In the Beginning

“Where should I begin?” you ask as you begin to tell a true story. Obviously, “At the beginning!” The beginning is where the beloved disciple of Jesus starts when he writes his account of the life of Jesus, the Gospel of John, as you see in John 1:1–5.

Start at the beginning–with the Word. John uses the term “Word” to refer to Jesus. It is not until v.14 that the identification is made. The Word is the eternal Son of God. Logos was used in Greek culture to refer not only to the spoken word, but also to unspoken word, thought, or (in philosophy) a basic underlying principle. Although John uses a term recognized in Greek circles, his primary influence is not Greek philosophy. For readers and hearers with a background in the Old Testament, the opening verse recalls Genesis 1 and the activity of God’s word in creation. God’s speech is active, Psalm 33:6, and effective, Isaiah 55:11. The term is also related to the concept of wisdom, cf. Proverbs 8.

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Wrapped with Love

Christmas gifts are often wrapped with love and given to people close to you. Listen to what Jesus says in Matthew 5:43–48 about whom to love.

Love your enemies. Love your neighbor—and your enemies! Jesus’ quote (“you have heard that it was said”) includes Scripture, Leviticus 19:18. Jesus is certainly not abrogating this Old Testament command, for he quotes it as one of the two great commandments, Matthew 22:39. But sinful people that we are, we take what God says and try to limit the scope of his command. In Luke 10, after Jesus tells the expert in the law to do what he had summarized—love God and love your neighbor—the man asks, “who is my neighbor?” Jesus responds with the parable of the Good Samaritan. The next step in limiting the scope of what God says is to insert something that God does not say—love your neighbor, but hate your enemy. Even Leviticus 19:33 goes on to command that you treat the alien well. We resonate with that kind of reaction. It is easy to find excuses why I don’t have to love this person. But Jesus commands you to love your enemies.

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“Getting Even—Or Not”

Have you seen a bumper sticker, “I don’t get mad, I get even”? Last decade a book was published with title, Don’t Get Mad: Get Even. Look at what Jesus says about revenge in Matthew 5:38–42.

Do not get even! Understand how “an eye for an eye” expresses God’s justice. The principle to which Jesus refers is stated in Leviticus 24 as well as Exodus 21 and Deuteronomy 19. Very similar expressions have been found in the Code of Hammurabi and in ancient Egyptian literature. It is sometimes called lex talionis, or the law of retribution. Why did God give this principle to his people? On the one hand, it guards against excessive punishment. But as you look at the contexts in which it occurs in Scripture, it also seems to emphasize that just appropriate punishment must be administered. God is not a respecter of persons, and neither should the administration of justice be partial or biased. The living and true God is perfectly just. He defines justice and his final judgment is perfectly equitable—because he does it. Vengeance is ultimately his. That is one reason we don’t have to get even. “Retribution is never for the purpose of placating personal revenge but for the purpose of satisfying justice. Justice is not vindictive though it is vindicatory.” (John Murray, Principles of Conduct, p. 174) Notice how Jesus introduces his reference, with “you have heard that it was said,” not, “it is written.” He is not abrogating God’s justice but calling you to a higher standard than the way the principle was taught and used.

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Promises, Promises

What is your reaction when you hear a promise that is prefaced by, “If I am elected, I shall…”? In Matthew 5:33–37 Jesus tells you what he thinks of promises casually made and lightly broken.

What was said long ago? God expects his people to keep their vows. Though he doesn’t quote exactly, he has passages such as Leviticus 19:12; Numbers 10:2; and Deuteronomy 23:21 om view. God generally did not require his people to make vows, but if they voluntarily made vows, they were required to keep them. The teachers of Israel recognized that vows made to the Lord were to be kept. Similarly, the ninth commandment forbids false witness. That opposes not only perjury, but any kind of lying.

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Commitment

You have all witnessed words something like this: A minister says, “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here in the presence of God and these witnesses to join this man and this woman in holy matrimony.” The the couple speak: “I, M—, take you, N—, to be my wedded wife, and I do promise and covenant before God and these witnesses to be your loving and faithful husband in sickness and in health, in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, as long as we both shall live.” and, “I, N—, take you, M—, to be my wedded husband, and I do promise and covenant before God and these witnesses to be your loving and faithful wife in sickness and in health, in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, as long as we both shall live.” And then you hear: “By virtue of the authority committed unto me as a minister of the church of Jesus Christ, I now pronounce you husband and wife, according to the ordinance of God and the law of the State, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.” That ought to be the beginning of a life-long commitment to being together. But, as Jesus points out in Matthew 5:31–32, too often that is not the case.

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