Behold, the Lamb of God

The KJV and others render John 1:36, “Behold the lamb of God.” The NIV and some others render it, “Look, the lamb of God.” Look works, of course, but behold works better. In Revelation 21:5 we hear that he who sat on the throne said (KJV), “Behold, I make all things new.” The NIV renders it, “Look, I make all things new.” Again, look works but behold works better.

If people in the kitchen are searching for the salt and someone finds it, he might say, “Look, the salt!” Unless he means to be amusing he won’t say, “Behold, the salt!” The word look would work if he wanted people to know he had found the salt but behold wouldn’t. Why is that?

We know the word behold doesn’t work for the very ordinary, the very familiar. It’s a word we’d reserve for something grand, something out of the ordinary; it’s a word we’d tend to associate with pageantry and the blowing of trumpets. It has, for perfectly good reasons, an old English sound because that’s what it is—an old English word that has dropped out of use because people have lost something of the sense of wonder and if you lose that then you have no use for the speech of wonder. And it works in a vicious circle for part of the reason we have lost the sense of wonder at life is because we cheapen it with speech that cheapens it. You only have to think of the long list of tasteless slang used for the lovemaking between two who love one another. So many words that have dropped out of common use and we’re the poorer for it. I’m glad that some versions have had the good sense and good taste to retain the word behold.

It’s a word that promises the looker something outstanding if he looks. Behold, says the King who sits on the throne, as he draws attention to a glorious renewing of the entire creation. Behold, says John and focuses their attention on something, on someone, more wondrous than the entire creation—the Lamb of God! Behold said the angel of God to the trembling shepherds when he came to announce the arrival of the Messiah, the incarnate Son of God.

It doesn’t matter that the human family didn’t understand; it doesn’t matter that the human family still doesn’t understand the reality and nature of its misery, the depth of its alienation from the Holy Father or the cure for it. Voices here and there with some sense of it all have asked the questions for us. We’ve always sensed that something was wrong and Dwight and Adams spoke the truth about us when they wrote something we could sing and confess: “Long lay the world in sin and error pining/ till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.”

We’ve tried everything to bring peace and satisfaction to ourselves. We’ve murdered our brothers like Cain, we’ve cheapened marriage like Lamech, we abandoned ourselves to self-actualization, swore we’d build towers and glorify ourselves by ourselves and our masterful skills and we’ve armed ourselves to steal and keep what we grabbed. We’re still doing it—aren’t we!

Then every now and then the awful realization of the depths of evil to which we can plunge filled us with self-loathing and we thought ourselves—God’s creation, God’s children—we thought ourselves unworthy of redemption. His appearance to rescue us showed that God thought more of us than we thought of ourselves. He said, “You’re worth it to me!”

One day God visited Ur and knocked on a door.

“You Abram?” he said to the man who answered.

“I am sir, and who are you?” the man asked.

“For now, just call me El Shaddai.”

“And what is it you want, sir?”

“I want you to come with me, you and your wife. I want to save a

world and I want you to help me.”

Then one day God sent Abraham on a three-day ride with his future riding beside him, his future embodied in a boy called Isaac. They got to the place and the boy asked, “I see the wood and the fire, but where is the lamb?” His faith-filled father said God would provide and so the question became, “Where is the lamb of God?” Now there was a ”lamb” that kept Isaac from death and the promise to Abraham was secured. This was a lamb that spoke of God’s faithfulness.

Then later came a fearful night when God strode into Egypt and thundered on Pharaoh’s door demanding that the king let his son Israel go and Pharaoh refused. He refused until one awful night when an angel of death visited every home in the land of Egypt and spared only the homes of those who took shelter under the blood of lambs. Now there was a lamb that redeemed Israel from death and enabled them to begin their journey to a promised land. This Passover lamb too bore witness to God’s faithfulness to Israel and their father Abraham.

Then one day a psalmist called the nations of the world to sing God’s praises. Notice how he puts it:1

O praise the LORD, all ye nations: praise him, all ye people.
For his merciful kindness is great toward us: and the truth of                                           the LORD endureth for ever. Praise ye the LORD.

He calls the entire human family to sing God’s praises because he was good to Israel—“to us.”  But why should the non-Jewish nations sing praise to God because he is good to Israel? Because this psalmist knew that a God so great and so generous as Israel’s God would be good also to the entire human family he created. If in his goodness he would deal with sinful Israel’s need, in keeping with his promise to Abraham, he would deal with the need of all the nations in keeping with his promise to Abraham concerning “all the families of the earth.” 2

The question, “Where is the lamb of God?” became, “Where is the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world?”

The Baptist having witnessed Jesus fully identifying himself with his sinful Israelite family by being baptized with a baptism meant for them and having seen the Spirit of God descend on him later points him out and says: “Behold, the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world!”

Was that a sight or not? Do you “look” at him or do you “Behold” such a one?

Sometime when you are able, sometime when you are alone and nothing else is demanding your attention, sit down, dismiss the talk of the preachers (sometimes Jesus is hidden under our talk—too much talk) and behold Him; envision and take a long lingering, thoughtful look at the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world—yours included.

 (1) Psalm 117

(2) Genesis 12:3: 22:18; 28:13-14; Psalm 67:1-5

©2004 Jim McGuiggan. All materials are free to be copied and used as long as money is not being made.


Luke 9 said Jesus set his face steadfastly toward Jerusalem. In light of what Jerusalem did to him it isn’t surprising that our first question might be about that it meant for Jesus. He was betrayed, railroaded, abused, humiliated and executed. He knew this was ahead.

Another question of profound and lasting consequence is this: What did it mean for Israel?

There was no doubt in Jesus’ mind what it meant for them. Look at him and listen to him.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chick under her wings, but you were not willing. See! Your house is left to you desolate.” Matthew 23:27-28 

“Now as He drew near, he saw the city and wept over it, saying, If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” Luke 19:41-44. 

To weeping and lamenting women who followed him on his way to crucifixion he said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For indeed the days are coming in which they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, wombs that never bore, and breasts that never nursed!’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us!’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’ For if they do these things in the green wood, what will they do in the dry?”  Luke 23:27-31 

In a scathing denunciation of Israel’s leaders, in whom their evil fathers were very much alive, Jesus said, “…you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt…Therefore indeed I send you prophets, wise men and scribes, some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute them from city to city, that on you might come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Assuredly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.”  Matthew 23:31-36 

In the midst of a wicked world the ancient [and modern] history of Israel is marked by prolonged pain and loss and misery. God called Abraham’s physical descendants to be a special People and into a unique relationship with a spellbinding commission. Israel was to be God’s People against the gods and for the blessing of the world [Isaiah 49:5-7 and elsewhere]. As her own prophets bore witness, Israel’s history as a nation was characterized by unfaithfulness to God and God often withdrew his protection and wicked Israel’s wicked allies ravaged her [see Ezekiel 1—24 and elsewhere].

All of this Jesus knew and when he saw John the Baptist, who was, He said, “the Elijah who was to come” [Matthew 17:10-13 with Malachi 4:4-6] he knew the awful judgment would fall on Israel. Malachi 2:17—3:3 began the discussion of that judgment and chapter 4 takes it up again.

Jesus knew this also: once “Elijah” was rejected and slain, only one thing stood between Israel and calamity—”the son of the owner of the vineyard” [see the parable in Matthew 21:33-41]. The landowner sends his son as a final appeal for faithfulness from the vineyard workers and they insolently as well as cruelly kill him. No other appeal is possible. Any other appeal would be an insult to the landowner’s son and in rejecting the son they were contemptuously rejecting the landowner.

Jesus knows the judgment is merited—the generations of national apostasy made that clear but like his Holy Father he loves his People. With chest heaving, eyes streaming, and audible sobbing he sits on a hill, sickened and distressed beyond mere words at what he knows is going to happen and his place in it as the catalyst of a judgment that even now continues to work itself out. 

When he gets to Gethsemane’s garden the burden is almost unbearable. With increasing intensity [Luke 22:44]. Three times he prays saying he doesn’t want to drink the cup and three times he is denied. This is no casual request from a casual man—this is a physically debilitating inner battle, this is an occasion when Jesus is so distressed he feels he is even now on the point of dying. “Grant me this!” he says three times and three times his Holy Father refuses to listen to and grant his prayer. 

No wonder angels came to give him support. He is devastated! For the first time in his life he begs for release and for the first time his Holy Father denies his request. At a level deeper than any psalmist knew Jesus entered into the experience of the psalmist in Psalm 22:1-2. His prayer goes unheeded.

I do not think he is praying, “Keep me from being damned!” I do not think he is praying, “Keep me from being ‘lost’ and ‘unsaved’ in your sight and mind.” I do not think he was praying, “Do not punish me.” I do not think he was praying, “Do not be angry with me.” [Even Calvin thought that ridiculous. I’ve spoken elsewhere of the nonsense of penal substitution.]

This is a man who like his Holy Father loves his people, beyond words [he doesn’t sit sobbing and wailing on a hill over little or nothing and it wasn’t for himself he sobbed and shook and wailed]. This was a man who even while he hangs on a cross he prays, “Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing.” Luke 23:34 and see Isaiah 53:12, last phrase. Of course this prayer embraces individuals but it is a prayer for the nation and for the nation’s future.

The cup Jesus seeks to avoid if it can be avoided has nothing to do with any threat to himself [how unlike Him that would be if he were filled with self-defense and self-protection]. His hour has finally come and it deeply troubles his soul [John 12:27] for he knows full well he is to be the one who by offering himself to his beloved People will set in motion calamity and catastrophe. Such horror that in his own generation will result more than a million and a half Jews dying and from that beginning even more when some years later Akiba announces Bar Kochba to be the Messiah and a second war with Rome crushes the nation. Sigh.

But as the representative man, in Jesus’ person faithless Israel makes confession and in his person faithless Israel dies and in his person a new Israel arises to resurrection life—a new Israel with Abraham’s flesh and Abraham’s faith and in him all those [without exception] who are truly Israel have been and will be saved [Romans 9:6-7 with 11:26-27; Ephesians 1:12; Romans 1:16; John 8:37-40; Galatians 6:16; Romans 4:13-24 [25] and elsewhere]. In the book of Acts tens of thousands experienced the fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer on the cross.

There is life and peace for Israel in their Savior Jesus Christ for the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable [Romans 11:28-29].

But in being the living expression of God’s righteousness Jesus Christ does more than fulfill God’s promises to Abraham’s physical children of faith, he fulfills God’s commitment to the entire human family [Jews & non-Jews— Romans 15:8-9]. So that Jesus while he is not less than the Jewish Messiah is now more than that. The flesh, he insisted, profits nothing, it is the [S]pirit that gives life [John 6:63]. Jesus died in and to the flesh [1 Peter 3:18—the text is without the definite article “the”]. Paul too will say that Jesus, unlike the first Adam, is a “life giving spirit” [1 Corinthians 15:45-49—which is not a denial of his continued humanity, which is another discussion].  And whatever else

2 Corinthians 5:15-17 would teach us I’m certain Paul sees the end of “fleshly” distinctions—see also Galatians 3:26-29 and 6:15.

And as Isaiah 49:6 with Acts 13:46-47 [which interprets Isaiah 49:6 as referring also to Christ’s Jewish followers—note the “us”], the exalted Lord Jesus continues that redeeming work  through his Body, the NT Church.

And that is the [saving] power Paul says continues in the Church as it was lived out in the now glorified Lord Jesus [Ephesians 1:17-20].

 ©2004 Jim McGuiggan. All materials are free to be copied and used as long as money is not being made.


Let the World Know This

As long as there is a man, woman, boy or girl in this world that is oppressed and abused, as long as there are lonely people whose every day is a ceaseless ache, as long as there are families crushed and narrowed by abject poverty, unemployment and the growing sense that nothing will change—no matter what the governments say, no matter who has the strongest armies, no matter how plausible the reform packages are, no matter how many laws are enacted or police and courts willing to enforce them—as long as there are such people in the world gospeling is needed!

It isn’t the gospelers who give hope—it’s the gospel they gospel that destroys utter and eternal despair. It’s the Person they proclaim in that gospel who destroys the foundations on which utter despair is built. That is true but there must be gospelers or…]

The truth these gospelers have been privileged to know is true no matter how many millions have never heard it.

The truth of the gospel is true even if one has been unlucky enough to be born in a prison-like society where the power-brokers and the predators suppress the truth and keep it from the millions.

The truth of the gospel is true even when it isn’t believed by those who have heard it and rejected it–rejected Him.

A day will come when all wrongs will be righted!

The final act of a godless regime or society or world is to hasten the death of the vulnerable and voiceless as if that was the last word. But it isn’t the last word!

Let Hitler stand for all the tyrants ancient and modern, current or future, whether they are military, political or economic–their satanic spirit is one. Here is how he and all who are like him have seen the people under their power. In a discussion with Albert Speer in 1945 when he saw the war was going against him he purposed to turn Germany into one vast ruin. “We will not capitulate. No, never! We may be destroyed, but if we are we will drag a world down–in flames.”

The Holy Father has given assurance to the entire human family that in the resurrected and ever-living Lord Jesus the entire world will be judged in righteousness and fairness [Acts 17:30-31]. What ages prior to Jesus could not know—were ignorant of—is now told to us by God in the gospel about the life, death, resurrection and exaltation of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Church as it gospels in its ordinances and liturgy [Baptism, Lord’s Supper, it’s hymns, prayers, Bible reading, listening] and its daily embodied gospel preaching it proclaims the coming public and personal reign of God in Jesus. The Church experiences much of what the human family experiences along with the human family but she mustn’t deny who she is! She mustn’t deny that she is the bearer of a unique message that has created and shaped her and given her her destiny and commission. To do that is to deny her Lord and Master.

No atheistic faith is ours! No atheistic conclusion that all human existence ends in eternal darkness, unimaginable cold and changeless death…death…death. Our faith begins in good news, is sustained by good news and reaches its eternal fulfillment in ceaseless and joyous splendor.

We gospel justice for all and not just some! We don’t proclaim justice only for those “lucky” enough to be born in the right place in the world at the right time in history and in the right family. However the God and Father of the Lord Jesus works it out there will be justice/fairness for all!

Only the NT Church has that message! As long as there is a world in awful need there will be the need for the indwelling Lord Jesus telling his redemptive Story in every generation in and through the Church that is scattered in handfuls throughout the world and among the nations.

Tomorrow is Sunday! Resurrection day! The Lord’s Day!

From all the homes and the hovels, in a host of languages, the sick and the healthy, the rich and the poor, the learned and the non-literate will stream to places of gathering and there they’ll gospel. Not just for themselves but for the millions in this age and ages past.

Poor little man, woman, girl or boy, you may not have much, you may never have had much and in this life all you may ever have is pain and humiiation but know this, there is a God who sees all that is going on, all your agony, all the oppression and abuse that’s been your life from the beginning and may be until your death. He doesn’t just see it but in Jesus Christ assures you that he will right all the wrongs and he would love you to be able to believe that even now, though all your pain and sorrow and hunger denies this message. Weep and protest but a day is coming–your day is coming when Jesus Christ himself in power and love will speak for you and all yours.
Meanwhile let the Church think and gospel noble things of God!

©2004 Jim McGuiggan. All materials are free to be copied and used as long as money is not being made.

God on the Jericho Road

One day God took a walk through his universe looking for something that was lost. It wasn’t “lost” in the sense that he didn’t know where it was—it was lost because it had run from him and lost itself among the numberless heavenly bodies. And it was so tiny that someone less than God couldn’t have found it with a search warrant and a torch as big as a constellation.

And he came across it, a little planet lying, bleeding, in a galactic ditch, dying of deep self-inflicted wounds that had been egged on, as Genesis tells us, by a liar and a thief. And he said to that little world (not as a silly teaching claims—only to a tiny segment of it), “I’ve come to save you, to bring you home to my heart for I have made you in my own image.”

God’s seeking and finding the wayward human family wasn’t done in a moment. It was a structured search that was (and is) worked out in accordance with God’s eternal loving holiness and wisdom and it was developed over the ages in this way and that, through his person or that people. It came (and has come) to its completion in the person and work of Jesus Christ and is borne witness to by the Spirit of Christ (the Holy Spirit) that indwells the body of Christ, the church.

God allowed the nations to follow their own ways even though this meant they dismissed him. But he didn’t wash his hands of the human family and continued to bless them with fruitful seasons and heart gladness (Acts 14:16). He insisted in staying near the human family down the ages, blessing them so that they might look for him and find him (Acts 17:25-28). Beyond all that, God entered the world in and as Jesus Christ. The ages prior to that event—in comparison to the brightness of the new self-revelation—were times of ignorance (Acts 17:30—the NIV is misleading here). Past judgements and prophetic messages to the nations called the nations to repentance but this new self-revelation of God was and is a more searching and incisive condemnation of the sins of the human family. Sodom and Gomorrah was a judgement on our evil but Jesus Christ and his cross was the fullest possible exposure of our sin.

But the coming of God in and as Jesus Christ was not simply to expose our sinfulness, it was to rescue and redeem. In Jesus Christ—who is the image of God—we see the love of God and neighbour as God views it. In Jesus Christ God was getting what he fully merited—he was loved without reservation. But in Jesus Christ the love of neighbour was also revealed as being in God’s image. As Jesus Christ has loved (and loves) humans we see the love of God for humans. God’s gift to all of sunshine and rain “hinted” (so the speak) what in the person and work of Jesus Christ is demonstrated (compare 1 John 3:16 and 4:14-16). In Jesus Christ we can see and say, “See how God loves all the fallen.”

And is the love of God as it has expressed itself in and through the incarnate Jesus Christ the same love of God that the Godhead enjoyed in its fellowship prior to creation and the incarnation? If it is, then Edmond Jacob was right when he said that in creating us in his own image God was loving us as he loved himself. And if God has eternally purposed us to look like Jesus Christ who is his express image (charakter and eikon) how can Jacob be wrong? God cannot do otherwise than to love the highest he knows, and he is the highest he knows. He loves himself (not in that silly and vain way that we’re so capable of) and in making us and renewing in us his own image as it is seen in Jesus Christ he is loving us and he loves himself.

And if we love God as he has loved us and love our neighbours as he has loved them then the love of God for us shapes the whole loving enterprise.

Marvellous mystery—and though I don’t think we should allegorize the parable—it was God himself (so to speak) on the road to Jericho, having come a long way to rescue a little planet dying in a galactic ditch.

 ©2004 Jim McGuiggan. All materials are free to be copied and used as long as money is not being made.

The Hanging Tree

In Euripides’s Alkestis the Spartan king, Admetos, is to die unless he gets a substitute. His wife Alkestis becomes his substitute but the thought of losing her is driving Admetos crazy. Heracles (Hercules), son of the gods and a regular guest at Admetos’s house comes to visit, learns of the situation and goes out and rescues her from Death.

The poet Robert Browning zeroes in on the reputation of Heracles as a helper of mankind against the forces that are too strong for it. He makes the point that this going to humanity’s defense is one of the authenticating marks of genuine godhood. Here’s how he puts it:

Gladness be with thee, Helper of our world! I think this is the authentic sign and seal Of Godship, that it ever waxes glad, And more glad, until gladness blossoms, bursts Into a rage to suffer for mankind, And recommence at sorrow: drops like seed After the blossom, ultimate of all. Say, does the seed scorn the earth and seek the sun? Surely it has no other end and aim Than to drop, once more die into the ground, Taste cold and darkness and oblivion there: And thence rise, tree-like to grow through pain to joy, More joy and most joy—do man good again.

Browning lays hold not only on the theme of suffering to help humanity, he stresses the gladness of heart in which the enterprise is undertaken. It isn’t a grim, reluctant, foot-dragging approach to the matter (Heracles “strode” off to effect the rescue). And it was “for the joy set before him” our Savior despised the pain and loss barring his way.

As P.T. Forsyth insisted, the coming of God as the weak and wounded Jesus Christ is not only not surprising, it would be astonishing if he had not come in Jesus Christ in a rage to suffer on humanity’s behalf. In this, Forsyth doesn’t only have in mind the tender side of God, his gentle love and compassion though he does have that in mind; he’s thinking of God’s infinitely holy character. If God was moved in love, it was a holy love. Christ doesn’t come simply blessing, being sweet, talking kindly and taking us in his loving arms—he comes sharing the suffering that exists in this pain-filled world, the suffering that under God is the out-working of our spellbinding slavery to sin.

This wasn’t salvation at a distance! God wasn’t shouting instructions to us on how to save ourselves; he didn’t send us religious tracts or writings nor did he send some exalted messenger—he came himself!

He came to rescue us from our self-destructive ways; he came to save us from the powers we corrupted, powers that then in their corrupted and corrupting state became our vicious and too-powerful enemies.

The forgiveness of sins, the reconciliation of the world is achieved through love’s judgment on and exposure of evil—the word of the cross says that [John 12:31-32]!

It was God and it was God in and as Jesus Christ who came to our rescue. The motivation for this coming and sending is, “God so loved the world” (John 3:16-17).

Not to be able to see that in the cross blinds us to the possibility of seeing it anywhere else in the world.

And why would such a one bother with the likes of us? Yes, we’ve been told why but while that means we’re not left utterly in the dark, how much light does it really give us? He’s infinitely above and beyond us. It isn’t just his power and wisdom—it’s his character, his love and mercy and grace, they drive us to pile up words on words and phrases on phrases in a vain attempt to grasp and express something of the meaning of it all. It doesn’t surprise us to hear David ask in Psalm 8, “What are humans that you bother with them?”

But incredible as it seems and however often we look around to see if anyone else can believe it or if we’re the only ones who find it difficult to take in—incredible as it seems, it’s true! He cares about us.

Well, all right then, so it’s true, but can we gain access to him or must we always speak of him and deal with him at a great distance? If we do gain access to his presence, what is it that gives us this privilege? What hoops do we have to jump through? What great feats do we have to accomplish? What Herculean tasks do we have to undertake to be assured of entering into the company of the Great God? What assures us, even now, of his favor and of the claim that a day is coming when the communion we now enjoy by faith will have an added dimension—his very presence? What gets us from the gutter, through the door and into the palace?

A wooden stake, a public gallows, on a little hill just outside ancient Jerusalem!

Why is that? Is there some magic in wood?

Is there a mysterious power in a hanging tree?

Does the cruel and brutal death of some young man make God cry and go all weak and tender? There have been millions of deaths like that down the centuries! How does that one, that particular one, enable us to enter God’s presence in peace (Ephesians 2:17-18)? What is it about that death that opens the gates to breathless wonder?

It isn’t God’s love of shed blood that opens his home to us! It’s God himself—his nature and character. His shed blood didn’t make him a loving or welcoming God—it proclaimed that he has eternally been like that! The hanging tree didn’t turn God into a gracious God—it revealed the truth that he already was this!

Nowhere else in time or limitless space can we find the proof that God wants us to be home with him. Nowhere else, only at the hanging tree! It’s only because of that that sinners like us dare to imagine we are welcomed home.

It is in and through this hanging tree that the power of God that opens our eyes and draws us to himself in Jesus. It is this love of Christ that creates the New Testament elect whose business is then to gospel to the world that God hasn’t abandoned it, that he will right all wrongs and on that day the glory of God will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.

©2004 Jim McGuiggan. All materials are free to be copied and used as long as money is not being made.

The Needy Soul

“As the deer pants for the streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.”

Psalm 42:1.

There he is standing in the middle of the stream chest heaving and heart thumping like a runaway train. His wide and wild-eyed look scours every foot of ground around him but there’s no sign of them. Maybe he finally shook them off but his legs are throbbing and weary from miles covered at breakneck speed, his ribs are aching from the pressure of lungs expanded to their limit in sucking in great gulps of air, his throat is on fire and his mouth though foam-flecked is absolutely parched. He can wait no longer, danger or not he must find the nearest stream and drink or die.

The long chase, the fierce pack, the cunning way they pursued, always keeping him running full tilt with a single leader dog while the rest waited until he tired and then they’d take over. This time he outwitted or outran them but the strain and the effort has been close to overwhelming. He pants for water. No sipping, no little desire but a desperate and unquenchable thirst. He finds the stream and sinks his muzzle in the ice-cold water and swallows it down in big life-giving gulps.

That’s the picture the psalmist paints for us in Psalm 42:1. “As the deer pants for the flowing stream so my soul longs after you.”

There he is, pursued by enemies, hemmed in by circumstances beyond his control, his strength almost gone, the effort to stay on his feet has worn him down and driven him to the edge of the abyss. He must find God.

“My soul thirsts for God, the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God? My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me continually, ‘Where is your God?’”


As the deer at the limit of his endurance instinctively knows he must find water so this little human knows he must find God for it’s only in God he has reason to hope! He tests every offer of help with the question: “Will it help me to find God?”

“Here, here is good advice and counsel.”

Will it help me to find God?

“Here, here is an offer of friendship.”

Will it help me see the face of God?

“Here, here is a place you can run to.”

Will I find God there?

“Here, here is a book you should read, a movie you should see, a seminar you should attend, a habit you should develop.”

Will they bring me to God?

©2004 Jim McGuiggan. All materials are free to be copied and used as long as money is not being made.

Christ Against “The World”

Nothing is worth preaching unless it is about God. The only God worth preaching about is the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. To preach about that God is to preach about a God who is the Creator and Father of the human family; a God who is what he chooses to be and has chosen to express his “Godhood” (and consequently to reveal) in creating humans to image him in their life and living.

The only God we know from Scripture is a God who did not choose to be God without us (Barth).

As the Bible tells it we humans refused to be content with being the image of God and chose to be gods, as wise as God and independent of God. God’s word to rebellious Israel speak the truth to the entire human family: “I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows its master, the donkey its owner’s manger, but Israel does not know…”

Because God chose to create us as he has done–humans and so interdependent two things happened, our corrupt rejection of God infected (and infects) the entire human family and the social structures by which humans live were corrupted and corrupting.

The “authorities” and “powers” that God created for the blessing and enrichment of human experience were shanghaied by the evil that we turned loose. Those structures—headed up by the rulers of the various human families–became powerful enemies of God’s holy and loving purpose. They became satanic and demonic and functioned to serve Satan.

Humans found themselves enslaved by something they let loose and were themselves corrupted and corrupted all around them. The (social and political) structures without which humans could not live were corrupted and they became powerful sources of corruption. The world became a planet in rebellion.

But God did not abandon his creation and he used the corrupt and corrupting powers to provide the creation goods that humanity must have to live. All this he did and does through “fallen” structures that remain corrupt (some more than others). Even corrupt governments must provide the needs of the governed or they perish—for, one way or another, with all the complexities that are involved in his work with humans who have the power of choice and the willingness to be violent, God brings them down. If they refuse to be “ministers of God for good” (Romans 13.4) he holds them accountable—they too reject their destiny and he holds them accountable.

Young men and women are corruptible and influence one another but schools, colleges, universities, financial institutions, forms of government, judicial systems, judges, presidents, prime ministers, kings and queens, teachers, military forces, police forces, senators, parliament members, capitalism and socialism and so forth compound the evils of human societies because they are more powerful than individuals. These life-shaping institutions and structures are themselves the agencies of invisible forces, satanic and demonic and people born into such a world are shaped by them.

These are what God seeks to rescue humans from; these are the forces Jesus met and defeated. Personal and individual sins matter of course—of course! But they are the outgrowth and visible expression of a vast “world” of evil that has enslaved us all.

But again, God did not abandon us nor has he abandoned us. In his own time (O God, how long?) he has worked with us and one of those ways is through a body of people called “the Church”—themselves sinners and with no claim to be superior to their fellow-humans–the Church that proclaims hope to the world; a living hope generated by God in and through Jesus Christ and his resurrection from the dead. 1 Peter 1:3-6. The offer of a new world and the joyful experience of that world is not for some elite—it’s God’s offer to the entire human family.

That is what Christians proclaim when they gather in repentance and commitment to God’s work in Jesus Christ in their Suppering with the living Lord Jesus on this coming Lord’s Day.

They proclaim a new world coming and invite all who long for that to join with them in a life of proclamation to the sad and hurting and desperate of the world!

They proclaim adventure to all those humans who find themselves bored with the tired sameness of a life without real war. How easy it is to jeer at the moral heroism of faith that defies cosmic evil via church attendance. But hear this: when men and women, girls and boys gather from here there and everywhere and eat a little bread and drink a little wine in honor of God and his Holy Son evil invisible powers take note and hear again the words of Jesus Christ about his death, “Now is the world judged!” (John 12:31) And at the Supper believers together say, “He’s returning and will right all wrongs.”

©2004 Jim McGuiggan. All materials are free to be copied and used as long as money is not being made.

Look, I’m Making Everything New

A passage in Job says humans are born to trouble as the sparks fly upward. Poke a fire and see which way the sparks fly. As sure as they fly upward we’re in for trouble. In a sinful world not only is sin inevitable, trouble is inevitable also. And for multiplied millions the changeless trudge toward the grave is the source of despair. It isn’t a tough day here and there that kills the fire in their hearts or eyes; it’s the same damned sameness, the same grind and slog, day after day.

And when we’re reminded by believers that Jesus Christ is Lord, aren’t there some among us, some who haven’t yet found their way to faith, who can’t help but be astonished? Jesus is Lord? But what of the cruelty and wickedness in the world? What of the stupidity and corruption that’s rife in the political realm? What of the same inane policies and the same round of futile programs that does nothing but establish the status quo? Can these who are hungry for the light–or at least who wish they could believe there is light–can they believe that the world has changed hands and that Jesus is Lord when they see no discernible difference in the world?

There is the real scandal of the Christian faith. It’s the claim that Jesus is Lord because he has overcome the principalities and powers (Colossians 2:15 ). It’s the claim that Jesus is Lord and so a new creation has begun. New creation? New creation, you say? Well, where in creation is it? With Roman garrisons scattered all over Palestine, with hated Idumean lords on thrones and detestable Roman governors calling the shots, Jews in their thousands were looking for a sign that God was faithful and that he was able. “Give us a sign,” they said to John and then to Jesus. “Give us a sign that all this is going to change and that for us a new world will begin. Show us proof that things are about to be different; that these foreigners will be driven off and we’ll be free and blessed.”

And when they asked this of Paul he pointed to the Christ of the cross (and the consequent resurrection). “There,” he said, “is the wisdom and power of God. In him, in that one with the blood running from his wounds, yes, the one dragging his cross. There is the beginning of a new creation. In him all things are made new. In him the status quo is damned and doomed.” And when he said things like that Jews and Greeks looked at each other. The one group raged and the other jeered. And didn’t they have reason to rage and jeer?

In the Gibson movie The Passion, the Messiah has fallen under the weight of the cross. The beating, the loss of blood, the burden, the rough road and the breaking heart are all taking their toll. Down he goes. A woman kneels beside him and when the exhausted Christ looks up he sees it is Mary who has come to help him. “Look, mother,” he says, “I’m making everything new.” A marvellous insight and use of scripture. In this whole killing sequence, no, more than that, through this whole killing sequence he who sat on the throne (Revelation 21:5) said, “Idou kaina poio panta.” “I am making everything new.” The New Jerusalem Bible almost certainly correct in taking “all things” to mean the creation renders it, “Look, I am making the whole of creation new.”

It wasn’t that God said he would make everything new after the killing. We were murdering the Messiah and in and through our supreme act of sin God was delivering up his Son. And it was by doing this that he was making everything new. Jesus Christ in choosing to offer himself in this way was in that very process making the whole creation new! In his holy and sacrificial dying, Jesus turned the creation right side up. As the “last Adam” and the “second man”, he saw creation as it was meant to be and God made him Lord of it (1 Corinthians 15:45 , 47, Philippians 2:5-11).

Here’s a mystery. In and through all the suffering and judgement that meets our eyes, the cross of Christ says, God is making everything new. Here’s assurance. “Take a good long look, I am making everything new.”

©2004 Jim McGuiggan. All materials are free to be copied and used as long as money is not being made.

No Going Back

The believer’s baptism into the Lord Jesus is the completing moment of his/her commitment to Him and their announcing a definitive goodbye to and their triumph over “the world”. 1 The believer takes his/her peculiar place within a narrative—a narrative that includes his personal salvation but also includes God’s way of working with a human family he wishes to bless.

You understand it is more than a commitment to live in moral uprightness—it isn’t less that that, but it’s more. It is a rite of passage into another life, another world, a world that is created and shaped by the Holy Father. The faith-filled one being baptized is not claiming that she is morally superior to all those who are outside of Christ or that in committing to Jesus as Lord that she automatically is made morally superior. Nor has she entered a moral competition with “outsiders”. That’s not it at all.

The believer who is baptized into Christ becomes part of an unfolding divine drama and takes his stand within that unfolding and commits to living out his place within that Story, keeping in mind the Author’s purpose and plot.

There’s no going back! It’s a commitment to life in the Lord Jesus; it’s a commitment to the person and work and method of God’s redeeming work in the world as he brings his eternal and creative purpose to its fulfillment in a coming day; a fulfillment that’s exhibited at present solely in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ whose life and purpose is rehearsed in the life of the Church which by his indwelling Spirit he has made to be his Body.

A talented but tormented soul [surely he must have been] wrote a poem about Paul, that driven apostle of God who when asked why he was spending his life in ceaseless service for Jesus Christ said, “The love of Christ leaves me no choice.” The poet speaks about Paul and puts marvelous words in his mouth: 2

He who hath felt the Spirit of the Highest Cannot confound or doubt Him or deny Yes, with one voice, world, thou deniest Stand on that side—for on this am I      ………………………………..

Yea, though they should strike him from his glory Blind and tormented, madden’d and alone Even on the cross he would maintain his story Yes, and in hell would whisper, I have known.

The poet has Paul saying: Come what may—there’s no going back! If the big round teeming world had one voice and its billions denied what I proclaim about God in Christ I’d say to that world, ‘Stand on that side—for on this (side) am I.’ And if it were to turn out that I suffered in shame, blind tortured, crucified I’d still tell my Story—yes! And even if I found myself in hell I’d whisper, ‘I have known!’

And where Paul would have gained such a life and made such a commitment? In Acts 22 he meets the once slain and now risen Lord Jesus who tells Paul what he is called to and when Ananias tells him, “Have yourself baptized and wash away your sins,” 3 Paul did just that. And in doing that in trust and commitment he chose union with the death of Christ that he might share in the resurrection of Christ and be the servant of Christ for the human family.

Tomorrow, millions of us will gather together and Supper with the living Lord and proclaim his future Return.

The Lord is risen!

  1. See this developed especially in Romans 6:1-12 when Paul responded to a perversion of the truth of the gospel that would have people choosing to live in sin and thinking they were pleasing God. Paul forbids such perverse thinking by focusing on the meaning and significance of the believer’s baptism that brings them into union with Christ and all he means. If baptized into Christ he wants to say, they have been baptized into the “sin-destroyer”. In being raised in union with the risen Christ they have severed ties with sin and are raised to live in newness of life [Romans 6:9-12]. The “world” the believer says “goodbye” to is not the planet or the human family. The “world” in a number of texts speaks of organized evil; it speaks of the re-visioning and restructuring of reality without God. It’s that world that the believer conquers through faith in Christ. 1 John 2:15-17; 5:4-5. 
  2. F.W.H. Myers. An obviously troubled soul. I’m persuaded that the poem had autobiography in it though it was of a tragic nature rather than glorious.
  3. Acts 22:16, has the middle voice which says that the subject in some way contributes to the event.

©2004 Jim McGuiggan. All materials are free to be copied and used as long as money is not being made.


   John Greenleaf Whittier was hardly Jesus Christ but he can hardly be blamed for that–not even the blessed virgin Mary, Jesus’ mother, was Jesus Christ. There never has been nor will there be a human life as filled with all the graces of the Holy One as the life of the Lord Jesus. Still, there have been other lives that in great measure, each in their own way, have reflected some aspect of the life of Jesus as He reflected God. Whittier was such a person. 

    He was of Quaker background, poor, hard working and on rocky Massachusetts soil that exhausted and finally took the life of John’s father. The son was little educated, characteristically unwell, longing to marry and enjoy a family of his own but rejected in marriage and unlucky in romance he remained celibate until his death at eighty-five, weary and having given all he could give.

    He was a man of strong convictions, especially in the area of social justice and he became a friend of the noted abolitionist and editor, William Lloyd Garrison. Having missed happiness he found a cause and into that cause he threw all his mental and emotional energy,in a ceaseless fight until he could fight no more. In his closing years, having done what he could do and tired of being at war with the world and now recognizing that all humans are caught up in same struggle against the evil powers, he extended his sympathy to all of them. As he lay dying in a friend’s house with a few people around him among the other things he said he said this: “Give my love to the world.”

    It simply isn’t possible nor would it be right to ignore the evil that men do. However complex human life is, surely there is something missing in us if nothing can make us angry! The sadness, poverty, loneliness, deprivation, injustice and oppression cry out for someone to take it all into account and deal with it.

    Do we not at times long for some person or persons to rise up in the hell-holes of the world and put a stop to cruelty that’s celebrated, brutality that beggars description? Have we not seen the weak and helpless raped and ravaged, hurt and humiliated and spoke a curse on the powers that have been let loose in homes near us and nations away on the other side of the world?

    If someone rose up in Somalia or North Korea or south Dallas [name the place yourself] and brought justice, peace and prosperity to those enslaved by brutal leaders and their militia or by unemployment or heartless landlords or husbands–would we not sing his or her praises? Would we not nominate them for the Nobel Peace Prize? Would we not look at one another and now know what we always sort of knew–that there are things that matter more to us than who won the Super Bowl, what baseball or basketball or soccer time made records? If some righteous, strong, wise, loving one rose up and put a stop to carnage and agony wouldn’t we love it? Don’t we sometimes and in a focused and sustained way long for, even pray for and would vote for such a person?

    Whittier, just another human like the rest of us, came to see that the entire world is in the grasp of evil powers to which it is captive and that’s what led him to say: “Give my love to the world.”

    And there was the young man on the cross; the young man who felt at a depth no other human has felt, as no other human understood. In his dying he saw his own people Israel, the blind being led by the blind, heading for an 70 AD ravine and beyond.

    He saw the evil, was experiencing it at that very time; injustice, envy, fear, self-serving power-brokers, religious and political–all this he saw and said, “Father, they don’t know what they’re doing; forgive them.”

    But they did know what they were doing and they meant to do it and there lay the evil of it all. And yet, he knew they didn’t know what they were doing; he knew they were creating a nightmare that they would end up living through, again and again and again.

    On his way to that hill where the powerful ones hurried him to be got rid of, he said to sad and sobbing women, “Are you weeping for me? Save your tears for yourselves and your children–this is only the beginning. These are the good times and the truly bad times are ahead.” [Luke 23:27-31]

    He had had his own crying time. There was that time when he sat on a hill looking down on the city when he sobbed his heart out, chest heaving, eyes streams and voice breaking, “Oh Jerusalem, if you only knew…” [Luke 19:41-44]

    But he saw more than Israel in it’s tragic ignorance. From his exalted position he saw the history of the entire human family. That day he prayed not only for Israel–it was a prayer for the entire world. “Forgive them; they have no idea what they’re doing.”

    What nation in its sinful ignorance has not created its own conscious nightmare? Glance at history! China, Russia, England, Europe, Ireland, America and South America–where has there not been civil war, ceaseless oppression of the vulnerable?

    There were those who at the time said that WWI was “a war to end all wars.” But now, a hundred years later we see that Eric Bogle’s The Green Fields of France only echoes the truth that history forever shoves in our unbelieving faces. He has an imagined visitor speak to an imaginary [but real] nineteen year-old soldier, Willie McBride, who lies buried far from home; one of millions on both sides. The visitor to the graveyard has this to say as he finishes his talk with the boy: 

Well Will Mc Bride I cant help wonder why
Do those that lie here know why did they die
And did they believe when they answered the call
Did they really believe that this war would end war
Well the sorrow the suffering the glory the pain
The killing the dying was all done in vain
For young Willy Mc Bride it all happened again
And again,and again,and again,and again

    Christians see the cross of Christ [as part of a larger Story] as the most momentous event in human history and I understand–I really do–why many think that’s a scandalous thing to say. But we can’t help it, it’s where we stand and we believe with Christ that his death is sentence being passed on “the world” [John 12:31, NJV]. “The world”–a name for the sinful and insane re-structuring of reality without the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ–is the dynamic reality that enslaves and blinds the human family to the truth that true and full life is found only in relation to God. 

    It’s there that evil is exposed as it is nowhere else! [Can’t you see that that must be scandalous in light of the horrors of history; horrors that are taking place at this very moment in homes and cities and countries? This young man, dying two thousand years ago is and at that relatively painless dying experience the supreme judgment on the world’s inexpressible cruelty and moral lunacy? Do you wonder why people roll their eyes and walk off disgusted and stupefied? Of course we help them to react this way because we so often give them the impression that it was the great physical suffering of Jesus that is the important thing. His physical suffering was nothing compared with what multiplied millions have suffered. The true message lies in the One who suffers what he suffers and why he does it.]

    It was there on that public hanging-tree that Jesus said: “Give my love to the world!”

    The good news is this: the cross wasn’t the end of the Story! It wasn’t a sad, helpless young man they hanged there. He was sad beyond our knowing but he was anything but helpless. God vindicated Jesus by raising him from the dead and when he exposed “the world” for what it is and triumphed over the death-bringing satanic power that pervades “the world” he was giving humanity the assurance that all wrongs will be righted [Acts 17:31].

    Think noble things of God!

©2004 Jim McGuiggan. All materials are free to be copied and used as long as money is not being made.