these Old Testament “saints” that are the mirrors we are meant to see ourselves in. Thank God for his Word and it’s promise that offers us the chance of a real image makeover.
Lot took a long look at the fertile plains of the Jordan Valley in the direction of Zoar. The whole area was well watered everywhere, like the garden of the Lord or the beautiful land of Egypt. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) Lot chose for himself the whole Jordan Valley to the east of them. He went there with his flocks and servants and parted company with his uncle Abram. So Abram settled in the land of Canaan, and Lot moved his tents to a place near Sodom and settled among the cities of the plain. But the people of this area were extremely wicked and constantly sinned against the Lord.
Lot took a long look at the fertile plains of the Jordan Valley in the direction of Zoar. The whole area was well watered everywhere, like the garden of the Lord.
Lot must have heard throughout his life the oral history that spoke of the perfection and beauty of the land God had promised, and there it was. Did he remember those stories as he saw the Jordan Valley laid out before him? This new place that seemed be exactly what God had promised, so beautiful and good…except for one tiny little snag…the people of the area were extremely wicked and constantly sinned against the Lord. Lot may have reasoned; “good land, good oral history, good faith, and…God promised…how bad could it be,” right?
I have been in that position of making choices in my life with that same kind of reasoning. Lot was caught in the very same tension of decision making as we are today. For the most part we assume “worst and clearly stupid” have been eliminated from our decision-making process because we now belong to God. We forget we are still vulnerable to being blindsided by our self-confident “how bad could it be?” mindset. We forget that while “how bad could it be” may look better than “worst and clearly stupid” it still looks pretty poor compared to best and wisest.
When it was time for the harvest, Cain presented some of his crops as a gift to the Lord. Abel also brought a gift—the best portions of the firstborn lambs from his flock. The Lord accepted Abel and his gift, but he did not accept Cain and his gift. This made Cain very angry, and he looked dejected. “Why are you so angry?” the Lord asked Cain. “Why do you look so dejected? You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.”
• Think about this phrase: “Why are you so angry?”
We recognize and point to Cain as the first murderer but can’t quite comprehend why he was so angry. It’s like one finger of our hand pointing at Cain when there are three pointing back at us. Anger is an emotional word that is more easily denied in ourselves. We want to attribute to that emotion the higher level of violence of Cain’s sin. But how about these words: irritated; testy; grumpy, frustrated or even jealous? There’s the rub. How often does your emotional thermometer go THOSE places in a day?
How about when the cars turning left in front of you poke along and you get caught at the next red light; or there’s all those things spouses do that cause a surge, maybe only mental, of one of those emotions? It’s just so much easier to be shocked by Cain’s action than to think about, and name, the moments in our life and faith that we’ve been “irritated; testy; grumpy, frustrated or even jealous” because WE just didn’t want to do what’s right. Ouch! Every one of those moments in every day needs this reminder…”We will be victims of sin if we do not subdue it.” There’s an enormous difference between being “not Godless, but not Godly either.” It’s the difference between knowing faith facts and applying them. That difference makes all the difference in a life of faith.
Day 1 of my Snippet Slog Through the Old Testament. Not a scholarly verse by verse, chapter by chapter “slog” but what I believe God has in his mind for my mind.
The serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild animals the Lord God had made. One day he asked the woman, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?” “Of course we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,” the woman replied. “It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God said ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die.’” “You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman. “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.” The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too.
• Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too.
I admit it, I’m defensive. Eve has become our first picture of what sinful, lustful, greedy AND manipulative looks like. No wonder I’m defensive.
There is no way to dispute the fact that Eve (and Adam) are NOT Godless. They’re right there with God, firsthand, face to face, in a perfect environment. This story is also our picture of the first chink in what it means to be Godly. That’s why it’s called “original” sin. They made it up!
It wasn’t like Eve had called Adam to dinner and served up a tasty dish without telling him where it came from. Remember that phrase: “who was with her?” I read more and look at this! Genesis 3:12 The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” That first picture of Eve? It’s the same as the first picture of Adam. This must be where the old saying “sin loves company” comes from.