What Does a Tribal Church Planter Need? (John 1:1c, Pt. 4)

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Two weeks ago, we started to see some progress on the road work in front of our village. They want to expand the road and make what is now a pot-hole filled, dirt-road into a legitimate highway going all the way to Madang. What was an eight-hour trip will now become two hours within the next year or so. I had to check out the road work and everything that was being done, knowing I’d be rubbing shoulders with some big-wigs and people I haven’t met yet.

I’ve progressed in the Kuman language to the point that I can, in most instances, understand the subject people are talking about, and maybe the general gist of what their points are. When you see the same things every day, and hear the same vocabulary used, you might even be able to join in on the conversation a bit and express an opinion. But not on this day two weeks ago.

Men started to gather down at the road and story about politics and rumors, and, sitting a few feet away, I got absolutely nothing out of it. I was baffled. I prayed they wouldn’t say a word to me and forget I was sitting there listening, because I knew if they turned around and asked me a question, I would stare blankly, probably with drool inching down my face. I literally sat there for 20 minutes, completely lost — no words recognizable to my ears. I was out of my wheelhouse.

At about the half-hour mark, Shawna and Coleton pulled up in a rented truck as they were just returning from a doctor’s appointment in Goroka.

“We’re heading up to the village, want to come?”

It was lunch time, my brain was fried, yeah, I was ready to go.

So, as I got into the car, I tried to say a “goodbye” phrase I had practiced for months. But instead of conjugating it for “us 3 are going,” I conjugated it as “you 1 are going.” Seriously, in their eyes, the movers and shakers of this area, I went from “a guy who knows the language perfectly already” to this idiot who can’t even say goodbye right. That’s how quickly you can lose your repoire around here.

I got in the car and the whole thing crushed my feeble spirits as I replayed the whole sequence in my mind.

Let’s jump back into where we left off last week:

“…and the Word was God…” John 1:1c

Why did the Apostle, “the one whom Jesus loved,” write this letter? “And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name, (John 20:30-31).”

For millenia, the church has agreed that there are two purposes in John’s mind as he writes: one, for the evangelism of people dead in their sins, and two, the growth and sanctification of people who already confess the Christ as come in the flesh to die for His enemies. This is significant.

This admits, then, that you and I actually need to be reminded of this incredible fact that Jesus, the Word, was God. Why? For the same reason Paul writes all those Epistles to Christians reminding them of the blood that was shed on their behalf, what they once were, and the end goal for which we have been saved — our eternal, blood-bought souls are still encased in a body of sin and death, and are capable of any and every attrocity known. We, even as the redeemed (even as missionaries), are capable of forgetting (and do forget daily) the most basic of Christian doctrine.

We, millisecond by millisecond, have to cling to our Lord, High Priest, King, Friend, and Shepherd, because our “adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” Only if Jesus is God, and we take God’s Word as fact, can we count on the promise that “the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, [will] perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen, (1 Pet. 5:10-11).”

So, we as missionaries, tribal and homebound, must meditate on this truth; so lets hear first from the Apostle John, then Dr. Kenneth Wuest, John Calvin, DA Carson, and Dr. Bruce on this particular truth.

In John 10:33, religious leaders react with violent anger in response to Jesus’ own audacious claims that He came from the Father, was with Abraham in the beginning, and could lose no one whom the Father had given to Him. “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God,” they said. There was no doubt in their minds, Jesus claimed to be God. Their reactions are proof enough.

In John 20:28, Thomas confesses with joy and wonder, “My Lord and my God!”

Wuest:

“He possesses the same essence as God the Father, is one with Him in nature and attributes. Jesus of Nazareth, the carpenter, the teacher, is Very God.”

John Calvin wrote,

Now, since God in creating the world revealed himself by the Word, he had previously had Christ hidden in himself. Thus the Word has a double relationship, to God and to men. Servetus imagines that the eternal Word came into being only when Christ was active in the creation of the world. As if he had not been active before his power was made known by his visible work! The evangelist teaches something quite different here, for he does not ascribe a temporal beginning to the Word but says that he was from the beginning and thus transcends all times. 

FF Bruce writes,

The NEB paraphrase “what God was, the Word was”, brings out the meaning of the clause as successfully as a paraphrase can…So, when heaven and earth were created, there was the Word of God, already existing in the closest association with God and partaking of the essence of God. No matter how far back we may try to push our imagination, we can never reach a point at which we could say of the Divine Word, as Arius did, “There was once when he was not.” 

DA Carson perhaps drives it home best when he writes,

“It has been shown that it is common for a definite predicate noun in this construction, placed before the verb, to be anarthrous (that is, to have no article; cf). Indeed, the effect of ordering the words this way is to emphasize ‘God’, as if John were saying, ‘and the word was God!

Oh, how we missionaries need to continually preach that truth to ourselves “The Word was God!”

  • If He wasn’t God, He was just another historical person who died unjustly under Roman rule.
  • If He wasn’t God, He couldn’t have been the perfect sacrifice required by God to pay for our sin.
  • If He wasn’t God, the human race would remain hopelessly in their sin forever, condemned to an eternity in Hell.
  • If He wasn’t God, we would have no High Priest in Heaven to present us faultless before the King.
  • If He wasn’t God, every failure, morally and physically, would carry a weight too incredible to bear.
  • If He wasn’t God, every desire would leave us wanting, craving, writhing for more, never finding satisfaction.
  • If He wasn’t God, we wouldn’t know or have the experience of love, joy, truth, holiness, justice, faithfulness, peace, kindness, gentleness, and self-control. We would be in complete, pitch-black darkness.

If He wasn’t God, my life would be just that… my life. The humiliating, frustrating moments we face would either drive us to a blinding, self-righteous pride that isolates us from reality and honest friendships, or crush us into a pile of pathetic dust.

But Jesus is God and human. He’s the firstfruit from the dead that gives us hope for future glorified, sinless bodies, and allows us to take risks, look stupid, suffer a thousand pains, and love others unconditionally. He is my life, and whatever is His is mine, and mine is His. Since Jesus is alive, I’m united with Him, I will never suffer alone, and every single prayer of mine will be heard.

The great Puritan theologin Thomas Goodwin wrote famously in his work, The Heart of Christ:

Love descends better than ascends, and so doth the love of Christ, who indeed is love itself, and therefore comes down to us himself; ‘I will come again and receive you unto myself’ (says Christ), ‘that so where I am, you may be also.’ That last part of his speech gives the reason of it, and withal bewrays for his entire affection. It is as if he had said, ‘The truth is, I cannot live without you, I shall never be quiet till I have you where I am, that so we may never part again; that is the reason of it. Heaven shall not hold me, nor my Father’s company, if I have not you with me, my heart is so set upon you; and if I have any glory, you shall have part of it.’

Wow, we will take part in the glory of the eternal second Person of the Trinity. If Jesus is God, and every promise is “yes” in Him, and God never lies, what other “glory” could we possibly need? Why do we crave the glory and praise of men, when we will share in the eternally-satisfying glory of the Godhead, and we can even experience a taste of it right now?

Why do language blunders, sick days, and lack of results crush us? We’ve forgotten that the Word was and is God, and that everything He sets out to accomplish for us, He does it — all of it — without charge, so that where He is, we will be also. 

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