Story 7: Genesis 2: On the Making of the Image of God

Genesis 2

red apples on a tree

 

In the first chapter of the Bible, we are given a description of how God created the entire universe.  There were bright, breathtaking outpourings of light and power.  The range of what He made is stunning, from the sheer atomic might of the stars to the minute cells within a blade of grass.  God spoke everything into place, refining nature to its most intricate details.

In the second chapter of Genesis, everything slows down.  God gives a whole chapter to explain a whole new set of details about how He created the human race.  We are not told details about how He made the sun or the trees.  We aren’t given information about how He formed the dinosaurs or what happened to them.  The Bible isn’t about their story.  God wanted to give more details about the people He made.  That was the critical information because humanity was made in His image.

When God made the first man, He took dust from the ground and molded it like clay.  He carefully formed the first person with His own hands.  Almost everything else in the universe was made a by a word spoken from God’s mouth.  The land animals were raised up from the ground.  But for the first humans, God came to earth Himself to craft them.  He started with the first man, shaping him from the earth.  Then the Lord blew the breath of life into his form and filled this new kind of being, this father of humanity, and made him come alive.  Wow.  It is pretty remarkable to picture that moment.

And because all humans are descendants of that first man, named Adam, we have inherited his qualities.  When we breathe, we breathe the very life of God.  It is a holy and exalted reality.  Yet Adam was also made of dust.  He was a humble being, and connected to the earth that he would rule and reign over.  So it is with the rest of us.  Humans were made as immortal creatures who are meant to live in deep, dependent relationship with the Divine Lord, but we are also made of earthly flesh.  We have physical bodies like the animals, but we have been given many of the capacities of God.

Out of all the glorious beauty of earth, God chose a special place to prepare a Garden.  It was rather like a park, though far more beautiful and perfect than any of the parks we have now.  This Garden was to be God’s Temple, the special, holy dwelling place of God on the planet.

This first man would be His priest, and he would dwell in the Garden with God.  He was meant to the guardian of God’s living palace.  His job was to prune and protect it and drive out anything that was evil or impure. This sacred space, this Garden of the Lord, was set apart in a place called Eden.

Imagine how it must have been…lavishly abundant, glorious vistas at every turn, filled with animals, flowers, trees…imagine how drippingly delicious the fruit must have been in this perfect world.  A great and mighty river flowed through the Garden that broke into four more rivers.  They flowed out of the Garden and watered the regions of earth all around it, making them lush and green.  We still know where two of those rivers are today.  One is the Tigris and the other is the Euphrates.   They both flow through the modern day nation of Iraq.

In the middle of the Garden of Eden, God planted two special trees.  One was called the Tree of Life.  The fruit of this tree would give an astonishing gift.  The one who ate its fruit would never die.  The other tree was called the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

When the Lord put the first man into this amazing Garden, He told him, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Gen. 2:17).

That is a pretty serious message.  Apparently, it was an extremely dangerous tree, and God wanted the human race to stay away from it.  It was as if God drew a circle around the tree and said, “Do not cross that line.  This tree is not for you.”  Only instead of drawing an extra line, or making an unnecessary limitation, He simply told them not to eat the fruit itself.  Somehow, it was toxic, and we have a pretty good idea about why.

Once someone ate from the tree, they would understand evil.  The power of evil is aggressive and cruel, and it lies. It robs those it taints of their freedom to do right…it suffocates their ability to understand what is good.  It is like air that has been infused with carbon monoxide…even if it has some of the oxygen we need, it still has poison that we cannot handle.

God knew that no human could bear the pressure of understanding evil without being poisoned.  Exposure meant being utterly warped by its darkness. We were not meant for it…we were meant for God.  He is our oxygen.

Only God is so strong and completely holy that evil cannot touch Him.  Only God can fully understand the depths of evil and still remain perfectly righteous and pure.  God knew that the fruit of this tree would give the first humans knowledge that their souls would not be strong enough to handle, and they would become entangled with sin and death.   They would, in fact, become slaves to it.

Yet He still planted that tree in the Garden.  He would not force them to choose Him…to choose the Source of good in the universe…by keeping their choice hidden.  The option was there, but they had the freedom to ignore it.  As they continued to choose God over evil, they would give Him great glory through their trust.  They could have born children who never felt suffering or pain, who never aged or died.  We could have been free forever.

It is easy in our time to get confused about good and evil because all of the examples we see around us have good and evil mixed together.  People we admire for the good they do can still do really bad things.  The great heroes of our history books are riddled with weakness and failure.  But that simply shows the brokenness of our world now that we are outside the Garden.  When the world was new, the distinction between good and evil was clear, and the human race had the freedom to choose only what was good.

 

 

Story 6: Genesis 2:2-3: An Invitation Into Rest

Genesis 2

Chair on Dock at Alice Lake in Late Afternoon

The first pages of the biblical text give us God’s account of how He created the universe. We learn that from the immensity of His greatness and power, He simply spoke it all into existence out of nothing. There are many things we learn about the reality of our world from this:

The God that created everything is a Being of incomprehensible power.

He stands apart from our universe as totally “other,” yet He acts within our world. In fact, because He made everything, all of it belongs to Him, and He has every right to do exactly as He pleases.

God’s right to do what He wishes in our world is not only because He made it, but because He is good. He is the ultimate moral authority in the universe, and so He is the most qualified to rule over it. We will see this in many ways as we study scripture, but we can see it in creation because everything He made was profoundly good…beautifully ordered…rightly and well made. By His wisdom, God laid the foundations of the world (Proverbs 3:19-20).

There is no way to underestimate the importance of this. If the Being that created everything was evil, or toggling back and forth between right and wrong like some kind of force…if God Himself wasn’t pure and holy and right, it would mean chaos for everything. But God is perfectly good, and who He is establishes the basis of all reality.

There is a profound internal transformation that takes place in those who embrace this explanation of reality as their own. Knowing that the God of the universe is not only powerful but dependable…stable…unshakably good…lays a foundation for our souls by which we find our own stability, comfort, and peace. Whatever chaos or craziness we see in the world or find in ourselves, we can know that the One who rules in power…the One who made us and determines how all stories will end…is unchangingly stable and secure.

On the sixth day of Creation, the Lord made humanity. The human race is the pinnacle of Lord’s work: the special, set-apart beings that were made in His image. Their sacred role, the very thing they were made for…that we were made for…was to act as a reflection of God as they served Him as His stewards in the Garden. Once humanity was brought into the world, the cosmos was complete.

At this point in the story, things take a shift…a surprising turn. Day after day we have seen God depicted as powerful and profoundly able as He spoke everything from the might of His will. Now that everything was ready, one might expect to see Him move into action. What was He going to do with it all? Instead, the Lord, the all-powerful God, the mighty King, did a remarkable thing. He rested. This is what the Bible says:

“By the seventh day, God had finished the work He had been doing; so on the seventh day He rested from His work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He rested from all the work of creating that He had done.’”

Genesis 2:2-3

After six days of abundant outpouring, His work went quiet. The entire universe was set in place. The massive stars throbbed in the heavens, the planets whizzed along their ordained paths around the sun, the animals gamboled about in perfect safety on the earth. God made everything with exacting excellence. Even the darkness was molded by God to accomplish His perfect will. There was no more chaos. Everything was appointed to its rightful place in the sweeping harmony of God’s pristine world. His creation of time brought order to the development of its wild beauty.

At the end of all His creation work, the Lord took some of this time, and set it apart to rest. It was not as though God was tired or weary. He never grows weary. His work was simply done. It was totally complete and good, operating in perfect balance. Rest was a form of celebration…a space of time by which to behold, enjoy, and commune.

God blessed this day of rest, somehow filling it up with His vibrant power and creative might. Then He set this day into the laws of the universe, into the very fabric of how all things are made. He created time to have within it a day that was meant to be set apart. It was a sacred space of hours for reflection and worship of the One who created it all. His people would draw near to their God by spending a special, empowered time with Him every week, the seventh day. The people made in His image would rest, too, just like their Lord.

The people of God would write songs and poems to celebrate God’s work and His sacred rest.   Here is a psalm written for the Sabbath by a servant of God some three thousand years ago:

A Psalm. A Song for the Sabbath Day:

It is good to praise the LORD

and make music to your name, O Most High,

to proclaim your love in the morning,

and your faithfulness at night,

to the music of the ten-stringed lyre,

and the melody of the harp.

For You make me glad by your deeds, O LORD;

I sing for joy at the works of your hands.

How great are your works, O LORD,

how profound your thoughts!

Psalm 92:1-5

We can still sing these songs today. And if our hearts are not full of praise, we can be sure that it means we need a Sabbath rest all the more. Our souls were created to need sacred time for celebration and rest with our Creator for one-seventh of our days.

 

Story 5: Genesis 1:27-2:3: Eden…the way it was meant to be

Genesis 1:27-2:3

The Forest of Heaven

Let’s think for a minute about what God did when He created the first humans. There are very few things that truly deserve to be called marvelous, but this is one of them. It is worth going over and repeating in our minds. It takes time and thought for it all to sink in because things are so very different now. We must meditate on the wonder of what God made in the beginning so that we can understand who we truly are…and so we can understand the devastation of what was lost. We must mourn over the tragedy of that which was lost so that we can then long with great hope for the time when God will restore all things.

The Lord, the Divine King over all creation, crafted our vast cosmos in order to give it as a magnificent gift and home to the crown of His creation…the human race. Humans were made in the very image of God, with a high and tremendous worth, distinct and different from anything else in all creation. In the beginning, they were able to respond rightly to their worthy God with exuberant adoration. They were given keen minds that could think great thoughts with God and understand His holiness, creativity, and purposeful plans. The Lord would reflect His magnificent qualities through humanity as they enacted His good, pleasing, and perfect will.

God created His people to live in perpetual nearness to Him; they would constantly absorb His abundant love and express it back to Him through their worship and total dependence. Like the sun’s outpouring of light and warmth, God’s wisdom, righteousness, and love would pour out on them, and they would reflect His light to the world.   The human race would act as God’s royal servants, working together with Him in perfect unity. It would be a perfect world.

In this land where God was the only King and His servants walked with Him in perfect unity, there was no pain or tears. There was  no temptation to sin or tp make a choice apart from the goodness of God. There was the potential that death would never happen. The first humans had glorious bodies of robust, stunning beauty that would never fade or age. God created them so they would only hunger after what was good and pure and right.

Think about that! They had a chance at never-ending security and peace. If they obeyed God’s merciful and righteous directions, humanity wouldn’t even know the meaning of the words “evil” or “sin” or “pain.” They wouldn’t even be able to imagine those terrors. Their hearts would be able to live totally free from ever doing anything wrong. And no one would be tempted to treat anyone else with anything other than pure love. They would live in the solid, yet light, bright happiness of constant praise and worship of His holy name. This is what the Bible says:

“God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

“Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground–everything that has the breath of life in it–I give every green plant for food.’ And it was so.”

“God saw all that He had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning–the sixth day.”

Genesis 1:28-2:3

Wow. God’s powerful work of creation-the plants and animals, the fish and birds and fruit-were all lavish gifts from the Lord to humanity. They would be fed the finest fresh fruit, created to perfectly fit the needs of their perfect bodies. They were told to have many children, and all of their children would be perfectly healthy as well. There would be no colds or flu. Their children would grow up in a perfect world and would have their own flawless children. Pretty soon, there would be many hundreds and then thousands of people on the earth enjoying God’s lavish blessings.

Thousands of years after God made the universe, another man, a descendent of Adam and a great king, would write a beautiful song about the time of God’s Creation. It can teach our hearts to praise God for the world He planned for us in the beginning;

“O LORD, our Lord,

how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory above the heavens.

 When I consider your heavens,

the work of your fingers,

the moon and the stars,

which You have set in place,

what is man that You are mindful of him,

the son of man that You care for him?

You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings

and crowned him with glory and honor.

You made him ruler over the works of your hands;

and put everything under his feet;

all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field,

the birds of the air,

and the fish of the sea,

all that swim the paths of the seas.

“O LORD, our Lord,

how majestic is your name in all the earth!’”

Psalm 8:1, 3-9

 

Story 4: Genesis 1:24-31: The Image of God in Humanity

Genesis 1:24-31

After Michelangelo - Adam and God

When God spoke most of the universe into place, it took five days (See here and here for more details). It was an abundance of creation: light and darkness, the sun, moon, and stars, the boundaries of land and ocean, the flourishing of plant life, the birds winged in flight, the flashing of the fish in the sea…all of these remarkable,  breathtaking beauties, bounded out of God’s spoken word from nothing…nothing but His perfect will. On the sixth day, He continued His creative work:

“And God said, ‘Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds; livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.”

The air and the seas were already filled with life. Now the Lord was making creatures for the land. Ponder in wonder at the incredible, diverse creativity of His designs. Did the angels watch the polar bear come to life? Did they see the first elephant swing it’s trunk? Did they notice the monkeys in the trees? Did the lion roar when it was made? How the angels must have enjoyed their first look at the giraffe and hippo and camel (See Job 38-39).

It is interesting that right from the beginning, God not only made different kinds of animals, but He gave them different jobs. Some animals were meant to be wild. Others were made to be domesticated, like cattle, fit for humans to own and raise. They were an important part of God’s plan to provide for the people He was about to create, just as the plants were a part of how God provided for the animals.

The Lord was not finished with His creation when He was done with the animals. In fact, He was building up to something.  God was about to present the very crown…the highest point…the great delight of what His creation was for.  The universe was a magnificent Temple that displayed the brilliance of the King of Creation, and it was time to create its greatest treasure.

Here is what Scripture says: 

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.

So God created man in His own image,

in the image of God He created him;

male and female He created them.”

Genesis 1:26-27

Wow. God was going to make us. When God began to make humans, everything changed. For almost everything else, the Lord said, “Let there be…” and whatever it was came bounding from His powerful Word. But now, the Bible tells about a mysterious conversation of God, discussing His plans ahead of time. For everything else God made, we learn about it in quick,bright glimpses. But when the Bible tells how God made humanity, the story slows down. It pauses. It shows how careful and deliberate the Lord was about creating this one, final creature. It stops to show that this was a serious, solemn moment, even for God.

There was something very special and unique about humanity that sets every one of us apart from the rest of creation. In fact, the whole point of the rest of God’s other creation work was to prepare a home for us where we could live in a special relationship with Him.

The reason humanity is so special is that God fashioned us in His own image. Humans were made to be a reflection of the Divine. Think about what happens when you look in the mirror. What you see is an image of yourself. You see what you look like. Yet the image of you in the mirror is not you. You are still standing outside the mirror looking at it. Anyone who looks at your reflection will learn a lot of things about you. They will see the color of your eyes and hair and how long or short your nose is. If they watch carefully, they will learn many things about your personality as well. They might see kindness or anger or pain. A reflection in a mirror can tell us many things about who we are.

Humans were made to act as a reflection of God. We have the capacity to love, to use our imaginations and create in response to God. We have minds that are rational, we can speak, write, and sing. We have souls. We can delight in the preciousness of a puppy, but unlike a puppy, we can stand in awe of the beauty of a sunset. We have abilities that set us apart from all of the other creatures God made, and we were given a very special relationship to them.

On the very first day of the creation of the race, humanity was given the authority to display to the universe what God is like through our faithful care over creation. It is humanity’s rightful job to take care of God’s world. We are meant to rule the earth for Him. It is the highest position and greatest honor. At the time of our making in the Garden, we had the ability to do exactly what God wanted us to do.  We had the capacity to rule and reign in perfect obedience to God as His royal stewards. Every good and wonderful thing we did was meant reflect God’s good, pleasing and perfect will. We had total freedom to be perfectly good.

Imagine how nice that would be.  Imagine never having to struggle against your weaknesses, sins, or addictions…imagine never having to know what it means to struggle.  That is the way it was for us in the Garden.

When you look in the mirror, what happens when you walk away? Does your image stay there? Of course not.   It disappears. In order for your reflection to stay in a mirror, you have to keep yourself in front of it. The same thing is true for humans to reflect the glory of God. We were made in God’s image, but we were built in a way that requires the nearness of God in order to reflect Him.

When the world was new, this wasn’t a problem. When the Lord made the first man and woman they were constantly and perfectly near to His amazing love. They had perfect freedom to walk in the tremendous goodness of God. There was no struggle against sin, no slavery to evil, no weakness to stop them from being perfect images of His radiant life. The holy Creator was near to shine His beautiful image through His empowered servants.

What a glorious world that must have been.

Yet we know this is not the way of the world now.

What happened?

How was it all lost?

 

Seeing Jesus:  Think about this-the same hands that crafted the first man from the dust would one day have permanent, eternal scars because He died for this man’s sin. God knows all things, past, present, and future. He made us knowing he would die for us. God the Father made us knowing all about the surpassing, aching beauty of the sacrifice of His own Son. God the Son made us knowing the magnificent victory of the resurrection and the splendor of His ascension as He rose to take His seat at the right hand of His Father. God would turn even the rebellion of man against Him into a work of beauty through the power of His mercy and grace. In all things, Christ would be exalted and glorified.

Story 3: Genesis 1:14-23: The Fourth and Fifth Days of Creation

Genesis 1:14-23

day and night composite image of large meadow with mountain herbs and a conifer forest in front of mountainous massif away in the background

There are many explanations for the beginning of the world. Scientists tell us that it all started with a Big Bang. They use their measurements to see that the universe continues to expand outward from a central, cosmic level explosion that brought everything as we know into existence. They can explain the epic, breathtaking reality of the immensity of the universe, the billions of galaxies with their billions of stars…there are more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on the planet earth. (See here and here if you want to ponder the universe with a sense of awe). Yet they admit that we can have no idea what came before the Big Bang because every scientific law or theory that we go by now was brought into being by the Big Bang itself. They also can’t tell us what caused it in the first place. There are many amazing things that we have learned from studying the natural laws of the universe, but there are limits to what they can teach us. As Sir Isaac Newton declared, “Gravity explains the motions of the planets, but it cannot explain who sets the planets in motion.” He also said, “This most beautiful system of sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.”

The Bible provides the story of how the universe came into being from God’s perspective, showing us His relationship to the natural world and all that it in it. The breathtaking, incomprehensibly splendid reality of the universe is a herald of the greatness of God (See Psalm 8 and Psalm 19). The magnitude of His omnipotent strength is such that He was able to bring it all into existence with a word. Out of nothing, He created everything by merely declaring His will.

Creation is an illustration of the magnificence of God’s supreme, inexhaustible power. It is evidence of His authoritative right to everything that it exists. As we learn more about the elegant order and beauty of the universe, we are receiving testimony of His incredible genius and wisdom as the Creator. He is not a part of the universe. God stands apart from it, independent of it but actively engaging it, energizing and keeping it going, and involving Himself in the lives of the human race that He created it for (See Job 38Isaiah 40:21-31 and Col. 1:15-20).

For the first three days of God’s majestic outpouring of beauty, He made light and time and sky and sea. He made land and all the grasses and trees that soften the earth and make it lovely. As we read the story of Creation, it is stunning how effortless all of this was for Him. He did not toil or sweat or strain as He made the vast universe. He sat composed and at rest in the might of His absolute power. He is the sovereign ruler and reigning King, and He wants His beloved humans to know that their Lord created a world for them that is good.

The Master Architect made the outer frame of His grand temple during the first three days of creation. Now it was ready to be filled with the bright energy of life that would thrive there. Imagine the awe of the angels as they watched the Master Artist at work:

“And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth. And it was so. God made the two great lights-the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning-the fourth day.”

 On the fourth day, God took the magnificent light that burst from His Word on the first day and formed it to serve very important purposes. They become the glory of light we see in the sky. We call them the sun and stars. The light from the sun reflects on the moon to give it light. The Lord made these mighty, majestic spheres and set them in motion in the spaces of the universe.

But why didn’t the Lord say their names?

He named the sky, why not the sun or the moon or the stars?

We think that it is because there would come a time when whole nations of people would try to worship the sun and stars as if they were gods. For thousands of years, many people would look to these lights in the sky as if they could tell the future. They would look to them for help and seek their power. Whole nations and religious systems would worship these created things instead of worshipping God Himself.

From the very beginning, God was teaching that these things are magnificent gifts and they are good, but they are not gods. God alone knows the future, and God alone is our help. When we ponder the bright singing beauty of the stars in the deep darkness of the night sky it should call us into worship of Him.

What an amazing God to make such glorious things. The warmth and light of the sun should make our hearts throb with gratitude, but it should never be worshipped. The glowing radiance of the moon should fill us with the wonder and peace of God, but the moon can never act to bring peace. That is the work of the Lord. God did not give them names because He wanted to show that they were not living things with power or control in our world. They are simply His gifts of light.

On the first day of Creation, light and darkness brought a separation of time- day and night. Now on the fourth day, these glorious lights would mark out the great time periods of life on earth. The months are marked by the changing face of the moon. The seasons are marked as the stars in the sky change from summer to fall to winter to spring. The years are made separate from each other by the movement of the earth around the sun. The cycles of life are timed by the new birth of animals in spring, the planting and raising of crops, the abundance of harvest, and the cold days of winter. All these were determined by God’s ingenious design. He brought light and darkness together with time to bring order and structure to all of life on earth.

“And God said, ‘Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky. So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them and said, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.’ And there was evening and there was morning- the fifth day.”

 Now the vaulted skies of God were full of birds winged in flight. The great seas were populated with an abundance off flashing fish, singing whales, crawling octopi, lobsters, and sea snails. In His creative power, He made the birds to breathe through air and the fish to breathe through water, yet all of life had breath! The Lord had already filled the land with trees to make a home for the birds, and forests of kelp flourished in the oceans so the fish could eat and play.

Then God blessed these creatures with the power and potency to create new, vibrant, abundant life through eggs that would become babies that would look just like them.  Just as the seed of a tree grows into the same kind of tree, the eggs of fish make the same kind of fish. Each was specially crafted by the mind of the LORD. From nothing, He spoke His remarkable world into existence. All of these poured out from His perfect will, and so they were a profoundly perfect good.

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+1%3A14-23&version=NASB

 

Story 2: Genesis 1:1-13: Bounding Light: The First Three Days

Genesis 1:1-13

Abstract sunset and sea surface

Let’s read the first chapter of the Bible together. It is one of the most beautiful things ever written in any language, and the best part is that it is true.

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

Try to picture this in your mind. Everything is darkness and chaos and confusion, an abyss of nothingness. But the Spirit of the Living God began to move, hovering and gliding over the mass of chaos like the flow of wind. He moved quietly through the spaces, bringing order, forming the structure of the earth and preparing the way. He was utterly in control, crafting God’s vision of a vast creation with the skill of a master artist. He was creating the Lord’s great cosmic temple.

“And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness. God called the light ‘day’ and the darkness He called ‘night.’ And there was evening, and there was morning-the first day.”

 Close your eyes and picture that in your head. The first day of creation came with a bounding of light! God is so magnificently all-powerful that all He had to do was speak His will and light came bursting out! That must have been the best fireworks display in history! The darkness and chaos were powerless when the Words of God were uttered. The Bible says the angels watched and shouted for joy (see Job 38:1-7).

The light was not a part of God, it was something separate that He created, yet it came from the perfect will of God, so it was good. The light was made to serve the Lord. With mere words, God separated the light from the dark, and then He used light and darkness to make separations of time. Light brought day, and darkness brought the night. God had created time. The Sovereign Lord’s great work of art was perfect and orderly in every way.

“And God said, ‘Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water.’ So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it. And it was so. God called the expanse ‘sky.’ And there was evening, and there was morning-the second day.

The LORD was creating a great, vast hall for His creatures to live in by separating the swirling waters. As He spoke, the waters shifted and turned immediately to do His perfect will. The waters below made the rolling seas, and the waters above were like a great canopy or tent that overarched the world. God was crafting the atmosphere! It was the powerful climate system that governs the weather on earth! God was the Maker and Master of it all, and so it was His right to name His craftsmanship. The LORD named the vaulted expanse the sky.

“And God said, ‘Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let the dry ground appear.’ And it was so. God called the dry ground ‘land,’ and the gathered waters he called ‘seas.’ And God saw that it was good.

“Then God said, ‘Let the land produce vegetation; seed bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their kinds, and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning-the third day.

Imagine standing by and watching this with the angels. That is what the LORD is inviting us to do with these verses. We can see His mighty work in our minds as He described it through His divinely inspired author. Picture the tremendous waters that covered over the whole earth. Now imagine them pulling back in huge waves as the islands and the vast continents appeared.

Wow…the land and the seas were formed. God is so majestically powerful, that all He had to do was speak and the boundaries between them were set. Then He named them because they are His, He is their Master. In fact, He still provides the energy that keeps the seas rolling. Everything in heaven and on earth belongs to Him, and He reigns over it all in perfect, holy power.

God spoke His amazing will again, and trees and plants and flowers and vines began to spring up all over the earth. Each kind of plant had its own special shape. The tall, straight pine tree with its rough bark! The wide mango tree with its broad leaves, purple tulips with their gentle petals and the yellow brilliance of the sunflower. Each plant was wonderfully unique, and all of them bounded out of the creative mind of God. Each would make seeds that would bring new plants into the world just like them, in a never-ending cycle of growth to replenish the ground. It was pure, practical genius…in fact, it was not only practical, it was lovely. Each thing He made was meant to be a blessing of beauty and grace to the creatures of the earth.

Story 1: The Divine Decree

An engraved vintage Bible illustration drawing of Satan Bound in the Bottomless Pit, from an antique book dated 1836 that is no longer in copyright

In the Bible, God tells us the story of how He has been pursuing and seeking a loving relationship with humanity…the people He created for Himself. He has been at it through all of human history. He created the universe to be the home of the human race with all the splendor of the stars and the beauty of nature for our delight. The Bible tells the story of how God has been moving in human history from the first until today.  It goes on to tell how God will work to show His love and blessing to humanity until the end of History, when He will create a New Heaven and a New Earth.

The Bible begins with how God made the universe. But what was God doing before He made the universe? He is eternal, which means He had no beginning. He always was and always will be. What was He up to before there were stars, planets, or people?

Well, the Bible does not tell us a lot about what God was doing before He made our world. The Bible was written for humans to explain our relationship to God so that we can be close to Him. God doesn’t seem to think we need to know what He was doing before we existed. There are many things that God doesn’t seem to think we need to understand.

Have you ever tried to teach a dog to read? Have you ever tried to teach a flower to sing? Why not? Dogs and flowers are very different from humans. There are many things we can do that we would never even think to teach them. They are different kinds of beings altogether with different capacities.  Usually, this is something we simply accept as fact.

In the same way, there are many things that God can do and understand that humans cannot do or even begin to understand. The difference between a human and a dog or a flower is huge. The difference between a human and Almighty God is even greater. And while we might not understand it, we can trust God because He does.   We cannot understand how God existed forever and ever before He made our world, but He did. He always was. Wow.

In most cultures and eras of human history, the idea that there could a divine being who was more powerful and more knowledgeable than the human race was not only acceptable, it was assumed.  In the 18th century in the West there came a time when the dominant thinkers in the culture decided that the human capacity to reason and discover truth through rational thinking was the supreme form of intelligence in the universe.  Over time, the idea of a supernatural God was shut down and eliminated from the discussion entirely.  No other being could trump the ideas that humanity came up with or inform the elite intellectuals of the human race about aspects of reality that they could not understand.  Referring to God, a faith system, or the supernatural was a sure-fire ticket to discredit oneself.  In many circles this is still true.

While that worldview is an option for belief about how the universe works, it is the minority view of humanity.  There is a reason that every culture and people group in human history across thousands of years has some sort of faith system that profoundly informs their way of life and their reason for hope.  They are not all crazy just because some westerners…who were a minority even in the West…decided they were wrong a few hundred years ago.  There is a universal reaching out by the human soul for something we need…a goodness that we know to be true…a belonging that we were made for.  We were made to  live in a deep, abiding relationship with God.

This reaching out is not a one-way street.  God has been pursuing a relationship with the human race since the very beginning.  Unfortunately, something went terribly wrong.  The seeds of the problem were planted long before humans existed.

The Bible does tell us about a few things God did before He created the universe. He had already made all the heavenly angels. They are His bright, beautiful servants and messengers. They are living creatures that never die.  They are able to happily and freely obey His every command…unhindered by the bondage of sin, failure, and rebellion.  Long before God made the universe, there were hundreds of thousands of angels with God in Heaven, living in rapturously joyful worship of Him and perfect service. Imagine such a wonderful place. Nothing bad ever happened. There was no sadness, evil, death or pain. All of heavenly life was aglow in the light of God’s glory and goodness.

Then came a change of great tragedy and sorrow.   It was the beginning of all bad things. There was a mighty angel named Lucifer. God had given him great power and beauty. He was the highest of all the angels. Instead of choosing to be grateful to God and worship Him for these truly awesome gifts, Lucifer decided to turn against God in a treacherous military coup. For you see, Lucifer wanted the power to rule instead of God. He wanted to sit on the throne of Heaven. He turned a third of all the angels against their own Lord, and they went to war against the rest of the angelic host.

At this point, we should be asking ourselves, “Why?” Why would any angel, living in the bright perfection of God’s glorious, radiant holiness, ever want to rebel? We don’t know. Some of the most brilliant men over the past few thousand years have asked that question. It makes no sense, but they did. Evil is not rational, but it can be alluring.  A third of the heavenly angels rejected God and fought against the holy angels that remained loyal to the Lord.

These days, we call the evil angels “demons.”  Often, as Jesus cast them out in the Gospel stories, they were called evil spirits.  In many cultures they are called djinns.  Lucifer usually goes by Satan, at least in the English language, and he is their supreme leader. They are the enemies of God, and they try to destroy anything that God loves.

 

A lot of people think this idea is crazy, especially those who live in western countries whose cultures have bought wholesale into the assumptions of the scientific empiricism.  It claims that the only things that we can take seriously or understand are those which we can measure by the five senses. The funny thing is that now science is showing us through concepts like string theory and the existence of dark matter that there are many aspects of our universe that we had never imagined before.   For example, there are extra dimensions where it would be possible for living beings to exist in the same space and time as the human race and we wouldn’t even know it.  Meanwhile, for thousands of years, virtually every religion and human culture has had some kind of idea that intelligent, spiritual beings exist all around us and seek to influence the outcome of our daily lives. From the djinns of India and the Arab world to the spirit houses of Buddhist Thailand, there is strong evidence for a real experience of human interaction with spiritual beings.  Christian Scripture provides an explanation for the phenomena: there are truly angels among us. Some of them are evil and wholly bent on our destruction.

One day, all the demonic spirits and Satan himself will be cast into a terrible Abyss. Their days of bringing destruction and pain will be over.  In the meantime, they are hanging out on earth, creating as much havoc as possible for the human race.  They know we are loved by God.  Waging war against us is their way of getting back at Him.

At the same time, there are angels who only do good. They are utterly faithful to God. All they ever do is respond to Him perfectly. Often, they obey Him by helping us. We can’t usually see them, but they are here.   They are on our side…or rather, we are on their side, fighting the same battle, looking forward to the final outcome when God will have total and complete victory.

In the Bible, God often sent His angels on missions to bring His message to His people on earth.  We will get to read amazing stories about them very soon.

Long before the human race existed, God created the angels, and He cast the evil, rebellious ones out of Heaven.  All the while, something else was going on in the mind of God. The King of Heaven was planning and preparing for something. It was going to be marvelous. He was going to create our universe, and He had it all planned out ahead of time. He knew every bird that would fly and every fish that would swim. He knew how He would make the human race.

He also knew that we would fall into sin.

He knew exactly how He would show His love to humanity by sending His Son to die for our sins.

Think about that for a second.

God knew what we would do…and He made us anyway.

He also knew the name of each human who would come to love Jesus and put their faith in Him. God purposed the whole story of His Great Rescue before He created the world. We are still in the middle of God’s plan…and the best is yet to come. One day God is going to destroy all evil and suffering.  He will recreate a perfect world where we can worship Him forever. Wow.

Think about what that means for you. Before God created the universe, He knew your name. If you have put your faith in the Son of God, it means that before He made the sun He had already chosen you and adopted you to be His child (John 10:22-30; Eph. 1:3-23). He loved you before time itself existed.  He knew that He was going to send His Son to die for you. You were already on the mind of God, and He set His heart on saving you. He created an entire universe and a world where He could glorify His perfect, holy Son by rescuing us from our sin and shame…and bringing us into His love and light. Isn’t that amazing?

The Bible is an amazing story for many reasons. It is marvelous because it about the One who is the Maker of all things. It is glorious because it tells the most important story in human history. It is an incredible tale because it displays the magnificent beauty of the Son of the Living God, Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. And it is precious because you and I are a part of it. We are loved by that amazing Lord, and we can read the story to learn about Him and love Him back.

 

The Story of Genesis and the Beginning of Everything

Genesis 1

blue sunrise, view of earth from space

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

These are the first words of the Bible. It goes on to tell the most important story in the world. The Bible is human history presented from God’s point of view. While God used His human servants to write it down for Him, all the words are His. He was determined to reveal Himself to the human race and show what He is like. He sought to explain why our world has all the problems it has and why we struggle so greatly. He wanted to show us how we are meant to relate to Him and receive His love even as we live in a world that is cursed and burdened with evil.  Most importantly, He was making known His plan to break the power of evil over our world and rescue us from our plight through salvation in Jesus Christ.

There are many other versions of history as they are told from a human perspective.  A lot of them are very helpful.  There are many valuable lessons we can learn from subjects like science or math or psychology.  These subjects are not the main focus of Scripture, though our foundational understanding about them is best understood in light of Scripture. When we read the Bible, we learn about God Himself, and that gives us wisdom and power to understand everything else along the way.

For example, we can appreciate the details of the incredibly, elegantly consistent order of the universe because of what we learn from the natural sciences. Their revelations can help us understand the genius of God and stand in awe of His power. We can both enjoy the hard work and insight of scientists and also recognize the limitations of their findings.  Their explorations are based on the empirical tests of mere mortals.  By definition, they are limited in what they can understand with the five senses.

The authors of Scripture explain that knowledge of God is quite beyond the five senses that He created us with.  He is gloriously holy and magnificent in every way…there are no words in any language that can fully exhibit the greatness of His grandeur.  Yet this all powerful, all knowing God wanted to teach His people how to come to Him…because He is also all loving.  He loves with a perfect love, and He wanted to share His love with us by sharing Himself.

The first thing we learn from the Bible is how God made the universe. In His perfect wisdom He made everything that is. He made the stars and the moon and the earth simply by speaking them into place.

Each time God spoke, something wonderful happened. First there was only darkness, but God spoke and said, “Let there be light” and out of nothing, brilliant light sprang out into the dark void. All of Creation obeyed as day after day, God spoke new, amazing things out of nothing…Stars! Oceans! Dolphins! Trees and flowers and grass! And the angels of Heaven shouted for joy as they watched their Most Holy God display His majesty through the wonderful designs that poured forth from His Word.

Imagine the brilliant creativity of the mind of God as He made the exotic petals of a jungle lily, the atomic explosions of the sun, and the gentle trickling of a mountain stream. There is a certain amount of childlike delight that is totally appropriate when we think of the wild diversities of nature. This same God that made the dark clouds, rumbling thunder, and falling rain also made the fluffy innocence of a lamb.  From absolutely nothing, Almighty God created the universe. Pondering that reality helps us grasp it’s magnificence, but it is so great that even scientists raise their hands in surrender to it’s incomprehensibility. They can tell us there was a Big Bang, but they have to admit they have no idea where it came from or what came before it.

The last thing that God made was the most important thing of all. It was the crowning glory of His Creation. It was so important that God did more than speak and make it so. God came down to the earth. He had just spoken into place and formed these creatures with His own hands.   These creatures were the first man and the first woman.   They were the reason God made the whole universe. He was building their home. It was the beautiful, glorious place where God could be close to the ones He had made for Himself.

God created humanity to love them and bless them with Himself. This is not some form of arrogance or delusion of grandeur…it is simply the truth. God is all that is pure and right and hopeful. He is complete joy. Giving Himself away is giving the greatest gift anyone could ever receive. He didn’t want to give Himself to just one or two humans. He wanted to create a whole bunch more to love. Instead of crafting them with His hands, He designed humanity to have the privilege of bringing more humans into the world through the union and pleasure of romantic love.

The story of the Bible does not stop with how God made the first humans. It continues to tell the story of what happened to the human race afterwards. For you see, a terrible, horrific problem enters into the story from its very first chapters. There was treachery amidst a great mutiny of evil. Even though God put the first humans in a bright, beautiful and perfect world, they broke out in rebellion against God. They rejected Him and chose their own way, and He allowed them their choice. The problem is that God is the only source of good, so when they separated themselves from Him, they separated themselves from goodness. But God so loved the world that He would not let the story end with devastation and destruction. From the very beginning, He staged a rescue plan that would turn the whole story around.

The Bible tells the story of God’s plan to bring us back to Himself. Over thousands of years, God has continuously worked throughout human history to solve the problem of humanity’s terrible sin and weakness. In the middle of the story, God did His most important work of all. He sent His own Son to die as a payment for humanity’s sins. He made a way for humans to be washed clean so that they could be completely forgiven. They could be close to God again, just as they had been in the Garden. Throughout history many people have rejected God and worshipped other things (Isaiah 40), but many others have turned to Him…many are among those who God takes hold of (John 10:22-29; Ephesians 1:3-4)…many are saved. Right now, we are in a time of our own choosing. Will we follow after God and enter the Kingdom of Light, or choose to live in the Kingdom of Darkness? (2 Peter 1:3-10).

The Bible shows us how we can seek the presence of God and enter into the blessings of His love right now (Ephesians 3:14-19). The Bible also tells how this great story is going to end. One day, God is going take this creation that has been tainted with darkness and sin, and He will roll it up like a scroll and bring the whole universe to an end. Then He is going to make a whole New Creation, a New Heaven and a New Earth. Everyone that believes in God will live there with Him forever and ever. There will be no more tears or pain, and we will share completely and freely in His love (See Revelation 19-22). As we read the Bible, we can read the whole story of the human race and the universe He made for us from beginning to end.

 

Story 204: Ascension

Matthew 28:16-20; Acts 1:1-12

Jesus comes from heaven

Jesus told the disciples to meet Him on a mountaintop in Galilee. Perhaps He had them gather there so that those who believed in Him up in the north of Israel around the Sea would have a chance to see with their own eyes that He had risen from the dead. We can’t be sure. We do know that at one point, He appeared to over 500 people. It is interesting that Jesus only seemed to come to those who showed true faith. He was not interested in coming back and proving Himself to the chief priests or to Pilate. He came to those who loved Him and had put their hope in Him.

When Jesus revealed Himself on that hill in Galilee, they saw Him and worshipped Him. Yet even then, some of His followers had doubt in their hearts.

In one way, it is easy to judge His followers. How can they still doubt after all that they have seen? In another way, it is comforting. For all the times any one of us has struggled to have faith, to trust the Lord in the midst of tough circumstances, to believe in His love, we can take heart that those who walked with Him felt that way too.

Jesus had a message for them. It was His final teaching about the Kingdom to the crowds. Only this time, He was giving marching orders. For this was no mixed mob of malicious religious leaders, curious bystanders, and thrill seekers. These were the faithful, and a glorious responsibility lay before them. There was a task to be done!

After all the times Jesus had preached overlooking the beauty of the Galilean Sea, this was His final teaching in bodily form. Things were about to change seriously.   He wasn’t going to be their main Teacher any more. The Spirit was going to come, and Jesus was going to ascend on high. This is what the Lord said:

“‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’”

Matthew 28:18b-20

These powerful words are the way Matthew chose to close his book. They were so important to him that they were the final image he wanted to leave in the memory of his readers.

These were more than the marching orders for the generation that lived and walked with Jesus. They are the marching orders for everyone who has followed Christ ever since. The Good News of what Christ accomplished has to go to all the nations of the world! We are all disciples who are meant to draw others into the same discipleship. In every generation there are people who God the Father has given His Son. As His disciples of each era proclaim the Gospel, His chosen ones will hear His voice through their teaching. As they put their faith in Jesus Christ, their commitment would be sealed through the Spirit and expressed through baptism. They, too, would be bound up in the love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And because of their devotion to Christ, they will long to honor His commands.

This wonderful purpose statement for all believers is topped off with some even more amazing news. Jesus was given all authority in Heaven and on earth. The final victory was won when He died and rose again. He is seated at the right hand of the Father. Love truly rules the universe.

Yet in the perfect, ordained plans of God, the cursed world continues to grind on. Satan and his evil minions continue to do their best to bring destruction and evil to the human race. But the new, bright, golden seed of God’s Kingdom has been growing for two thousand years, and nothing in the universe can stop it, ever. Christ the Lord will always and forever be with His disciples, empowering them through His Spirit to spread His Word and live in the power of His beautiful, righteous ways.

For forty days Jesus appeared at various times and ways to His own, teaching them about their new life in the Kingdom. He came to James, His brother, who hadn’t believed in Him before He rose again. It was only after the resurrection that James truly believed. God would go on to make him the leader of His church in Jerusalem.

At some point in those forty days, the disciples all travelled back down to Jerusalem, for Jesus said that was where the mighty, new work would begin.   Jesus continued His teaching, telling them not to leave Jerusalem until it happened. They were to wait until God gave them what He had promised them, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Then He said, “‘…for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’”

The disciples were full of questions. The death and resurrection of Christ had taken them back, but they still remembered the promises of the Messiah. In the book of Isaiah, a time was foretold when God would renew Israel and make her the greatest nation in the world. Now that Jesus clearly had power over life and death, that seemed even more possible. Would the Spirit give them power to bring it all about? So they asked Him, “‘Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom of Israel?’”

Jesus said, “‘It is not for you to know the times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth’” (Acts 1:7-8).

The Lord and His disciples had begun to walk, crossing from the high walls of Jerusalem, down into the Kidron Valley. Imagine their thoughts as they walked through the Garden of Gethsemane, which lays along the sides of the Mount of Olives. When they had climbed the Mount, Jesus lifted up His hands and blessed them. These blessings were not just nice, thoughtful words. They carried tremendous power to bring about God’s good and pleasing and perfect plan.

As Jesus was blessing them, He began to rise as One who was being lifted up. The disciples looked on until He disappeared in a cloud. Still they gazed up in wonder at this Man who was God. As they continued to stare, two men dressed in white appeared beside them. They said, “‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into Heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into Heaven.’”

Wow. Someday He is going to return, and we know exactly how and where! The only thing we don’t know is when. That is only known to God the Father.

The disciples witnessed something breathtaking that day, but something else happened that was even more epic and amazing that they didn’t see. When Jesus arrived in Heaven, He took His rightful place, seated at the right hand of God on His eternal throne! WOW! Can you imagine the homecoming that must have been?   Can you imagine the heavenly celebration as Christ came in utter victory? What worship was offered by the angels? What joy flooded the throne room? The dark work of defeating sin and death was finished!

Meanwhile, the disciples walked back down the slopes of Mount Olive and into the city of Jerusalem. They were filled with an unexplainable joy, praising their Lord, anticipating the things that were to come.

John would go on to live much longer than any of the other disciples. He would continue to serve the Lord and oversee His Church long into the second generation of Christ followers. Even as the followers of Christ went through terrible persecution by the Roman government, the Church would continue to grow in faith and strength and numbers. In the years before John died, he would write his Gospel, filling in extra details that could not be found in Matthew, Mark, or Luke and displaying a magnificent vision of Christ as Lord.

Three of John’s letters to the Church are also found in the New Testament. We can read them and learn his heart’s concern for God’s people. How he longed for them to love one another! It was the same longing that Jesus has had throughout time!

John also wrote the last book of the Bible. It is called “Revelation.” In his later years, the Lord Jesus brought John up into a vision of the heavenly places. He showed him the things that are going to take place when God finally brings this cursed world to an end. We can read it and learn what is to come! In the meantime, we live in the same era, under the same New Covenant that Jesus won for His first disciples. We are a part of the Church that God used Peter and John to begin! May we be as faithful as they were in their persevering faithfulness to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

Story 203: A Walk Along the Shore

John 21:15-25

Sea of Galilee in Israel

It was the third time Jesus had appeared to His disciples since He rose from the dead. They were out on their boats in the Sea of Galilee. They had spent all night fishing and caught nothing. But then a man on the shore told them to cast their nets on the right side of the their boat, and when they did, they caught so many fish that the nets started to rip.

John was the first disciple to recognize that the man on the shore was Jesus Himself. He was there cooking them a simple breakfast of fish and bread. When the men finished eating, they rose and began to walk along the shore.

The Lord said to Peter, “‘Simon, son of John, do you truly love Me more than these?’”

What did He mean? And why would He ask? Peter had just suffered a massive failure. He had betrayed the Lord in a very public way. Now the Lord was going to restore Peter in a public way.

On the night of Jesus’ arrest, as Jesus explained what was about to happen, all the other disciples grew quiet. It was Peter, in all his boldness, who declared that he would never deny the Lord. It was only after he announced his loyal resolve that the other disciples had the courage to do so. Yet for all his bravery and determination, Peter’s human strength wasn’t enough. In the critical hour, when loyalty was the most sacred virtue of all, he faltered and failed. And to make matters worse, he didn’t crumble in the face of a Roman soldier or at the threat of death. He didn’t falter in the presence of a religious leader who could declare him a heretic. Peter caved when questioned by a little slave girl. And everyone knew.

Jesus understood what was going to happen before and warned him, but Peter could not bear to hear it. He refused to believe he could do such a thing. But Jesus knew that Satan, the powerful enemy of God, the very same, slithering serpent that tempted Adam and Eve, had asked permission to go after Peter, and God said, “Yes.” The Father was going to use the evil intentions of His enemy to try this servant who was so devoted to His Son. Peter had to go through a great breaking process to get rid of his own self-sufficiency and pride.

Peter didn’t understand any of this. He was under the illusion that he could muscle through on his own strength. But that would never do for the man who would become the Rock of the Church. If he was going to lead, he was going to have to learn how utterly weak he truly was so that he would depend on the power of the Most High God.

It was painful lesson, but it worked. Peter came to the end of himself in those awful days that followed his betrayal. After Jesus rose again, Peter was the disciple He appeared to first. There is no record of the things that Jesus said to him, but we can only imagine the grief and repentance that Peter showed his Master. What a close and sacred moment they shared as Lord and servant.

Now, as they walked along the Sea of Galilee, Jesus was asking Peter to reaffirm his love. This time, it was in public so that the other disciples could hear. Peter would indeed become God’s chosen leader, but the story of Peter’s denial would have damaged their respect for him. Had he fallen from grace? Jesus was making sure to reinstate him with honor.

Still, the question must have cut Peter to the core. “‘Yes, Lord,’” he said, “‘You know that I love You.’” Peter was certain that Jesus knew. In spite of his great failings, his love was real.

Jesus answered, “‘Feed my lambs.’” Peter’s love for Jesus was to show itself by watching over His people.   Jesus had described Himself as the Good Shepherd, and Peter was His servant. The Lord was going to trust him with His most treasured possessions.

The Lord asked again, “‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me?’”

What could He mean by asking twice? “‘Yes, Lord,’” Peter said, “‘You know that I love You.’” Peter wasn’t going to depend on some heroic display of his love or any declarations of faithfulness. He was going to depend on the wisdom of Christ. He knew that Jesus knew, because Peter had faith that Jesus knows all things. That was all that mattered.

“Take care of My sheep,’” said Jesus. With His second request, the importance of Peter’s task was showing its gravity. Peter wasn’t made the leader of the early church because of his natural abilities or charisma or strength. He was advanced because of his utter love and devotion to Jesus Christ. It is the one necessary thing.

Once again, Jesus asked Peter, “‘Simon, Son of John, do you love Me?’” The third time must have felt like a bitter sting to Peter. That was the number of denials that Jesus predicted. That was how many times he denied the Savior at the time of His Great Suffering. And yet Peter cried, “‘Lord, You know all things. You know that I love You.’” Peter had nowhere else to go but trust. Jesus was (and is!) Divine. He knew every truth from every lie. He knew that Peter loved Him.

Jesus said, “‘Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.’”

Wow. Now Christ was making another prediction. Peter truly did love Him, and one day he would show it to the point of death. Though Peter had spent his early years living his own life, from this point on, his life would be fully given over to the cause of Christ’s Kingdom. In the end, his arms were going to be stretched out for crucifixion. He would go on to imitate the life of Jesus in his own life, even in his suffering. And just as Jesus brought glory to His Father, Peter would bring glory to Christ. As the leader of the Church, the news of Peter’s death would travel far and wide. What could explain such unhindered, absolute faithfulness? The extent of his sacrifice was the measure of his love, and it would greatly honor his Savior.

But that was still decades ahead. For now, Jesus said, “‘Follow Me.’” Imagine knowing that at the end of your life, you were going to be crucified. Imagine knowing it was part of God’s plan and following Him anyway. There is no way to explain it other than to understand the depth of Peter’s love. And this high discipleship was exactly what Peter would go on to do.

But these things were not on Peter’s mind when he heard this.   Instead, he turned and looked back at John. “‘Lord, what about this man?’” Was John going to suffer, too? John was so close to Jesus that he lay up against His chest on the night of the arrest. As Jesus explained that one of the disciples was going to betray him, Peter had to ask John to lean back and ask the Lord who it was. If Peter was called to suffer, what was going to happen to John?

Jesus said, “‘If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow Me.’” Jesus was telling Peter, “‘It is none of your business!’” For you see, Jesus is going to return some day, and if God had ordained that John was going to live that long, that was the rightful decision of Almighty God.

Now, because Jesus said this, rumors started to spread. People began to say that John would never die. But in his book, John makes it clear that that is not what Jesus said. He was telling Peter that the life and death of each of His chosen ones is up to God. Peter needed to be faithful to God’s plans for his own life, not occupied with measuring it against God’s plans for someone else!

Isn’t it amazing that the Lord’s ordained plan for each of our lives, the way we will serve Him, even the way our lives will end, are already purposed in the heart and mind of God?

One day, Peter would be stretched out just as Christ was, on a cross. The Bible does not record the details of how Peter gave his life up for Jesus. We know that it came over three decades after this prediction came, and we know he died in Rome on a cross. By the time the Gospel of John was written, it had already happened.   Peter’s life on earth would end with breathtaking, courageous faith.

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