Minor Prophets: Amos and Social Justice

Amos has been connected to the sheep: he was a shepherd by trade, who had a tremendous concern for the downtrodden, and was called by God to become a prophet.

Chapters 1-3, Amos prophesied about God’s plans to judge Israel and the surrounding nations, eight in all. Today, we will take a deep dive into final paragraph of chapter 2.

Amos had leveled seven damning indictments against the nation and people of Israel, and he had done it within the heart of their religious center. Like the hot fire of God’s light, Amos’ words exposed their rampant corruption.

When God had gathered the people in the wilderness, to bring them into an eternal covenant as God’s people, and a holy nation, God had consistently portrayed Himself as caring for the oppressed and needy.

Had God not heard their cries for rescue, when they were enslaved in Egypt?

Had the Lord not proven to be their very great champion and savior?

Had God not redeemed them with an outstretched arm?

Did not the Lord freely provide for their every need, water from the rock, manna and quail from the sky, sandals and robes that did not ever wear out, and victory over every opposition?

God now commanded the people to show the same love and care for those in need among them. Those with resources and connections, those who were empowered were to use those resources and connections to empower the powerless, to care for those in need, to protect the vulnerable, to enable the disabled, to lift up the downcast, to make the nation of Israel—God’s people and God’s nation—stand out among all others as a people who cared for people and the earth.

God’s people were to be recognized in their likeness to the LORD.

And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the Lord.

You shall not defraud your neighbor;

you shall not steal;

and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning.

You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind;

you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.

You shall not render an unjust judgment;

you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor.

You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people,

and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord.

You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin;

you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself.

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people,

but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

Leviticus 19:12-18 (NRSV)

I picture Amos trembling with emotion, so swept up is he in the Lord’s anguish and grief over how God’s people have profaned everything the Lord holds dear. The people shift uncomfortably under Amos’ searing gaze and scalding words. They cannot deny the truth of his scorching excoriation.

Some may have begun to tear up, others to feel their own anger—a covering for fear—rising up in their chests. “How can you say such things to us?!” Our country is powerful, wealthy, we are politically and militarily respected among the nations. How could those things be true without God’s favor?

There surely were those in the crowd who were faithful to God, who were honest in their dealings with others, generous to those in need, who did their best to live by God’s commands as well as their government’s laws. Perhaps they felt distanced from those they knew who were unquestionably guilty. Perhaps they thought so long as God’s people were in the land, God’s judgement would not roll down.

But as one who lived there, in Israel—just as you and I live in our nations today—what God said through Amos was spoken for all. This was not just about God’s eternal wrath over evil, this was about God’s temporal judgment over wrongs done to the earth and to each other.  

Through Amos, God showed not just concern for the individual, but also concern with nations. God judged the nations. Whether those nations had pledged faith with God or not, when God’s law was transgressed, and God’s people harmed, God took notice.

If God is consistent, then we have to assume God continues to take notice.

The first part of what Amos had to say was hard to hear, but the next part had to have been far, far worse, for God now described the impending punishment. There would come a terrible crushing that none would escape—not the swift, nor the strong, not the skilled nor well-armed, the fleetest foot and galloping horses could not outrun what was coming, and

“Even the bravest warriors

    will flee naked on that day,”

declares the Lord.

Amos 2:16

The atmosphere has changed precipitously. What had begun as a righteous rally of indignation at the nations who had wronged them was ending under the pall of condemnation. Some shook their heads and waved scoffing hands at Amos, trying to dismiss him by turning away. Others spat on the ground and snarled. Then, those who had come in last began to leave first, as people dispersed.

Perhaps a few stayed and stared in hurt resentment, asking each other, or maybe even asking Amos,

“Is it fair for such a horrific consequence to fall on everyone alike?”

Amos might have answered with his own question: Is it possible for people to believe they are God-fearing and God-honoring while at the same time act without regard for those who are on the edge?

“Does it not make a difference if someone is deserving, or undeserving, of help?” Another might have called out.

“And did God speak of such a difference in the laws given at Sinai?” Amos might have replied.

[Homeless | Curtis Cronn, flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/]

[Many thanks to Dr. Steve Delamarter for his presentation on Amos at George Fox University]

Gospel of John: John the Baptist

Think about the last time you found yourself talking about your beliefs to someone who did not agree with you. Maybe it was over a particular political issue. Maybe it was in a conversation about a social issue, or religion, or morals. Maybe someone asked you what makes you think that your beliefs are any better than someone else’s beliefs. Maybe you were defending truth against a more hybrid view.

How did you do? Were you confident? Were you able to talk about your faith in a knowledgeable way? Did you invite this person to “come and see”?

God has given each person a longing to know Him, and to relate to Him, though not everyone recognizes that longing for what it is. Often people think that what they long for is happiness, or stability, or at least one good relationship, or success in some fashion.

But meaning in life is found in God.

In last week’s passage, John the Baptist said if you want to know who God is, then you need to know who Jesus is, because Jesus is the one who makes God known.

This week, we’ll hear John the Baptist answer questions from Biblical scholars who represented the leading religious authorities of their day.

Before dive in, though, I thought I would dig up some background on John the Baptist, that we can glean from the other gospels (especially Matthew’s and Luke’s gospel):

Family Background

  • Parents: He was the only child of elderly, Godfearing people from a small village just outside of Jerusalem. Both his parents were of the tribe of Levi, his father was a priest in the temple, and his mother was actually descended from Aaron himself, the first high priest of Israel.
  • Birth: An angel was sent to Zechariah, John’s father, to announce John’s miraculous conception, as Zechariah and Elizabeth (John’s mother) were both past childbearing age.
  • Spirituality: Even before he was born, John was already filled with the Holy Spirit.
  • Cousin: John met Jesus—who was John’s cousin—when both were in utero (John was at 6 months’ gestation, Jesus may still have been a zygote).
  • Nazirite: John was born into the Nazirite vow (just as Samson had been) and remained a Nazirite all his life, by God’s express command.
  • Character: As John grew up, he became “strong in spirit.”
  • Lifestyle: Because he seems to have gone to live in the wilderness early in his life, some scholars associate him with the Essene community.

John the Baptist
The LUMO Project


  • Timeframe: We know the exact time when John began his career as a prophet: 26-27 AD, the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar’s reign. Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod Antipas was tetrarch of Galilee.
  • Dress: John adopted the garb and diet that would most associate him with the prophet Elijah, who had been described as wearing a garment of hair and leather belt.
  •  Board: John’s menu of locusts and honey has an intriguing twist to it. According to one scholar, “The Greek word for locusts (akris/ἀκρίδες) is very similar to the Greek word for ‘honey cake’ (enkris/έγκρίς) that is used for the ‘manna’ that the Israelites ate in the desert in the days of Moses.
  • Message: John’s directive was simple and clear: Prepare the way for the coming Messiah.
  • Popularity: No prophets are recorded between Malachi and Matthew, indicating a time of dormancy, so as the last of the great Hebrew prophets, John became wildly popular, with people thronging the desert to hear him preach, both Judeans and Gentiles, including Roman centurions and the Sanhedrin alike.
  • Baptizer: John was acclaimed for his clarion call to cleanse from all unrighteousness in preparation for the king and kingdom to come. Positioning himself by the Jordan River, John baptized thousands.

John the Baptist, baptizing Jesus
The LUMO Project

Encounters with Jesus

  • Baptism: Though at first reluctant, John agreed to baptize Jesus, thus inaugurating Jesus’ own official ministry.
  • Disciples: John had close followers throughout his ministry, though he regularly pointed them to Jesus, sayingHe must increase, but I must decrease.” Two of John’s most well-known disciples were Andrew and another John, the one who would later become known as “the one Jesus loved.”
  • Questioning Ministry: Some of John’s disciples questioned Jesus’ disciples why they did not fast. Jesus explained it was because they had Jesus, the bridegroom, with them. The time would come when they would fast.
  • Questioning Identity: Whether John himself experienced a moment of unsureness, or whether his disciples were unsure, John sent an envoy to Jesus questioning his identity and purpose, prompting Jesus’ firm and public proclamation of who he was with an accompanying sermon on the dangers of wavering faith.


  • Imprisonment: Herod Antipas had John arrested and imprisoned for publicly denouncing Herod’s affair and marriage with his brother Philip’s wife Herodias (to whom he was also related).
  • Beheading: At the request of his stepdaughter Salome (who, in turn, acted on behalf of her mother, Herodias) Herod, during a drunken party, agreed to have John beheaded.
  • Burial: John’s disciples were permitted to lay John’s body in a tomb. John’s head had already been delivered to Salome on a platter. Were the head and body ever reunited?

So, John grew up, and he grew strong in the Spirit. At some point  early in his life, perhaps when his aged parents had died, John moved out into the desert and sort of dropped out of sight.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, John reappeared, now a grown man, rugged, dressed in camel’s hair and leather, eating only wild honey and locusts (or manna?), and preaching what we would call hell-fire-and-brimstone sermons.

John instructed and baptized even Greeks and ROmans
the LUMO project

His big message was that -everyone- was a sinner, even good Jewish people were sinners, and they all needed to repent and get ready for the Messiah Who was coming very soon. As an outward sign of their repentance, John was baptizing people in the River Jordan—baptizing everybody: Greeks, Roman soldiers, and even Judeans alike.

That those of the Jewish faith were willing to do this is downright amazing, because no prophet or religious leader had ever done this. Before only people trying to become Jewish went through baptism. But John was saying nobody was right with God, not even those of Jewish faith or descent.

This made him a very controversial figure.

People came by the thousands, out into the wilderness, to hear the prophet John preach and to get baptized by him, because of the great spiritual hunger during that time.

People wanted to know God.

It was also politically a very turbulent time, and the whole known world (not just Judea) was expecting a Messiah, a great king who would come as redeemer, bringing liberty and peace.

Everyone expected a great leader to emerge, who would be bigger than life, maybe even supernatural.

[John the Baptist | The LUMO Project, Free Bible Images, http://www.freebibleimages.org]

Gospel of John: The Incarnate Word

To the Greeks, Logos was an abstract philosophy, and in fact a heresy had been growing in the church in John’s time that claimed Logos was a spirit that had entered Jesus when he began his ministry and then left him before his final hour of the crucifixion.

That heresy was called Docetism, from the Greek word “dokeo” which means “to seem.” It was a form of Gnosticism that said Jesus only -seemed- to be both man and God.

John 1:14-18, The Incarnate Word

So John carefully chose his words to dispel any misunderstanding about who Jesus is.

And the word became flesh

John 1:14a

In the original Greek text those two words appear side by side,


“And the word flesh became.”

The Word, the creative thought and energy of God, became a soft, vulnerable baby.

This is called the incarnation

the infinite became finite

the eternal became conformed to time

invisible became visible

the supernatural One chose to be reduced to the natural

The Word did not cease to be God. The Word willingly laid aside some of the privileges of glory, but he never gave up his deity. This is the hard part to truly grasp. Jesus was fully God and fully man.

Amazingly, this was what God had in mind from the very beginning.

And, the Lord designed human beings with the capacity for God and a hunger for God. God created people in God’s own image, the image of Jesus, and made us to correspond to the Lord. Being made in God’s image, then, means that people are made as personal, moral, and spiritual beings.


God gave some animals the ability to think and feel in a “soulish” way, as the Bible puts it, but only the human received God’s breath, or “Spirit.” When a person is brought forth out of God, anew, the Lord fills—totally saturates and permanently alters—that person with God’s own Holy Spirit.

People are designed to contain God’s Holy Spirit in the most intimate communion possible.


  • People have intelligence, the ability to think and to know, to understand ideas. We have the ability to think (at least some of) God’s thoughts, to share in the Mind of Christ.
  • We also have emotions, specially designed to experience God in a different way than thoughts: adoration of the Lord’s beauty, reverence towards God’s holiness, awe at God’s power and perfection, a response of love to the Lord’s own loving kindness, compassion and mercy.
  • People have a will—the ability to make choices, to reject or receive the light, for instance.

God gave people the gift of language, the ability to communicate with God and to understand the Lord’s unique revelation of God and humanity, of spiritual things and the spiritual realm, things we cannot otherwise know, as they are unseen, beyond the reach of our scientific inquiry.


Jesus has always shined the light into darkness, by giving every person the innate ability to tell right from wrong, which is called the conscience. From the beginning God has always given each person a simple test, to teach us how to know, and understand in an experiential way, the difference.

Right is upholding to God’s word, and wrong is choosing something apart from God’s expressed will.

Because we are made in the image of God, our original design was to display God’s holiness. And because the Lord made people like God, people have the ability to be in relationship with God. Being in loving fellowship with God is every person’s greatest purpose, every person’s greatest good, deepest fulfillment, pleasure, happiness and satisfaction.

So, John went on to say that

. . . and he resided among us

John 1:14b

Literally, that word “resided” means “tabernacled,” which would have made Jewish readers of John’s gospel think immediately of God’s tabernacle in Exodus.

During the desert years, the Hebrew people lived in tents, and The Lord had a tent pitched for God as well, which would be God’s home, as it were, that the Lord could live among the people. God’s Shekinah, the pillar of fire and cloud which was the visible aspect of God’s presence, descended on the tabernacle and tented with the rest of the Hebrews in the desert.

The law was kept and put on display at the gate of God’s tabernacle. It was the place of revelation, where Moses would speak to God face-to-face, and God would speak to the people. People came to God’s tent, the tabernacle, to worship the Lord. And, at the tabernacle, the sprinkled blood of sacrifices would symbolize God’s forgiveness for their sin.

Now Jesus fulfilled all that by taking on a body to “tabernacle” in with his people

. . . and we beheld, perceived, and contemplated his glory, the glory in the manner of a father’s only-born, full and complete in grace, joy, and favor and truth

John 1:14c

The glory Moses had asked God to show him, John saw in Jesus.

Jesus was fully man, but he never stopped being God. In verse 15 the Baptist gave his testimony that even though Jesus had been born six months -after- the Baptist, and even though Jesus started his ministry -after- the Baptist had started his own ministry, prophesying in the desert, still

“This was the one I spoke of: the one coming -after- me who came into being -before- me, who was first (in eternity) before me,”

John 1:15b

Jesus is from eternity.

John described the fullness of Jesus’ grace in verses 16 and 17. If you have a Bible, take a look at that phrase “grace upon grace” or “blessing after blessing.” The first grace, or blessing, from God was the law God gave to Moses in verse 18.

The first grace, or blessing: through that Law people came to know God’s holiness and perfection, which none of us can match on our own, and also God’s generous forgiveness which the sacrifices only symbolized, always pointing to Jesus.

The second grace, or blessing: the Lord gave was God’s own Son, Jesus Christ. The grace and truth of Jesus are the same as life and light. Life is the gracious gift of God to all God’s creatures, and light is the understanding of truth, the illumination of truth. True life and true light only come through faith in Jesus

No one has ever seen God, John said in verse 18. But Jesus, the unique one and only, fully man and fully God who is at the Father’s side, has made God known to us.

To know Jesus is to know God

Just as a scientist studying quantum physics can show that one particle can be in two places at the same time, the apostle John could, by his own eye witness testimony, along with John the Baptist’s, demonstrate that the Word was not only with God, but the Word actually was God, too.

It seems impossible, it is a mystery, but it is true.

Though there are at least two people (Hagar and Moses) who saw God in some way, only Jesus has fully seen God as God truly is, and only Jesus makes God fully known to you and me.

[The Word made flesh | Gerard van Honthorst / Public domain]

Gospel of John: The Witnessed Word

It might seem strange that John the Baptist would appear so early in John’s account. It points to one of the heresies John the Gospel writer was addressing: there were groups of people in as late as 200 A.D. who were still worshiping John the Baptist as the Messiah.

God knew the Gospel writer John was sympathetic. The apostle John himself had started out as a disciple of John the Baptist. John had known the Baptist well, had admired and respected him, had seen him as both mentor and rabbi, and had initially thought to become one of the Baptist’s acolytes.

John the apostle of Jesus was the perfect candidate to gently undertake redirecting misunderstandings about the Baptist, so he quoted the Baptist several times as saying he was not the Messiah, but a messenger.

John 1:6-13, The Witnessed Word

There came to be a person who was sent from God whose name was John, who came as a witness, so that he would testify concerning the light, in order that all might believe through him.

That one was -not- the light, but rather in order that he would -give testimony- concerning the light.

John 1:6-8

The emphasis here is verse 8, the Baptist understood that he was not the light, but he was to prepare the people to believe the true light when they saw it.

The task of a witness is to point to the truth. You know the phrase “to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” We use that in a court of law because that is what everyone is expecting the witness to do, to bring out the truth.

In fact, everyone who knows Who Jesus really is, is called to be a witness to the truth. Witnessing is both verbal and nonverbal. To keep integrity, the words have to match the life of the person saying the words.

This the Baptist was well-known for. He lived blamelessly, and honorably, with all the markings of a prophet from God. Then, John the Baptist identified Jesus—who otherwise looked like an ordinary person—as the true light.

Some would be repelled by the light, and others would be drawn to it.

Yet, tragically, most people did not even recognize the light in spite of the Baptist’s testimony.

The true light which enlightens all people was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world through him came into being, and yet the world did not know him (did not come to know by observation and experience, the world did not recognize him, did not “get” who he was).

John 1:9-10

The Creator came and the creatures did not even know who he was.

World,” “cosmos” in Greek, is another word John often used, in most cases, to refer to the created order that is now in rebellion against the Creator. John said this light was coming into the created order which was now in darkness, in rebellion, against the source of light. The world could not apprehend the light because of spiritual blindness.

But even more amazing, in verse 11, is that Jesus came to His own home, that is the sense in the Greek, and even his own people did not recognize him.

These were the covenant people of God, who had been entrusted with

  • God’s law
  • God’s covenants
  • God’s promises

. . . for thousands of years.

These were a people who had been actively waiting for their messiah since the days of Moses. God had specially made these people to be his own treasured possession. Of all people, these people were by far the best equipped to recognize and receive the Messiah. But they did not.

Nevertheless, there -were- those who did receive the Light.

But, however many took hold of him, he bestowed to the ones who believed in his name privilege, capacity, and authority to become children of God—these not out of blood, nor out of the will of the flesh, nor out of the will of a man, but rather they have been brought forth out of God.

John 1:12-13

Every human being comes into this world by birth. There is simply no other way to get here except to be born.

And the same is true for those who enter the kingdom of God, you must be brought forth, as though born.

John listed the ways that people mistakenly think they can come to God.

  • This is not of blood, or by natural descent, in other words, not by inheritance, or by human ancestry. Being raised in a Christian home and going to church all your life, going to a Christian school, being involved in lots of Christian activities does not automatically make one a Christian.
  • This is not of the will of the flesh, something that just happens. When we were born into this world, it happened because two people . . . well, you know. Being brought forth into new life will not happen that way. This is not something someone can simply make happen.
  • This is not the will of man, or some translations say “husband.” This is not by human caveat. No one can decide for you and me. By that same token, you and I cannot decide for someone else, either.

Jesus gives his life to all who receive him and believe in his name

Each individual must respond to Jesus’ light on their own terms. This is between each person and God.

No amount of ceremony, or reciting of words or saying special prayers or creeds, or going forward, or performing certain rituals brings a person “forth out of God.” John was saying that God’s children can only be brought forth out of God by God within the human heart. Because it is all God’s doing, and no one else’s, it is accomplished beyond any human effort.

And it is available to all who, as John put it, “take hold of,” or even “seize hold of” the Word:

  • who with their mind accept the facts and understand the light,
  • who with their emotions respond with desire for the light,
  • who with their will give themselves to light, to Jesus, and take hold of Jesus as their own.

This experience takes place deep in the human spirit, as God accomplishes this mysterious transformation.

It is not something you or I can do, and we might not even feel it happening. A mother does not feel the moment when a baby is first formed deep within her, and yet there that baby is, tiny and growing.

New life has begun, and God knows the moment. The Lord nurtures that new life and is in charge of its growth, and with that life comes light, the ability to understand God’s revelation of God and of spiritual things, in the world around us and in the Bible

[John the Baptist | James Tissot / Public domain]

Gospel of John: The Eternal Word

What do you do when you are confronted with something that seems impossible, but you are told is true? For example, can one thing be in two places at the same time? (I am excluding parents, we have to do that routinely.)

I am talking about theory, here.


Can that be possible?

Some people take it as a challenge and immediately start digging. Others will say “I’m not going to take someone else’s word for it unless I can prove it, myself.”

But some people will accept that claim is true. Why?

Let us suppose they heard that claim from a person they trusted, like a physicist with bona fide Ph.D.s from a prestigious university and an excellent reputation. Or, let us suppose such a person saw this seemingly impossible phenomenon proven. Some things can be demonstrated, but are hard to explain—like quantum physics, where one particle, if left unobserved, can be demonstrated to be in two places at the same time.

That is how the Gospel of John opens. We are challenged to believe the impossible on the basis of the gospel writer’s credentials (who I will now refer to as John, for ease and because essentially, I believe this is his gospel), as an eyewitness disciple of Jesus, who will demonstrate his claims, so you and I can see that even though it is hard to understand, what the gospel claims is completely true.

John 1:1-5 The Eternal Word

In the first few verses of his gospel, John made the clear and uncompromising claim that Jesus is God

In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and God was the Word.

This One was in the beginning with God.

John 1:1-2

This was not written about some epic hero, or some ancient legend, but about a thirty-year-old construction worker out of Nazareth. A regular guy, by all outward appearances, Who, sixty years before, had made headline news.

John was now saying that this man, this construction worker, was God. You recognized how John tied in with Genesis “In the beginning…” the first words of the Bible. Now John added more information to that. “In the beginning,” before Genesis, there was the Word, and the Word was with God and was God.

“Word,” the English word, comes from the Greek word Logos, which was familiar to the Greeks in their philosophy just as it was familiar to Jewish people in their philosophy. To the Greeks, Logos came to mean “First Cause,” the reason or the will behind the universe, an unknowable force.[1] Plato, four hundred years before, had posited the Logos as both in the world and also in the mind of God.

In Hebrew this word was called “Debar” and it was God’s expression of Himself, “Thus saith the Lord.” Logos, or Debar, was the word that proceeded from God’s mouth and accomplished what God intended to do, almost as a synonym for God Himself.

John developed this understanding even further by stating Logos, the Word, was another personality with God. The nuance of the word “with,” in Greek, meant that Logos looked God in the eyes, not kneeling as a subject, nor looking down as a superior, but rather face to face as intimate equals. John was grappling with one of the deepest mysteries of God: the Trinity. “The Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

How could one God be more than one Person?

That’s impossible.

Yet here is the mystery: the Word was so intimately involved with God that their thoughts and purposes were one. The Word and God were one, as Jesus would later say, “I and the Father are one.”

But how could both Jesus and the Father be God?

How could the Son be His own Father?

Still, here in verse one John declared the eternal Word was a Person separate from God, was with God, and yet also was God.

There is no other way to translate these words without violating the laws of Greek grammar, though people have tried. John was taking great pains to make his point clear: There is only one God, and Jesus was one with that God, and Jesus is God.

Continuing in the theme of Genesis, John declared Jesus as the Creator of all things.

Look at the parallel between Genesis 1:3 “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’” and

Everything came into being through him, and apart from him not a single thing came into being.

What has come into being in Him was life, and the life was light of the people,

John 1:3-4

Here is God the Son at work, He is Logos, Debar, the eternal Word, the force behind the universe, speaking into being what the Father has conceived and designed. Everything that was made, the material and spiritual worlds, were made by Jesus and for Him.

Jesus is also the source of life and light.

All other life depends on Jesus as the source of life. Think about what “life” is. You can tell the difference between life and death, but try to define exactly what life is without using that contrast.

In fact, life is one of the great mysteries of science and philosophy. No one really knows what life is, what it is that animates all these carbon-based enzymes and basic elements that make up life. But here is John saying that life is Jesus, He is the source of all life.

And with life comes light.

Light, as John used the word, is a symbol of knowledge, understanding and truth, and it points to the kind of life that goes beyond our physical, temporary life. Understanding and truth point to eternal life.

Then John introduced a hint of the struggle that would happen when light came into the world

and the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overtake (or comprehend) it.

John 1:5

The original Greek word I translated as “overtake” actually means “to lay hold of, to lay hands on, to seize.” That can mean either as a hostile act, or in order to possess, so sometimes it’s translated “to comprehend.” John was saying that darkness cannot get a hold of the light, darkness cannot possess light, it cannot apprehend or comprehend light.

Nika Akin | Pixabay

Think of what light does in a dark room. Darkness simply cannot win. No matter how tiny the light is, darkness has to recede. Darkness and light cannot exist together, and light is always the more powerful than darkness.

The light is intellectually the truth and morally holiness, which is contrasted to the darkness of intellectual error, and moral wrongdoing.

It is hard for us to accept that we live in a world of darkness. Think of all the scientific advancements, of our great social and technological progress. Think of all the great things we have done just in the last two hundred years. But if we are being honest, we have to admit that regardless of all of our impressive advances, we have not changed basic human problems of fear, hate, violence, injustice, and crime.

Now, John was not suggesting that the whole activity of life is the fight between light and darkness. This is not yin and yang. What he was saying is that light will not ever be overcome by darkness—it is the nature of light to always penetrate darkness, it cannot be taken hold of, or even be understood by darkness.

So, in these opening lines John introduces an incredible mystery: this construction worker from Nazareth is not only a man but God Himself.

The Creator has become a part of His own creation.

The source of deepest wisdom has limited Himself to being born as a baby and learning as a little child, and the origin of life and light was going to submit Himself to death and the darkness of a grave.

As I thought about this, I began to wonder what areas of my life might still be shrouded in darkness. How willing am I to admit there might be places I’ve kept in the dark? Places I don’t want to think about, that if I pretend hard enough, I can convince myself are not even there?

What would happen if I were to let Jesus’ light pierce that darkness?

[1] For a deeper dive into the ancient meaning of Logos, Encyclopaedia Britannica

[The Cosmos | NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI / AURA) -ESA / Hubble Collaboration / Public domain]

Triumphal Entry

Have you ever come into the middle of a conversation, and it sounds really interesting, and you try to get what everyone is talking about, from the context?

I mean, first you are quiet and you just nod your head, “mmhhm, mmhhm,” and you hope no one has noticed you have just inserted yourself. Inside you are scrambling to piece it all together. But, at some point you realize there is just too much you don’t know, you have too few puzzle pieces for you to understand what’s going on.

I think that is how we hear the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. We try to get why this event is so momentous it shows up in all four gospels as the commencement of Passion Week. But, there is just too much important background information that is missing for us to really grasp the importance—and symbology—of what was happening in this scene.

First, we will look at the passage, then I am going to tell you four stories, so you will have all you need to understand what is going on. Then we will go back to the passage and piece it all together.

(There was something going on with my microphone, so throughout this talk you will hear glitches. Hopefully, the talk itself will overcome that minor annoyance)

Triumphal Entry, Mark 11:1-11
Grace and Peace, Joanne

Minor Prophets: Amos Blisters Israel

Amos has been connected to the sheep: he was a shepherd by trade, who had a tremendous concern for the downtrodden, and was called by God to become a prophet.

Chapters 1-3, Amos prophesied about God’s plans to judge Israel and the surrounding nations, eight in all. Today, we will take a deep dive into the rest of chapter 2.

Not since the days of Solomon had God’s people enjoyed such material prosperity, political stability, and military success. And for the first time since Solomon, Israel had reached the original borders of God’s promised land. In both countries, the kings were enjoying long and stable reigns. Jeroboam II, in particular, was a hero to his people.

But spiritually, people in both countries were corrupt. There was idolatry, extravagant indulgence, immorality, corruption of the judicial process, and oppression of the poor.

Yet, in spite of the moral depravity and degeneracy, religion was really popular. People thronged to the festivals and religious centers.

Religion was almost like entertainment and made people feel better about themselves. The people thought that grand sweeping ceremonies, performing special rites, making sacrifices, doing rituals was all that was needed; it was a form of religion but it had no substance, no intimacy with God, and it was also mixed together with elements from the pagan religions that surrounded them, the calves of Ba’al and the rituals brought in by false priests.

Jonah had been prophesying restoration and glory, so had Elisha, and here it had all been coming true, so both Judah and Israel made the mistake of thinking that God’s blessing of them was also His endorsement and approval of them.

Forgotten were God’s past punishments for unfaithfulness.

The people were not committed to God’s law, so they had abandoned all standards of conduct. It is not as though we can say Israel began following the political practices of the countries around them. Far from it. Hammurabi’s Code, circa 1,800 B.C. had been widely adopted for a good thousand years. According to Hammurabi, the purpose of government was “to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land, to destroy the wicked and the evil-doers; so that the strong should not harm the weak; to rule over the [citizens] like [the sun], and enlighten the land, to further the well-being of mankind.”   

But Israel’s religion was telling them God was happy with the way they were living their lives, and that is why they were getting rich, and being victorious in war.

They were ignoring the fact that the rich were getting richer at the expense of the poor, and that their religion was a sham.

Amos condemned all those who made themselves powerful or rich at the expense of others, by cheating, by perverting justice, and by taking advantage of those with no money and no power.

It’s a timely message, isn’t it?

I imagine Amos, standing on the steps of the magnificent temple in Bethel, his voice supernaturally carrying across the courtyard, as worshippers draw near. He is preaching a sermon they are all enjoying, “This is what the LORD says: For three sins of Damascus, even for four, I will not relent!” Like a refrain in a popular song, the people begin to chant it themselves, “For three sins, even for four!” “Praise be the word of the LORD!”

Slowly, at first, a crowd forms and then swiftly becomes a pulsing throng, arms thrust up in righteous indignation, “The Syrians, the Philistines, the Phoenicians, the Edomites . . .” but then the shouts become less vehement, more scattered, as Amos moves relentlessly closer and closer to home. Suddenly, with the same zeal and supernatural power, Amos condemns his own country, Judah.

A heavy silence settles on the gathered citizens of Israel. The noose has been slowly coiling, but they had not seen it coming. Now, they hold their breaths as Amos stabs his arm forward, his large hand balled into a fist with one, long, accusing finger pointed at the congregation all about him. He fixes them with a terrible stare, penetrating their souls one by one.

“This is what the LORD says,” he pronounces, enunciating each word with his low, guttural accent. The syllables land like blows as he shouts, “For three sins of ISRAEL, even for four, I. WILL. NOT. RELENT.”

What was Israel actually doing, as a nation?

I hope you have your Bible somewhere handy and read what Amos wrote. I’ll paraphrase, but don’t take my word for it, go back and see for yourself.

Amos 2:6 Slave trade at rock bottom prices. Here’s what happened: Even though plenty of people were enjoying a great deal of wealth and luxury, there was an ever-growing divide between people who had money (and then more money) and people who, however hard they worked, had not very much money, and then went into debt. If they could not pay back their loans, their last recourse was to sell themselves into indentured servitude.

“Greed” courtesy Pexels

Amos 2:7a Oppression of the poor Here’s what happened: There was no welfare or social program in place—despite God’s many commands designed to protect the destitute. All those chapters in the Pentateuch about the judicial system were ignored. The judicial system was totally corrupt.

Amos 2:7b Ramped up sex trade. Here’s what happened: Prostitution was an integral part of pagan worship practices, so father and son would go into the same sex worker.

Amos 2:8a Fraudulent banking practices. Here’s what happened: Holding onto the cloak of a poor person as collateral was specifically forbidden by God, it was all the impoverished person had to keep them warm at night. Now, those offering loans kept the collateral for their personal benefit, even to bankrolling their visits to pagan worship centers, a double slap to God and His people.

Amos 2:8b Political and economic exploitation. Here’s what happened: Those with the power to levy the law found ways to extort ordinary people with stiff levies and fines. The wine actually belonged to the people who had pawned it, as cash. So debts would be ruthlessly foreclosed on. These same leaders would then drink that wine in the temple as though they were right with God and with everyone.

11‑12 Religious intolerance and persecution. Here’s what happened: The prophets God raised up were prevented from obeying God by speaking His word. Making Nazirites drink wine was to make them break their sacred vows to God.

I thought about all the issues we read about today in the United States that speak to economic and political injustices—this is my own short list. Do you have other topics that should get added?

Our own safety nets for those in need:

  1. Access to health care
  2. Livable wages
  3. Disability care
  4. Care for the mentally ill
  5. Elder care
  6. Help for the unemployed

Our own treatment of noncitizens:

  1. Immigration laws
  2. Documented, and undocumented workers
  3. Border control

Our own system of justice:

  1. Equal rights for those who have less power and privilege
  2. Protection for the vulnerable

Our own economic system:

  1. The enormous divide between wealth and poverty (this site is mind-boggling, but it only works with a touch screen)
  2. Our stance on taxes and social programs
  3. The condition of our national debt

This week is God’s indictment, next week is God’s judgement. God made it clear, through Amos, that who we are and what we do matters.

[Corruption | Gillam, Bernhard, 1856-1896, artist / Public domain]

[Many thanks to Dr. Steve Delamarter for his presentation on Amos at George Fox University]

Gospel of John: Two Responses

John’s gospel was written to prove that Jesus was the Christ, the promised Messiah and that He was the Son of God, not just because those are really grand slam head line news items, but because this news would lead people into life-saving belief in Jesus, to find union in relationship to the Lord.

In fact, some form of the word for “believe” is found 98 times in this gospel. John wrote about the great themes of life—and the word for “life” occurs in at least 42 verses. “Death” occurs in only 9 verses. John talked about Jesus as “Light,” which appears in 16 verses, whereas “darkness” occurs in 5 verses. John talked about “love” in 21 verses and referred to the hate that was leveled against Jesus.

Life versus Death

Light versus Darkness

Love versus Hate

Belief versus Unbelief

Was Jesus the world’s greatest teacher? 

Was he more? 

Was he one of the world’s greatest prophets, up there with Buddha, Abraham, and Mohammed? 

Or is Jesus truly God and Savior, giver and sustainer of life, provider of the only true spiritual illumination, conqueror of death and darkness, the source of love?

There seem to be four main sections to John’s gospel:

  1. In chapters 1-4 John recorded the first stages of belief and unbelief

In his prologue, John described the two kinds of response to Jesus,

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.

John 1:10 (NRSV)

. . . against irrefutable proof, the majority was going to reject Jesus,

Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.

John 1:12 (NRSV)

. . . there was a minority who would believe and receive Jesus.

In chapters 2-3 Jesus was revealed to the Judeans as he began his public ministry by clearing the temple, calling it his father’s house. But his actions were not met with belief. The scribes and teachers of the law wanted to know by what authority Jesus thought he could come in and take over the business of the temple, which was properly, by Moses’ Law, in the hands of the tribe of Levi and the priests? By what authority did Jesus claim God as his father? They were skeptical, at best.

Afterwards Nicodemus, a member of the ruling council of Israel, was shocked to find out from Jesus that Nicodemus was actually -not- okay with God, that following the Law was not enough.

But right after that, in chapter 4, a Samaritan woman with a painful past put her faith in Jesus and brought her entire town out to meet Jesus.

  1. Chapters 5-6 show a further polarization of belief and unbelief to the point of intense hatred of and active opposition to Jesus as he turned the established religious world upside down.

In his first real confrontation with the Jewish leaders, the first time they were preparing to stone him, Jesus claimed equality with God as life giver. Since they asked Jesus “by what authority,” Jesus presented his own evidence, beginning with John the Baptist, last of the Hebrew Testament prophets.

Then Jesus pointed to his own works, to the testimony of God the Father, and to the scriptures. Finally, Jesus told them that even Moses—whose Law they were certain they obeyed—stood as their accuser for not believing in Jesus.

Many people rejected Jesus because he refused to be their earthly king, and kept talking about spiritual things. By the end of chapter 6, Jesus’ followers were brought to a crisis of belief and many decided Jesus was just too hard to follow; they didn’t like where he was going with his teaching.

But Peter spoke for the twelve disciples when he said,

We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.

Peter, in John 6:69

Just as others were leaving, the disciples drew in closer to Jesus.

  1. In chapters 7-11 there was a crystallization of belief and unbelief

By chapter 7,  Jesus and the Judean religious leaders were involved in a conflict over Moses and the Law during the Feast of Booths. As Jesus and the religious rulers exchanged heated words, all around them was whispering, amazement, confusion, and divisions.

The Pharisees tried to seize Jesus and have him arrested.

In chapter 8, Jesus delivered a loaded “I AM” statement saying he existed before Abraham, infuriating the religious authorities.

The intensity increased when in chapter 9 Jesus proved that he was the light of the world by healing a blind man, in contrast to the religious leaders’ spiritual darkness.

Jesus pointed to his unique Sonship in chapter 10, willingly laying his life down for the sheep, but also picking his life back up again in resurrection. The Judean religious rulers once more accused Jesus of blasphemy and tried to stone Him, but many others believed.

This led to Jesus’ claim of being the resurrection and life in chapters 11-12. At this point many believed, but many others did not believe, and the Judean religious leaders now plotted to kill Jesus. They were no longer going to react in the heat of the moment, they were going to carefully devise Jesus’ destruction.

By the middle of chapter 12, Jesus withdrew publicly and began to teach only his disciples and closest followers.

  1. Chapters 13-20 mark the centering of belief among Jesus’ disciples and close followers, and the hardening of unbelief among all the rest.

Tension built as Jesus shared the Last Supper with his disciples, prayed with them, and then was arrested, tried, whipped, and sent outside Jerusalem with his cross. The climax came in chapter 19, of belief in those at the foot of the cross, and unbelief in the nails hammered through Jesus’ feet and hands.

The resurrection in chapter 20 is what continues to confirm eternal life in those who believe and confirms the condemnation of unbelief.

John’s gospel quoted Jesus as saying those who did not believe in him would die in their sins, and warned those who rejected Jesus would have to face the Father in judgment. Just as there is life in Christ, so there is judgment without Jesus.

Knowing the truth about Jesus requires a response

Seven eyewitness were called upon by John’s gospel.

Seven statements are provided by Jesus himself, based on the very holy name of God, Yahweh, “I AM.” 

Seven supernatural signs were presented by God, pieces of physical evidence, miracles which John called signs to point to the deity of Jesus. From these, John was confident any jury would reach a verdict of belief in Messiah, the Son of God, the one called Jesus.

But incredibly, many rejected Jesus instead. Where do you and I stand today?

[This 5th-century mosaic from Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna depicts the Last Judgement in which Christ separates the sheep from the goats.

It is considered among the oldest mosaic depictions of a New Testament scene.

Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P., flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/%5D

Gospel of John: Jesus is God

There were already three very serviceable gospels in circulation, and John’s gospel—along with Peter’s—was being widely taught in oral fashion. He had set pen to paper already once, just to sketch out his own testimony, working in the symbology of what he had experienced with Jesus. It was all so much more profound than any written word could adequately convey, anyway. He wanted people to understand the reality of the supernatural, the cosmic impact of God revealed in the Lord Jesus, Messiah, and that seemed to come better with teaching in person, rather than a flat papyrus with ink scratches.

Close on Jesus as the Good Shepherd. Ceiling – S. Callisto catacomb.
Period: early Christian
Date: mid 3rd century A.D.
Materials: painting in catacomb
Wikimedia Commons | Public Domain

But there was a growing number of those who were denying the humanity of Jesus, that God had somehow imbued the man Jesus with God’s supernatural being when he had risen up out of the Jordan, baptized by the other John—John the Baptist. And that—somehow—in that last hairbreadth of a moment when Jesus’ breath rattled to a stop on the cross, God had taken the Holy Spirit back, for God cannot be mortal, such people said.

John was old, and his gnarled fingers often ached, as his hand brushed across the papyrus, inking each word. Yet, it was more important than anything else he could imagine doing, to impart the momentous truth of Jesus.

Jesus said “I Am one with the Father.”

He had told Nicodemus he was the Savior of the world.

He had told the woman at the well he was the long-awaited Messiah.

He had told Pontius Pilate he was King.

The term “Son of God” may not sound like saying flat out Jesus is God. It may sound like there is a distinction between the term “God,” and the term “Son of God.” But remember, John wrote his gospel in the context of ancient Judea, to be read by those familiar with the Hebrew scriptures as well as the practice of Rome’s emperors.

No Hebrew would have seen a distinction between those two terms. To someone of Jewish culture and faith, to call someone a “son” of something was to say he was identified with, even identical with, that thing or that person. So, to the Hebrews, the use of the term “Son of God” meant “This man is God, of one being with God.” He was literally the personification of godhood on earth.

In much the same way, for the century surrounding the events of Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection, several Roman emperors were deified after their deaths so that their successor was entitled “son of (a) god.” In this way, Roman emperors had temples built to them where people could worship them, and statues designed in their likeness to stand at the entryway of marketplaces and public buildings, where everyone could leave a sacrifice or libation of some kind. To be the son of a god was indeed to be a god oneself.

The mystery of the trinity was deeply hidden in the Hebrew scriptures, and it took several church councils over a number of centuries to come to some sort of understanding of how the Godhead might be grasped. It is not something we, as three-dimensional creatures, can fully comprehend. We try our best to hold the perspective of God and human together with open hands.

The Son of God is said to be one person of the Godhead, the trinity. As God, Jesus is eternal, Jesus always existed.

Jesus has the true divine nature.

Before there was anything, Jesus was with God, a distinct person in the Godhead, and also was God, that is what the first few verses of John’s gospel was seeking to convey.

The writer of Hebrews describes Jesus as “the radiance of the glory of God,” the visible aspect of God. But Jesus is not just an image or a reflection of God. The writer of Hebrews goes on to say that Jesus is “the exact imprint of God’s nature,”He is the image of the invisible God,”

Jesus is the absolutely authentic representation of God’s being.

Paul explained that all of God’s fullness—the totality of God’s powers and attributes—rests in Jesus. God upholds the universe by the word of God’s power, Jesus. Jesus actively holds all things together.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation;

for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him.

He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,

and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Colossians 1:15-17, 19-20 (NRSV)

The Father and the Son are equal in being, yet in the plan of redemption the Son subordinated himself to the Father—a willing subordination that in no way implies inferiority. At a specific moment in earth’s history, The Son of God took a human form, becoming the man we know as the Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus Himself said, in this gospel, that he, as God, entered from eternity into the world not to judge it but to save it.

Jesus has a true human nature that is perfectly united with His divine nature. Jesus was completely human, except He was without imperfection in his inner being. As a human Jesus humbled himself by becoming perfectly obedient (we might say so attuned to God as to be one with God’s will and intention) to God, even to the point of death on the cross for the sake of our salvation.

Jesus’ death and resurrection have changed everything. The work of redemption is complete. Because of Jesus’ humility in obedience, God has exalted Him, giving Him authority over every authority. Jesus now remains the unique God‑man forever—fully God and fully human.

Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God

Today, many think that Son of God and Messiah still do not mean GOD, the God of the universe, the real GOD.

But there was no confusion during Jesus’ ministry about Who he claimed to be. The scribes and teachers of the law, who knew the scriptures better than anyone, understood perfectly what Jesus was saying.

John’s Gospel explained this was why the Judean religious authorities were seeking all the more to kill Jesus, because not only was Jesus breaking the Sabbath, but Jesus was even claiming God as his own Father, making himself equal with God.

The scribes understood that Jesus was claiming the same essence as God. In fact the Pharisees told Jesus, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.

Taken as a whole, it was the intention of John’s gospel that readers and hearers make some conclusions based upon these witnesses’ testimony.

[Early portrait of Jesus, Aya Sofya, a beautiful mosque turned museum, built by Emperor Justinian in in 532 AD | Curious Expeditions, flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/%5D

Gospel of John: 7 Signs

To support the testimony, and the case that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and to support the claim that by believing in Jesus you will have life in Jesus’ name, the Gospel of John recorded seven of Jesus’ miracles which acted as supernatural signs from Almighty God, as heaven’s testimony to earth of the truth of Jesus’ deity and work.

Think about what a sign’s purpose is. When you go on a road trip, you look for the signs that mark out where the exits and entrances are on the freeway, and what the names of the roads are, so you know where to turn. Your focus is on getting to your destination, not to admire the signs. The sign’s whole purpose is to get your attention then point, not to remain the central interest.

Gospel of John Presents Seven Physical Signs

  1. In chapter 2, Jesus attended a wedding at Cana where he turned water into wine just by speaking. This sign pointed to Jesus’ creative power, the power of his word, he spoke and it was so.
  1. In chapter 4 Jesus healed a royal official’s son. Jesus did not go to the official’s house, but spoke the word from a distance, revealing Jesus’ authority over all creation, whether he was physically present or not, inspiring faith in the official.
  1. In chapter 5 Jesus healed a man who had been lame for 38 years. Jesus healed him without being asked, but came up to him, out of all the people who were there. Jesus revealed the personal nature of salvation, that he will seek you and me out.
  1. In chapter 6, Jesus provided a meal for at least five thousand people. Jesus reveal himself as the Bread of Life, able to satisfy, even though it seemed an impossible amount was needed. He likened himself to the heavenly food God had sent to those wandering in the wilderness, only Jesus is the true manna.
  1. Also in chapter 6, Jesus walked out on the lake while his disciples were struggling in a storm. They were terrified, their boat was about to be capsized and their situation looked grim. But Jesus brought with him ability to still the storm, to provide peace and safety. His power over even the forces of darkness was revealed.
  1. In chapter 9, Jesus healed a man who was blind from birth. He changed a life-long misfortune into an opportunity to glorify God, revealing he is master over all of life’s circumstances.
  1. In chapter 11, John recorded the last sign, Jesus raising Lazarus from the grave, revealing his power and authority over life and death itself.

The first three signs show how salvation comes to a person.

  1. Just as the water was transformed into wine by Jesus’ word, so you and I are saved through understanding and believing his words.
  1. Just as the royal official’s son was healed as the official believed in faith that Jesus could heal, so you and I are saved by faith.
  1. And just as Jesus saw the lame man and reached out to him, so we are saved by Jesus’ grace, Jesus seeks you and me out and calls us to Himself.

The last four signs show the characteristics of being saved

  1. You and I are satisfied and strengthened by Christ, because he feeds our souls.
  1. Jesus brings his own peace during the storms of life.
  1. Jesus gives light, understanding, guidance and insight to our spirits just as he literally gave the blind man sight for the first time in his life.
  1. And Jesus raises us to new life, literally and spiritually.

As God, Jesus Christ has the power to give eternal life

Jesus said

Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life.

John 5:24 (NRSV)

And also

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

John 10:10 (NRSV)

Jesus promises not only to move us from death to life, but to move us from ordinary life to a fullness of life.

You and I hear how people say to follow our bliss.

There are all kinds of books out on how to enjoy life, how to get the most out of life, how to be happy, how not to be miserable, and so on. That is all speaking to the longing every person has for life, the abundant life.

Just a little bit ago I read about yet another Hollywood star who died because, after the investigation, it was discovered she had been abusing –prescription- drugs for years. As has been found out in several other recent cases, her doctors had given her what she wanted instead of what she needed.

In what ways might you and I be trying to follow our bliss that do not include Jesus? Those ways are not on the path of life, truth, and light.

We all want abundant life, we all want happiness, we all want to feel good and to not feel bad. But those desires are fed by one deep desire, a longing for relationship, for belonging, to love and be loved. That longing can only be fully satisfied, ultimately, by Jesus, as John’s gospel explains, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of all people.

[Image courtesy Pikist]

%d bloggers like this: