Called by the Name of the Lord

Jesus’s prayer in John 17 gives us insight into where His mind was right before His crucifixion. If you’re reading this article the day I posted it, then today is the 14th day of the first Hebrew month–the anniversary of Jesus’s death. Following His instructions, we observed Passover last night in remembrance of Him.

The whole of Jesus’s prayer is an excellent thing to read this time of year, but for today’s post we’re focusing on the four times Jesus talks about His Father’s name. Here are those verses (click here to read them in context).

“I have revealed your name to the men you gave me out of the world. They belonged to you, and you gave them to me, and they have obeyed your word. …

“I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them safe in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are one. When I was with them I kept them safe and watched over them in your name that you have given me. …

“I made known your name to them, and I will continue to make it known so that the love you have loved me with may be in them, and I may be in them.”

John 17: 6, 11-12, 26, NET

There are two key points here: 1) Jesus revealed the Father’s name–who He is, what He is doing, and how to know Him (since in Hebrew thought, names have to do with character and reputation as well as identity). 2) Jesus kept His disciples safe in the Father’s name, and asked His Father to continue keeping them “safe in your name.” The first marked a deeper level of intimacy with God that’s available to New Covenant believers. The second continued a tradition going back to the Torah.

People Belonging To God

Numbers records a specific blessing the Lord gave to Moses and told the priests to use (click here to read my post about the Aaronic Blessing). After the text of the blessing, God says, “So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them” (Num. 6:27, NET). The reason God stated for the priests blessing Israel like this was to put His name on them.

God’s name is used to identify His people and claim them as His throughout scripture. In 2 Chronicles 7:14, He describes them as “my people, who are called by my name” (WEB). Isaiah 43:6-7 talks about God gathering “everyone who is called by my name” (WEB). Jeremiah speaks of himself as someone “called by your name, Yahweh, God of Armies” (Jer. 15:16, WEB). We don’t use this phrase much in modern English, so another way to think of this idea is as us “belonging to” God (that’s the translation the NET uses).

There are incredible blessings in belonging to God. And, as James points out in Acts 15:13-21 (quoting Amos 9:11-12), God can choose to call anyone by His name who turns to Him. It’s not just a specific nation that gets to receive this blessing; even in the Old Testament people outside Israel were allowed to become people of the Lord, and the invitation is even more open now that Jesus came bringing salvation for all who will believe in His name (John 3:16-18; 20:31).

Oneness

There’s an incredible blessing of belonging that comes with knowing God’s name and being kept in His name. Jesus “gave the right to become God’s children, to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12, NET). We who have received God’s spirit get to call Him by the name, “Abba! Father!” (Rom. 8:15, NET). There’s family, belonging, and unity found in knowing and being known by God by name. Indeed, Jesus talks about that in His prayer as well.

“Holy Father, keep them safe in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are one. …

“The glory you gave to me I have given to them, that they may be one just as we are one—I in them and you in me—that they may be completely one, so that the world will know that you sent me, and you have loved them just as you have loved me. …

“I made known your name to them, and I will continue to make it known, so that the love you have loved me with may be in them, and I may be in them.”

John 17:11, 22-23, 26, NET

Jesus asked for unity–oneness–among the people called by the name of the Lord. That request is backed-up by the power of His Father’s name. It also contains a promise of oneness between us, Jesus, and our Father. Being called by God’s name means we are part of the family.

The Place for His Name

As I was studying the phrase “called by My/the Lord’s name,” several passages in Jeremiah caught my eye. God keeps referring to the “house, which is called by my name” (WEB), also translated “this temple I have claimed as my own” (Jer. 7:11, NET. See also Jer. 7:30; 32:34; 34:15-16). All these passages talk about Israel breaking covenant and defiling a place where God put His name. Today, we are that place.

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If someone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, which is what you are.

1 Corinthians 3:16-17, NET

We belong to God. He puts His name on us, entrusting us with the reputation of His family as we carry His name into the world. There are incredible blessings associated with that, and also a lot of responsibility. Nothing we do can change who God is (e.g. His goodness and holiness don’t depend on anything we do). But as people called by God’s name, we can affect how other people see Him. Every time we say we’re “Christian,” we identify ourselves with the name of Jesus Christ and the way we live tells people something about Him.

Also, though it’s easy to forget because being Christian becomes such a familiar thing to us, we tell ourselves something about our faith when we identify as belonging to Jesus and the Father. We ought to live with a mindfulness of what it means to carry God’s name, to know His name, and to be kept safe in His name. Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Chag haMatzot) serve as a yearly reminder of that.

Featured image by Anggie via Lightstock

Shine! Let the Light Come Into Your Life

The word began with darkness overcome by light. Millenia after that, Light once again entered a world that had become dark and chaotic to start another great transformation–a recreation that will ultimately result in God’s kingdom being fully present here on earth. The opening sections of Genesis and John’s gospel both describe God as an active creator bringing light into darkness, and they talk about that action as profoundly meaningful. The contrast between light and darkness, and God’s role as Light, is mentioned again and again in scripture from psalmists and prophets to New Testament letter writers.

If you’ve ever had the power go out at night and couldn’t find a candle or flashlight, or been in a cave and turned out the lights to experience the profound blackness of being underground, then you know what a relief it can be to have light suddenly available when you’d been in darkness. But you might also know that light can hurt, such as when you step outside into blindingly bright sunlight or you’ve been half-dozing in a dark room and someone walks in and flips the light switch. In many ways, this is also how Light works on a spiritual level. We’ve all been in spiritual darkness, some longer or darker than others but all characterized by a separation from God. He’s in the business of bringing light to darkness, though, and when He enters our lives with Light it can be a relief, a shock, or both.

“Let There Be Light”

In the beginning there was formless emptiness, darkness, and chaos. Then God said, “Let there be light.” There’s depth to that phrase even in English, and it gets a whole lot deeper when we look at the Hebrew. First, right before God calls light into existence, the Hebrew word used in the creation story for water changes from “watery deep” (tehom, chaotic abyss, salty ocean) to “water” (mayim, general word for life-giving water). Then, “the first thing God does is correct the darkness; without light there is only chaos” (NET footnotes on Gen. 1:1-3). There’s also wordplay in the Hebrew so that “let there be” expresses “both the calling into existence and the complete fulfilling of the divine word” (NET). It’s a profound transformation accomplished by God speaking Light.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God. The Word was with God in the beginning. All things were created by him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created. In him was life, and the life was the light of mankind. And the light shines on in the darkness, but the darkness has not mastered it.

A man came, sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify about the light, so that everyone might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify about the light. The true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.

John 1:1-9, NET

Light and dark, order and chaos, life and death. The contrasts are sharp between what God offers and any other option available in this world. And just like God spoke light into existence at the beginning, so He’s offering to speak light into our lives today. The Word–the Light–“took up residence among us,” and those who come to Him will be God’s children (John 1:10-14). That’s just as true now as it was for all of Bible history.

Children of Light

One of the most well-known passages in the Bible is John 3:16. Keep reading after that verse, and Jesus talks about how He was sent to save the world and that people are condemned (or not) based on whether they believe in Him (John 3:16-18). Then, He talks about light.

Now this is the basis for judging: that the light has come into the world and people loved the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil deeds hates the light and does not come to the light, so that their deeds will not be exposed. But the one who practices the truth comes to the light, so that it may be plainly evident that his deeds have been done in God.

John 3:19-21, NET

When I read this, I think of that fantasy/sci-fi trope of having nasty, skulking, dangerous creatures that want to eat you being unable to walk in sunlight (think vampires, fyrnocks from Star Wars Rebels, and Tolkein’s goblins). Light can be scary and even painful for the sort of people we are apart from God. Even after we’ve started following God, I dare say most of us have felt that urge to shy away from His light and try to hide the more shameful parts of ourselves. But even if we’re scared, deep down the truest version of ourselves is not the sort of thing that light kills. God’s light only burns away the things that don’t fit with who we’re truly meant to be–people made in the image of God with glorious potential to be just like Him one day.

for you were at one time darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live like children of light—for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness, and truth—trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.

Ephesians 5:8-10, NET

Arise! Shine!

If we want to live as children of light, we need to be the sort of people who come to the Light. That’s just another way of saying we need to believe in and follow Jesus, who said “I am the light of the world! The one who follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12, NET). It’s impossible to understate the importance of this idea; it’s at the center of the gospel.

Now this is the gospel message we have heard from him and announce to you: God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him and yet keep on walking in the darkness, we are lying and not practicing the truth. But if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

1 John 1:5-7, NET

As I write this , we’re about a week away from Passover–the day commemorating Jesus’s sacrifice and the renewing of our commitment to follow Him. Before that day, Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 11 to examine ourselves. Here, in these verses about light, we have a question we can ask as part of that: “I say that I’m walking with Christ, but is my life more reflective of His light or the world’s darkness?” If we can’t honestly answer that we’re walking in the light, then we need to change some things.

Arise! Shine! For your light arrives!
The splendor of the Lord shines on you!
For, look, darkness covers the earth
and deep darkness covers the nations,
but the Lord shines on you;
his splendor appears over you.

Isaiah 60:1-2, NET

I don’t know about you, but it often feels like there’s chaos and darkness pressing in on me, and I certainly see it filling up the world. But there’s good news! Our God is light. We can choose to walk in His light, and as we do the blood of Jesus covers our sins. We are not helpless victims of the darkness. We’ve been rescued and empowered. We get to shine, like Jesus does, because we’re sharing His light.

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Fighting on the Battlefield of Forgiveness

Last week’s post was about how much God wants to forgive us. This week’s is about how much we need to forgive each other. There are plenty of Bible verses about this topic and so, like most Christians, I knew how important forgiveness is before writing this post. But something Paul said in one of his letters made me want to take a closer look at the subject.

The reasons Paul gives for forgiving someone in the Corinthian church provide us with a compelling reason for forgiving others. I’d never thought about forgiveness being a key part of spiritual warfare before, but I do now. Whether or not we choose to forgive is one of the things that determines whether Satan gets an advantage over us, or we get an advantage over him by drawing closer to God.

Don’t Give an Advantage to Satan

For background, in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he told them they needed to put a man out of their church who was actively engaging in sexual sin (1 Cor. 5). Now, in the second letter, Paul has heard that this man repented and Paul tells the church to forgive him and accept him back.

This punishment which was inflicted by the many is sufficient for such a one; so that on the contrary you should rather forgive him and comfort him, lest by any means such a one should be swallowed up with his excessive sorrow. Therefore I beg you to confirm your love toward him. … Now I also forgive whomever you forgive anything. For if indeed I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven that one for your sakes in the presence of Christ, that no advantage may be gained over us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes. (2 Cor. 2:6-8, 10-11, all quotes from WEB translation)

Choosing to withhold forgiveness– even when someone has sinned so egregiously they were put out of the church; even when you’ve heard about their repentance from someone else instead of seeing it for yourself — would give an advantage to Satan. The Greek word pleonekteo (G4122) carries the idea of taking advantage of or  defrauding someone. The word for “covetousness” comes from this word (The Complete WordStudy Dictionary: New Testament, by Spiros Zodhiates Th.D.).

Talk of Satan (which means “adversary”) gaining an advantage over us also brings to mind the idea that we’re in a spiritual battle. If you don’t forgive, you’re giving the adversary a foothold in your life. And that ought to be a terrifying thought. However, it is something we can prevent because, as Paul says, we’re not ignorant of his schemes.

Armor Up With God’s Help

We are part of a spiritual battle. The adversary (ha Satan in Hebrew) is fighting against God’s family, and we’re part of that family. Every human being has the potential to become part of God’s family and those of us in covenant with God are already adopted as His children.

Beloved, now we are children of God. It is not yet revealed what we will be; but we know that when he is revealed, we will be like him; for we will see him just as he is. Everyone who has this hope set on him purifies himself, even as he is pure. (1 John 3:2-3)

God’s adversary hates what God loves. Satan accuses us before our God day and night (Rev. 12:10; Job is also an example). He tries to use his wiles against us, and he’s behind the “the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” that we wrestle against (Eph. 6:10-13). The last thing we should want to do is give Satan an advantage over us in this fight. Rather, we want to stay close to God, put on His armor, stand, and resist the devil.

Fighting on the Battlefield of Forgiveness | LikeAnAnchor.com
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Avoid Things That Separate You From God

The reason that unforgiveness is so very dangerous (I think) is connected to the wedge it drives between us and God. We’re more vulnerable to the adversary’s attacks when we are not sticking close to the source of our armor and strength. There are certain things that separate us from God, and we need forgiveness and reconciliation to heal the breach of relationship that sin causes. But we don’t get forgiveness if we’re not willing to give it.

For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you don’t forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matt. 6:14-15)

Jesus’s parable in Matthew 18:21-35 puts this in even more chilling language. In this parable, forgiveness that has already been given by a master to an indebted servant is withdrawn because that servant refuses to forgive someone who owes him a much smaller debt. Jesus caps this parable off by saying, “So my heavenly Father will also do to you, if you don’t each forgive your brother from your hearts for his misdeeds.” That’s quite a sobering statement.

God is merciful and good. He knows forgiveness can be so hard that sometimes it feels like fighting a battle. He doesn’t abandon us just because we’re struggling. But He does expect us to make an effort to deliberately, consistently forgive other people. Carrying bitterness, grudges, anger, and judgmental attitudes around will not help our Christian walk and can, in fact, hinder it.

Consider Jesus’s Example

Therefore let’s also, seeing we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let’s run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith (Heb. 12:1-2)

Fighting on the Battlefield of Forgiveness | LikeAnAnchor.com
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Whenever it becomes difficult to lay aside the weight of unforgiveness, look to Jesus. The book of Hebrews tells us to “consider him who has endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, that you don’t grow weary, fainting in your souls” Heb. 12:3). When we consider the example He set us, we see Him forgiving even in the worst of circumstances.

When they came to the place that is called “The Skull”, they crucified him there with the criminals, one on the right and the other on the left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:33-34)

If Jesus could forgive the people who tortured and killed him while He was hanging on the cross, surely we can forgive whatever it is that people have done to us. Especially because God has given us warnings and instructions through His Bible and help through His holy spirit. We know the dangers of unforgiveness and we have what we need to follow Christ’s example. Let’s resolve to forgive, and to keep forgiving as often as need be, following the example of Christ and resisting the adversary’s influence so “that no advantage may be gained over us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes.”

 

Featured image credit: Thomas Anderson via Pixabay

 

Titles of Jesus Christ: Our Peace

I think that when we hear Jesus talked about as “Prince of Peace” or “Our Peace,” we usually think of Him making strife cease. We picture Him setting up a world without war and fixing the strife between human beings and God. Those are definitely part of what’s going on, but there’s also a whole lot more. We can dive deeper into what “peace” means — and gain a deeper understanding of who Jesus is and what He is doing — by studying into the Hebrew word shalom.

Shalom is a key Biblical concept. It occurs over 250 timed in the Old Testament, and that’s not counting related words like shalem. It’s most often translated “peace,” though the King James Version uses about 30 different English words. Those include prosperity (Ps. 35:27), rest (Ps. 38:3), safety (Is. 41:3), using shalom as a salutation or greeting (Judg. 18:15; 1 Sam. 25:5), and in reference to someone’s welfare (Gen. 29:6; Ex. 18:7).

The Hebrew word shalom comes from the root verb shalem, which means “completeness, wholeness, harmony, fulfillment.” That’s all included in shalom as well, along with the English meaning of “peace” as an absence of strife. Also wrapped up in this concept is the implicit “idea of unimpaired relationships with others and fulfillment of one’s undertakings (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, by Harris, Archer, and Waltke, entry 2401a). It’s a much more nuanced word than we give it credit for in English translations.

Restitution and Healing

Shalom is wholeness — nothing missing, nothing broken. It is a state that humans don’t end up in naturally. God created us perfect, but we’re now fallen people living in a fallen world. Peace is an elusive thing.

There is no soundness in my flesh because of your indignation, neither is there any shalom in my bones because of my sin. (Ps. 38:3, Hebrew word added, all quotes from WEB translation)

Sin is something we’re all guilty of, and it’s something that causes brokenness. We’re not whole or complete, and the covenants that people of the past made with God are broken by humanity’s sin. If you want to fix something that’s broken, missing, or stolen, God requires restitution (shalem in Hebrew) in order to satisfy the requirements of law (Ex. 22:3, 5-6, 12, 14). In order to fix what is wrong with us, the process of restitution required something on a greater level than animal sacrifice or paying some money.

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Titles of Jesus Christ: Firstborn and Heir

Who is Jesus Christ? Some consider Him a prophet, some a teacher who had some good things to say about peace and love, others say He was a madman. As Christians, we know Him as the Son of God who died to save us from our sins, rose again, and continues to be actively involved in our lives. But what does it really mean that He’s God’s Son, and why does that particular title matter to us?

God, having in the past spoken to the fathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, has at the end of these days spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom also he made the worlds. (Heb. 1:1-2, all scriptures from WEB translation unless otherwise noted)

Firstborn’s Birthright

In Old Testament times, being a firstborn son was a big deal. You were the bekor (H1060), eldest son  and therefore the bekorah (H1062, birthright) was yours. You received a double portion when the father divided his inheritance (Deut. 21:15-17). There was a special blessing involved (Gen. 27). It was so important that any disruption to this birthright was cause for Biblical writers to take special note (Gen. 25:31-34; 48:9-19; 1 Chr. 5:1-2).

According to a message I recently watched on YouTube titled “Hebrews: Yeshua’s Amazing Qualifications,” the rights of the firstborn traditionally included a few other things as well. The eldest son acted as the family’s spiritual leader, acquired spiritual favor and honor, and inherited the blessings of Abraham. Heirship involved authority over the father’s possessions. Before there was a Levitical priesthood (which Yahweh accepted in place of the firstborns, as noted in Num. 3:12-13, 41; 8:16-18), the firstborn would even act as priest for the family.

Many parallels between Jesus and the Hebrew firstborns are easy to spot. He is the family’s spiritual leader, acting as “head of all things to the church” under the Father’s authority (Eph. 1:15-23). He is also High Priest of an order that supersedes the Levitical order as the Levites superseded what came before (Heb. 7:11-28). And that’s not where the parallels end. Read more

Faces to Faces with God

What face do you bring to God? In the Hebrew scriptures, the word for face, panim (H6440), is always plural. “The face identifies the person and reflects the attitudes and sentiments of that person,” and of course there is no single facet to the self. Our faces are “a combination of a number of features” and so are our personalities (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, entry 1782).

God is even more complex, multi-faceted, and wonderful than us. He is the God of all our faces, and He offers to show His faces to us if/when we seek Him.

When you said, “Seek my face,” my heart said to you, “I will seek your face, Yahweh.” Don’t hide your face from me. Don’t put your servant away in anger. You have been my help. Don’t abandon me, neither forsake me, God of my salvation. (Psalm 27:8-9, WEB)

Our God wants to be known. He wants to let us see Him. Whether or not we can see Him partly depends on us, though, because there are things we can do that prompt Him to hide His face. So how do we get into a “faces to faces” relationship with God, and what does it mean if we do?

Faces of Friendship

In Exodus 33:11, we’re told “Yahweh spoke to Moses face to face” (panim el panim) “as a man speaks to his friend.” Being face to face with God is part of being friends with Him. If you’re wondering how to become a friend of God, Jesus gave us a succinct guide when He said, “You are my friends, if you do whatever I command you” (John 15:14). Friendship with God requires mutual interests, goals, and morality. We need to commit to following Him if we want to have a relationship with Him.

Behold, Yahweh’s hand is not shortened, that it can’t save; nor his ear dull, that it can’t hear. But your iniquities have separated you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. (Is. 59:1-2, WEB)

Sin separates us from God. There can’t be face to face relationship where there is disobedience. Thankfully, God graciously allows repentance and restoration of relationship. If you “turn away your faces from all your abominations” you can turn your faces toward Zion and “join yourselves to Yahweh in an everlasting covenant” (Ezk. 14:6; Jer. 50:5). He’s happy and eager to have us face toward Him instead of away from Him. Read more