Christmas Story from Luke 2:1-20, English Standard Version

Nativity_12212013In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.

And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”

And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.

But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.

And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

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Ortberg Sharpens and Freshens Jesus

John Ortberg.: Who is this man?Ortberg Sharpens and Freshens Jesus

John Ortberg.  2012.  Who Is This Man?  Unpredictable Impact of an Inescapable Jesus.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

John Ortberg’s new book, Who Is This Man?, is a biography focused on the unexpected influence Jesus has on the many spheres of our lives. Ortberg writes:

“After his disappearance from earth, the days of his unusual influence began.  That influence is what this book is about…Normally when someone dies, their impact on the world immediately begins to recede…Jesus’ impact was greater a hundred years after his death than during his life…after two thousand years he has more followers in more places than ever.” (11).

Talk about influence. Most of us would be happy if our parents and/or kids listened to us.

Details, Details

Ortberg has an eye for details and for things contrary to expectations, either today or in ancient times. For example, in evaluating Jesus as a leader, he outlines his strategy for influencing people.  Paraphrasing a pep talk by Jesus for the disciples, he writes:

“Here’s our strategy. We have no money, no clout, no status, no buildings, no soldiers…We will tell  them [Jewish and Romans leaders, Zealots, collaborators, Essenes] all that they are on the wrong track…When they hate us—and a lot of them will…we won’t fight back, we won’t run away, and we won’t give in.  We will just keep loving them…That’s my strategy.” (107)

Huh?  Who would have thought that a group using this strategy would even survive the first century, let alone influence anyone.


John Ortberg[1] is the pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in Menlo Park[2], California which is part of the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians (ECO), a new denomination formed in 2012[3].  According to the foreword written Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. Secretary of State, this book started out as sermon series.  The book is written in 15 chapters, including:

  1. The Man Who Won’t Go Away,
  2. The Collapse of Dignity,
  3. A Revolution in Humanity,
  4. What Does a Woman Want?
  5. An Undistinguished Visiting Scholar,
  6. Jesus Was Not a Great Man,
  7. Help Your Friends, Punish Your Enemies,
  8. There Are Things That Are Not Caesar’s,
  9. The Good Life Versus The Good Person,
  10. Why It’s a Small World After All,
  11. The Truly Old-Fashioned Marriage,
  12. Without Parallel in the Entire History of Art,
  13. Friday,
  14. Saturday, and
  15. Sunday (5).

These chapters are preceded by a foreword and acknowledgments, and followed by an epilogue and references.  I was first exposed this this material in a men’s group discussion where we viewed the DVD.  There is also a separate study guide.

Ortberg is Well Rounded

Ortberg is surprisingly well read drawing on details from a range of resources ancient and modern[4].  For example, describing a bit of his own background from a psychologist’s perspective he writes:

“The quickest and most basic mental health assessment checks to see if people are ‘oriented times three’:  whether they know who they are, where they are, and what day it is.  I was given the name of Jesus’ friend John; I live in the Bay area named for Jesus’ friend Francis; I was born 1,957 years after Jesus. How could orientation depend so heavily on one life?” (11)

He observes that each of his 3 orientations (who, where, and when) were influenced directly by Jesus.  Pretty good influence for someone who lived 2,000 years ago!

Holy Saturday

One of the chapters that impressed me the most was the chapter called: Saturday.  Saturday after Good Friday and before Easter is starting to be celebrated as a religious holiday in itself—I often wondered why. Ortberg describes these 3 days as a typical 3-day story with a specific form: day 1 starts with trouble; day 2 there is nothing; and day 3 comes deliverance[5]. The problem with day 2 is that you do not know if day 3 is coming—faith is required. Saturday is the only day in 2,000 years when not a single person on earth believed that Jesus was alive. It’s only on the third day that you know you are in a 3-day story! (175-177) Next year I think that I will look for a Saturday service to attend.


John Ortberg’s book, Who Is This Man?, offers a fresh description of Jesus, his thinking, and his life. Most Christians today have heard too many bland accounts of Jesus for our own good—so much so that we have trouble hearing God’s voice in these accounts. Ortberg’s insights come in explaining Jesus’ context so artfully that Jesus’ radical contribution is more obvious—Jesus steps out of the picture frame into the room with us. This is the kind of book that, after reading a couple chapters, you will want to buy copies for your family and friends.  In other words, drop what you are doing and read this book.




[4]As a writer and publisher, I immediately picked up on the absence of footnotes in this book.  References are given in the back of the book sequenced by chapter.  However, there are no footnotes or endnotes indicated in the text itself. Actually, I liked this style of referencing because the text flows more naturally with fewer distractions.

[5] Other 3-days stories that he mentions are:  Abraham (Gen 22:4), Joseph (Gen 42:17-18), Rahab (Jos 2:16), and Esther (Est 4:16).


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Prayer Day 4: A Christian Guide to Spirituality By Stephen W. Hiemstra

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Eternal and Compassionate Father. Help us to accept You into all aspects of our lives. Thank you for creating us in your image. Bless our families. Forgive our sin and rebellion. In the power of your Holy Spirit, restore to us the joy of your salvation. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Eterno y compasivo Padre. Ayudan nos a aceptar tú en todos los aspectos de nuestras vidas. Gracias por crean nos en tu imagen. Bendicen nuestras familias. Perdonan nuestros pecados y rebelión. En el poder de tu Espíritu Santo, restauran a nosotros el gozo de tu salvación. En el nombre de Jesús, Amen.


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Prayer Day 3: A Christian’s Guide to Spirituality By Stephen W. Hiemstra

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Almighty Father, beloved son, ever-present Spirit. We praise you for creating us in your image, for walking with us even as we sin, and for patiently restoring us into your favor. Strengthen our sense of your identity. In the power of your Holy Spirit, unstop our ears; uncover our eyes; soften our hearts; illumine our minds. Shape us more and more in your image that we also might grow. In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Padre Todopoderoso, amado Hijo, siempre presente Espíritu. Te alabamos por crea nos en tu imagen, por caminar con nosotros incluso cuando nos pecamos, y por restaurar nos patentemente en tu favor. Fortalece nos en tu identidad. En el poder de tu Espíritu Santo, destapa nuestro oídos; descubre nuestros ojos; suaviza nuestras corazones; ilumina nuestros mentes. Forma nos mas y mas en tu imagen que podemos también crecer. En el nombre de Jesús, Amen.

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Prayer Day 2, A Christian Guide to Spirituality By Stephen W. Hiemstra

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Heavenly Father:  We praise you for creating heaven and earth; for creating all that is, that was, and that is to come; for creating things seen and unseen.  We praise you for sharing yourself in the person of Jesus of Nazareth; our role model in life, redeemer in death, and hope for the future.  We praise you for the Holy Spirit, who is ever present with us; who sustains all things; who showers us with spiritual gifts.  Open our hearts; illumine our minds; strengthen our hands in your service.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Padre Celestial, te alabamos para creación de los cielos y de la tierra; para creación de todo que es, que fue, y que sera; para creación de las cosas visibles e invisibles. Te alabamos por compartir ti mismo en la persona de Jesús de Nazaret; nuestro modelo en la vida, redentor en el muerto, y la esperanza para el futuro. Te alabamos por el Espíritu Santo, quien está presente con nosotros que duchar nos con dones espirituales y sustentar todo las cosas. Abierta nuestras corazones, iluminar nuestros mentes, fortalecer nuestros manos en su servicio. En el nombre de Jesús, Amen.

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Prayer Day 1, A Christian Guide to Spirituality By Stephen W. Hiemstra

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Almighty Father:  thank you for the person of Jesus of Nazareth; who lived as a role model for sinners; who died as a ransom for sin; and whose resurrection gives us the hope of salvation.  In the power of your Holy Spirit, inspire the words written and illumine the words read.  In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Padre Todopoderoso, gracias por la persona de Jesús de Nazaret, quien vivió como un modelo a seguir por los pecadores, quien murió como un rescate por los pecados y cuya resurrección da nos la esperanza de salvación. En el poder de Tu Espíritu Santo, inspire las palabras escritas y iluminar las palabras leídas, En el nombre de Jesús, Amen.

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Jesus Christ

Celtic Cross
Celtic Cross

“I believe in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord.” [1]

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Names often tell a story. The name, Jesus Christ, is no exception.

When we use the name, Jesus, in English, we are transliterating the Greek of the New Testament. Jesus’ given name was actually Joshua which means “he saves” in Hebrew. However, because Greek does not have an “SH” sound, Joshua could not be accurately transliterated in New Testament Greek. Consequently, we borrowed Jesus from the Greek.

Joshua’s role in the Old Testament is instructive. Moses commissioned Joshua to lead the nation of Israel with these words:

And the Lord commissioned Joshua the son of Nun and said, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall bring the people of Israel into the land that I swore to give them. I will be with you.” (Deut 31:23) [2]

Jesus’ given name, Joshua, summarizes his commission. However, Jesus’ salvation arises as he brings us, not into the Promised Land, but into Heaven (Heb 4:1–11). This salvation, furthermore, arises not from law, but from grace (Phil 3:2–11).

When we use the name, Jesus Christ, Christ is not Jesus’ last name. Christ translates the Hebrew word, Messiah, into Greek and it means anointed one because during the commissioning process oil was poured on your head. Priests, prophets, and kings were anointed. The New Testament pictures Jesus fulfilling the roles of each of these three types of messiahs.

Jesus’ messianic role is highlighted in the Book of Hebrews where we read:

So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”; as he says also in another place, “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.” (Heb 5:5–6)

Melchizedek was the king of Salem (later called Jerusalem) and he was also a priest (Gen 14:18) [3]. Saying that Jesus is a priest of the order of Melchizedek expresses the idea that he is also a king. In Matthew 24:1–2 Jesus prophesied the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, which occurred later in AD 70, confirming his prophetic role.

When we confess that Jesus is the only son of God [4], we acknowledge Jesus’ divinity and exclusively as savior (John 3:16–17). God’s infinite nature poses a problem for us because we are finite. Only someone divine can cross the divide between the infinite and the finite. In Jesus Christ, God crosses the divide to initiate the conversation and mediate for us—an act of grace—as high priest (Heb 5:1) [5].

[1] The references in this chapter to the Apostle’s Creed are all taken from FACR (2013, Q/A 23). Another translation is found in (PCUSA 1999, 2.1—2.3).

[2] Because of Moses’ sin at Meribah, God forbad Moses from bringing the people of Israel into the Promised Land himself (Num 20:8–12).

[3] In Hebrew Melchizedek means righteous king and some believe it to have been a title given to Shem, the righteous son of Noah (Gen 9:28). Ps 110, which is quoted in Heb 5:6, also associated King David with Melchizedek.

[4] Son of God is also, of course, a kingly title closely related to the title that Jesus preferred to call himself—son of man—which immediately brings to mind the prophesy of Dan 7.

[5] The parable of the tenants highlights the exclusively of Jesus’ role as mediator (Matt 21:33–40). The parable of the wedding feast addresses the problem created when we reject Jesus as mediator (Matt 22:2–14). When we confess Jesus as God’s one and only son, we acknowledge God’s sovereignty in determining the means of our salvation.


Faith Alive Christian Resources (FACR). 2013. The Heidelberg Catechism. Cited: 30 August, 2013. Online:

Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PC USA). 1999. The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)—Part I: Book of Confession. Louisville, KY: Office of the General Assembly.


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JOHN 18: The Arrest and Trials of Jesus

Cup_and_knife_12022013By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Whom do you seek?  They answered him, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus said to them, I am he… they drew back and fell to the ground (John 18:4-6 ESV).

Jesus is full of surprises.

If a crowd of angry, armed men came up to you on a dark night and asked for you by name, then the expected answer is something like:  sorry, I have no idea who you are looking for!!!  What does Jesus do?  Jesus asks who they are looking for and volunteers—that’s me.  Actually, Jesus says–I am—which is the same expression in Greek that God uses to respond to Moses in the burning bush (ἐγώ εἰμι (Exodus 3:14).

The soldiers and officials of the chief priests (v 3) sense the presence of God—a theophany—and they draw back falling to the ground (v 6).  They are so confused that Jesus has to repeat the question—who are you looking for? (v 7)  Having focused their attention on himself, he asks them to let his disciples go and they comply. This response fulfills Jesus’ own prophecy in John 10:28 (vv 8-9).

Jesus is taken away and undergoes three interrogations:  before Annas (vv 13-23), Caiaphas (vv 24-28), and Pontius Pilate (vv 29-38).  In these three interrogations, Jesus is clearly in control in conversations with powerful leaders;  by contrast, the Apostle Peter is shaken by conversations with mere no bodies and denies his relationship with Jesus three times.

Annas is the previous high priest and father-in-law of Caiaphas who was the presiding high priest.  Annas asked Jesus about his disciples and his teaching (v 19) to which Jesus replied:  why are you asking me? (v 21)  Because Jesus is being tried for sedition (being king of the Jews), Annas has to prove that a conspiracy exists–one man’s confession does not suggest a conspiracy.  As a capital case, Jewish law requires at least two witnesses(Deuteronomy 17:6).  Annas has none!

So Jesus is sent to Caiaphas.  John’s Gospel records no discussion from this interrogation, but a lengthy proceeding is recorded in Matthew.  Caiaphas asks Jesus if he is the Son of God (Matthew 26:63).  Jesus answers the question and Caiaphas accuses him of blasphemy—a charge punishable by stoning (Leviticus 24:16).  Pushing the Romans to crucify Jesus (hung on a tree) implies that they wanted him cursed by God—discredited as well as killed (Deuteronomy 21:22-23).

Jesus is then sent to Pilate who asks:  are you the king of the Jews (v 33).  Jesus’ question—did someone ask you to pose this question—begs clarification because the Jewish and Roman interests in the question differ (v 34).  A Jew would ask—are you the Messiah?  But the Romans only wanted to know if Jesus were a revival king—a political threat.  Jesus responds to Pilate’s concern about political opposition by reminding Pilate that his disciples did not put up a fight when he was arrested (v 36).  At this point, Jesus’ innocence is obvious.  Pilate then concludes that Jesus is no threat (v 38).

In some sense, each of us put Jesus on trial in our own hearts and minds.  Do we scorn the truth just to get what we want?  Do we prefer the Son of God or Barabbas?

Jesus is full of surprises.

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Juan 18: La Detención y Juicios de Jesús

Cup_and_knife_12022013Por Stephen W. Hiemstra

¿A quién buscan? —les preguntó. A Jesús de Nazaret contestaron. —Yo soy … dieron un paso atrás y se desplomaron. (Juan 18:4-6 NVI).

Jesús está llena de sorpresas.

Si un grupo de hombres furiosos y armados se acercó a usted en una noche oscura y le preguntó por su nombre, entonces la respuesta esperada es algo así como: lo siento, no tengo ni idea de quién usted está buscando! ¿Qué hace Jesús? Jesús pregunta quién están buscando y voluntarios—que soy yo. En realidad, Jesús dice: – Yo soy, que es la misma expresión en griego que Dios usa para responder a Moisés en la zarza ardiente (ἐγώ εἰμι (Éxodo 3:14).

Los soldados y oficiales de los jefes de los sacerdotes ( v 3 ) detectan la presencia de Dios – una teofanía – y se retraen de caer al suelo ( v 6 ) . Ellos están tan confundidos que Jesús tiene que repetir la pregunta que es lo que buscas ? ( v 7 ) Después de haber centrado su atención en sí mismo, se les pide que deje que sus discípulos vayan y cumplan . Esta respuesta satisface propia profecía de Jesús en Juan 10:28 (vv 8-9).

Jesús se quita y se somete a tres interrogatorios: ante Anás (vv 13-23), Caifás (vv 24-28), y el poder de Poncio Pilato (vv 29-38). En estos tres interrogatorios, Jesús está claramente en control en las conversaciones con los líderes de gran alcance; por el contrario, el apóstol Pedro es sacudida por las conversaciones con personas common y niega su relación con Jesús tres veces.

Anás el sumo sacerdote anterior y el padre-en-ley de Caifás , que era sumo sacerdote presidente . Anás le preguntó a Jesús acerca de sus discípulos y de su doctrina ( v 19 ) a la cual Jesús respondió : ¿Por qué me lo preguntas ? ( v 21 ) Debido a que Jesús es juzgado por sedición (siendo el rey de los Judios ) , Anás tiene que demostrar que existe una conspiración – la confesión de un hombre no sugiere una conspiración. Como caso de pena capital , la ley judía requiere por lo menos dos testigos ( Deuteronomio 17:06 ) . Anás tiene ninguno!

Así que Jesús es enviado a Caifás. El Evangelio de Juan registra ninguna discusión de este interrogatorio, pero un largo proceso se registra en Mateo. Caifás le pregunta a Jesús si él es el Hijo de Dios (Mateo 26:63). Jesús responde a la pregunta y Caifás le acusa de blasfemia— un cargo penado por lapidación (Levítico 24:16). Empujar los romanos para crucificar a Jesús (colgado en un madero) implica que ellos querían lo maldijo por Dios desacreditada, así como muertos (Deuteronomio 21:22-23).


Jesús es entonces enviado a Pilato que le pide : ¿eres tú el rey de los Judios ( v 33 )?  Jesús pregunta–alguien te pidió que plantear esta aclaración–pregunta plantea porque los intereses judíos y romanos en la cuestión difieren ( v 34 ) . Un Judio preguntaba – ¿eres tú el Mesías? Pero los romanos sólo quería saber si Jesús fuera un renacimiento rey – una amenaza política . Jesús responde a la preocupación de Pilato sobre la oposición política al recordarles a Pilato que sus discípulos no ofrecieron resistencia cuando fue detenido ( v 36 ) . En este punto, la inocencia de Jesús es evidente. Pilato entonces concluye que Jesús no es una amenaza ( v 38 ) .

En cierto sentido, cada uno de nosotros poner a Jesús a juicio en nuestros propios corazones y mentes. ¿Nos despreciamos la verdad sólo para conseguir lo que queremos? ¿Preferimos el Hijo de Dios o Barrabás?

Jesús está llena de sorpresas.

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Juan 17: La Oración de Intercesión

Albrecht Durer praying hands 1508
Albrecht Durer, 1508

Juan 17: La Oración de Intercesión

Por Stephen W. Hiemstra

Después de que Jesús dijo esto, dirigió la mirada al cielo y oró así … Ruego por ellos. No ruego por el mundo, sino por los que me has dado, porque son tuyos No ruego sólo por éstos. Ruego también por los que han de creer en mí por el mensaje de ellos, (Juan 17:1, 9, 20 NVI).

Jesús es nuestro modelo de oración.

El Evangelio de Lucas registra el mayor número de versos en los que Jesús ora. La primera incidencia de la oración es durante su bautismo, cuando Jesús es ungido por el Espíritu Santo en forma de paloma (3:21-22). Cuando las multitudes se reunieron después de milagros de sanidad, Jesús se retiró a un lugar solitario para orar (5:15). Cuando el fariseo le atacó por sanar en el día de reposo, Jesús subió a una montaña y oró toda la noche—al día siguiente él escogió a los doce apóstoles (6:12). Jesús, al rezar el único de los discípulos, que plantea la pregunta: ¿Quién dice la gente que soy yo? (9:18). Mientras oraba con Pedro, Juan y Santiago en la cima de la montaña, Jesús se transfigura (9:28). Jesús estaba orando cuando los discípulos le preguntaron: Señor, enséñanos a orar (11:1). En la noche antes de su muerte, Jesús oró en el huerto de Getsemaní (22:41).

La oración en el huerto de Getsemaní no se encuentra en el Evangelio de Juan. En cambio, en el mismo intervalo de tiempo en el relato de la pasión registra la oración de Juan 17 que se refiere a menudo como la oración sacerdotal de Jesús. Aunque Jesús es mejor conocido por la oración del Señor[1], más largas oraciones de intercesión–oración verdadera capítulo 17 registros de Jesús tienden a ser largos. En el pasaje de Lucas, Jesús ora su pasión: Padre, si quieres, no me hagas beber este trago amargo; pero no se cumpla mi voluntad, sino la tuya (Lucas 22:42 NVI) que se parafrasea en Marcos 14 y Mateo 26. El enfoque en la oración de Juan es el ministerio de Jesús[2].

La oración en Juan 17 tiene tres secciones principales: una introducción (vv. 1-8), la oración de los discípulos (vv. 10-19), y la oración para el resto de nosotros (vv 20-26).

Introducción. Verso uno comienza la oración con estas palabras: y alzando los ojos al cielo, dijo: Padre (v 1). La redacción del texto nos recuerda de la Oración del Señor, que comienza así: Padre nuestro que estás en los cielos (Mateo 6:9 NVI). Curiosamente, la introducción comienza con Jesús habla de sí mismo en tercera persona, y luego, pasa a la primera persona. Por ejemplo, en el versículo 1 se lee–glorifica a tu Hijo, para que tu Hijo te glorifique a ti, mientras que el versículo 4 dice: Yo te he glorificado en la tierra. Las dos declaraciones tanto de relieve la estrecha relación entre Dios el Padre y Dios el Hijo–glorifican unos a otros. El versículo 3 nos recuerda que la vida eterna consiste en conocer al Padre y al Hijo.

Oración por los Discípulos. Esta sección de la oración se lee como un servicio de ordenación. ¿Quiénes son los discípulos, ¿cuál es su misión y cómo necesitan protección en el mundo se tratan todos los temas. Curiosamente, su santificación consiste en la recepción de la palabra, es decir, de la escritura ! ( v 17 )

Oración para el resto de nosotros. Nos identificamos con estas palabras: los que han de creer en mí por la palabra (v 20). Nuestra aparición en esta oración es también una función de la escritura – la palabra de Dios escrita por los Apóstoles.

Dos temas en la oración de Jesús son la alabanza (nótese el uso repetido de la palabra glorificar a) y se centran en el papel de la escritura.

¿Qué temas se encuentran en sus oraciones?

[1]Matthew 6:9-15 and Luke 11:2-24.

[2] Gary M. Burge. 2000. The NIV Application Commentary:  John.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, page 461.


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