The Light From The Beginning, Part Two

Jesus Christ identified Himself as the light of the world. This would have been no surprise to people familiar with the scriptures, for God has always connected Himself with light. It’s a common analogy in scripture — light is found with God and whatever is not of God is in darkness. As I’ve studied this concept, I’ve been excited to realize the Light connection goes even deeper than I originally knew (and probably far deeper than I’ve yet discovered as well). To quote Paul, “Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past tracing out!” (Rom. 11:33, WEB)

Last week, we started with a side-by-side comparison of the opening verses from Genesis and John’s gospel. As we learned in that post, John and several Jewish rabbis identify the Light spoken of in Genesis with the Messiah. We know this Messiah is Jesus (Messiah and Christ both mean “anointed, who says He came to this earth in human form as “the light of the world.” You’ll want to make sure you’ve read last week’s post before continuing with this one. Click here to go back and read “The Light From The Beginning, Part One.”

From Darkness to Light

God has “called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” for a reason (1 Pet. 2:9). God longs for a relationship with us, but “God is light” and we cannot enter the relationship that He wants to have with us if we are walking in darkness.

This is the message which we have heard from him and announce to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in the darkness, we lie, and don’t tell the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:5-7, WEB)

It is one of the central truths of the Christian faith that God loves us and wants us to be in relationship with Him. Light does not, however, fellowship with darkness (2 Cor. 6:14). Apart from the work of Jesus in us as the Light, we would not be able to draw close to God. Following Him is what takes us out of darkness to walk in Light. Read more

The Light From The Beginning, Part One

Let’s start today’s post by comparing two passages of scripture:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him. Without him, nothing was made that has been made. (John 1:1-3, WEB)

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty. Darkness was on the surface of the deep and God’s Spirit was hovering over the surface of the waters. God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. (Gen. 1:1-3)

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness hasn’t overcome it. (John 1:4-5)

God saw the light, and saw that it was good. God divided the light from the darkness. God called the light “day”, and the darkness he called “night”. There was evening and there was morning, the first day. (Gen. 1:4-5)

Clearly, John meant us to connect the opening of his gospel with Genesis through his phrase, “in the beginning.” But that’s not the only connection. Light also links these two accounts. It’s not until later in the creation story that God makes the sun, stars, and moon, so this first Light must be something else. And it’s something powerful enough to cause Day and Night before any of the physical light sources we know of existed.

Messiah in Light

John identifies this Light at creation with the Messiah, Jesus (John 1:6-16). (Language note: Messiah is the Hebrew word for Christ. Both words mean “anointed”.) It’s not just Christians who’ve made this connection, though. Even Jewish rabbis who are still waiting for a Messiah other than Jesus recognize the Light in Genesis does refer to the Messiah.

God’s first words in the Bible are: ” ‘Let there be light!’ And there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good.” When we study the creation account closely we notice that it was not until the fourth day that God created the “two great lights”, the sun and the moon. The Sages understood this too to be a Messianic allusion, and so the Midrash known as Pesikhta Rabbah, which was read from the 9th century on in connection with feast days, asks, “Whose is this light which falls upon the congregation of the Lord?” and answers, “It is the light of the Messiah” …

The Rabbis considered the Aramaic word Nehora, ‘light’, to be one of the secret names of the Messiah, since we read in the Aramaic part of the book of Daniel that, “He knows what dwells in darkness, and light dwells with him” (2.22). (from “The Messiah In The Old Testament In The Light of Rabinnical Writings” by Risto Santala)

The Yalkut, a rabbinic anthology from the medieval period, says this:

‘And God saw the light, that it was good.’ This is the light of Messiah … to teach you that God saw the generation of Messiah and His works before He created the universe, and He hid the Messiah … under His throne of glory. (quoted in “What The Rabbis Know About The Messiah” by Rachmiel Frydland)

Even without knowing who the Messiah is, these rabbis understood that the Light in Genesis points to Messiah, whom they saw as the “center of all creation”

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Do I Love God Enough To Obey Him?

The apostle John had a particularly close relationship with Jesus. Though Jesus loved all of “his own who were in the world,” John is identified in particular as a disciple “whom Jesus loved” (John 13:1, 23; 19:26; 20:2, 21:7, 20-24). If we want to know Jesus — and we do, because that’s part of salvation and eternal life (John 17:3; Phil. 3:8) — then who better to learn from than John?

We’re taking a short break from our series on godly wisdom because I really felt like this was the topic I should be studying this week. Love and relationship are so important to God. Knowing Him and being known by Him are central to salvation, Christianity, and our eternal hope. We have to know Him in His way, though. Jesus said there will be people at the end who think they know Him and yet never had a relationship with Him (Matt. 7:21-23). That’s a scary thought, but John makes sure to leave us guides in his writings for how to love Jesus and how to tell whether or not we truly know Him.

Knowing God is Essential to Life

John’s writings are among my favorite in the New Testament. He highlights Jesus’ power and divinity — the things that make Him so much higher than us — more than any other gospel writer, yet He also highlights Jesus’s love and His longing for relationship — the things that make Him closer to us. The way John talks about Jesus and the Father makes it clear that the powerful, eternal, creator God longs for a relationship with us.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him. Without him, nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. … The Word became flesh, and lived among us.  (John 1:1-4, 14, WEB)

Jesus came here not just to die for our sins and reconcile us to God, but also to get to know us. He is the good shepherd who knows His sheep and is known by His own, who choose to follow Him (John 10:14, 27). He calls us His followers, friends, chosen, and beloved (John 15:12-16). And He reveals that knowing Him and the Father is key to eternal life (John 17:3). The importance of knowing and being known by God cannot be overstated. Read more

Book Review: Reclaiming Our Forgotten Heritage by Curt Landry

Back in February, I read an article on Bible Gateway interviewing Curt Landry about his new book Reclaiming Our Forgotten Heritage: How Understanding the Jewish Roots of Christianity Can Transform Your Faith. As a Messianic believer, I was excited that a book about appreciating the Jewish roots of our faith was being released by a mainstream Christian publisher like Thomas Nelson.

I didn’t get to read the book until recently because I was distracted by other new releases, some of which I had advance reader copies to review, and I was waiting for a library to buy it. I finally got a copy through an inter-library loan program and eagerly sat down to read. Unfortunately, while this book contains some really good content, I felt like it was too much about Curt Landry and not enough about its stated purpose of helping people understand how the Jewish roots of Christianity can transform their faith.

Our Forgotten Heritage

When Jesus arrived here on earth (or Yeshua, to use His Hebrew name), He didn’t come to bring a new religion. Yeshua came as the next stage in God’s plan which He’d laid out from the foundation of the world. What we now call Christianity has its roots in the faith of the ancient Israeli people and the Jews of Jesus’ time. Though this phrasing is mine, this is one of the main arguments of Landry’s book and it’s the part I found most fascinating.

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Understanding How the God Who Exercises Loving Kindness, Justice, and Righteousness Brings Us Salvation

“I am Yahweh who exercises loving kindness, justice, and righteousness in the earth, for I delight in these things,” says Yahweh.

I quoted this scripture from Jeremiah 9:24 in last week’s post and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. God defines Himself by using these three concepts and says He delights in them. If they’re that important to Him, then they should be important to us.

I feel like we talk fairly often about the fact that God balances justice/judgement and mercy/loving kindness. But sometime we’re puzzled about how exactly that works. Back in Medieval times, theologians wondered how a God of judgement and justice could also be one of mercy. Now we ask how a God of love and mercy could also be one of judgement. I think taking God’s characteristic righteousness into account — as well as studying the Hebrew word meanings — can help answer those questions.

Shapat, justice

We in the Christian churches today often start with the New Testament when trying to understand a concept. It can be useful, though, to start with the Old Testament because that’s the foundation the New Testament writers built on. In Hebrew, words for justice, judgement, government, and ordinances are all interconnected in the root word shapat (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, entry 2443).

We tend to think of judgement/justice as a judicial concept. In Hebrew thought, though, the functions of government were’t divided as we so often do today. The primary meaning “of shapat is to exercise the process of government” in any realm or any form.

When the Bible speaks of God’s judgement or justice it’s also referencing all aspects of His government, not simply judicial laws. To quote TWOT again, “although the ancients knew full well what law … was, they did not think of themselves as ruled by laws rather than by men … The centering of the law, rulership, government in a man was deeply ingrained.” Apply that concept to God, and the notion of justice has to do with Him as the center of true law, rulership, and government. He is the source of real authority and has the absolute right to rule as He chooses.

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Seeking God’s Righteousness

I’ve been reading a book called Reclaiming Our Forgotten Heritage by Curty Landry and one of his comments about what we’re supposed to “seek first” caught my eye. This book is about how understanding the Jewish roots of Christianity can transform your faith. It’s amazing to me how much we can miss when we read the Bible in English with a Western cultural mindset. And it’s equally amazing how much it can deepen our understanding of God and His ways to dive-in to the roots of our faith.

One of the things Landry talks about is how our interpretation of words and stories in the Bible can change based on whether we approach them through a Western philosophical lens or a first-century Jewish one. An example is how we see the word “righteousness” in Matthew 6:33.

When we read “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” we in the Western world tend to think this means we have to be righteous in the sense of being a “law-abiding citizen” of heaven. But a Jewish person listening to Jesus would have thought of the Hebrew concept of tzedakah, which changes how you interpret this verse. Let’s take a look at that.

Righteousness in Hebrew

Tzedakah is about justice, righteousness, and truthfulness (Brown, Driver, Briggs lexicon, entry H6666). It’s associated with God’s fairness and is also tied to acts of charity and giving. At my Messianic congregation, this word is written on the box where we put tithes and offerings because tzedakah is so closely connected with righteous giving.

In his article “God’s Kind of Righteousness,” Lois Tverberg points out that “tzedakah means more than just legal correctness – it refers to covenantal faithfulness, often resulting in rescuing those in distress and showing mercy to sinners.” It’s quite a bit different than what most of us think of when we think “righteousness,” but it’s very much in line with God’s character.

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