John T. Willis

Saturday, February 08, 2014

God's Teachings about Snow

This winter, we in Texas have been blessed by quite a bit of snow. Snow is very common is Alaska, Canada, the northern states in the USA. The same is true about countries in the southern part of the hemisphere on planet earth as for example in New Zealand, where we have gone several times. The Bible presents several messages about the spiritual dimension of snow. Here are only a few examples.

I. God's First Speech to Job.
    When Job complained that God was treating him unjustly (as in Job 9:15-22), God finally broke the silence and asked Job a series of penetrating questions in Job 38-39. The questions he raised to Job essentially had to do with whether any human being can really understand or comprehend God. He begins by asking Job:
         "Where were you [Job] when I [God] laid the foundation of the earth?
                Tell me, if you have understanding.
           Who determined its measurements--surely you know!
                Or who stretched the line upon it?
            On what were its based sunk,
                 or who laid its cornerstone
            when the morning stars sang together
                  and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?"
Obviously, Job cannot reply at all. Job had nothing to do with laying the foundation of the earth. Only God can do such a thing. So,  how can any human being comprehend the great creator of the universe?
   A little later, God asks a similar question about snow in Job 38:22-24:
        "Have you [Job] entered the storehouses of the SNOW
              or have you see the storehouses of the hail,
          which I [God] have reserved for the time of trouble,
               for the day of battle and war?
          What is the way to the place where the light is distributed,
               or where the east wind is scattered upon the earth?"
God stores up snow until he wishes to dump it on the earth to carry out his purposes. Can any human being make that happen? Absolutely NO!!! When God sends snow on earth, human beings are immediately confined. Armies cannot function. Workers cannot carry out their normal daily activities. Everything stops because God is in control, and God is much more powerful than any human being or group of human beings.

II. Snow is a Gift of God to enrich the Soil so Plants will Flourish.
     The composer of Psalm 147 declares in verses 15-18:
             "He [God] sends out his command to the earth;
                    his word runs swiftly.
               He GIVES SNOW like wool;
                    he scatters frost like ashes.
               He hurls down hail like crumbs--
                    who can stand before his cold?
               He sends out his word, and melts them;
                    he makes his wind blow, and the waters flow."
God's works are miraculous and powerful. No human being can resist or change or bring into being all of God's mighty acts like snow, frost, hail, and wind.
     Along these same lines, the composer of Psalm 148 proclaims in verses 7-8:
              "Praise the Lord from the earth,
                   you sea monsters and all deeps,
                fire and hail, SNOW and frost,
                   stormy wind fulfilled his command!"
All we human beings can do is watch and marvel and be thankful for this gift of snow.

III. Snow is a Metaphor or Simile of Purity and Cleansing.
      a. The composer of Psalm 51 utters this prayer in verses 7 and 10:
              "Purge me with hyssop and I shall be CLEAN;
                    wash me, and I shall be WHITER THAN SNOW. . . .
                Create in me a CLEAN HEART, O God,
                    and put a NEW and RIGHT SPIRIT within me."
The sinful heart is impure and dirty. But God alone can cleanse the heart and make one whiter than snow.
       b. The prophet Isaiah says in Isaiah 1:18-20:
               "Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord:
                 though your SINS are like SCARLET,
                       they shall be like SNOW;
                 though they are RED like CRIMSON,
                       and shall become like WOOL.
                 If you are willing and obedient,
                       you shall eat the good of the land;
                 but if your refuse and rebel,
                       you shall be devoured by the sword;
                       for the mouth of the Lord has spoken."
All of us human beings are full of sin and fall short of the glory of God. But our God is loving and forgiving, and if we will yield our wills to him, he can wash us whiter than snow.

IV. God's Word transforms our Hearts and Our Lives like Snow coming down from heaven.
       Isaiah 55:10-11 declares:
             "For as the rain and the SNOW come down from heaven,
                   and do no return there until they have watered the earth,
               making it bring forth and sprout,
                   giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
               so shall MY WORD be that goes out from my mouth;
                   it shall not return to me empty,
               but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
                   and succeed in the thing for which I sent it."
God is so powerful that when he sends forth his word, nothing can resist or overcome it. We have his promises, and rejoice in his mighty deeds.

V. Faithful Messengers bless the Hearers like Snow falling on the Earth.
     Proverbs 25:13 says:
           "Like the COLD OF SNOW in the time of harvest
                are FAITHFUL MESSENGERS to those who send them;
                the REFRESH the spirit of their masters."
When Christian servants send messengers of hope by e-mail, by an encouraging word, by a phone call, in any other way, our hearts are uplifted and we can lift up our heads and move forward with hope and encouragement.

VI. The Bible describes the head of the risen Jesus as white as snow.
       Revelation 1:12-16 gives this description of the risen Lord Jesus:
           "Then I [John] turned to see whose voice was that spoke to me,
             and on turning a saw seven golden lampstands,
             and in the midst of the lampstands I saw one like the Son of Man,
             clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest.
             His head and his hair were white as white wool, WHITE AS SNOW,
             his eyes were like a flame of fire,
             his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace,
             and his voice was like the sound of many waters.
             In his right hand he held seven stars,
             and from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword,
             and his face was like the sun shining with full force."
What a dazzling, striking picture of the risen Lord ruling daily over our lives.

Share YOUR contributions and expressions and shortcomings and reversals and concepts with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis


Jesus Reveals Himself to Cleopas and his Friend on the Road to Emmaus--Luke 24:13-35

After Luke's account of the burial and resurrection of Jesus, Luke reports certain events in which Jesus appeared to various people to demonstrate that God the Father had raised him from the dead. The first report has to do with Jesus meeting Cleopas and his friend as they were going from Jerusalem to Emmaus. This naturally falls into FOUR parts, found in Luke 24:13-35.

I. Jesus meets Cleopas and his friend. Luke 24:13-16.
   a. Luke says that "on that SAME DAY," clearly referring to the first day of the week mentioned in Luke 24:1, connecting the appearance of Jesus Christ risen with the day of the women discovering the empty tomb (Luke 24:5, 10, 12). Two the people who had attended the celebration of the Passover left Jerusalem and were going on the road toward Emmaus, which is approximately seven miles from Jerusalem. Archaeologists do not agree on the location of Emmaus. Of the three main options, most likely this was Ammaous known to Josephus, located 3.5 miles northwest of Jerusalem in the direction of Joppa, called in modern times Kuloniyeh, where Vespasian settled 800 veterans discharged from the Roman army. Emmaus lay on the site of ancient Mozah (Joshua 18:26), and the Hebrew Mishnah says it was the place from which willow branches were brought to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles. [For the different views, see Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S. J., The Gospel according to Luke X-XXIV, The Anchor Bible 28A, pages 1561-1562]. These two men were talking to each other about what had happened while they were in Jerusalem. 24:13-14.
   b. While they were talking, Jesus overtook them from the rear appearing as a pilgrim traveling to and from the annual Passover. When Jesus joined in the conversation, the two men did not recognize who he was because "their eyes were kept from recognizing him." Even though they saw the risen Christ physically, they did not recognize who he was. This calls to mind the occasion on which Mary Magdalene mistook the risen Christ for a gardener in John 20:14-15. 24:15-16.

II. Jesus and the Two Men have a Conversation. Luke 24:17-27.
     a. Jesus asked the two men, "What are you discussing with each other?" They responded by keeping silent and they looked sad. After a little time, one of the two men, a man named Cleopas, responded, saying to Jesus: "Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place in these days?" "Cleopas" is a shortened form of the Greek name "Kleopatros," the masculine form of Cleopatra. Jesus responded, "What things?" Cleopas and his friend replied, "The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel," i. e., deliver Israel from Roman occupation. Right now it is the third day since these things occurred. Some of these statements call to mind Luke 22:71; 23:24-33. 24:17-21.
   b. The two men identify themselves with the group in which the women were at the tomb early this morning. They are not some of the Eleven. The two men tell Jesus that the women found no one in the tomb but that "a vision of angels said Jesus was alive." Some of the people who were in the group of which the two men went to the tomb and found the tomb empty just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus. These two men are still skeptical that God the Father raised Jesus from the dead. 24:22-24.
   c. After hearing this response, Jesus said: "Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!" The prophets had declared that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer these things and then enter into his glory. See Luke 17:25; 24:46; Acts 3:18; 17:3; 26:23. The statement that Jesus "entered into his glory" means that he already enjoys the presence of his heavenly Father. Here "glory" represents the term of Jesus' transit to the Father. As an encouragement, just as Jesus Christ had to suffer all this to enter his glory, so every Christian disciple must suffer many afflictions to enter into the kingdom of God--Acts 14:22. Then, Jesus, beginning with Moses and all the prophets, interpreted to these two men the things about Jesus in all the scriptures. 24:25-27.

III. Jesus Shares the Lord's Supper with the Two Men at Emmaus. Luke 24:28-32.
      a. As Jesus and the two men came near to Emmaus, Jesus went on ahead as if he were leaving them to go to his home. But the two men strongly implored Jesus to stay with them because it was almost evening and the day is nearly over. Luke does not tell the audience where this house was located, but obviously it was well-known to the two men. Jesus agreed to stay with them. 24:28-29.
      b. In the normal ancient Near Eastern fashion, Jesus "reclined" at a "table" or couch. Then he took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to the two men. Even though Jesus was the guest, he became the host. Here the risen Jesus Christ is performing the same basic acts that he had performed at the multiplication of the loaves in Luke 9:10-17 and at the Last Supper in Luke 22:7-23. Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. But just as suddenly, Jesus vanished from their sight. 24:30-31.
     c. Then the two men said to each other, Our hearts were burning within us while Jesus was talking to us on the road while Jesus was opening the scriptures to us. 24:32.

IV. Cleopas and his Friend return to Jerusalem. Luke 24:33-35.
       a. Even though it was late in the evening, the two men left Emmaus and returned to Jerusalem. After a little searching, they found the Eleven and their companions gathered together. It is very interesting that Thomas must have been included among the Eleven at that time. 24:33.
       b. The two men told the Eleven and their companions, "The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!" Simon is the first official witness of the resurrection of Jesus. See Matthew 16:16-19; 1 Corinthians 15:4. In this way, Simon reinforces his fellow Apostles--Luke 22:32. 24:34.
       c. Finally, the two men told the Eleven and their companions what had happened in connection with Jesus on the road to Emmaus and how Jesus had made known to them "in the breaking of bread," and not by seeing him. 24:35.

Share YOUR experiences and concepts and shortcomings and fears and beliefs with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis   

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Bearing Fruit in Old Age

Paul addressed the community of faith in Colosse, saying:

  "In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel that has come to you. Just as it is BEARING FRUIT AND GROWING in the whole world, so it has been BEARING FRUIT among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehend the grace of God. This you learned from Epaphras, our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, and he has made known to us your love in the Spirit. For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God's will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you BEAR FRUIT in every good work and as you GROW in the knowledge of God." (Colossians 1:3-10). In the introductory paragraph, Paul clearly places emphasis on the importance of BEARING FRUIT and GROWING in every good work.

1. Bearing fruit has to do with spiritual growth in one's heart. Paul says in Galatians 5:22-23: "The FRUIT of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." The author of Hebrews says in Hebrews 12:11: "Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful FRUIT of righteousness to those who have been trained by it."

2. Bearing fruit has to do with natural expressions of "the FRUIT of the Spirit" in daily living. The picture of Jesus as the True Vine emphasizes this point in John 15:1-17.  Key verses are: "I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them BEAR MUCH FRUIT, because apart from me you can do nothing. . . . My Father is glorified by this, that you BEAR MUCH FRUIT and become my disciples. . . . You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and BEAR FRUIT, FRUIT that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another." Jesus taught the same message in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:15-20.

3. God's true people NEVER ARRIVE BECAUSE God, the great farmer, causes us to keep GROWING throughout life. If I am the same person today I was ten years ago, I have stagnated. GROWTH demands CHANGE by definition. The Psalmist says in Psalm 92:12-15:
            "The righteous flourish like the palm tree,
                 and GROW like a cedar in Lebanon.
              They are planted in the house of the Lord;
                 they FLOURISH in the courts of our God.
               IN OLD AGE they STILL PRODUCE FRUIT;
                 they are always green and full of sap,
               showing that the Lord is upright;
                 he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him."

Share YOUR thoughts and reversals and excitements and feelings and concepts with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Sunday, February 02, 2014

The Burial and Resurrection of Jesus--Luke 23:50-24:12

After describing the crucifixion of Jesus, Luke then describes the burial and resurrection of Jesus. This appears in Luke 23:50-24:12, which naturally falls into two parts. This section has parallels in Matthew 27:51-28:10; Mark 15:42-16:8; John 19:38-20:10. Each gospel describes events not found in the other gospels, and sometimes in a different order. Many details in Matthew, Mark, and John do not appear at all in Luke, and vice versa. It is a huge erroneous presupposition to attempt to piece together all the events and statements in the accounts in the four gospels to reconstruct the life of Jesus. No biblical speaker, preacher, writer, composer, or singer would even entertain of such an idea. As one honors the Bible as it stands, it is very important to follow the flow of the account in each gospel, in this case, the Gospel of Luke. It is essential to remember and respect that each gospel composer addressed a different audience at a different time faced with a different set of problems and issues.

I. The Burial of Jesus. Luke 23:50-56a.
    a. After describing the crucifixion of Jesus, Luke turns to another situation: "there was a good and righteous man named Joseph, a member of the council," that is, the Jerusalem Sanhedrin, without stating that he might be a high priest, a scribe, or an elder. Joseph had not agreed to the plan and action of the Sanhedrin, referring either to the plot of the chief priests and temple officers with Judas Iscariot in Luke 22:4-5 or to the sentence implied in the Council's assertion that no further testimony was necessary in Luke 22:71. Joseph came from the Jewish town of Arimathea, which archaeologists have variously located it as Ramathaim-zophim in 1 Samuel 1:1, Rathamin in 1 Maccabees 11:34, Ramathain in Josephus' works, Remphis or Remfthis in Eusebius' works, and Ramallah by W. F. Albright and several other scholars. Joseph of Arimathea was "waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God," a statement similar to those of Simeon in Luke 2:25 and Anna in Luke 2:38. 23:50-51.
    b. Joseph boldly went to Pontius Pilate and asked him for the body of Jesus. Pilate consented, and Joseph took down the body of Jesus from the cross, wrapped it in linen cloth, and laid Jesus' body in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid. Many people have declared that they have found the linen cloth, the shroud, wrapped around Jesus. But thus far, nothing has PROVED that THIS or THAT linen cloth was THE VERY CLOTH wrapped around Jesus. [For different views on this, see Jseph A. Fitzmyer, Jr., The Gospel According to Luke X-XXIV, The Anchor Bible, 28A, pages 1527-1529]. Joseph is carefully protecting the body of Jesus from associating Jesus with criminals, because usually those in charge buried criminals in common graves. Jesus' body is not allowed to hang beyond sundown, as the law commands in Deuteronomy 21:22-23. Who cared for the body of Jesus on the cross? It was not the apostles or Jesus' relatives, but devout Jewish people in Palestine: Joseph of Arimathea and the women from Galilee. 23:52-53.
    c. When Joseph buried Jesus in the tomb, it was the "Day of Preparation," which means either the day before the Sabbath or the day before the Passover. The following clause indicates Luke has in mind the day before the Sabbath. As all this was happening, women had come with Jesus from Galilee and they followed Joseph as he took the body of Jesus to the tomb, and they saw the tomb and how the body of Jesus was laid. Since the fourth century A. D., this tomb has been traditionally associoate with a spot late at present within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. These women are Mary called Magdalene, Joanna wife of Chuza (Herod's Steward), Susanna, Mary the mother of James, and many others, as Luke 8:2-3 make clear [see further Luke 24:10]. The women then returned home, and prepared spices and ointments for the body of Jesus. 23:54-56a.

II. The Resurrection of Jesus. Luke 23:56b-24:12.
     a. None of the four Gospels or any other speaker or writer in scripture attempts to give an account of the resurrection of Jesus itself. Rather, different speakers and composers relate appearances of Jesus after the resurrection. Like all faithful Jews, the women rested on the Sabbath according to God's commandment in Exodus 20:8-11; Deuteronomy 5:12-15. The Sabbath was from sundown at the end of the Day of Passover to sundown at the end of the Sabbath itself. The women went to the tomb, not in the dark, but early the next morning. 23:56b.
     b. On the first day of the week "at early dawn," the women came to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in the tomb, they did not find the body of Jesus. From the first century A. D., tombs in the neighborhood of Jerusalem have been found fitted with huge circular stone discs that were set in a transverse channel hollowed out of stone, along which the discs would be rolled in front of a rectangular doorway opening on to the tomb proper. Facing the doorway from the outside, the stone would be rolled from left to right or from right to left to open or close the tomb. Obviously "someone" had rolled away the stone of the tomb where Jesus' body had laid. 24:1-3.
    c.  The women were perplexed because the body of Jesus was gone. Suddenly "two men in dazzling clothes" stood beside them. The dazzling clothes apparently indicates that these men were of "otherworldly nature." In Luke 24:23, the report these women gave to the people is that "they had indeed seen a vision of ANGELS." There are several passages throughout scripture which identify "men" as angels, as in Genesis 18:2, 22; 19:1. When the women saw the men, they were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said, "Who do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but risen." The passive verb "is risen" clearly emphasizes the Luke ascribes the resurrection of Jesus to GOD THE FATHER. Nowhere in scripture does the Bible declare or claim that Jesus raised himself from the dead. All of this is due to the power of God the Father. See Acts 3:15; 4:10; 5:30; 10:40; 13:30, 37; Romans 4:24; 8:11; 10:9; 1 Corinthians 6:14. The men reminded the women that Jesus told them that while he was still in Galilee, the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and rise again on the third day. 24:4-7.
     d. The women remembered the words of Jesus, and they returned from the tomb, and went to the Eleven Apostles and all the rest what had happened. "The Eleven" are the Twelve Apostles minus Judas Iscariot--see Luke 24:33; Acts 1:26; 2:14; Matthew 28:16; Mark 16:14. Luke specifically names the women involved. 24:8-10.
     e. The eleven apostles thought the account of the women was "an idle tale," and "they did not believe them." But Peter, inquisitive as he is, got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, AMAZED at what had happened, but still not believing that God the Father raised Jesus from the dead. 24:11-12.
     f. According to the Bible, the resurrection of Jesus is not a mirage or a ghost or a fictitious being. Rather, God the Father raised Jesus "in bodily form." Greek philosophy declares that a human being consists of a "body" and a "soul." The Bible contains nothing at all about such a view. Rather, Paul states very clearly in 1 Corinthians 15:42-44: "about the difference between a 'physical body' . . . which is sown as perishable, with dishonor, and with weakness, and a 'spiritual body' . . . which is raised as imperishable, with glory and with power. . . . Paul . . . identifies the one and the same 'body' with all that is not body, viz. with spirit." (Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Jr., The Gospel according to Luke X-XXIV, The Anchor Bible, 28A, pages 1539). Paul compares the resurrection with a seed. A person plants a seed in the ground, the seed germinates and grows and changes into an entirely different plant, but the seed and the plant are of the same type or nature. Thus is the resurrection of the dead through the power of God the Father.

Share YOUR insights and reservations and declarations and fears and hopes with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis