Often in the Bible, a person’s name tells us more than just what they are called – it tells us something about their character or history. Also, a name describes the authority and honor due to someone, like when we do something in someone’s name, we claim their authority to do it. There are many names for our Lord Jesus, describing His character and authority, and a great summary of these is the worship song, “Jesus, Name Above All Names.” It has two main verses, listing many of Christ’s names, as follows:
Verse 1 Jesus, name above all names Beautiful Savior glorious Lord Emmanuel God is with us Blessed Redeemer living Word
Verse 2 Jesus, loving Shepherd Vine of the branches Son of God Prince of Peace Wonderful Counselor Lord of the universe Light of the world
There are many truths about Jesus we can know, and much meaning is contained in the names from this song, but as infinite God, we cannot understand every truth about Him. A verse that reminds us of this is Revelation 19:12 – “His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself.”
We know Jesus by many names, but He has at least one that only He knows. We know many of His names, but none of them can fully describe Him. Likewise, He has many crowns (“diadems”), but none of them can fully describe His power, authority, and honor.
But it was because of our Lord’s humility, taking on the form of man and voluntarily suffering death on the cross for His people, that Philippians 2:9-11 declares: “God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
He alone has the name that deserves all of our devotion and respect. While we cannot fully understand Him, we can seek to fully trust Him.
It’s common to think that the point of religion is to have the right laws and to follow them. However, James 1:27 says “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” This is a different definition of religion than we often think of. Today continues a series based on this verse, focusing on the insufficiency of laws as a way to salvation. Only by Christ’s fulfillment of the laws of God through His life, death and resurrection can we achieve salvation, or a restoration of a right relationship with God and with each other.
Which laws do I mean? In the Old Testament, there are three types, which include what many people think of as “religion”: moral laws of what is right and what is wrong, civil laws about what to do when those laws are broken, and ceremonial laws that explain requirements for restoring relationship with God. But also in the Bible are signs that all civil and ceremonial laws are provisional, or temporary and incomplete, even if they are designed by God. They exist because man cannot keep the moral laws, which is where this post begins…
The Poor Among You Consider these verses from the same chapter in Deuteronomy: “But there will be no poor among you; for the LORD will bless you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess— if only you will strictly obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all this commandment that I command you today.” – Deuteronomy 15:4-5 “For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’” – Deuteronomy 15:11
Just a few verses apart, it says that “there will be no poor among you”, but then that “there will never cease to be poor in the land.” It seems like a contradiction, but the two thoughts can coexist because the first one is conditional on full obedience of the law – “if only you will strictly obey…” God knows His moral law is perfect, but also that our obedience is imperfect, which will lead to poor in the land. So, He further commands that His people take care of the poor. This second command shows that He provides additional moral and civil laws to help those who are hurt by the failures of people to follow moral law. Every failure of His people throughout time was known to Him when He gave the law, but He gave it anyway because it was not intended as an ultimate solution.
Jesus also recognized that poverty would not be solved until we reach Paradise, after He comes a second time. In Mark 14:7, He said “For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me.” He said this because His disciples were criticizing Mary of Bethany, who decided to use ointment worth a years’ wages to anoint Jesus rather than to sell it and help the poor. The gospel of John singles out Judas as the accuser of Mary, but also says that Judas “said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.” Elsewhere, Jesus quoted Isaiah, who said “this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me.” What we now call “virtue signaling” is not new. Throughout history, people have been better at promoting virtue in concept than in practice, and in others rather than in themselves. Therefore, even if the law we have is perfect, we will never achieve its ends.
Ruth and the Civil Law Second, the Old Testament story of Ruth shows that even a perfect moral law, perfectly followed, cannot solve every problem – specifically the problem of “orphans and widows in their affliction.” In addition, civil law can only limit the impact of some problems, not eliminate them. The civil laws for gleaning and levirate marriage are key to Ruth’s story, while providing examples of faithfulness in a broken society, are also reminders that society is broken in ways laws can’t fix.
Gleaning, provided for in Leviticus 19:9, 23:22 and Deuteronomy 24:19, is necessary because “there will never cease to be poor in the land.” God commanded His people to leave the edges of their fields unharvested, so the poor could eat what was there. Levirate marriage, defined in Deuteronomy 25:5-10, is necessary because there are widows and orphans in the world. It gives provision for widows by obligating relatives of the deceased husbands to care for, or even marry, the widow to preserve the family line and inheritance. However, these laws didn’t prevent Naomi and Ruth from becoming poor, or from losing their husbands.
One aspect of Ruth’s story is that people of faith can rely on God’s provision, both through His civil law and through others who follow it, to make a tangible difference in a world where many ignore God’s law. Good civil law can improve the conditions of the poor, the orphan, and the widow, if people also follow the eternal moral law of love.
Another aspect of the story of Ruth is how it keeps us “unstained from the world.” The world wants us to believe that with enough time, effort, resources, cultural revival, laws, coercion, or whatever, that we can produce a widow, orphan, and poverty-free utopia. But whatever its source, civil law is a provision for a fallen world, not a pathway to a perfect world. There will always be widows and orphans as long as there is death, and no law can overcome death.
Jesus, Our Religion For me, the power of thinking about James 1:27 this way is not that I come away thinking, “now I know what to do! Let’s go!” but that I come away knowing there is no way any of us could possibly measure up to the standard God requires. Every time we see someone left behind it is a reminder of our collective failure, evidence that we really don’t have the answer even to our own individual problems, much less a path to perfection for the world.
Fortunately for us, the book of Ruth ends with hope, in the form of a genealogy showing her as an ancestor of King David, and therefore an ancestor of Jesus Himself. Through His life, death, and resurrection, He overcomes both death and the cause of death – our inability to generate religion that is acceptable to God the Father on our own. Only Jesus, in a perfectly lived life, seeking out and loving “the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” fulfilled the requirements of “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father.” He offered His perfect record to the Father in our place, so we could be accepted based upon His religion, not ours. He fulfilled the moral, civil, and ceremonial laws in our place, providing a way to a world with no poor, no orphans, and no widows.
For many in the world, civil law is their false gospel, their hope of salvation. But the Bible lets us know that in this world, we will always have poverty. There will always be widows and orphans here. However, because we cannot follow moral law perfectly, we need temporary civil law as a provision for a fallen world. To keep society from falling apart until Christ returns and molds us into new creations that follow the moral law of love naturally, with no need for civil or ceremonial law.
Until that day, Christ rejects both the tyranny of, and freedom from, law as the answer for His people. Any civil law – even that of the Old Testament – can only mitigate the damage of sin, but in many cases, the wrong laws can make the damage worse. However, absence of, or rejection of, all law is not the answer because the gospel of Jesus Christ is the good news of a Kingdom. Jesus said in John 8:31-32: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” This freedom is from the failed kingdoms of this world, but not license to reject His righteousness as our personal standard of behavior.
Jesus said “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” His righteousness brings us into a Kingdom like no other, where to “Visit orphans and widows in their affliction” is the freely offered sacrifice acceptable to our Lord, and an example of what James refers to later in his letter: “But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”
This is the 3rd post in a series on James 1:27, which began here, and continues here.
 John 12:6  Isaiah 29:13, Matthew 15:8, Mark 7:6  Ruth 4:17-22  John 14:6  James 2:18
Christians rightly focus on the historical fact of the life, death, and resurrection as the foundation of their faith. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:14 – “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” For Christianity to matter, these things must have actually happened. Therefore, a lot has been written providing evidence that these events happened, and that Christian faith is not based on speculation, but on solid history.
Today I’m going to take a different angle on the significance of the “historical” part of “historical fact.” This post is about the more straight-forward meaning that these events happened in the past.
Why This Matters Because Christ livedin the past, the life of righteousness He lived for us, and that we inherit through faith, is unchangeable. There is no other life that could be lived, or will be lived, that could be better or achieve more than what God intended it to achieve. Perfection is assured because it already happened. He has not fallen short.
Because Christ died on the cross in the past, He did it in consideration of every past, present, and future sin of His people. Nothing you, or I, or any of His people have done, are doing now, or will do in the future, can undo the cross, because it has already happened. He will not change His mind, and He will stand by those who have faith in Him.
Because Christ was resurrectedin the past, He has proven that death cannot hold Him and that He will raise His people to new life as well. He is alive now, and aware of everything happening not only in the global 24/7 news cycle, but also in the hearts and minds of every man. The same power that raised Him works in His people, telling them through His Spirit that there is no better plan than the cross to create a world where man perfectly loves God and loves his fellow man.
“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” – Romans 6:5-11
In a world full of pain and despair, “Preach the gospel at all times. And if necessary, use words.” – St. Francis of Assisi
In Mark’s Gospel, he tells a story of Jesus taking a nap, causing His disciples to panic. Does it ever seem like God is asleep, leaving you feeling adrift the world’s circumstances? When Jesus walked the earth, there were times when God literally was asleep.
One story comes from Mark 4:35-41.
On that day, when evening had come, [Jesus] said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
At the beginning of the story, Jesus told His disciples they were going to cross the Sea of Galilee, then knowing what was coming, “He who keeps Israel” took a nap. Had the disciples understood Jesus, His napping should have reassured them that they were safe, since He was not concerned about the storm. Instead, they thought He didn’t care, which showed that fear of the storm had overcome whatever faith they had. Jesus said they were going across, but they doubted.
Which brings up a very important question.
When did the wind and the sea obey Jesus? At the beginning of the story, at the end, or both? Or at all times? Before Jesus calmed the storm, was the sea being disobedient to God’s laws and will?
I believe Jesus calmed this storm so that next time He wouldn’t have to. He was teaching them that He always cares, regardless of what the circumstances seem to say. He was teaching them that even when it seems like He’s asleep, He is still in control of our circumstances no matter how chaotic they look and feel to us. During the next storm, He wanted them not to panic, but to trust Him because He showed them no circumstance escapes His notice. The storm does not control us; He controls the storm.
When Jesus calmed the storm, He did not create a hedge (See Job 1:10) around His disciples, He just demonstrated that it existed all along. God was not going to let His Son drown before His mission was complete and neither will He let His other children drown before their work is done!
Sometimes when God seems distant and we feel we are sinking, in reality we are being given a divinely designed opportunity to learn to trust that:
The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore
He knows sometimes we have to learn the hard way, and He knows best. Even when He is sleeping.“Let us go across to the other side.”
John the Baptist announced the coming of Jesus, baptized Him, and led the way for His ministry to begin. This John was identified with “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight’” prophesied in Isaiah 40:3-5, which says:
“A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.’”
Is Isaiah talking about a massive, miraculous geological event, creating an easier route for Jesus to take to His kingdom? Perhaps in the future something like this will happen, but I think Isaiah is saying that God’s power over nature is a symbol of His power to reform and perfect us into the character of His Son Jesus.
Before Jesus comes into our lives, we are a spiritual wilderness full of uneven ground and rough places. The path of our salvation begins in this wilderness, an unorganized chaos of thoughts and desires. We are like “children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” However, the power of the LORD enters our low valleys – our guilty secrets, shame and depression – which will be raised up. It progresses through our mountains and hills – areas of pride, self-sufficiency, and our desire for power – which will be made low. God, with the same power that created the universe, removes all obstacles to the coming of His kingdom to us, and to the world. He has given us His word, His Spirit, and fellow believers to strengthen us, “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” (Ephesians 4:13-14)
John the Baptist called his followers to confession and repentance. In announcing the coming of the kingdom of God, John anticipated a time when our internal and external wildernesses will become a paradise. Until then, we each have different hills and valleys, different uneven and rough areas. Until then, the world remains full of false doctrine, cunning, craftiness and deceit.
Today, pray that the powerful voice of our LORD will reach into your wilderness and remove obstacles on the path to His kingdom. Pray that His word and His Spirit will reveal His glory. Pray that all believers will answer the call of “the voice of one crying in the wilderness” to build up His church.