How the good news is kept hidden by ‘the god of this world’

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 8
2 Cor. 4:3-6

Heaven’s strategy in the good news of Jesus is contrasted with scheme that the god of this age, the devil, operates

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.

  • Earlier Paul talked about people whose minds were unreceptive and hearts veiled, in their attitude of turning away from God and so unable to hear His call or let it reach their hearts. Only in Christ, in other words whenever someone turns to the Lord, is this religious blindness removed. The Holy Spirit gives a freedom to see differently – and spiritually. Before we turn to trust Jesus and allow Him to be Lord of our lives, the good news is confusing and even a bit threatening. The moment we ask Him in, a change occurs in us (“the veil is taken away”) and suddenly what was confusing becomes clear – and a truly exciting discovery. Paul sets out this transition in the preceding verses, 1 Cor 3:14-17.
  • “Our gospel” is the gospel that Paul proclaims – Jesus Christ crucified who is Lord – and that he seeks to live out and make authentic as a Christlike servant.

The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

  • Some people find it difficult to believe that there is a real and spiritually active devil setting out to spoil all that God purposes for good. The Bible here explains clearly that we have a personal opponent, Satan, called here the “god of this age” because he exercises dominion in those who allow him to. His major work is keeping people blinded to the truth about Jesus – and the truth about his existence and activities. Turning humbly to Jesus and asking Him to be your Lord is a move he will resist and tell you not to make – but it is a stepping into the light where what was seen dimly becomes distinct (explained further in verse 6, below).

For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.

  • Paul is following a radically different path from his self-promoting opponents, 2 Cor. 11:4

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

  • The light of God’s Spirit that comes into our hearts not only gives us a different means of understanding – revelation – but it is also an attractive light that can be perceived by others, the life of Jesus in us, verse 10, which is clearly not an earned attribute, verse 7.
Application

This seems to be Paul’s comment on people who don’t understand the good news of redemption that He is preaching, the truth that is “set forth plainly” in the words of the verse preceding this passage. They are unbelievers, so they are just not getting it.

That doesn’t inform us much about the problem, except perhaps to find more opportunities to preach and a more persuasive method – a man-centred solution. It has been tried, over the centuries, and the 16th-century persecutions of anyone deemed to be an ‘unbeliever’ added to the ranks of martyrs in a variety of horrible ways.

Paul gives us a much better answer in verse 4, where the apistoi, unbelieving ones, cannot see the light. The words are words, but the Word, Jesus Christ the image of God, is like light penetrating and bringing vision. This is not about the knowledge of the gospel of Christ, a mental/intellectual process. It is about the revelation of the gospel, a work of the Holy Spirit in the heart, or inner being.

In May 1739 John Wesley, an Oxford graduate, knew all about the gospel and had spent time in Savannah, a new American colony – with spectacularly disappointing results. Back in London and visiting the Moravian chapel in Aldersgate Street, on the east side of the City of London, he heard the reading of the beginning of John’s gospel – and had an encounter with God where in his words his “heart was strangely warmed”. The rest, as they say, is history. It is a vivid illustration of the difference between knowing what the Bible says and receiving what the Bible says, as a spiritual transaction of the heart. It is salutary to note that Wesley returned with his pride and self-sufficiency broken – and so then God could meet with him. Pride, of the Pharisees and other religious Jews, got Paul beaten up, thrown out and slandered in place after place. Pride is what keeps the veil in place and the heart untouched. Turning in need to God, believing with the belief you have, is what removes the veil and allows the spiritual light to reveal the reality of Christ.

This insight from the Bible of what keeps people from a personal, heart faith in God shows us how to disrupt the strategy of the devil to keep people blind to their need of God and the light that is from God.

For reflection or discussion

Where are you, along the line from a closed-mind unbeliever to a person of strong and open faith in God? Where are there pockets of ‘unbelieving’ which give the god of this world opportunities to block the light to that part of your heart?

 

Read ahead – all the readings for Sunday, Feb 11

The Word of God, from the beginning the True Light

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 31
John 1:1-14

Introducing His gospel, John tells us how the Word who was with God before Creation, later chose to become a human being to show us God’s grace and also glory.

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

  • “In the beginning” as in the Bible’s opening verse.
  • The Word, logos, is a phrase that expresses what God is like – creating, revealing, saving. All of this is in the person who is described as “the Word”. All of this is in another form of God’s self-revelation that we call the word, or the Bible.
  • In Jewish thinking the word of God was the principle by which all things are governed by God, and the law of God He gave them to be their guiding life principle.

For further study: Psalm 33:6, Psalm 119:89, Psalm 147:15,18, Deut 32:47

2 He was with God in the beginning.

  • Meaning before Creation.

3 Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made.

  • We may not readily see Jesus as a creator. This tells us that He was –  note the “He was” –from the beginning God’s agent in creating everything that exists: “The world was made through Him, v.10.

4 In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.

  • This is the life which the Word is seen as imparting at Creation – John makes this a very significant word, using it 36 times in his gospel, twice as much as any other book. The light that comes from this life, is first, the very essence of our being made in the image of God. There is also a second aspect of light as the general revelation of God – God can be recognised by anyone in His works, His providence and in the way nature ‘speaks’, Psalm 19:1-12 – a revelation which came into clearer focus with the coming of Jesus in human form.

5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

  • “Overcome” could equally be translated understood: the darkness has not understood it. Probably a combination of both meanings is intended. At Creation, the light prevailed. At the coming of the Word in the person of Jesus, the light prevailed, and the darkness didn’t understand it. Choosing the Way of Jesus, such as love and grace, in the face of darkness is an effective strategy because the darkness does not understand it.

6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John.

7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through Him all might believe.

  • “Believe” is another important word for John; his purpose was to draw hearers or readers to belief in Jesus, and he uses the Greek word for believe about 100 times.

8 He Himself was not the light; He came only as a witness to the light.

  • John had an interim role, to create awareness of the light and show people its source.
  • The gospel writer John makes the distinction that John the Baptist, despite his impact at the time, came as a lamp, John 5:35, but “not the light”.

9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.

10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognise Him.

  • See verse 5 above in the “understood” dimension.
  • The relationship of the Messiah Jesus, the Son of God, to the world is an emphasis of John’s writing. He uses the word for “world” over 100 times in his gospel and letters; by contrast, Paul, who was sent to the Gentile world, uses that word only 47 times in all his writings.

11 He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him.

  • Or “to that which was His own [the Jewish nation and heritage], but [the people who were] His own people [around Him].

12 Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God…

  • “Receive Him… believe in His name…”:  two ways of describing turning and welcoming Jesus, trusting Jesus and submitting to Him.
  • John’s gospel explains that the believer becomes God’s child, but only Jesus is God’s son. Paul describes believers as sons – specifically God’s sons by adoption.
  • Children of God, who have in a sense themselves “adopted God” as a Father through giving their lives to Jesus have, in the words of one commentator, “been given a new openness to, and relationship with, God that was not theirs [from] their natural birth.” What was fuzzy and hard to grasp in the natural, becomes clear as a direct result of the new spiritual birth.

13 …children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

  • A new and necessary spiritual birth which John explains more in John 3:3-8.

14 The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

  • Without ceasing to be God, Jesus let go of His divine nature to take on flesh – incarnation – one of the most amazing assertions ever to be put in so few words.

For further study and reflection: Philippians 2:5-8

  • “Only” in English understates the sense of monogenes, “one of a kind, unique” in the sense of being a Son who has all the attributes of the Father, who is exactly the same.
Application

John used the most straightforward vocabulary in the NT in writing the lead in, and in many ways summary of, his gospel account.

John’s gospel is more theological and less narrative than the other three. The prologue shows this intention: the rest of the gospel develops the theme here of how the eternal “Word” of God, Jesus the Messiah, Jesus the Son of God, with God in the beginning before the Creation “took flesh” to minister among men so that all who turned to Him and believed in Him could be saved.

More literally, he pitched His tent among us. Think like Jews who saw God’s presence as being located in the tabernacle. Now He has moved to camp out with us.

The words we read here are simple – life, light, witness, glory – but grow in the gospel into awesome, transforming truths.

John demonstrates that God’s most profound truths are also very accessible – such that intellect and logic are often barriers at first. As Matthew later wrote, Matt. 18:3 “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

For reflection and discussion

3. What is your understanding and experience, expressed simply, to start to recognise the true light of Jesus (verses 9-10) and to receive Him and be born of God (verses 12-13),  and come into a new identity as a child of God (v.12)?

4. Do you have a story of this kind of encounter with Jesus that you could share very briefly – what you might tell someone at a bus stop – with another person?