The Bible tells, in sixty-six books, the story of God’s relationship to humanity. The story begins before the creation of the earth and ends in eternal blessedness for those people whom he has redeemed. There are three major themes that continue throughout the story. These are God’s creation of all that exists, the disobedience of the first humans and the consequences of that for all of physical reality, and God’s work to make right (redeem) according to his purposes all that has gone wrong. Redemption is a long and complex project and, I believe, cannot be finished in the framework of our present reality.
Special Revelation is when God reveals to particular people information concerning himself and his purposes through various means of communication. The people who are given the special revelation range from individuals to all humanity. The various ways God communicates in providing special revelations are similarly wide.
Special revelation came through dreams and visions to two Josephs, one the son of Jacob and one the stepfather of Jesus. Daniel, Peter, Paul and John, in Revelation, also received special revelation by these means. Angels and people delivered God’s messages to Abraham, David and other kings, Mary, the mother of Jesus, and others.
Special revelation came to many people through direct speech including Adam and Eve, Cain, Enoch (this assumes he was told he was going to be taken to heaven before it actually happened), Noah, Abraham, Moses, Samuel, all the true prophets of whom we have knowledge, Ananias of Antioch, and many more.
The canonical books of the Old and New Testaments are “God’s preserved, and permanent revelation of himself to mankind.” (See section 1.4.)
I believe that special revelation has not ended. If I were to think so I would be saying that God was limiting himself and why would he do that when there are believers open to hearing what God has to say. This is not to say that every revelation that is claimed as of God is actually true. There are preachers, teachers, and self-proclaimed prophets who are deceived as to the source of their understandings and so mislead sincere believers
Modern people think that they know how everything works and do not find God in any of it. Post-moderns do not care how anything works—as long as the battery is charged. Both philosophies discard any idea of general revelation, which is God showing his power and nature to humanity.
I believe that God’s reveals his existence and purposes in such things as physical reality, history, and human nature. Paul wrote that nobody had any excuse for not acknowledging the existence of God because of what was revealed to us in his creation of physical reality. The Old Testament shows God working in human history to show us what we are to do collectively as members of nations. God reveals his framework for human communities by providing everyone (with a few possible exceptions) a sense of right and wrong.
Any or all of these three aspects of general revelation can be denied or ignored by individuals and/or societies. Proverbs 1:20-33 describes this very situation. Wisdom (God’s voice) calls out in public places and is rejected by people given various derogatory names by the writer of Proverbs. These will suffer great harm because of their foolishness. At the end of the passage, a blessing is pronounced on those who listen.
Sometime time ago Time magazine had a cover which asked the question, “Is God Dead?” The April 3, 2017 issue asks “Is Truth Dead?” I believe there is an inevitable trajectory between those two issues. A society that pushes God away cannot maintain its hold on truth. After all Jesus told us that he is truth and people who reject him are not only turning against him but all the blessings that come with belief in him.
General revelation is a great blessing to humanity but it is not sufficient to bring people to righteousness. People are given the ability to blind themselves to any learning from general revelation and to make their selves deaf to the voice of God, which is one aspect of special revelation. The possession of these abilities does not excuse them for making use of them to refuse to seek and obey God.
There were seven things Jesus needed to accomplish while he was on the Cross. Dying was only one of them, and you or I could do that assuming we were crucified. What Jesus had to do was to complete, in perfection, some other tasks only he could do as the only begotten Son of his Father. What he needed to do before he died is reflected in words he said while on the cross. There are seven of these given below in chronological order.
Number One: Jesus forgave his executioners.
“And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ And they cast lots to divide his garments.” (Luke 23:34)
From our perspective, it would not be easy to forgive people who were putting us to death. To make it worse for Jesus, his executioners were gambling to determine who would get his clothes, including a seamless robe of presumably significant value. It was necessary, according to Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, for Jesus to forgive them. This was to demonstrate that anyone could receive forgiveness from him, though not everybody would. Jesus extended grace to the soldiers and not to some other people. In doing so he showed he had no anger or hate for those who tortured him. That was undoubtedly not easy in the circumstances.
We remember there was in Jerusalem that day many people as guilty of Jesus’ death as the soldiers who actually carried out the crucifixion. Perhaps there was no forgiveness for them for they did know what they had done and thought they had done it for the best of reasons.
Number Two: Jesus ministered to someone in the most excruciating of circumstances.
“And he said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.’” (Luke 23:43)
Would you or I be willing to offer the priceless gift of salvation to someone who minutes before had been taunting us about our faith. Would we even have such a conversation while dying a tortuous death? Jesus had to provide a conversion experience to the repentant thief because he had said no one would be condemned who came to him believing in who he was (John 3:18). He needed to prove the truth of that assertion in the worst situation anyone has ever been in.
Number Three: Jesus remembered his mother’s needs.
“When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.” (John 19:26-27)
Why did Jesus have to make provision for his mother’s future welfare while he was dying? One answer would be that his obedience to his heavenly Father would leave her without her eldest son who would normally have taken care of her. Another way of looking at it is that Jesus foresaw that his brother James and all the apostles except John would be martyred. Jesus must have known that John was the only one who could fulfill his obligation to his mother.
Number Four: Jesus endured separation from God his Father.
“And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Mark 15:34)
Some Christians have experienced what is sometimes called “a dark night of the soul.” This, as you might imagine, causes them great anguish. Perhaps Jesus had to have this experience to know what some of his brothers and sisters would go through when calling out in desperation for a feeling or sign that someone cared for them and getting nothing back in response. This seeming absence of God apparently is always temporary, otherwise there would not be books written by faithful Christians describing the trauma of their hurting souls.
Just as Jesus’ death was of immeasurably greater importance than ours will be, so was the temporal withdrawal of the Father from Jesus of greater significance. Jerusalem was darkened for three hours.
Number Five: Jesus fulfilled Scripture.
“After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst.’” (John 19:28)
A drink of sour wine was God’s provision, and it was given to him by an act of human mercy. It is hard to see how Jesus’ expression of his thirst was a fulfillment of Scripture. Perhaps it is connected with the surprisingly early death of Jesus (Mark 15:44). Possibly, the wine somehow allowed Jesus’ life to end so he would avoid the breaking of his legs to ensure his more rapid death. Thus the Scripture was fulfilled that said “Not one of his bones will be broken” (John 19:36).
Number Six: Jesus surrendered his human spirit to death.
“When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” (John 19:30)
Jesus, because of his divine nature as the Son of God, was able to do what we cannot. As an act of his will, Jesus separated his human spirit and his divinity from his physical body and thus denied death a final victory over him. When Sunday morning came, his body, spirit, and deity were reunited, and then we arrive at the Easter story. Jesus, in some manner after that, stayed on earth for forty days and then ascended into heaven.
Number Seven: Jesus trusted God fully at his last breath.
“Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’ And having said this he breathed his last.” (Luke 23:46)
Although the Father had departed from Jesus for three hours while he was on the cross, when it came time for Jesus to die their relationship was restored. This was consistent with Jesus’ total obedience to the Father’s will. He was ready to do what we should do when our time of death comes and that is to entrust God with the keeping of our spirit.
Faithfull obedience to his Father’s will was Jesus’ desire in all he did while he was on earth, and it also was the motive of his creative work before the Incarnation, and it drives what he now does as the risen Son of God.
Scripture from the English Standard Version
My son did a short word study on “joy” in the New International Version which follows. I thought it was an encouragement for me and that I should share it with others.
Deuteronomy 16:15 For seven days celebrate the festival to the Lord your God at the place the Lord will choose. For the Lord your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your joy will be complete.
1 Chronicles 16:33 Let the trees of the forest sing, let them sing for joy before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth.
Nehemiah 8:10 Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
Psalm 21:1 The king rejoices in your strength, Lord. How great is his joy in the victories you give!
Psalm 51:12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
Joel 1:12 The vine is dried up and the fig tree is withered; the pomegranate, the palm and the apple tree—all the trees of the field—are dried up. Surely the people’s joy is withered away.
—Is this the end of joy?
Luke 2:10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.
Luke 10:21 At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.
Luke 24:51-52 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.
Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness…
Hebrews 12:2 …fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Revelation 19:7 Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.
A couple of days ago I suggested to a friend he might go to my blog to see some of the posts I have put up. A day later I thought “Wait a minute, he’s going to first see my posts on eChristianity. What am I going to tell him about it.”
This turns out to be a good time to consider what I should tell you and him about eChristianity.
What started me off in thinking along the lines that led to the concept of eChristianity was my finding that are many serious, devout and thinking Christians on the Internet who are exploring their relationships with one or more Persons of the Holy Trinity without any acknowledgement, except from their followers, that they were doing so. Thus, it struck me that there was something important going on that was without identity or recognition.
When I thought about a name for this, I thought “how about eChristianity.” My next thought was that eChristianity seemed possibly trite and probably already used by someone. However, when I Googled it I got no results so I decided I would use the term in writing about what I had in mind.
And what did I have in mind? I think it was triggered by something I heard or read about the unity of Christians. This is not surprising since it is in the New Testament a lot. However, when unity is mentioned now, it is sometimes institutional unity and sometimes unity within a local church. It never seems about the spiritual unity of the body of Christ.
Paul wrote about the body of Christ having many different members each with a different function but all necessary if the body is going to function as it should. I think that is what eChristianity is about. We are people of Christ’s body with electronic as well as spiritual connections and we are as important to the work of God as the other Christian institutions, organizations, parachurch ministries and all the rest. We have just not had an identity or a name. Now we do.
This is a good time to consider the relationship of politics to eChristianity. I am in no place to tell you what your politics should be but I think I can give you some things to consider in regard to our relationship with the government.
First, we need to remember that we are subject to at least one government. When we read both the Old and the New Testament we see that believers are affected both by the form and the quality of their governance. This could lead us to think we are responsible for both these aspects of government and create a desire in us to rectify what is wrong. However, history shows us, in both biblical and secular accounts, that Christians either embracing a government or resisting one generally leads to adverse consequences for Christianity or Christians or both.
As we eChristians are also citizens of the nation of God, we need to be careful not to grab at the “tar baby” of political influence or the idea that we know perfectly God’s will for how we should be governed and by whom. Holding power leads to an attachment to the events taking place and, as Menno Simons thought, creating actions that it is not proper for Christians to instigate. Resisting a government is as foolish as thinking we know what the weather should be since a government is something that is too large for our understanding and subject to God’s purposes.
However, Jesus in Matthew 16:2-3 told the Pharisees and Sadducees that they had a proverbial saying that went like this: If the sky is red in the morning it means a stormy day, if it is red in the evening it means good weather is coming. So he asked them since they could interpret the signs in the sky why they could not see the signs of the times. This is a second aspect of our relationship to government and politics. Just because we have little influence does not mean we should not be very aware of what is going on and be prepared to adjust ourselves to what may occur. We are in a time of changes, and it is certain that what has happened, what is going on, and what will happen in the political realm will affect our lives.
When Jesus commissioned the Twelve Disciples before sending them out to proclaim the kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 10), he told them to be wary as serpents and innocent as doves. This is good advice for us as we evaluate and participate in a turbulent time of political change and unrest.