The Threads of John 1:1-18

logo4One can consider John 1:1-18 as the overture of the book.  It establishes themes that are picked up later in the book.  I also think you can compare it to a weaving.  There are themes, like colored strands of wool yarn, woven along the duration of the text.  The book is not outlined and linear like a book on Organic Chemistry.

Why is that?  It seems to me that life itself is complex.  We weave in and out of places and situations all the time.  On one day you can be at home, in the Lord’s presence during your quiet time, with your housemates at breakfast  with your fellow commuters and co workers during the day, with your Face Book Friends during break, then back home, maybe you go to a meeting or eat out and all along there are calls to make or emails.  Life is more like a tapestry than it is like a text on Organic Chemistry.

John starts with the invasion of the Eternal into the temporal.  Jesus comes to weave his thread into the human story and “to those who will receive him” into individual stories.

Thus the Sermon theme in December, the season of Advent is based on John 1.  We are picking out the threads of “Word”, “Wisdom”, “Light”, “Flesh” and “Lamb” among others and exploring them as they develop in John 1 and further into the text.

This will be part of a Slow Read of John, that will take us through Easter Sunday in sermons and in class discussions.  So I will be posting the schedule of readings if you want to join it.

a B c

So there will be an emphasis on the ABC’s of the faith this year: Attend whenever you can, Read the Bible Richly, Connect to Christ.  As part of the B the sermon focus from Advent to Easter will be on the Gospel of John.  I did preach John about a decade ago, but this time it will be with a different approach.  We will encourage each other to read, deeply and richly, the Gospel.  As I work out the schedule for the church, it will be posted here.

In the Catholic Tradition it is called “Lectio Divina”, or Divine Reading.  Being rather “low church” here, we will simply call it spiritual reading, or reading richly.  The idea is that we need to not just cast our eyes over the text, or to simply think about it.  We need to enter its story, smell its smells, imagine it’s events, carry around the teaching and chew on it like a dog chews on its bone.  What is more is that bible reading is a personal act – we read the book with the company of the Holy Spirit who walks with us through the text.


Nature & Name – Psalm 148:13-14

A clip from Sunday’s message:

The heavens and the creation declare Gods praise.  Its content is that God is the one who created and who orders all things.  The creation sings of its creator.  It sings in the language of planetary orbits and seasonal change. It is in the roar of the lion and the cooing of a dove.

Let them praise the name of the Lord!

For he commanded and they were created.

And he established them forever and ever;

he gave a decree, and it shall not pass away.

                 The people of the earth add something unique to this praise service.  We can agree God is creator and the one who brings order.  Our praise goes beyond that.

13    Let them praise the name of the Lord,

for his name alone is exalted;

his majesty is above earth and heaven.

14    He has raised up a horn for his people,

praise for all his saints,

for the people of Israel who are near to him.

Praise the Lord!

                             A study of God’s world can lead us to believe in a Creator.   Yet that falls short.  We can conclude that there is a creator, but we cannot know who he or she is.

Let’s say you have a meal at a restaurant.  It is delicious.  You have never tasted anything like it.  You conclude that there is a good cook in the kitchen.

               What if the chef comes out and introduces himself to you.  He tells you his name. You lean where he lived, where he studied cooking, and why he made this dish.  He takes a seat and spends time with you and you become friends.  Now you not only know that there is a cook but you know him by name.

Name.  God reveals himself to us in nature in a general way. He reveals himself in the story of Salvation in a particular way.  The bible contains the story of God introducing himself.  He said to Moses – My name is Yahweh – “I am”.

We add to the praise of Creation the ability to praise God’s name.  And we come to know that his name reveals who he is.  God has many names and each is a promise and a blessing.  He si “I am”.  He is “The Almighty”, “The Holy One”, “Heavenly Father”, “The Beginning and the End”.   Then we came to know through Jesus Christ that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  And the Son has names like “Immanuel – God is with us”, and “Lamb of God”, “Savior”, “Shepherd”, “Christ.”   The Holy spirit is the “Comforter”.

Horn.  God also adds another.  “He has raised up a horn for his people.”  The “horn” has come to symbolize power.  Think of a bull with powerful horns.  This is how he defends himself. This is his power.  God has raised up one who is called “the horn”.    This is a picture of the Savior Jesus.

On the altar on the temple there were four horns. Blood was put on those horns.  A refugee could hold on to the horns of the altar and receive protection from judgment.

So we have a Savior who is powerful.  He is the one we can cling to for our salvation.  The salvation that he offers is based upon his sacrifice on the Cross.  So we can receive protection from the judgment we deserve.

Psalms, Enemies & Bonhoeffer

In looking at Psalms attached to events in David’s life, we find a number of prayers of David where he calls for the destruction of his enemies.  This is jarring to those who have heard Jesus teaching about loving enemies.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer has a great small book, written for people in the church, on how we can pray from the Psalms as followers of Jesus.  In his chapter entitled “The Enemies” he writes:

“How can we as Christians pray these psalms?…The enemies referred to here are enemies of the cause of God, who lay hands on us for the sake of God.  It is therefore nowhere a matter of personal conflict.  Nowhere does the one who prays these psalms want to take revenge in his own hands.  He calls for the wrath of God alone. (Rom 12:19).  Therefore he must dismiss from his own mind all thought of personal revenge; he must be free from his own thirst for revenge….

   This judgment must be made public if God is to stand by his word.  It must also be promulgated among those whom it concerns….

  God’s vengeance did not strike the sinners, but the one sinless man who stood in the sinners place, namely God’s own son.  Jesus Christ bore the wrath of God, for the execution of which the psalm prays.  He stilled God’s wrath toward sin and prayed in the hour of the execution of the diving judgment: ‘Father, forgive them, for they don to know what they do!’….That was the end of all phony thoughts about the love of God which does not take sin seriously.  God hates and redirects his enemies to the only righteous one, and this one asks forgiveness for them.  Only in the cross of Jesus Christ I the love of god to be found…I cannot forgive the enemies of God out of my own resources.  Only the crucified Christ can do that, and I through him….Even today I can believe the love of God and forgive my enemies only by boing back to the cross of Christ, to the carrying of the wrath of God…

  In this way the crucified Jesus teaches us to pray the imprecatory psalms correctly.”


Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible, Augsburg, 1970, p. 56-60.


Why Worship? Psalm 147:1

Praise the Lord.

How good it is to sing praises to our God,

    how pleasant and fitting to praise him!

We gather to praise the Lord together.  Have you ever wondered why?  Maybe it is a tradition – your parents and their parents did this.  But there are better reasons than simple repetition and tradition.

This psalm says that praising the Lord is good, pleasant and fitting.

It is good in many ways.  Only the ungrateful do not give thanks for a gift.  We all think it good to thanks our parents, to thank a vet, to thank a neighbor who lends a hand.  It is good because there is not harm in it, not sin.  It is good because Praise realigns our hearts from despair or doubt – when we praise we remember what God has done.

It is pleasant. Isn’t it delightful to hear good music?  Don’t you enjoy singing a great old hymn, even if you have more enthusiasm than skill?  God desires that our walk with him is delightful and pleasant.  We are not called to be grim, sour legalists.  We are called to live in delight.

It is fitting.   Sooner or later you will run into someone who says that this is all a waste of time.  Why are we here praising God when we could be doing something useful?  During the Civil War the army wanted to close churches and turn them into hospitals.  Lincoln stopped this idea because he said that a nation has to have a place to pray, especially in times of distress and danger.

Together & Alone – Psalm 146

Praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord, O my soul.
I will praise the Lord all my life;
I will sing praise to my God as long as I live

Psalm 146:1-2 (NIV_84)

Hallelujah is a Hebrew word.  It is a verb that calls us to Praise the Lord.  It is possible in Hebrew to have verbs for an individual or for a group.  This word is for a group.  It means, “Let us, together, praise the Lord.”

While Israel lived in tents, before they entered the Promised Land.  They would put the Tent of God in the middle of all their tents.  Each tribe was arranged around the tent of worship.  God was at the center of their community.  (Numbers 2)

When they enter the Promised Land they put the tent of worship in one place.  Later Solomon built a temple in Jerusalem.  The people would come from all over to worship God in this one place.  They worshiped together in Jerusalem.  (Psalm 48)

Worshiping God is something that we do together.  Hallelujah is a command. It calls us to get together, and to worship God together.  You could watch a church meeting on TV or on the Computer.  You could stay at home with a cup of tea and be part of a church service.  You could go to TV church in my pajamas.  It would be much easier when it snows here in Wisconsin?

“Hallelujah” is a call to meet together.  His people honor the Lord when they meet together.  They show that God loves many people and many kinds of people when we meet together.  They give each other encouragement when they meet together and say “Welcome.”  And when they say, “Praise the Lord.”

It is also important to praise the Lord alone.

In verse 1 the Psalmist speaks to his own soul.  He says, “Praise the Lord, O my soul.”

In verse 2 he says, “I will praise the Lord as long as I live.”

These verses are for the individual.  The bible has stories about how God looks on the heart, not on the outside.  David was chosen to be king, even though he was the youngest in his family, because his heart was strong for the Lord.  Isaiah spoke in warning of those whose lips offered praise, but their hearts were not in it. (Is 29:13)

It is important to Praise God together. It is also important to  praise God from the heart.

There is balance in the pronouns.


Psalm 146: An observation on three Translations.

Ps 146.3 

NIV – 84

Do not put your trust in princes,
in mortal men, who cannot save.


Do not put your trust in princes,
in human beings, who cannot save.


Put not your trust in princes,
in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.

Ps 146:5

NIV – 84

Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord his God,


Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God.


Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord his God,


I am comparing two verses from Psalm 146 in the old NIV, the New NIV and the ESV.


  • The term “son of man” is changed to” human beings” in the New NIV and “mortal men” in the Old NIV.  You see that both try to contemporize an expression to present English.  “son of man” is awkward, and also makes some confusion with the use of that phrase as a title for Jesus.  ESV retains the word for word translation, which is clear with some thought.
  • V. 4 says that such a person goes to the earth.  In Hebrew “man” is “adam” and “earth” is “adamah”.  The pun is lost in all English translations.  However the allusion to Genesis is clear when one remembers that Adam was made of the dust of the earth.
  • The singular “he” is changed in the New NIV to a plural pronoun.  This was also the method used with several others: NRSV, NLT,  Contemporary.  One of the interesting things in Psalm 146 is the interplay between singular and plural.  “Hallelujah” which is a plural command, “Let us praise the LORD”.  The this changes quickly to the singular in verse 2 , “I will praise the Lord.”   The Beatitude of v. 5 is individual, and seems to call for a personal response.

Overall, an argument can be made for each. I benefit by comparing either NIV to the ESV.  For study with colored pencils and observation of words, I like ESV.  For readability, the NIVs are both smoother.  As one instructor said, “every translation is also a commentary.”


Psalms Everywhere

It turns out that this is a Psalm heavy month.

The Sunday evening group is looking at Psalms that are tied to the life of David in their inscriptions.

The Sermon series this month is on Gratitude and is based on Psalms 146 to 150.  These Psalms all start with “hallelujah”, which means “Praise the LORD”.   Eugene Peterson in his book Answering God: mentioned that these psalms form a 5 part wrap up of the book of Psalms.  The book itself is divided internally into 5 books, each of which ends with a “praising benediction”. (Ps 41:13; 72:19; 89:52;106:51; 150:6)

These 5 Hallelujah psalms also work as a sort of gathering place of themes from the book as a whole.  Where the struggles of faith are evident in the Psalms as a whole, whether that be enemies, doubts, laments or longing for grace, these last five issue in praise to God.

Hallelujah is a plural verb.  If we were translating this southern style, it might say,

“Come on, Y’all, Praise the Lord together.”  

Psalm 146 contains a benediction also:

Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,

whose hope is in the LORD his God.