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What in the World Is God Doing?
Charles W. Dickson
The author of this book has had a long time love affair with the Bible ever since as a teenager he enrolled in a correspondence course. Through the years his conviction has deepened that the Bible is a remarkable record of God's involvement with the world. This endless activity in the affairs of mankind is grouped around God as the Creator, the Good Shepherd, and the Eternal King. These three divisions are amply illustrated with sermons and Bible studies that the author has preached and taught during his sixty-year plus ministry. The purpose of the book is to leave a written account of the author's basic spiritual convictions. But beyond this, it is his hope that eventual readers will have their eyes opened to the love and grace that God freely bestows upon all humanity. Thus, the overall objective is to be a good steward of the bountiful spiritual treasure that has blessed the author's life, and to give honor and praise to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, the generous fountain of this treasure.
Table of Contents
What in the World is God Doing?
What is God doing in our world? It would be easier to write down what He is not doing. He is everywhere in our world. He is all-powerful. He is aware of all that is occurring. His involvement in our world cannot be overstated.
Where God Ain't
He was just a little boy,
on a week's first day.
|"I've been to Bible
He said and turned a piece of sod.
He picked up a wiggly worm replying,
"I've learned a lot of God."
"M'm very fine way," the neighbor said,
"For a boy to spend his time,"
"If you'll tell me where God is,
I'll give you a brand new dime."
"Quick as a flash the answer came!
Nor were his accents faint.
"I'll give you a dollar, Mister,
If you can tell me where God ain’t.
From the beginning God existed. At one point He created the world out of nothing. In six days He called the world into existence and adorned it with everything necessary for its well-being. He made ample provision for its needs, creating an environment that would be beautiful as well as practical. Last of all He created human beings and assigned them the task of helping Him to operate the world. He made these humans in His own image, thus giving them the privilege of fellowshipping with Him.
Before He created the material world God established a plan for it and for its inhabitants. He wove into the fabric of the world a moral code in which the good would prevail over the evil. He intended for every human being to live on the highest level with Him but left each one free to do otherwise. For those who rejected His love He ordained a possible plan of redemption. This plan included a provision for a full and complete pardon for all who would accept it.
He enlisted mankind to help Him spread the word about His plan of spiritual redemption. Abraham and some of his descendants (including the Messiah) were given a major role in leading people into a closer relationship with God. Finally He used Christ's Body, the Church, and gave her the task of going into the world with the message of salvation. He promised to be constantly with those who carried His good news of love and hope to the ends of the earth.
And on one future day God will bring the world to a close and usher in the golden age of eternity. Just as the world originated with God, so it will end according to His predetermined timetable. From beginning to end He has been and will be the one constant factor in world history. Finally the kingdoms of the world will become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ, and He shall reign with His people for ever and ever.
Part One: God is the Sovereign Creator
In the beginning God ordered the Universe into existence. (Genesis 1:1). Also in the beginning God ordained His plan of spiritual redemption for mankind. The latter preceded the foundation of the universe. Paul writes: “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.” (Ephesians 1:4). In God's master plan He foresaw all of the needs of the human beings that He was about to bring to life even before they were created. His provisions for them were more than adequate. His dreams for them were realistic. (Ephesians 2:10). In His omniscience He knew that some of His creatures would follow Him while others would not. His plan included blessings on those who obeyed His instructions and second chances for those who rebelled. His plan was just. He was merciful and compassionate in His dealings with mankind. His plan centered in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Messiah, who was to be the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). God’s plan was set in motion before the beginning of time and has moved through the centuries right on schedule. No power anywhere can successfully oppose Him. His plan is perfect in every detail and has no loose ends that need to be rectified in the future. And it will prevail throughout time and eternity just as God predetermined in the beginning.
The inspired Bible affirms that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." (Genesis 1:1). The first two chapters of Genesis register many details of this miraculous display of the power of the Lord God Creator. He spoke and the various components of the universe came into existence. They were created ex nihilo, that is, out of nothing. God replaced nothing with something. Hebrews 11: 3 says: “It is faith that enables us to see that the universe was created at the bidding of God and that all things were made from nothing”. By His command, there was light, and sky, and land, the sun, and the moon, vegetation, living creatures, and humans. Everything was created and met with God’s approval. “And God saw all that He had made, and it was very good”. (Genesis 1: 31). God created a beautiful environment that was adequately suited to supply the physical needs of all His creatures. He even planted a special garden and gave it to Adam and Eve as their first home. And after the creation of these first humans, God stayed in communication with them, instructing them about His dreams for them. God did everything He could for Adam and Eve but left them free to tend and use the world He had placed in their hands. Unfortunately, they chose to betray His trust, letting their carnal natures destroy their fellowship with God and with their environment.
The Bible just assumes the existence of God. However, His footprints are plainly visible all over the Universe. And these give credible arguments that point to His existence.
The Universe itself demands a Creator. Our earth is one of nine plants in our solar system, which is part of a galaxy called the Milky Way. There are millions of other planets in the Milky Way as well as millions of other galaxies. These innumerable planets are hurtling through space in designated orbits. All of these heavenly bodies move so precisely that scientists can pinpoint tidal movements to the minute for years in advance. This is also true of eclipses of the Sun and Moon. Moreover, this orderly make-up of the macrocosm is analogous to the diminutive world of the microcosm. For instance, the atom consists of a central nucleus surrounded by a system of electrons. Is all of this just circumstantial, or is it proof of a mastermind at work?
Also, the Earth is functioning according to established laws, and these laws are favorable to the well-being of plants and animals. The sun is just far enough away to keep the earth warm but not too close to burn it up. The moon is conveniently located so that it controls the ocean tides daily without inundating and destroying large coastal areas. The air on Earth has just the right mixture of nitrogen, oxygen, argon, carbon dioxide, neon, helium, and other gases to provide that which is essential for plant and animal respiration. Is this all just blind fate or is there a Divine Creator Who is responsible for it?
Finally, if there is no Creator God, how do you explain human nature? Human beings are intelligent. They can decipher that which was produced by other intelligent beings. They can discover and utilize rational laws that exist in our world. Also humans are moral creatures. They can distinguish between right and wrong. They also have an insatiable thirst for a Superior Being. The German philosopher Immanuel Kant said that every man has an inner window out of which he can see God. Paul confirms this thought as he says: "We can be mirrors that brightly reflect the glory of God." (2nd Corinthians 3:18).
So, is it hard to believe in the existence of God? No, but considering all of the evidence, it is hard not to believe in His existence!
The word "day" (Hebrew: yom) is used in Scripture in several ways: (1) that part of the solar day of twenty-four hours which is light. (Genesis 1:5, 14; John 11:9); (2) such a day, set apart for some distinctive purpose, as "day of atonement" (Leviticus 23:27) and "day of judgment" (Matthew 10:15); (3) a period of time, long or short, during which certain revealed purposes of God are to be accomplished, as "day of the LORD;" (4) many insist that the best interpretation is to use the word "day" figuratively. This would serve to make each day of creation a long, indefinite period of time. With this reasoning the earth could really be millions of years old as some scientists believe; (5) Others prefer to take the term "day" literally as a period of 24 hours and that God did create the universe in six of these 24-hour periods. The defenders of this latter position contend that the Creator had the power to do exactly that. They bolster their argument with the miracles of Jesus when He turned a few loaves into food for thousands of people. To do this Jesus circumvented the normal slow process of making bread and produced it instantly. Along with these five ideas it is good to remember what Peter said: "that with the LORD one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day." (2nd Peter 3:8; Psalm 90:4). So God does not think in terms of days and weeks and years as humans do. He operates in an entirely different dimension. Humans have no way of fathoming the thoughts of God unless He chooses to give them a special and specific revelation. Some think that they have received such a revelation in relation to the word "day." But, a part of these take the word literally and another part take it figuratively. There are good arguments on both sides.
The First Day (Genesis 1:3) - On the first day God spoke, and at His command the light came into being. God separated the light from the darkness, calling the light Day and the darkness Night. Because this light is not as yet identified with a luminous body such as the sun, this verse implies that God is the source of this light. Light is often used to express the holiness of God. John wrote: "God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all." (1st John 1:5). And in John's description of the New Jerusalem, it is said: "The city does not need the sun or moon to shine in it, for the glory of the Lord has lighted it, and the Lamb is its light." (Revelation 21:23)
The Second Day (Genesis 1:6-8) - On the second day God established a firmament to separate the waters under the firmament from the waters above the firmament. This firmament was a broad expanse that God created. This expanse was called sky or heaven. It was the space into which God set the sun and moon and stars (1:14,17). It was the area where the birds flew (1:20).
The Third Day (Genesis 19-13) - On this third day God made it possible for the submerged land to appear as well as to set the boundaries for the waters. Earth was the name that He gave the land and Seas was the name of the waters. The word for "earth" occurs 2,504 times in the Hebrew Old Testament. An unknown poet has quipped:
Two thirds of the earth is water, and the other third is land, that's why I spend two thirds of my time with a fishing pole in hand.
On this day also God began the process of making the earth beautiful as well as productive. He ordered the vegetation to appear: fresh tender grass that could reproduce from its roots rather than from seeds; herbs, or larger vegetable plants which could propagate themselves through seeds; and trees that would produce seed-bearing fruit. God determined that each plant should have the capacity to reproduce its own kind.
The Fourth Day (Genesis 1:14-19) - On the fourth day God created the lights in the sky: a greater light, a lesser light, and the stars. He called into existence these heavenly bodies for three distinct purposes: (1) to divide between day and night; (2) to determine periods of time, days, months, years, seasons, festivals, etc.; and (3) to give light upon the earth. By day this light provided for the growth, health, and strength of living organisms and by night it gave guidance to travelers and mariners.
The Fifth Day (Genesis 1:20-23) - On the fifth day God created the first living animals. These consisted of birds to fly in the sky as well as fish to swim in the waters. Here the writer uses again the word "create" (Hebrew: bara). This strong word was used in the first verse referring to all of creation, in this verse to refer to the animals, and in verse 27 in reference to mankind. God blessed these animals, large and small, and gave to them the ability to reproduce after their kind. He wanted them to multiply and fill the waters and the earth.
The Sixth Day (Genesis 1:24-31) - On this sixth day God brought forth the larger earthly animals, as well as His crowning creation, a human being. There seems to be three groups of these earthly animals: (1) wild animals, like carnivora and game; (2) domestic animals, like cattle; and (3) creeping things, like reptiles, snakes, and lizards. God's last creation was a man made in God's image and who would have authority over all that God had made. Man (Hebrew: adam) was made from the dust of the earth (Hebrew: adamah). The word "man" is also used in the collective sense of "mankind." Man was the crown and climax of the creation story. After God had formed man's body from the dust He "breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul (being)." God had created other living animals but only man received the breath of God. Mankind possesses spirit (Hebrew: ruach; Greek: pneuma) directly from God. When a person dies "the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit (ruach) returns to God who gave it." (Ecclesiastes 12:7). God created both male and female in His own image. This means that human beings are spiritual beings as well as immortal beings. They have personality, morality, and spirituality. This is not true of other things in creation. God blessed these humans and gave them permission to multiply and fill the earth. They were also given the dominion over the rest of creation, to use it and take care of it as good stewards. And God reminded them that He had provided all the food that was necessary for their well being. Finally, "God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good." This indicates the perfection of everything that God had done as well as His pleasure and delight in His creation. It is no wonder that the Psalmist says: "The heavens are telling the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge." (Psalm 19:1,2)
On the seventh day God rested from His creative activity. (Genesis 2:2-3; Hebrews 4:4). This does not mean that God was tired or weary, but simply that He had done everything that needed to be done. He had put everything in motion and now He would just sit back on His throne in Heaven and let it work according to His will. The Inspired Bible applies this idea to the Christians' rest in Heaven after their work on earth is finished: "So a sabbath of rest is still awaiting God's people." (Hebrews 4:9). When God finished His work of creation, He found joy and delight in what He had done. But He was not idle, rather He simply entered another phase of His work. So, the author of Hebrews makes a comparison of the Christians' work on earth with the six days of creation. That is, like the Creator, when the Christians' work is finished on earth they enter into a heavenly rest in God's house. This does not mean that Christians will be idle during this heavenly rest, but that they will just enter a new phase of life with God and His people. In other words the "sabbath of rest" is another way of describing the believer's reward after the work on earth is done. "For whoever is admitted into God's rest, himself has rested from his works, just as God did from His." (Hebrews 4:10)
But God‘s works were not limited to the physical aspect. The creation of a material universe was important, but it was not the most important part of God’s provisions. First of all God made provision for the spiritual needs of the human race. This preceded the creation of the material universe. Before God rested on the seventh day He had already taken the steps necessary to assure the spiritual well being of mankind. Otherwise He could not have truly rested. “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world.” (Ephesians 1:4; 1st Corinthians 2:7; 2nd Timothy 1:9; Titus 1:2; Matthew 25:34; Hebrews 4: 3; Revelation 13:8). The Bible clearly indicates that God’s main concern was with the spiritual needs of His creatures and that He took ample measures for this even before the creation of the world. This would be logical since the spiritual always takes precedence over the physical.
The first mention in the Bible of this spiritual aspect of God’s works is in Genesis 3:15. In the second half of this verse God said to Satan, the serpent: “He (Christ, the seed of the woman) will crush your head, and you (Satan) will strike his heel.” This is a messianic prophecy that has been called the “protevangelium” or, the first Gospel. It is the first recorded reference to God’s plan for the spiritual re-creation of fallen humanity. This plan was already predetermined before the physical creation of the world. For instance, the Bible speaks of the Lamb that was slain “from the foundation of the world”. (Revelation 13: 8). This was God’s plan for the redemption of those who had sinned against Him. He had already determined that in the continual conflict between good and evil, that good would ultimately triumph. To guarantee this God foreordained that His only begotten Son would die for the sins of all mankind. Confirming this truth, the Bible also teaches that before the foundation of the world God knew those who would accept the salvation provided in Jesus Christ, and that to them He promised eternal life. (1st Corinthians 2: 7; Ephesians 1: 4; 2nd Timothy 1: 9; Titus 1: 2).
Before the six days of creation, God in His sovereignty determined to bring repentant sinners to glory through faith in a crucified and risen Christ. It is called a mystery, that is, a secret or spiritual truth. In 1st Corinthians 2:7 Paul says that this mystery refers to God’s wisdom. This wisdom is evident in the beauty and the graciousness of the plan that He foreordained. His wisdom is called a “hidden wisdom” because of its unusual depth that made it difficult for human perception to grasp. It was divine and not human wisdom. And also it was not fully uncovered until Christ, the Messiah, appeared (1st Peter 1:20). In Colossians 2:2 Christ Himself is called the mystery of God. God chose Him to be the hope of glory for fallen humanity. (Colossians 1: 27). And in Ephesians 3:4 the mystery is identified with the truth that the Gentiles as well as the Jews are included in God’s plan of salvation. Paul further adds in 2nd Timothy 1:9 that God’s plan of redemption is not of works but of grace. Before time began, God in His grace determined that in Christ Jesus He would call on all sinners to partake of the cleansing power of divine forgiveness. This plan is also designated as a hope of eternal life. (Titus 1:2). This hope has to do with the present time and also with the future. It is nothing less than the adoption of believers as God’s sons and daughters. The God who cannot lie has promised this hope to all who believe in Christ. (Romans 8:23 – 25).
God, who has total knowledge, knew beforehand those who would be saved and those who would spurn His plan of salvation. The Psalmist puts it this way: “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (139:16). Since salvation is not by human effort but by divine grace, does this mean that God’s grace is irresistible? Not everyone believes that it is. Much has been written and said about the relationship between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility.
John Calvin (1509 – 1564) has maintained that because God is sovereign, salvation is totally His action. He also believed that God chose beforehand those who would be lost and damned. Jacobus Arminius (1560 – 1609) rigorously opposed Calvin’s doctrinal stance. He believed that God was not a tyrant who arbitrarily decided who would be saved and who would be damned. Instead, he maintained that God created men and women with a freedom and dignity to choose whom they would serve. Not only did He give them this right, but also He respected the choices made.
Other theologians have reasoned along with Arminius that the only thing that God arbitrarily decided was a plan of salvation in Jesus Christ. This was God’s sovereign prerogative. It was stipulated in His plan that those who received Christ would be saved eternally and that those who did not would be damned forever. Thus, God’s plan placed a responsibility on human beings. They were allowed freedom to reject or receive Christ as Lord and Master. The fact that God already knew which way each person would decide does not make Him responsible for the individual’s choice. Freedom to choose was an inherent part of the nature that God gave to mankind. This perception of the theological problem duly respects the sovereignty of God as well as the responsibility of every human being. There is no doubt that God took the initiative in salvation. Salvation is purely an act of God. He did for people what they could not do for themselves. He provided a pardon for all sinners. However, He left human beings with the right to choose. They could accept His plan or despise it. Their destiny, then, was determined by how they related to Jesus Christ.
God’s eternal plan of redemption has moved steadily forward through the centuries. It does not make the headlines that it deserves in the secular press. But it is without a doubt the most significant happening in our world.
On Thursday night, September 24, 1996 there was a total eclipse of the moon. People watched this unusual event that would not be repeated again for many years. The weather was not entirely clear and at times clouds blocked the view. Then, the earth’s shadow crossed the face of the moon and blacked it out for some seventy minutes. From a human perspective, the moon had disappeared, lost in space. But, in due time, the moon began to gradually reappear. Finally there was the full moon moving along in all its majestic beauty. The clouds and the shadow of the earth had not effected it in any way except to keep it briefly hidden from human eyes. But the moon itself did not miss a beat in its established orbit out in space. It moved in an orbit over which the earth had no control.
So it is with God’s plan. It moves on no matter what happens on earth. At times throughout history certain events have seemed to obscure the presence of God in world activities. On other occasions some world leaders have declared God dead and have done their best to obliterate God’s program from the earth. But, in due time, the clouds will be blown away and reveal that God’s plan is still on course. Its orbit was not and never will be effected by earthly happenstance. It was predetermined before the foundation of the world by God Himself, and He in His sovereignty is in control now and forever more.
To the Psalmist God was the epitome of the Perfect Shepherd. (Psalm 23 along with other Psalms attributed to David). David saw in God's minute attention to his every need a reflection of his own attitude toward his father's flocks that he tended on the Judean hills. In the New Testament Jesus calls Himself the Good Shepherd (John 10:11,14). He gave His life in order to ratify the eternal covenant that God had made with mankind. (Hebrews 13:20). Thus Jesus was worthy of the title of Chief Shepherd. (1st Peter 5:4). For His followers He was the Shepherd and Guardian of their souls. (1st Peter 2:25). This Divine Shepherd took a very active role in the lives of His sheep. He even became flesh and dwelt among them. Also He provided for them written instructions about how to get to Heaven. He warned them about pitfalls along the way and encouraged them to steadfastly overcome their adversaries. He gave them incentives for living on the highest spiritual plane in spite of their worldly burdens. He challenged them to develop their potentialities during the earthly pilgrimage. And He enlisted their cooperation in the task of spreading His Good News. What in the world is God doing? The following sermons partially answer that question as they illustrate God's deep involvement with His earthly creatures.
1. The Shepherd Loves His Sheep
Mary, an Excellent Role Model: Luke 1:26-56
From the beginning of creation God made innumerable contacts with humanity. Most of these were indirect through nature, dreams, visions, prophets, etc. But God so loved mankind that He finally made a direct contact as He came to dwell personally among His sheep. He chose to accomplish this visible manifestation in the normal human way by coming to the earth as a tiny baby. For this He used the womb of the virgin Mary. Mary cooperated fully with the plan of God and therefore became an excellent role model for all to follow.
The first chapter of Luke presents several important events related to the birth of Jesus that other Biblical writers do not mention. There is the announcement to Zechariah by the angel Gabriel that his barren wife, Elizabeth, would give birth to a son. The child was to be named John, and he was to be the forerunner who would prepare the way for the Messiah. Then Luke mentions Mary's conversation with the angel Gabriel and the three months that Mary spent with Elizabeth her kinswoman. In the midst of this visit is the Magnificat, which reveals a wonderful picture of Mary, the mother of Jesus. This passage in verses 46-55 is known as the Magnificat because that is the first word of Mary's testimony as it appears in the Vulgate, a Latin translation of the Bible. Her testimony begins: "Magnifies my soul the Lord", and continues: "Rejoices my spirit in God, my Saviour". Some have called this passage Mary's praise song
1. Mary Gave Her Praise to God
Many people have distorted the lovely picture of Mary as it is presented in the New Testament. Some consider her a sinless human being and as a co-redeemer. For many it is easier to look to her, the tender mother figure, for their spiritual needs than it is to face the harsher masculine figure of Jesus. Others, since A.D. 553, have considered her a virgin before and after the birth of Jesus even though the Bible gives the names of her other sons. (Mark 6:3). In 1950 Pope Pius XII declared that Mary had been taken bodily into Heaven after her death. These ideas have led to many tragic misconceptions in spite of the true portrait of her that is found in the Bible.
When my wife and I first arrived in Brazil we were impressed with the respect that the Brazilian people had for the Virgin Mary. On Good Fridays there was always the solemn funeral procession through the streets of every city, depicting the carrying of the body of Jesus to the burial site. Following closely behind the casket would come the statue of Mary. This statue was usually the emotional highlight of the procession. It was easy to see that the people's sympathies were more with the mother who had lost a Son than with the Son who had lost His life.
In preaching the Gospel to the Brazilian people it was necessary to be very careful not to make light of their obsession with Mary. Some would always be ready to defend her honor by attacking anyone who dared to defame her. So, we would begin our sermons by pointing out how wonderful she was and how honored she was to be chosen as the mother of our Lord. But then, we would explain that it was Jesus, and not Mary, who was crucified on the cross for the sins of mankind, and that salvation was possible only through faith in Him.
This is the correct Biblical emphasis, and it is no where more beautifully taught than in the 1st chapter of Luke. In these verses the real Mary is seen as the person chosen by the Lord for a very important role in His eternal program of redemption.
Mary's attitude of humility and submission is verified in these verses. After hearing Elizabeth's eulogy of her in verses 42 to 45, she refused to accept any of the glory for her part in the significant announcements made by the angel Gabriel. Rather than let such lavish praise go to her head, she gave all the glory to God for what was happening to her
Naturally she did not understand why God had chosen her for such an important role in His eternal program. Her only desire was to praise Him for choosing her. She said: "For the Almighty has done wonders for me, and holy is His name." (v. 49). In God's sovereignty He had chosen Mary to be the human mother of His Son. And this in spite of the fact that she was a lowly servant girl and not some princess or person of the high society.
Paul points out a principle by which God works: "But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of the world and the despised things - and the things that are not - to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him." (1st Corinthians 1: 27-29). God works through people to accomplish His will. But the power belongs exclusively to Him, and thus, the glory is all His. Mary surely understood this in her case. Therefore she did not boast as if she deserved any credit for having such an honor bestowed upon her. Rather, she gave praise to God for honoring her with a role in what He was doing in the world.
2. Mary Gave Her Submission to God
Mary was just one person in a long process that had began from before the foundation of the world and that had extended through many generations. See Ephesians 1:4; Hebrews 4:3; 1st Peter 1:20. Since the Fall in the Garden of Eden it had been prophesied that the seed of the woman would crush the head of the Devil. Finally the "fulness of time" had arrived for God to bring forth His Son. (Galatians 4:4). Many obstacles had arisen, but the mighty arm of an all-powerful God had prevailed. Mary speaks about how He had "scattered the proud" (v.51), "brought down rulers from their thrones" (v.52), and "sent the rich away empty-handed" (v.53). At the same time God had "lifted up the humble" (v.52) and "filled the hungry with good things". (v.53)
But through all of these years God was working out His promise to Abraham and to his descendants. (v.55). God had entered into a covenant relationship with the spiritual descendants of Abraham. They were to do His will in all things, and He, in turn, would richly bless them. The most important of these descendants was the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. (Galatians 3:16). And now Mary was to have a very prominent place in the physical birth of the Messiah.
Mary was the woman spoken of in Genesis. She was the one who was destined in God's plan to give birth to the seed, the Messiah, who would deal a mortal blow to Satan and his evil empire. Many centuries before the Messiah arrived Isaiah had prophesied: "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and she will call him Immanuel." (7:14). Finally, in God's timetable, the moment had arrived. And Mary was in the right place and at the right time to be used of the Lord. Mary's womb became the door through which the Messiah would step into time from His lofty abode in heaven. Future generations have recognized just how blessed and privileged she was to be such a vital part of God's eternal plan. She was lifted from the "low estate" of her generation to the "high esteem" of future generations. And future generations have called her blessed (v.48) because they have benefited from her submission to the will of God for her life.
This is a challenge for our day. Future generations will hold us in high esteem as they benefit from what God has done for them through our lives. Like He did for Mary, God can transform our "nothingness" into something wonderful that will bring dividends long after we have left the earthly scene. Think for a moment. Whom from our immediate past do we hold in high esteem? It would likely be those people, many of whose names we can no longer recall, who were responsible for leading us to the Lord and to His will for our lives. Likewise, we might or might not be remembered for significant contributions that we make in this world, but that which God does through us will never lose its importance. Mary was wise in being submissive to the will of God.
4. Mary Gave Her Body to God
Mary was highly honored by the Lord as He chose her as the one to give His Son a human body. She did not object to this tremendous responsibility, and neither did she think that she had been chosen because of some merit on her part. Rather, she humbly accepted her appointed role in God's redemptive plan, faithfully enduring all of the hardships that this brought upon her. It was not an easy task. Besides the actual pain that goes along with the delivery of a child, there were other problems involved. She and Joseph, her betrothed, had to face the criticism and shame that her pregnancy caused among family and friends. For a while there must have been a dark cloud hovering over their good names and reputations. But she and Joseph handled the ticklish situation in as tactful a manner as possible. As a result she is honored today as one who was willing to follow the will of God regardless of all costs.
So, Mary's womb was activated by the Holy Spirit, and she gave birth to her son in a manger in Bethlehem. She was privileged to provide Jesus with a human body through which He could accomplish His mission in the world.
As a student in Hardin-Simmons University I was helped to understand the doctrine of the incarnation by my pastor, Rev. Charlie Powell. He explained that the incarnation stripped of its deep theological meaning and importance simply means that Mary, through the power of the Holy Spirit, gave Jesus a human body with which to carry out His earthly mission. Then he said something that was mind-boggling to me at the time, and something that has meant a great deal to me in my ministry. He said that all Christians, through the same Holy Spirit, could also provide Jesus with a human body through which He can continue His earthly ministry. It finally dawned on me that my pastor was saying that I could give Jesus my body and let Him work through me. It was a transforming moment in my life. I had grasped one of the most important lessons that any child of God can learn.
Further reflection confirmed this truth in the words of the apostle Paul: "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me." (Galatians 2:20). The same thought is expressed in 2nd Corinthians 5:15: "And He died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again." So the great truth that I learned from my pastor had solid Biblical support. Paul had followed the example of Mary in providing Jesus with his own body through which Jesus could continue to preach His message of love to the world. Possibly Paul did this more perfectly than any other Christian. But the opportunity is there for every Christian.
God still seeks human bodies that will be dedicated to Him and through which He can preach and teach and heal. We have the power to let our bodies be used for either good or evil. Most Christians would concur that they ought to let God control their bodies and let Him use them for His divine purposes. This is the ideal, but it is not always a reality. That is why every Christian should allow the humble peasant girl who became the mother of Jesus to be a role model for their lives. It will not be an easy task, and sometimes the cost will be very high. But the rewards are wonderful not only in this life but also in the life to come. People need to see Jesus in us. Our actions should be in line with what Jesus would do. God still wants to be involved in this world, but this can only be as He becomes involved through us. We can be His hands and feet and voice to go and tell people why Jesus died and how He longs to be their Redeemer.
Yes, Mary gave Jesus a human body. He only used that body for some thirty-three years, but what a change it has made in the world. His accomplishments in that brief period of time dealt a mortal blow to the kingdom of Satan and has split wide open the veil in the Temple so that billions have had direct access to God Himself. And Mary played a significant role in what Jesus did. She was there when God needed her, and she was honored to have that privilege. That is the only reward that she would accept for what she did. And God still needs people in every generation that will let Him work through them in the same way that He worked through Mary. There is still so much work to do in God's great plan of world redemption. The battle is still not won, and the fight must continue. Can God count on us to be available when He needs us? The highest honor that we can have in this life is that God would consider us worthy channels through which He can be involved in the fulfillment of His mission. When He does use us we can say with Mary: "He that is mighty has done to me great things and holy is His name." (Luke 1:49). Mary is a great role model for every Christian!
Mary had the little lamb,
Scorned, rejected, crucified -
The Inspired Bible: 2 Timothy 3:16,17
Through the centuries God's love has led Him to communicate with humanity through His written words. This has included a history of His involvement in the world as well as His instructions to mankind on various important matters. All of this is contained in a book called the Bible.
The Bible is God's Holy Word. It is the inspired record of God's revelation of Himself to mankind. The Bible points people to God and His plan of redemption. The Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. The criterion by which the Bible is interpreted is Jesus Christ.
"All Scripture is God-breathed and is profitable for teaching, for refuting error, for giving guidance, and for training in doing what is right, so that the man of God may be well-prepared at every point and thoroughly equipped for every good enterprise." (2nd Timothy 3:16,17)
I believe that the Bible is a Divine-Human book. I do not believe that the Bible dropped out of the sky at some given time, all neatly wrapped in cellophane. Rather it is a book that developed through many generations and contains the writings of numerous individuals through whom God revealed His divine message. God inspired these human instruments to convey His words to the world. They were not just robots but were personalities that God knew that He could trust to write the essence of what He wanted to say. The four evangelists were used to write down the story of Jesus’ life on earth. They each wrote from a different viewpoint and told the story as they saw it. They did not choose to relate the same incidents, and their chronology of similar stories was not always the same. But they complemented each other and produced a very complete picture of our Saviour. Each of them faithfully related what they saw and felt. And so it must have been with the other inspired writings from Moses to John, from Genesis to Revelation. I believe that the Holy Spirit worked through these chosen individuals to communicate His divine truths to past and present generations.
1. Its Unique History
The word "Bible" is derived through French and Latin from the Greek "biblia" (books).
The Bible is composed of sixty-six separate books, originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek by scores of different authors over a period of more than 1,200 years. There are thirty-nine books in the Old Testament canon and twenty-seven in the New Testament canon. The Bible contains a variety of classes of literature: narratives, history, poetry, hymns, epistles, parables, allegories, etc.
The Bible contains 1,189 chapters. Psalm 117 is the shortest chapter and the exact middle chapter of the Bible. The center verse of the Bible is Psalm 118:8 which epitomizes the heart of the Biblical message. It guarantees that humans can always count on God but not always on each other. Two chapters are exactly alike: 2nd Kings 19 and Isaiah 37. There is a striking similarity between the 14th and the 53rd Psalms. The Hebrew Bible was written without vowels, using only consonants. The vowels were added in the 6th century of the Christian era. The division of the Old Testament into chapters was made in the year 1205.
The books of the New Testament were originally written on papyrus, a material manufactured from the pith of an Egyptian water-plant. Early in the 4th century, vellum (animal skin) substituted the papyrus as the principal material for writings. And then, in the 15th century the printing press revolutionized the publishing world. The German goldsmith, Johannes Gutenberg, is credited with the invention of movable type. One of his first endeavors was the printing of the Bible. This took place about the year 1450. The division into verses of the New Testament was done in the year 1551.
The books of the Old Testament or Covenant are the writings accepted as scripture by Hebrew speaking Jews in the first century before Christ. They were arranged in three divisions: the Law, the Prophets and the Writings. Jesus referred to this three-fold division in Luke 24:44. The Law comprised the Pentateuch or Five Books of Moses. The Prophets were divided into the "former" prophets (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings) and the "latter" prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the twelve "minor" prophets). The Writings made up the remaining books.
The canon was a list of writings that came to be considered as authentic, that is, as writings from God that were worthy to be used in the worship services. It is certain that God guided certain individuals through the years in sorting through the multitude of religious literature. God led them to select that part of the literature which should be included in the canon while rejecting the rest. The five books of Moses were the first to be officially recognized as inspired. Some years afterwards the Prophets were added to the inspired list. And finally, the Writings were considered as "canonical." This formation of the Canon was a gradual process that was probably completed by the year 200 B.C. The Canon of the New Testament also took a period of years to be officially recognized. But by the year 397 of the Christian era, the Council of Carthage identified as inspired the 27 books that we have in our present day New Testament. Even then some churches had doubts about five of these books (2nd Peter, 2nd and 3rd John, James, and Jude).
The Septuagint (LXX) was a translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew to Greek. Seventy Jewish scholars did this work in the 3rd century before Christ. The apocryphal books were 14 books that were included in the Septuagint and in the Vulgate (Latin version). They were considered uncanonical by many scholars because they were not a part of the official Hebrew Scriptures. The Roman Catholic Church recognizes most of these 14 books as authentic.
2. Its Unique Humanity
God leaned heavily on humans in the process of producing the Bible. God inspired some men to write down the message that He put in their hearts. Then, through the centuries, God has used others in the preservation and the distribution of the sacred text. Some of these people laboriously copied Biblical manuscripts by hand. Still others translated its texts in various languages and dialects. Furthermore, God gave certain people the wisdom to discern between the legitimate and the false sacred writings. He gave others the discretion to carefully preserve the Bible from extinction. And He used and continues to use many individuals to distribute and proclaim the message of the Bible around the world. Finally He took upon Himself a human body so as personally to bring His Word to mankind. Finally, after His ascension back to Heaven He sent the Holy Spirit to take up residence in the hearts of His followers. And the Holy Spirit was given the task of leading mankind to the truth in Christ Jesus. This brief summary emphasizes the unique humanity of the Bible. At first just a few men were chosen to help with the task, but finally God elected believers all over the world to be a part of His effort to communicate with the world.
This human involvement with the Bible is wonderful but can also be held accountable for some of the minor textual variations in extant manuscripts. The texts from which these are translated into English are reasonably reliable. This was proven by the discovery in 1947 of ancient manuscripts found near the Dead Sea and known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. These Scrolls, dating from the first century, confirm the Biblical manuscripts that already existed. And that is of great significance! They substantiated the Bible that the average person has been reading for so many years. The translations from the Hebrew and Greek that are read today are accurate enough to nourish and satisfy the deepest spiritual need of the human heart. The very small percentage of minor inaccuracies just do not bother me. Nor do they distract me from understanding and appreciating the overall message of hope and love that God has inspired in His Word. The Biblical text that we use today is pure enough to quench our spiritual thirst just as the water we drink satisfies our physical thirst even though it is not 100% pure.
A rather large segment of Christians deny that the Biblical text in the original autographs has any flaws. They firmly believe that the Bible is inerrant or infallible. Some scholars prefer to define the Bible in terms of truthfulness and dependability rather than inerrant. Others have said that it is truth without any mixture of error. I prefer to just believe that the Bible is inspired and holy. There are at least eight reasons for this.
The original autographs do not exist today, so it is just a leap of faith to take any definite position on them. Many people take this leap of faith to an exaggeration. I heard one noted Bible teacher say that he believed in the Bible from Genesis to the maps. This absurd statement is a good theatrical performance but poor theology. Some ultra-conservative Christians even take as equally inspired with the Biblical text all of the chapter and verse divisions as well as the commentaries that some publishers include as footnotes to the Biblical text.
Even a hasty examination of the Bible will produce a few examples of these minor and, in my opinion, inconsequential errors in the Bible. Among them are the two different details of David's defeat of the Syrian army. (Cf. 2nd Samuel 10:18 with 1st Chronicles 19:18). Also, did God cause David to take a census (2nd Samuel 24:1) or was it Satan (1st Chronicles 21:1)? Did the Ishmaelites sell Joseph to Potiphar (Genesis 37:36) or was it the Midianites (Genesis 39:1)? Was Abiathar the son of Ahimelech (1st Samuel 22:20) or was Ahimilech the son of Abiathar (2nd Samuel 8:17)? Did Ahaziah begin his reign at age 22 (2nd Kings 8:26) or at age 42 (2nd Chronicles 22:2, KJV.)? Also the oldest Biblical manuscripts do not contain Matthew 17:21. Apparently some copyist added it in an effort to interpret what the copyist thought that Jesus meant. And again, the last twelve verses of Mark 16 are not found in some of the most reliable early manuscripts. Study Bibles like the Criswell Study Bible point out most of these problems in their footnotes, but they still lean heavily toward the inerrancy position.
While Jesus was on the earth He endorsed the Scriptures. (see Matthew 5:17,18). Jesus had a great deal of respect for the Old Testament Scriptures and He would agree with Timothy that the Bible is "God-breathed." But this did not keep Him from making some corrections. He strongly objected to the pharisaic interpretation of the Law. Six times in chapter 5 of Matthew He used the phrase "It has been said unto you, but now I say unto you". Jesus lifted the old texts to new spiritual heights. He always took the Scriptures seriously but not always literally. He did not make the letter of the Law supreme. Jesus even established that "The sabbath was made for man and not man for the sabbath". (Mark 2:27). As Lord of the sabbath He affirmed: "So it is right to do good on the sabbath". (Matthew 12:12). Also Jesus summed up the Law and the Prophets (most of the Old Testament) into two commandments: the love of God and the love of our neighbor. (Matthew 22:40). Thus, He turned the slavery of the Law into a labor of love. And other New Testament writers were led by the Holy Spirit to do some interpretation. For instance Paul explained the meaning of Abraham's "descendants" making it refer to one descendant, that is, Christ. (Galatians 3:16). Also Paul in Romans 9:25-26 cited Hosea 1:10 and 2:23 to confirm that God's redemptive plan included Gentiles. Originally these verses in the book of Hosea seemed to refer to the restoration of sinful Israel to God.
If we did have an inerrant Biblical text available to us today, would that lead Christendom to a more uniform doctrinal statement? I doubt it. Just solving the textual problem would not eliminate the problem of human interpretation. For example, Christians today use the same Bible to arrive at very divergent doctrinal positions on most religious matters. Since this is so, why all the worry about a slightly flawed Biblical text. An absolutely pure text would not serve to unite all Christians.
Some say that if there is even one error in the Bible, it cannot be trusted. Why not? If two ages are given for the same king at the same time by two different writers, or, if the last few verses in Mark are not in the older manuscripts does that really nullify the value of the Sacred Text? I don't think so. Greek scholars say that Paul's grammar is not the best. But that does not take away from the importance of what he wrote. And Paul honestly admits that some of his statements are his personal opinion. (see 1st Corinthians 7:6,12,25, 40; 2nd Corinthian 8:10) So what? Even his personal opinions are not to be taken lightly since he lived in such intimate harmony with his Lord.
Christians in the Bible are called "saints" (Greek: hagioi). This means that Christians are considered sanctified, holy people. Does this signify that born again Christians are infallible? They are as far as their spiritual nature is concerned but this does not apply to their physical nature. The process of the santification of the adamic nature begins at conversion but it never reaches perfection in this life. Likewise the Bible is a Divine-Human book. It has its divine side but also its human side. God saw to it that the divine side would predominate.
While we do not have the original autographs today, we are blessed with the ministry of the Holy Spirit. He was sent to dwell in our hearts and to guide us into EVERYTHING that is true. (John 16:12-15). It is amazing how effectively He carries out His mission even without a totally inerrant Biblical text. I believe in a God who is powerful enough to work His miracles among us even with less than perfect instrumentality.
The battle over the Bible continues. The result is more and more division among Christians. Each side denounces the other and often in unbiblical terms and attitudes. This must seem ludicrous to outsiders, and in some cases it may reinforce their resistance to Christianity. The problem, therefore, does not seem to be in the purity of the Biblical text but rather in the purity of our testimony. What a challenge since our lives are the only Bible that some people will ever read!
3. Its Unique Holiness
The text of this wonderful piece of literature claims to be a communication from God. Internal evidence emphasizes that it is God's revelation to mankind. It is God speaking to His creatures, instructing them on every aspect of their lives. The phrase "Thus saith the Lord" is found in 413 verses of the Old Testament beginning with Exodus 4:22 and ending with Malachi 1:4. A similar phrase: "And the Lord said" is found in 163 verses of the Old and New Testaments, from Genesis 4:6 to Acts 22:10. The same theme is expressed over and over again throughout the pages of the Book. Therefore the Bible is either the word of God or the biggest lie that has ever been told.
"For no prophecy ever came by the will of man but men spoke from God, being moved by the Holy Spirit." (2nd Peter 1:21)
"Many were the forms and fashions in which God spoke of old to our forefathers through the prophets, now at last in these times has spoken to us in his Son, whom he has appointed lawful owner of everything and through whom he created all orders of existence." (Hebrews 1:1,2)
"Then the Lord put forth his hand, and touched my mouth. And the Lord said unto me, Behold I have put my words in thy mouth." (Jeremiah 1:9)
These are just a few of the evidences that through chosen human instruments God spoke to the world. Therefore, the reading of the Bible is like listening to God. That is why I believe in the divine inspiration of the Bible. God speaks to me today through the Bible just as He has spoken to generations gone by.
Only divine inspiration could account for the popularity and the utility of the Bible through these many years. It continues to be on the Best Seller list. Its message appeals to our present generation just as it did to others in the past. It is an old book that never grows stale or outdated. It has a relevant application to our problems and needs just as it satisfied those of our forefathers. Yes, the relevancy of the Bible is one of its biggest assets!
God not only inspired the writers of the Bible but He has used His power to preserve its contents for future generations. This miraculous protection bears out the divine character of the Bible. Many efforts have been made to destroy the Bible and some have been partially successful, but the Bible still manages to reappear again. During the days of religious persecution in Brazil the so-called "protestant" Bible was gathered up wherever it was to be found and publicly burned. Some Brazilian religious leaders pronounced as false our evangelical Bible because it did not contain the apocryphal books. But the burnings only called attention to the Bible and whetted the desire of the Brazilian people to have a copy. The result was that the publishing house in Rio had a hard time keeping up with the demand. Several years later the religious leaders who burned the Bible asked the Baptist Press in Rio de Janeiro to print a special edition of the New Testament for them to distribute among their people! What a victory for the Word of God! What a tribute to its divine character! This incident brings to mind an attempt in Jeremiah's day to burn God's inspired word. The king of Judah, Jehoiakim, commanded that the offensive scroll be burned and to have Baruch and Jeremiah arrested. The scroll was burned but God protected His servants and allowed them to rewrite the scroll that had been destroyed. (Jeremiah 36).
Another argument for divine inspiration can be made concerning the accuracy of the Bible in predicting future events. Only God could reveal with such precision to human writers the events that were yet to occur. Yes, the Bible is full of prophecies that have their fulfillment in the life of Christ. It is amazing that centuries before the Messiah arrived, God revealed to human beings the exact place of His birth as well as other details about the life and death of the Messiah.
"Searching what or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify when He solemnly made known beforehand the sufferings that were destined for Christ and the glories that would follow." (1st Peter 1:11)
The most compelling argument for the divine inspiration of the Bible is probably in its character building potential. Without any doubt the reading of the Bible has transformed the lives of millions of its readers. Throughout the centuries the Bible has led many people to live on a higher level. The adamic nature has been an albatross around the neck of fallen humanity. But the Word of God has served as a stimulus to bring out the best in sinful humanity. While it could never achieve any ideal of sinless perfection, it has no peers in its history of progress towards that goal!! Naturally some readers have been more blessed than others in reaping its beneficial effects. But its almost magical consequences have been in direct proportion to the faithfulness of its readers to hear and to heed the Word of the Lord.
The Bible has taught people to hate evil and love the good. It has advocated the Ten Commandments, not only in the Book of Exodus but throughout the Old and New Testaments. It has led people to be more loving, gentle, and forgiving. It can be credited with making people better citizens, better family members, and better Christians. The reading of the Bible also makes people more conscious of the needy and more generous with their possessions. It challenges them to lead nobler lives.
This impact on its readers is because the Bible's overall message is of love and hope. From Genesis 3:15 to Revelation 22:5 the Bible predicts the victory of good over evil. It guarantees that truth will be stronger than falsehood and light will permanently dispel darkness. God and His followers will win the final battle over Satan and evil. That is the "good news" of the Bible. It assures humans enslaved by sin that there is pardon and full redemption available. It insures those in despair that there is a blessed hope in the Lord Jesus Christ. It invites every child of God to join hands with God in the building up of His kingdom here on the earth. It promises an eternal home in heaven to Christians when their earthly bodies have been destroyed. And it guarantees to every believer eternal fellowship with God and His saints forever and ever. Only the Bible brings this kind of peace and tranquility to the human heart!
The American Statesman of Austin published an article on July 4, 1999 about a group of Christians in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, who painted the following message on the side of a very high mountain. In gigantic letters it reads: “La Biblia es la verdad. Leela.” Translated that means: “The Bible is the Truth. Read it.” This message can be seen from miles away including in the neighboring city of El Paso, Texas. This message expresses my opinion about the Bible. It is divine truth. It is the inspired word of God. No further adjective needs to be added to enhance the unique character of this Book. It is God’s message to humanity. It has been translated in the principle languages of the world, and it has been for some time on the list of best sellers. How much it is read and just how much it is obeyed by those who read it, only God knows. But the fact remains that the Holy Bible is available. It is God's message to the world. God has communicated and continues to communicate His truth with every generation. For this we can all be thankful. It is the Truth, let's just read it and obey it.
The Anvil by John Clifford
Last eve I paused beside the blacksmith's door
And heard the anvil ring the vesper chimes;
Then looking in, I saw upon the floor
Old hammers worn out with beating years of time.
"How many anvils have you had", said I,
"To wear and batter all these hammers so?"
"Just one", said he and then with twinkling eye,
"The anvils wear the hammers out, you know."
And so I thought, the anvil of God's Word
For ages skeptics blows have beaten upon,
Yet, though the noise of falling blows was heard,
The anvil is unharmed, the hammers are gone.
Measuring God’s Love: John 3:16
John 3:16 is a favorite for most people. If the rest of the Bible were lost, there is enough Gospel in this one verse to inform the whole world about God’s great plan of redemption. This verse is an astounding summary of the Gospel message. Luther called it “the miniature Gospel.” Without a doubt it is a wonderful crystallization of the essential ingredients in the Christian hope for a better world. It is a beautiful garden in just one flower, a vast library in just one book, a mighty ocean in just one drop of water. It is so profound that its riches can never be completely exhausted, but, at the same time, it is so simple that even a child can understand it.
The verse describes God’s great love for humanity. He loved the whole world so much that, at great personal sacrifice, He provided the means of redemption for every sinner. Such love surpasses every other type known to mankind. It was a love that had no ulterior motive, no hidden agenda, a pure and unadulterated love. It was all-inclusive, embracing every living person, including you and me.
As we examine this verse we will attempt to measure how wide and long and high and deep is the love of God. (Ephesians 3:18). And even though we can only hope to come to a partial understanding of such divine love, it should be a rewarding endeavor. Moreover, we will be richly blessed as we begin to understand just how much God loved us. The yardstick for measuring God’s love will be the four phrases that make up the verse.
1. The First Phrase Speaks Of Sin ---“For God so loved the world”
To understand divine love it is necessary to understand the world. This is not a reference to a planet called Earth, but a reference to the people who lived on it. God loved a world full of sinners. Their activities had polluted the beautiful and perfect world that He had created. Adam and Eve, the first humans, had deliberately chosen to disobey their Creator, and this attitude passed on down to all of their descendants. The result was a very ugly world, rebellious against God, defiant, and concerned only with gratifying its lower instincts. But, this was the world that God loved.
The greatness of His love is indisputably established here in this phrase as it contrasts God’s love with the pathetic object of that love. It is fairly easy to love the lovely and the lovable. But God’s love was different. His love embraced the world’s worst specimens of humanity in spite of His being well aware of their perverse natures and vile activities. It took an extraordinary love to have mercy on such people. And especially when they were perfectly content in wallowing in their filth, and militantly resistant to any attempt at interference in their sordid pleasures.
2. Second Phrase Speaks Of Calvary –that He gave His only begotten Son”
This phrase takes us to Calvary where “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8). To understand what God did for us on Calvary is to understand just how much He loved us. His love was so intense that he went to the extreme of sacrificing His own Son on our behalf. This plan of redemption in Christ’s blood was the heart of God’s plan from the foundation of the world. Even before the first human being had strayed away from God’s side, His strategy to take care of such a possibility was in place. Peter tells us: “For you know that it was not by perishable things, such as silver and gold, that you were ransomed . . . . but with the precious blood of Christ. . . . . He was predestined indeed to this work, even before the creation of the world.” (1st Peter 1:18-20).
Death by crucifixion was probably the most cruel form of punishment in the days of Christ. It’s agony was usually prolonged, lasting from 36 hours to many days. Only captives, slaves, and criminals were executed in this manner. The pain was so excruciating that Jesus cried out from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” (Mark 15:34). Just this cry is enough to indicate the depths of suffering that were necessary to provide God’s eternal pardon for sinners. He loved the world so much that He was willing to sacrifice His most treasured possession.
If there had been some other way to redeem lost humanity, God would certainly have preferred it. But there was no other way. Someone who had never sinned had to die in the place of those who had sinned. Jesus was the only choice. Paul explains it well: “For God caused Christ, who had never sinned, to be sin for us, so that in Him we might receive justification from God.” (2nd Corinthians 5:21). Even the prophet Isaiah was aware of Christ’s role in redemption as he wrote: “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him.” (Isaiah 53:5). So, the Just died for the unjust so that He might lead them to heaven. Oh, how much He loved us!
3. Third Phrase Speaks Of Hell -“that whosover believeth in Him might not perish”
We can add to our understanding of God’s marvelous love as we consider the eternal destiny of those who adamantly refuse God’s extended hand of friendship. What does it mean to spend all of eternity separated from God and from the good things that He has prepared for those who love Him? This place of eternal punishment was prepared, not for humans, but for the devil and his angels. (Matthew 25:41). But, it will also be the eternal destiny of those human beings who reject God’s plan of salvation. (Matthew 25:46).
The word “perish” is also translated “to destroy utterly”. The idea is not extinction but ruin. It is loss, not of being, but of well-being. Those who refuse God’s love in this life will also in eternity be deprived of all of the good things that will characterize heaven. Hell will be completely devoid of anything good or pleasant. There will be no beauty to feast eyes upon, no friendship to nourish souls, no kind words, no harmony, no peace, and nothing else that would relieve or ease a tortured mind and body. Hell is a place of punishment, of sadness, of bitterness, of rancor, of hate. And this pitiful state of being is everlasting, forever and forever.
God understands the horror of such a place. And for this reason He determined to make His love so attractive and so strong that it would be next to impossible for any reasonable person to prefer hell to heaven. Peter says:" It is not His will for any to be lost, but for all to come to repentance.” (2nd Peter 3:9). His very protective love stands between the sinner and the slippery entrance to the bottomless pit. Its purpose is to do everything short of coercion to keep each and every sinner away from a devil’s hell. To despise such love is to seal the sinner’s fate to the most disastrous fate imaginable.
4. The Fourth Phrase Speaks Of Heaven ---“but have everlasting life”
This last phrase brings our subject to its climactic conclusion. The marvelous love of God has provided a salvation that not only includes the complete and unconditional pardon of every sin but guarantees a heavenly existence of the sinner among God’s redeemed people for all the millenniums of eternity! Paul, in a quote from Isaiah, speaks about the wonderful surprises in heaven: “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” (1st Corinthians 2:9).
There will be no disappointment in heaven. It will more than live up to every expectation that a human being might have. John assures us that: “there will be no more death (there) or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4). This is the paradise that God’s love has prepared for His people. No detail has been overlooked. Everything is perfect. In the last chapters of Revelation, John attempts to describe the wonders of the Holy City, the New Jerusalem. He says: “It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. . . . . The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of pure gold, like transparent glass. . . . . The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. . . . . The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads."(Revelation 21, 22).
Any person who loves demonstrates that love, expressing it in one way or another. And the greater the love, the more lavish will be the acknowledgment of that love. This is certainly true of God’s love for a world of sinners. In unmistakable actions God has proven His love toward us. It is impossible for us to fathom all of the magnificence of this love and to understand it completely. That is true because we cannot imagine the degradation of sin like God can. Nor can we begin to estimate what it cost God to sacrifice His Son on Calvary. And, only He can ever fully grasp the terror of an eternity in hell or the blessedness of an eternity in heaven. But even a partial understanding of these four things will lead us to the conviction that God really loves us. And His love is as strong as it is pure.
F.M. Lehman says it well in “The Love of God”. This extra stanza was found in the narrow room of an asylum written by a man said to be demented:
Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made;
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And ev’ry man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above,
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Tho’ stretched from sky to sky.
In the face of such love, how can we remain untouched and ungrateful? He who loved us so much that He gave His only begotten Son deserves in return our wholehearted faith in Him and our everlasting obedience to His will. To do less would be to stifle our best intuition and to treat as an enemy Him who is in reality our best Friend.
The Nature of the New Birth : John 3:3-12
"That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." (3: 6)
In these few verses Jesus explained to Nicodemus that the nature of the new birth was totally different from the physical birth. This is a valuable lesson that each generation must learn. We need to understand that the new birth is a divine operation in the human heart.
The physical birth ushers a person into an earthly existence. The new birth ushers this person into a spiritual existence. In the first birth we begin to walk with other people, in the second we begin to walk with God. The two births are quite different as to nature. So it is important that each of us today understands the nature of the new birth. Let us follow the explanation that Jesus gave to Nicodemus.
1. It is At Times Misunderstood
Nicodemus was a very religious man, a leader in his Jewish religion. But he did not understand this subject of the New Birth. He immediately confused it with the physical birth. He asked Jesus: "How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born, can he?" This was a natural confusion since the only birth that he had ever heard of was the physical birth.
There is also some misunderstanding today about this important subject. Even some in Christian circles do not clearly understand the difference between the physical and the spiritual births. For example, when you ask some people how long they have been a Christian, they will say: "I have always been a Christian", or "I can't remember when I was not a Christian". In other words these people are equating their spiritual existence with their physical existence. This cannot be. The two are never equal. They are two distinct births. The physical birth comes first, and then, years later, will come the spiritual or new birth.
What most people mean by this answer is that they were born in Christian homes and brought up in the Church. This, of course, is wonderful. A child is very fortunate to have Christian parents, and to be taken regularly to the Church. I had such a home. I grew up in a Christian home that provided me with a Christian atmosphere, encouraging me to respect God and the Bible. But it was not until I was twelve that I became a Christian. In other words, there were twelve long years between my physical birth and my spiritual birth. They were two distinct experiences in my life. If I had not had the benefit of a Christian home, many more years might have passed by before I understood that I was a sinner, and that only Jesus Christ could forgive me and save me.
So, these two births must not be confused. Jesus was very emphatic in His answer to Nicodemus: "that which is born of the flesh is flesh".
The physical birth is of the flesh, and this flesh will continue being flesh until the time of death. There is no way in this life for the flesh of the body to be actually transformed into the spiritual. Always the spiritual is something invisible to the human eye. At conversion the flesh of the body does not become invisible but remains fleshly and visible. The earthly life begins at birth, and ends with death. From the beginning to the end it will be a fleshly or material existence. Neither our environment nor some church ritual, nor anything else, can cause our flesh to be anything other than flesh. Therefore, we are to understand that the new birth is altogether distinct from the physical birth.
2. It is Always Spiritual
Jesus went on to explain to Nicodemus that "that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” It is a NEW birth. The Greek language would allow us to translate this word as “FROM ABOVE". In other words the birth that Jesus was talking about was a birth that came down from God, from above.
The physical birth is the product of humans: a man and a woman. The spiritual birth is a divine operation in the human heart. It is the touch of God in a person's life. Just before my twelfth birthday I realized that I was a sinner, and, as such, I was under the condemnation of God. But I was also aware that Jesus died on the cross to save me from my sin and to give me life eternal. My Sunday School teachers had made this very clear. I wanted this forgiveness with all of my heart, so, one Sunday morning, I publicly confessed Jesus as my Lord and Saviour. At that moment He came into my heart, forgave my sin, and gave me eternal life. This was my new birth, my spiritual birth. From that day on I was born again. I could not see any physical change in my life, but I could feel a difference, and others could recognize it. I continued to live in my fleshly body, but I was no longer spiritually dead. I was alive spiritually in Jesus Christ.
3. It is Altogether Real
Some would discount this spiritual birth because of its being intangible. The physical birth produces a body that can be touched and seen. But the spiritual birth is something so nebulous that it tends to be unreal. It can't be seen or touched. How can it be a reality? How can a person be sure that he has this new birth?
Jesus must have anticipated just such an objection, so He used a good illustration. He reminded Nicodemus and everyone that there were many things that were real even though invisible to the naked eye. But their reality did not depend on some scientific test in the laboratory. Jesus used the wind as a prime example. People know that the wind exists because they feel its presence, hear its sound, and see its effects. But they can't see the wind. They don't know where it came from, nor do they know where it is going. It is a mysterious force, but no one would deny its existence. "So is every one who is born of the Spirit,” Jesus said.
My spiritual birth is just as real to me as my physical birth. I also hope that it is evident even to other people. It ought to be. When a person is born again, he becomes a new creation. His attitude is different. His actions are different. His life is changed. No one can see the New Birth except as he sees the wonderful changes that it brings about in a person's life. This cannot be denied. It is the indisputable evidence that a person has received the new birth.
Sometimes this means a radical change in a wicked person's life style. Paul talks about some who were thieves, drunkards, revilers, and swindlers, but who were "washed and sanctified and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God". (1st Corinthians 6:9-11).
For many others, however, who are not hardened sinners, the transformation is of a less dramatic and sensational nature. They may be younger people who have lived a rather sheltered life. They may even be people who have fairly high moral standards. They are sinners, but their commitment to Christ happened gradually over a period of time. These people cannot precisely state the exact moment that they invited Jesus to be the Lord of their lives. But they are certain that He is their Saviour and Lord. They know that a change has taken place in their hearts. It is evident to them, and it is evident to those around them.
So the "born again" Christian has two birthdays: the physical birthday and the spiritual birthday. By the first a person comes into the world, and by the second this person is prepared to enter Heaven.
Some one has said that he who is born twice dies only once. But he who is born only once dies twice. This means that a person who is born both physically and also spiritually will only die the physical death at the end of his earthly existence. But if a person is only born physically, then he will not only die the physical death but also the eternal death.
Jesus proved His love for lost sinners as He died on the Cross. He wanted no one to experience eternal death, that is, the eternal separation from God in an eternal punishment originally prepared for the devil and his angels. Jesus would love to come into your heart to cleanse it from sin, and bestow upon you this wonderful gift of eternal life. This would be spiritual birth for you. If you would permit the Lord Jesus to perform this divine operation in your heart you would experience the new birth that Jesus explained to Nicodemus. And as Jesus said to him, He can say to you also: "unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
The Messages of the Three Crosses: Luke 23:39-43
One day outside Jerusalem three men were crucified: Jesus of Nazareth and two thieves. Even though Jesus was innocent, He was condemned along with the other two men to suffer the horrible death by crucifixion. Jesus died voluntarily, the just for the unjust. He died vicariously, not for any sins of His own, but for the sins of all mankind.
"For God caused Christ, who had never sinned, to be sin for us so that through union with Him we might come into right standing with God " (2nd Corinthians 5:21).
"But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed." (Isaiah 53:5)
Jesus' death was in sharp contrast to the deaths of the other two men. One of the two thieves who was crucified that day with Jesus was unrepentant to the end. He didn't want anything from Jesus except to be rescued from death. He loved his life of crimes and was anxious to pull any strings possible in order to get back on the streets to continue his criminal activities. He wanted to use Jesus for his own selfish purposes. This was a million miles short of how Jesus wanted to help him.
The other thief was different. He recognized that Jesus was totally different from common criminals, and that Jesus did not deserve the punishment that He was receiving. Somehow he understood that Jesus was truly a King of a kingdom that was better than anything in this world. So he decided to align himself with Jesus, and let Jesus help him in any way that He so desired. This help Jesus was glad to provide, promising him a place in Paradise.
Three men on three crosses. Jesus Christ crucified between two thieves. Each of these crosses has a message for us today. In summary we learn from these three that salvation from sin is available to all who will receive it from Jesus. Loud and clear the three crosses spell out just how a human being gets to Heaven.
1. Whosoever will can be saved because of the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ.
On Jan.1, 1863, Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the USA, issued the Emancipation Proclamation, giving freedom to all slaves. Some two years later an assassin's bullet took his life. He was mourned by all, but especially by the ex-slaves. As his body was carried through the streets on the way to the cemetery, a black mother lifted her infant son so that he could see over the heads of bystanders and said: "Look well, my child, he died for you". Likewise, we can say about Jesus: "He died for me".
"For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly." (Romans 5:6).
In this verse Paul is saying that when we were utterly helpless to free ourselves from the bondage of sin, Christ, in God's good time, died in order to provide the redemption that all sinners needed. His cross provided salvation for all humanity from the slavery of sin.
This plan of redemption was set in motion before the foundations of the world were laid. (Ephesians 1:4). God, in His infinite omniscience, knew that His frail creatures would be overcome by sin, so He mercifully devised a plan whereby such sinners could be forgiven and cleansed of all guilt. This plan all hinged on Jesus Christ, God's only begotten Son, dying for the sinner, receiving all the punishment due to the sinner, in order that the sinner might be declared righteous in God's sight. (1st Peter 2:24)
This plan is woven into the Old Testament system, as the blood of slain animals was used in the sacrifices to atone for the Israelite's transgressions. The scarlet thread is plainly visible from Genesis to Malachi. In Genesis, chapter 4, Abel brought to God an offering of the firstlings of his flock. Cain brought his offering from the fruit of the ground. God was pleased with Abel's offering, but not with Cain's. The difference was that Abel's offering was a picture of the Lamb of God that was to be sacrificed. In the 12th chapter of Exodus, there is the story of the death angel that killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt. The only houses that escaped this terrible punishment were those of the Israelites who had blood sprinkled on the upper beam of their doors and on the two side posts. This was a clear indication of the cross of Christ. Also in Joshua, chapter 2, the house of the harlot Rahab was marked by a scarlet thread because she had befriended the two men who were sent to spy out the city of Jericho. When the city was destroyed, Rahab and her family were spared.
When, in the fulness of time, Jesus was born of the virgin Mary, John the Baptist identified Him as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. (John 1:29). This was why He came into the world. This was His mission. And it was accomplished by His death on Calvary's cross. As He took His last breath, He said: "It is finished". (John 19:30). Also see Matthew 27:50; Mark 15:37; Luke 23:46. The phrase "it is finished" is one word in the original language - tetelestai. It is a shout of victory! The battle was over, and Jesus had won a total victory over sin and Satan!
This phrase did indicate that Jesus' sufferings were finished, but much more than that. It also meant that God's plan of redemption had reached its climax, its highest point. God's purpose to provide full redemption for every sinner in the world had become a glorious reality. Its benefits covered every sinner from Adam and Eve to the last individual that will live before Christ's Second return to the Earth. "It is finished", that is, all had been done as far as God was concerned for the full pardon of every sinner on earth!
As Jesus died the veil of the temple was torn in two from the top to the bottom. (Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:45). This meant that now, in Christ, there was free access to God. No longer could only the High Priests enter into His presence, but God was available to all.
This is the meaning of the cross on which Christ died. He wrote its blessed message of emancipation in His own blood for all to see and know. Because He died, I can be saved and you can be saved. Had He refused to die, all of us as sinners would be without hope, eternally damned for our sins. There is no way to erase this redemptive event from the pages of history. By the mercy of God it happened, and the consequences of it have been the eternal salvation of millions of sinners from all nations of the world. Yes, whosoever will may be saved based on the fact that Jesus died on Calvary's cross to pay the full penalty for all sin, past, present, and future.
But besides this message of Christ's cross, there is also a message from the cross of the repentant thief.
2. Whosoever will may be saved, regardless of sins committed.
This is the wonderful lesson from the repentant thief's cross. Here is indisputable evidence that past sins and tarnished reputations will not block any sinner's entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven as long as he lets Christ come into his heart before he dies.
This thief knew that he deserved to die. He rebuked the attitude of his fellow thief, saying, "we receive the due reward of our deeds." (Luke 23:41). As he observed Jesus, he knew instinctively that "this man hath done nothing amiss". As he compared his own life to Jesus, he recognized that he had been all of his life on the wrong road. Now, in the closing moments of his life, he must have sincerely regretted the way that he had wasted his life in riotous living.
We do well to take our clue from this thief. He saw what he was, or wasn't, just by looking at Jesus. Too often we compare our lives with other people, and then we feel good about ourselves because we see others who do worse things than we do. We excuse our own sins because other people are doing the same thing, or because some well-known church member gets caught in a fault. The trouble with this is that we are comparing ourselves with the wrong models. The standard we ought to use is Jesus and not other human beings. As we compare our lives with His, then we begin to see ourselves as God sees us. We see how far astray we have gone from the ideal. We know beyond any doubt how sinful we are. The repentant thief finally admitted to himself just how sinful he was, and this is what led him to ask for Jesus' help.
In spite of the abuse and ridicule that Jesus was receiving from some of those around the crucifixion scene that day, this thief was drawn to Jesus. He liked what he saw in Jesus, recognizing that Jesus was the genuine and true article, standing in stark contrast to the false bill of goods that he had been duped into swallowing all of his life. So, he wasted no time in aligning himself with Jesus.
He called Jesus "Lord", and made this request: "remember me when you come into your kingdom!” He believed that Jesus was a King, and he sincerely wanted to accompany Jesus to His kingdom wherever it might be. He honestly desired to be a part of that kingdom.
Jesus had no difficulty in responding to such a request. In fact, He was dying on the cross so that He could grant this type of request. Immediately, he assured the thief: "I solemnly say to you, this very day you will be in paradise with me”. Jesus didn't waste time by reproaching this man because of his unsavory past, or by making it clear to him that he was not worthy of any mercy. No, He didn't do that. Rather He granted him an unconditional pardon for all of his sins, and declared him to be a full-fledged citizen of His eternal Kingdom.
How wonderful all of this was! Here was a man at death's door, tottering on the slippery edge of the bottomless pit of hell. He was a person who had had no time for God and spiritual things. He had committed every sin in the book, one of Satan's prime customers. But, when he reached out a hand to Jesus for help, he was gloriously rescued. As long as we have the record of this cross of the repentant thief its message will speak loud and clear to all sinners: there is hope for anyone, no person need despair because of a sinful record. Yes, whosoever will may be saved regardless of what he or she has done in the past. Jesus will not hold our past against us if we will allow Him to cleanse our hearts before we die.
Unfortunately, the unrepentant thief did not understand this lesson, therefore, we have a third message directly from his cross which contains an additional element in the story of how to get to Heaven.
3. Whosoever will may be saved except those who prefer to remain in their sin
This is a sad story but all too true even today. Here were two thieves dying by the side of Jesus. They were both physically close enough to Jesus to speak with Him, but only one of them made a proper place in his heart for the Lord Jesus. Their attitudes toward Jesus were reflected in the words they spoke.
The unrepentant thief heaped abuse upon Jesus. He saw nothing in Jesus that he liked. Everything that Jesus said or did was totally repugnant to this thief. Jesus was not his type at all. This thief was a "macho" man, proud of his ability to do any and everything that was mean and evil. He considered himself a real "he" man. To him Jesus was a weakling, a sissy. He wanted nothing to do with him. The Bible says that "he railed on him, saying, if thou be the Christ, save thyself and us." (Luke 23:39). This is a strange attitude. Here are three human beings suffering the pains of crucifixion. Logically, their mutual situation would have drawn them together as brothers. But not so with the unrepentant thief. He actually sided with his enemies, the soldiers, in mocking Jesus and showing disdain for Him!
We learn from this that salvation isn't a matter of being physically close to Jesus. Going to various church activities, reading the Bible, wearing a religious symbol, associating with Christian people, etc. These are all commendable practices in themselves, but they will not save anyone as long as their attitude toward Jesus is wrong.
This thief's attitude was the worst possible. He and Jesus were a billion miles apart even though they were only separated by a few feet. He didn't believe that Jesus was the Christ. He didn't want to be helped by Jesus except in the sense of being saved from physical death. He didn't have any desire to go where Jesus was going, rather he wanted to return to his old life and continue with his sordid activities. The only thing that he had in common with Jesus was the agonizingly physical torture of the crucifixion.
Jesus longed to help him, but the thief would not allow Him to do so. Jesus was completely shut out of this man’s life. The one request that he made of Jesus was totally out of line with Jesus' mission. Jesus was dying on the cross, not to save people from physical death, but rather from the sins that would doom them to spiritual death throughout all eternity. This thief had thoughts only for his immediate problem which was physical death. It had never crossed his mind that this was a small problem in comparison with his sin problem that would haunt him throughout all eternity if it were not resolved in this life. Jesus wanted to help him with the greater problem, but in this the man had absolutely no interest. He preferred his life style to anything that Jesus had to offer. He preferred to remain in his sin. His sinful ways were what turned him on and he was determined to cling to them.
Jesus cannot help people like this. He cannot help those who do not want to be helped. He will not force His attention on anyone. He respects every individual’s right to live life according to his or her own personal desires.
Jesus cannot help people whose only desires are related to this physical life. Jesus is interested in helping people with physical problems, but His primary interest is in helping them with their spiritual needs. Sin is a cancerous growth that only Jesus can remove. It is the big barrier that stands between people and God. This should be, therefore, as important to human beings as it is to God. He longs to have fellowship with us, but can only do so if we allow Him to cleanse our hearts from the sin that enslaves us, and, consequently, separates us from Him.
Jesus died on the cross to help us with this sin problem. And He will help if given a chance. However, His hands are tied for those who prefer to continue in their sinful life style, and have no interest in letting Him make their lives over according to His sovereign will. Once again it is true that whosoever will may be saved except those who prefer to continue in their sins.
The three crosses speak to our generation about being freed from the slavery of sin. There is help for us all because Jesus died for us. He paid the penalty for our sin, and now, in Him, we can receive a full and unconditional pardon. It is ours for the asking, regardless of how black the dark side of our past lives might be. And the best part of all is that He longs to redeem us, and will readily and quickly do so unless we turn our backs on Him, preferring to live our lives entirely apart from Him and His salvation.
From these crosses we learn that some will understand how a human being can get to Heaven while others will deliberately refuse to listen. Some will draw close to Christ and be identified with Him, while others will obstinately walk in the other direction, disdaining to partake of the spiritual help that He so graciously offers to all. With which group do you stand? My prayer is that you will repent of your sins and invite Christ into your hearts before it is too late. The choice is yours. Christ has gone as far as He can and now it is your move. Make it the right one!
Zaccheus Meets Jesus: Luke 19:1-10
When Zaccheus, the chief tax-gatherer of the city of Jericho, woke up on the day that Jesus visited his city, he thought it was going to be just another day. But it turned out to be the most important day of his life. It would be the day that he met the Lord Jesus Christ face to face. And because of this encounter, his whole life would be changed for the better. He would find himself on the way to Heaven!
As we read the story we see the formidable obstacles that ordinarily would have kept this particular man from ever being influenced by a person like Jesus. But as the story unfolds we are made aware of some factors that overcame those obstacles. And with their help Zaccheus was completely transformed. He reached heights in his life that brought him real joy and peace.
If a person like Zaccheus could be saved, then there is hope for any and all sinners. As in the case of Zaccheus, there are always big barriers that separate a lost sinner from the saving power of the Lord Jesus Christ. But, as in his case, God has the power to remove every one of these barriers. So, if you are not a Christian, take heart in this story of Zaccheus. Jesus can save you today in spite of anything that might seem to stand in the way. This could be the most important day of your life: the day when you meet the Lord Jesus Christ face to face, and let Him work a miracle in your heart! It could be the day when you start your journey to Heaven!
Let us consider first of all the road blocks that stood like high, insurmountable walls between Zaccheus and Jesus Christ. Then we will see how these walls crumbled away, bringing this sinful man and his loving Saviour face to face. Finally we will notice the revolutionary results that came about as Zaccheus allowed the Lord Jesus Christ to come into his life.
1.Two Road Blocks
The first hurdle between Zaccheus and Jesus was an internal obstacle deep in the hardened heart of Zaccheus. He was a man who was completely enslaved to worldly possessions. The more money he accumulated, the more he craved. It was an obsession with him. His business was to collect taxes for the Roman government. He was a Jew, but he was working for the Roman government against his own people. For this reason all Jews hated him. He bled his people, the Jews, collecting taxes for a foreign government, keeping, of course, a good percentage of his collections for himself.
This kind of business led to the hardening of his heart. He had no compassion for anyone. All were forced to pay taxes to him. He had no pity on the sick, the poor, or the helpless. All were victims of his cruel greed. Gradually he suppressed every noble instinct that he had been born with, turning himself into a monster, a vicious, malicious, miser. His god was the gold that he collected. He worshipped at the gilded altar of material wealth. In short, he was a very sinful person. The Bible says that "The love of money is the root of all evil". (1stTimothy 6:10). So Zaccheus was an evil, sinful man. This was the internal obstacle that stood between him and his salvation.
Likewise every human being has a similar internal obstacle that is one strike against his salvation. It may not be greed, as was the case of Zaccheus. Sin manifests itself in many different forms. Whatever your weakness is, Satan knows about it, and he has used it, or will use it, against you to harden your heart in regard to spiritual matters. Gradually, if you do not let Jesus help you with this sin problem, you will be led deeper and deeper into worshipping and serving false gods. This will be a going away from God and toward eternal destruction!
The Bible says: "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God". (Romans 3:23). Sin is like a cancer. It works silently in our hearts, gradually destroying our highest and noblest feelings. Only Jesus can rescue us from its certain destruction! Our sin stands between Jesus and us. It is the great internal obstacle to our salvation.
But there was another great hurdle to his salvation. It was an external obstacle.
“Now he was trying to see Jesus to find out who He was, but he could not because of the crowd, as he was so small in stature.” (v.3)
In the case of Zaccheus, he faced the hostile attitude of the people of Jericho. They hated this tax-gatherer so much that they did everything to keep him from seeing Jesus. As Jesus entered the city everybody rushed out on the streets to see him. And they accompanied Him down the streets. When Zaccheus tried to push through the crowd to get a glimpse of Jesus, the people closed ranks and would not let him through. So Zaccheus was having a hard time getting to Jesus. First, there was his sin problem, an internal obstacle. And in the second place, there was this social problem, an external obstacle. These two combined to make it look doubtful that Zaccheus and Jesus would ever get together.
Those of us who are already saved know very well that we also had to overcome an external obstacle in order to get to Jesus. There is nearly always someone who would stand in our way to keep us from being a Christian. At times this is just our imagination, but other times it is real.
I have known cases where boy friends would threaten to abandon their girl friends if they became Christians. I have also known cases where husbands would physically abuse their wives for going to church. More often than not people feel peer pressure to keep them from taking a stand for Jesus. Sometimes a person will not give his heart to Jesus because he imagines that his colleagues will make fun of him, ridiculing his faith in God.
I have also known people who lost their jobs because they became Christians. In communist and Moslem countries people are discouraged from making a commitment to Jesus. But even in our own country there are many external obstacles to keep us from experiencing the forgiveness of our sins and the blessedness of eternal salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Zaccheus faced these two formidable obstacles. And they are still at work today trying to keep people away from Jesus. But just as in the case of Zaccheus, these obstacles can be overcome.
2. Two Remedies
Happily, the two great hurdles in his life did not defeat Zaccheus. He was able to overcome them with the help of two life-lines. One of these was an internal help in the form of his conscience. And the other help was external in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.
The first friend that came to the aid of Zaccheus was his own disturbed heart. He was not totally satisfied with his way of life, especially after hearing about Jesus. We know that he was not satisfied because he left his house that morning just so he could see this Jesus that he had heard so much about. If he had wanted to, he could have stayed home and enjoyed counting his money. But with Jesus coming to town, not even money was able to keep him away from meeting such a distinguished visitor. At least at this point, his money was losing out, and was not able to totally dominate his life.
We have said that Zaccheus' conscience was bothering him. This is true, but why was his conscience bothering him? Without a doubt the Holy Spirit was bringing conviction to the heart of this sinful man.
This is the kind of work that the Holy Spirit does. The Bible says concerning the Holy Spirit: "And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin." (John 16:8). He will not leave any sinner at peace with himself. Rather He will continue to badger our consciences until we come to the point of asking pardon for our sins from the Lord Jesus Christ. The Spirit's work is to propel us into the loving arms of Jesus Christ. He was at work in Zaccheus' heart, and even more importantly, He is still at work in the human heart today.
Zaccheus was so disturbed by the sin in his heart that he not only turned away from his precious money, but he also became willing to humble himself, climbing up in a tree, like a child, in order to see Jesus.
But there was a second friend that came to Zaccheus' aid that day. The Lord Jesus Himself stopped under the tree and said:
"Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house." (verse 5)
This was the external factor that came to the aid of Zaccheus. Jesus knew that Zaccheus was up in that sycamore tree. He also knew something else. He knew that Zaccheus had an aching heart. And it was this aching heart that attracted Jesus' attention, and that led Him to make this special appeal to the tax-gatherer.
You may be the only person in your family who is not a Christian. Or you may be the only one whose heart is yearning for pardon and peace from the Saviour. You can be assured of one thing: Jesus loves you and knows all about you. Others may not realize that you are not a Christian, and certainly would not know the intimate feelings of your heart. But Jesus knows, and he will make a special appeal to your heart. He is saying to you: "Come, let me be your friend, I love you and I want to dwell in your heart today".
Zaccheus was touched by the invitation of Jesus. Most people in the city hated Zaccheus so much that they wouldn't even walk close by his house, and they certainly would not degrade themselves by entering it. Zaccheus was use to such abuse. But now Jesus was addressing to him the friendliest invitation he had ever received. Jesus could have bawled him out in front of the crowd, and he would have deserved it. But instead of a public rebuke, Jesus proceeded to honor him as if he were the most upright man in the city. Jesus wanted to be his houseguest!
And today also, Jesus wants to be your friend. He wants to come into your heart and have fellowship with you. He knows your sin, and he doesn't condone it. But he wants to encourage you to quit it, and He will do all in His power to help you do so.
But in spite of such a warm invitation from Jesus, Zaccheus still had the option to turn it down. He could have thought of some excuse to graciously refuse Jesus' hand of friendship. But he didn't, and I hope that you won't either. The Bible says that he "received Him gladly". (v.6). We hope that you too will "receive Him gladly". Only then can He help you. The two hindrances to your salvation will be overcome if you just accept the help that Jesus so kindly offers you. Listen to that internal help, your conscience prodded by the Holy Spirit, and let the external help in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ lead you into eternal salvation.
3. Two Results
With the two great obstacles overcome, let us now examine the two results that were the outcome of this encounter with Jesus, one internally and the other externally.
Let us look first at the external result. It was something that the people of Jericho could never have expected from Zaccheus. What happened was a complete reversal of his mentality. His repentance reached such a point that his heart and attitude were completely changed toward his neighbors.. He now realized all the misery and pain that he had caused others. He wanted to make amends for this. Whereas he never had had any regard for his victims, now he actually wanted to help them. So he told the Lord that he was going to give half of all he owned to the poor. And moreover, he was going to pay back fourfold those that he had cheated! (v.8). He had changed from a beast to a benefactor. He was no longer malicious but merciful. Externally he was a completely different person, a new man. He had soared to new heights of compassion and love. You will too if you let Jesus come into your heart.
And it is in the heart that we see the other result, the internal change. He had a new heart, totally made over. Money was no longer an obsession with him. Its importance had been overshadowed by his attraction to Jesus. We hear a lot today about heart transplants. This was a real heart transplant. He was no longer weighed down by sin. He was free from its stigma. He could live above the contamination of its filth. He was in fellowship with God. He was at peace with God and man. The Bible says that our sins are removed from us "as far as the east is from the west." (Psalm 103:12). It also says that: "though your sins be as scarlet they shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool." (Isaiah. 1:18). This explains something of what took place in the heart of Zaccheus. He was now sitting in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. And it is what will happen in your heart today if you will just let Jesus have His way.
Jesus said about Zaccheus:
"Today salvation has come to this house, for he too is a real descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the people that are lost." (v.9).
He longs to say the same thing about you. Will you let Him? It all depends on your decision. What will it be?
The obstacles that stand between you and salvation are real and terrifying. But they are not greater than the power of God. He stands ready to help you win a complete victory over the sin in your life, and over every other pressure or restraining influence that might seek to defeat your desire to let Christ be your Lord and Master.
Time is fleeing by. We can only be sure of this moment of our lives. So we must not be lulled into thinking that we can make our decision at a later date. Now is the acceptable time. Jesus awaits your acceptance of His gracious invitation to be His friend. Accept Him now without further delay, and, like Zaccheus, you too will be totally satisfied and at peace with God and man. Zaccheus had hit rock bottom socially and spiritually. There was no way for him to go except up. And to his credit he allowed Jesus to lift him up and place his feet on solid ground. Jesus will do the same for you if you will let Him.
Our Chief Shepherd desired that all of His sheep be safe and sound in the enclosure of His fold. To this end He gave His life that they all might be free from the slavery to Satan. But even being out of the control or power of their main enemy, they still faced problems with their fragile human natures. The Good Shepherd, therefore, gave them the benefit of His own personal experience with carnal temptations and other human weaknesses.
The First Temptation: Getting Physical Needs through Satan's Way: Matthew 4:3,4
The three temptations which came to Jesus in the beginning of His public ministry were real and not make believe. The two antagonists were not playing games with each other. There was a definite possibility that Jesus could have been swayed by the devil’s arguments. But, He wasn’t. In Hebrews 4:15 we read: “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.”
Since Jesus was tempted, it is certain that all of the rest of humanity will be targeted by the devil in an effort to recruit them for his purposes. No human being will escape and all will succumb to one degree or another. The Bible says: “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)
It is no sin, in and of itself, to be tempted. The temptation is from an outside source, and therefore not the responsibility of the individual who is being tempted. The temptation only becomes sin when the satanic suggestions are accepted and implemented. This implementation is the sole responsibility of the person who allows it. (Romans 7:23; Galatians 5:17)
The first temptation was directed at the flesh, at the physical side of life. It is there that the devil always begins as he tempts human beings. This is the easiest target to penetrate. Jesus confirmed this as He said to His disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” (Mark 14:38). The lowest level of the human nature is the physical level. But if the devil does not succeed in invading the human heart through that door, then he will try to enter through higher levels, as is verified in subsequent temptations that were used on Jesus.
A temptation is a diabolical maneuver to challenge the sovereignty of God in the human pilgrimage.
1. Jesus and the First Temptation
Satan came to Jesus in the wilderness after He had been fasting forty days and forty nights. Obviously, as a human being, He was hungry. So Satan tried to use this very normal physical need of a human body in such a way that it would not be fully in accordance with the will of God. The plan of God for Jesus was that He should come into the world as a man, showing other human beings just what God expected of them. The first Adam was a failure, but the second Adam (Jesus) was to be a success. Jesus was to be a normal human being in everything, except in sinning against God. “For he, who has always been God by nature, did not cling to his prerogatives as God’s equal, but stripped himself of all privileges and rightful dignity, and consented to take on the nature of a slave, being changed into the likeness of men.” (Philippians 2:6,7). Satan was fully aware of this commitment of Jesus to be a normal human being. Therefore, the first temptation was an effort to get Jesus to compromise on this commitment by using the supernatural powers that He obviously possessed to get the food that He obviously needed. Jesus could have done this but not without rejecting God’s plan for Him to be a normal human being. Throughout His earthly life He never used His divine powers for His own benefit. In the first temptation Satan wanted to turn the hunger of Jesus against God’s plan for Him to live a normal human life.
The first temptation was strong and subtle. The insinuation was that Jesus had only two choices: to be dead or to be fed. If He were dead He would waste His chance to be useful to God. If He were fed He would get His strength back and thus have the physical stamina to do a great work for God. If He died of hunger, then how would He be able to carry out the mission that He had come to the world to perform? All would be lost! Pretending to be concerned about Jesus’ welfare, the Devil suggested that it would be best for Jesus to take His physical well-being into His own hands, at least temporarily, and use His divine powers to get Himself some food. The insinuation was that God was busy with other problems and thus had inadvertently neglected to provide for the material needs in His Son’s life. Thus the heart of the temptation in Jesus’ case was to take things into His own hands and run His own life.
Jesus didn’t fall into the trap. He saw a third and better option: to trust God even though it killed Him. Job had this same attitude toward God in relation to his life. Job said: “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” (Job 13:15). Jesus quoted a Scripture verse to confirm His belief that a human life is more than a mere physical existence: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” (Deuteronomy 8:3).
2. People and the First Temptation
A. The temptation is a strong option
The Bible is as relevant today as the headlines of the morning paper. This is certainly true in regard to Satan’s attacks. He begins with a person’s physical needs. No matter who they are or how long they have been Christians, this is a battle that they will have to face to their dying day.
Satan continues even today to use human bodies for target practice. He has no new weapons. Through all the generations he has used the same type of temptations. It is no surprise, therefore, that he tries to get at people through their weakest point, that is, their physical bodies. The Devil uses the body with all of its instincts and needs to drive a wedge between man and God. He plants a seed of doubt about God’s interest and concern in relation to a person’s physical and material needs. He reminds people that God made them like they are with all of their physical needs and desires, therefore He can surely not blame them when they take care of their own bodily needs. These doubts about God’s interest in their physical needs, or His competency to take care of them, is the weapon Satan uses to get people today to take their physical and material problems out of God’s hands, solving them in the best way humanly possible. In other words it is the first temptation all over again, beginning with Adam and Eve and then with Jesus.
Paul designated this temptation as a "thorn (or stake) in the flesh." (2nd Corinthians 12:7-10). He said that it was a messenger of Satan, an instrument of torture to discipline him. In verse 10 Paul illustrates this thorn as weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and times of difficulty that he endured "for Christ's sake." These pitfalls in his path were meant to destroy Paul's effectiveness as a Christian. Three times Paul asked God to relieve him of such problems. But rather than deliver Paul from these fleshly temptations, God gave him the grace to bear them. In the end, Paul actually welcomed them because of the added strength he received from the Lord. The power from the Lord was worth all of the inconvenience that "the thorn" caused him! What Satan meant for destruction, God turned into victory! Paul's human frailties did not compromise his witness for Christ.
Obviously physical bodies need food. If they aren’t fed regularly they protest in the form of hunger pains. They cry out for attention. But how do they get the food that stomachs demand? Is it justifiable to steal? No, because the Bible clearly states: “Thou shalt not steal”. (Exodus.20: 15). Sometimes food is provided by others. Parents provide for their children. Sometimes food comes from friends and neighbors, or even the government, when a person is needy. But normally a person gets food by working at a job. Paul said in 2nd Thessalonians 3:10: “if anyone will not work, neither let him eat.” He was referring to those able-bodied people in his day who were lazy and who were dead beats. God’s plan is for each one to earn money with which to buy food.
Human bodies also have a sex drive. Is it ever right to satisfy this drive outside the marriage relationship? The devil would suggest that people are justified in satisfying that instinct in any way necessary. No, the Bible clearly states: “Thou shalt not commit adultery”. (Exodus 20:14).
Thus people are constantly confronted with their physical and material needs. The devil plays these against the will of God. He uses these bodily instincts to trample, at least temporarily, on God’s holy laws for human conduct. He will do all in his power to convince people that God’s guidelines for right living will just not work in their cases. He will badger individuals into taking the reins of their material and physical needs out of God’s hands. He will lead them to think that their material and bodily needs are personal choices that each one should make individually as the need arises.
B. The temptation is not the only option
Yielding to Satan's suggestions was not the only option for Jesus and neither is it the only one for us. We just need to remember three things.
(1) People today should acknowledge God’s sovereignty
It is never right to think that people are smarter than God. Neither is it ever right to believe that they can run their lives better than God can. They are never correct in taking matters into their own hands as far as material and bodily needs are concerned if this would violate God’s basic plan for their lives. It is wrong to think that God is incompetent to take care of any and every need that a person might have, and do it in a way consistent with His will. God made humans and He understands all of their needs. He knows that they have material needs. And He has set down some guidelines on how humans are to satisfy these physical needs. They have certain appetites as human beings. In His sovereignty God placed these basic instincts in their nature. And He has given people specific instructions about controlling them. In themselves there is nothing sinful about the drives that all human beings have in their physical make-up. But, as in the case of Jesus, the devil would tempt everyone to satisfy those physical needs in a way that would be contrary to God’s instructions. Those who drive cars pay close attention to the manuals furnished by the manufacturers. Those manuals spell out the details about how a particular car is made to run. If a driver ever gets to the point of ignoring those guidelines, the result will be expensive repair jobs. A gas tank full of water just will not make a car run, no matter how much someone might argue to the contrary.
(2) People today should acknowledge God’s care
It is never right to believe that God has forgotten any one of His children or that their physical needs are of no importance to Him. A person must not be led to believe that God is too busy with cosmic problems to attend to every individual’s need. Satan would suggest to people that God does not have any real interest in their petty problems. But the Bible indicates otherwise. Even a sparrow does not fall to the ground without His knowledge. And the very hairs of our heads are all numbered. (Matthew 10:29-30). Peter admonishes his readers: “casting all your cares upon Him for He cares for you.” (1st Peter 5:7). And Jesus Himself said: “Lo, I am with you always.” (Matthew 28:20).
How, then, can anyone doubt for even one moment that He who made human bodies in such a marvelous way would be incapable of supplying their every need. People must trust Him for this. He has provided for the right mixture in the air so that lungs can breathe properly. Everything in nature was made in just the right way for physical bodies to function properly. God knows and understands a person’s material problems. Their bodies have a special significance for His Kingdom’s work. He provides the soil, the rain, and the sun that makes food possible. He placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and said: ”You are free to eat from any tree in the garden.” (Genesis. 2:16). From the beginning the physical well-being of His creatures was a very high priority with God.
(3) People today should acknowledge spiritual needs
It is never right to let material needs smother or stifle spiritual needs. Human beings have a dual nature: the physical and the spiritual. They have a dual citizenship: the earthly and the eternal. They move in these two realms: in the higher spiritual realm as well as the lower material realm. They are fully equipped to partake of these two worlds. Today the astronauts are venturing into outer space. But they must have special equipment that will enable them to function in an environment that is not normal and natural to earthly human flesh. Only after they properly equip themselves can they survive journeys hundreds of miles above the earth and then return. Such adventures are possible because the astronauts know and obey the laws of their new environment out there in space. They have learned to function perfectly in two different worlds.
So human beings can also function in two worlds: the material and the spiritual. God has made them capable of doing this. How sad it is to see someone who insists on just utilizing the material world but ignoring the infinite possibilities out there in the spiritual world. If Christians try to control their own lives as far as material needs are concerned, then they miss out on a double pleasure. They miss out on the pleasure of watching God work out their material and physical needs according to His will. And also they miss out on the thrill of feeling God’s presence and power in the spiritual side of their natures.
Human bodies are very demanding. And it does takes a great deal of time to attend to their physical needs. Human bodies require several hours of sleep. They must be fed regularly and well. Sometimes they must be taken to doctors. Their muscles require exercise or they become emaciated and useless. Bodies require relaxation from time to time and entertainment. There is nothing sinful in all of this care of the body that God created. It is normal and natural. The only problem comes when the bodily care takes so much time that there is nothing left over for the spiritual side of life. It is wrong to let material needs shut God completely out of a person’s life, to let the material side smother the spiritual side.
Christians must leave some time in their lives to pray and read God’s Word, to attend church and to go about the divine mission to which they have been assigned. God knows that everyone has material needs, but attention to them must be controlled. If not, there will be no time for the more important spiritual activities. Naturally the bodies are essential in these activities but only as the vehicles through which the spiritual actions are carried out. The physical side of life is demanding, and unless care is taken, its demands will cause the main task in life to suffer. In other words, the body must be a servant and not a master. Paul said it well: “But I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.” (1st Corinthians 9:27).
Therefore the physical bodies with all of its needs and demands can and should fit into God’s plans for a Christian’s life. People are never justified in taking the material and physical needs out of God’s hands, and trying to run that part of their lives independent of His will and desire.
The body is far more than just a machine capable only of carnal activities. Paul says: “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?” (1st Corinthians 6:19). Paul also challenges us “to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” (Romans 12:1) And Jesus said: “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and all of these (material) things will be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33)
These Scriptures among others will serve humans today just as the Scriptures helped the Lord Jesus to meet this first temptation. They will be the basis for defeating Satan’s attempts to turn our physical needs against the will of God.
The Second Temptation: Downgrading Faith in God to Doubt: Matthew 4:5-7
Jesus' flesh was the target of the first temptation in the wilderness. His faith was the target of the second. In the first, Satan tried to turn a perfectly innocent craving of the body into a deliberate rebellion against divine providence. Then, in the second, he tried to twist Jesus' trust in God into deliberate distrust.
Satan led Jesus into the Holy City, Jerusalem, and placed Him on the pinnacle of the temple. He then suggested that Jesus jump from the top of the pinnacle to the ground below, letting God His Father, in whom He had absolute trust, protect Him from any harm.
In the second temptation the devil wanted Jesus to create an artificial danger from which God would be forced to save Him.
Nothing is sacred to Satan; not the building dedicated to the worship of the Lord, nor those most intimate feelings in the heart that a person has toward his Maker. Any and everything is a fair target for his shameful maneuvers. It is not so much of a surprise that the devil would tempt people through their bodily desires. This is such an obvious target, and it is usually the only door that Satan needs through which to have free access to people. Through this one level he is usually able to get humans to endanger or even sever their relationship with God. But when this fails, as in the case of the first temptation, Satan goes on to a second target, that is, a person’s faith in God. This target is a more dangerous temptation since it is so unexpected. People go to the Temple because they want to meet God, and they are surprised if they find Satan there also. But often he is there.
1. Jesus and the Second Temptation
In this second temptation the devil zeroed in on Jesus' absolute faith in God: asking Jesus to give a demonstration of just how much faith He really had in God. Without a doubt the devil painted this demonstration in the brightest of colors. He must have been very angry that his first tricks had failed to fool Jesus. He had never met a Man like this before. Jesus showed such faith in God! It was Jesus’ most prized possession. So it was at this very point that the devil decided to strike. This is one of Satan's favorite tactics, striking at what a person holds most dear in life. Many times in the present day this might be a child or other members of the family, or it might be some material possession in which a great deal of delight is taken. Care must be exercised with these prized possessions. Satan can use them against people by leading them to turn such possessions into idols of worship. This type of idolatry, of course, is strongly condemned by the Lord. He is a jealous God Who does not approve of idolatry. So, with this in mind, Satan tried to turn Jesus' faith in God into a lack of faith. He tried to tarnish Jesus’ faith, to soil its purity, to smear its beauty. Did he get away with it? Of course not!
Jesus saw through the satanic smoke-screen. Even the Scripture that the devil quoted was not enough to cover up his evil intentions. Jesus responded with another Scripture: "Thou shalt not put to the test the Lord thy God." (Deuteronomy 6:16). The Scripture that the devil quoted from Psalm 91:11,12 states a great truth, but it was not applicable to the situation that Satan suggested to Jesus. Jesus had no doubt that God could take care of Him just in case He might happen to fall from the pinnacle of the temple. But to deliberately jump from the pinnacle just to see if God loved Him was preposterous. Jesus didn't need that kind of proof. Jesus already had all of the proof that He could possible want as to God's concern for Him. There was no need to test it further.
Actually, if Jesus had fallen for this supposed test, it would have revealed doubt and not faith in God. Satan wanted to put Jesus in the position of testing God to see if He could still trust Him. Satan wanted Jesus to play games with His faith in God. He wanted to turn Jesus' child-like faith into a childish maneuver to get something out of God. Jesus would have nothing to do with such a cheapening of His relationship with His Father.
2. People and the Second Temptation
While Jesus handled this second temptation with His usual skill, not all people are so successful. This temptation today takes different forms. All of them aim to twist Christian faith into doubt, making faith cheap and sordid. The idea is to try to make God do something just to prove how much He loves His followers. The first temptation was a temptation to try to get physical needs without God’s interference. But the second temptation is a temptation to test God rather than trust Him. It is putting God to the test, to force Him to do things. And all of this in the name of showing faith in God. This is the subtle method that Satan would like to use to destroy people’s faith in God. This is his goal for all of mankind. Satan’s plan works well when he leads Christians to exercise their faith by making cheap bargains with God. Or, in using naïve sensationalism as a proof of faith. Or, in other instances, Satan tries to lead people to exercise their faith in unchristian manifestations.
A. Turning Faith into Cheap Bargains With God
Sometimes a person will try to force God to give certain blessings that He has apparently promised. One such promise is in Malachi 3:10 in regard to the tithe. God will bless those who tithe. This is true but not if they try to buy the promised blessing with the tithe. This is nothing but crass commercialism. This happens when an individual pays his tithe but only with the idea of expecting God to multiply it several times over. This is nothing more than using God for personal monetary gain. God did not make His promise with this in mind. Those who are proud of being faithful in tithing should remember something that a friend of mine once said; "People in the Bible times tithed until they became Christians. Then they gave their all."
Then, there are other bargains that people make with God to try to get certain favors from Him. For example, a person might have a big problem, or some loved one has a serious illness, and a promise is made to do certain things for God if God will agree to solve the problem or heal the loved one. Here again it is an effort to manipulate God. It is putting pressure on God to do something in return for which the Christian will do something for Him. This is nothing more than attempting to drive cheap bargains with God. People are to worship God, not trade favors with Him. If there is something that a person ought to be doing for the Lord, then the person should go ahead and do it, independent of any blessing that God might or might not judge appropriate.
B. Turning Faith into Naive Sensationalism
Today there are still people who create artificial dangers for themselves, and then wait for God to deliver them. They claim to do this because they have such faith in God. Many of these people base their activities on Mark 16:18: "they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it shall not hurt them.” So, taking the position that this promise applies to them, they handle deadly snakes in their church services and drink salvation cocktails. These cocktails are a mixture of water and strychnine. One report said that two pastors died after drinking the cocktails, and that they were buried with an open Bible on their chests. The Bibles were open to Mark 16:18.
Like the Devil’s quotation of Psalm 91, a casual reading of Mark 16:18 might seem to support their logic. But the spirit of the verse can well be the opposite. For instance, in Malta, Paul was bitten by a viper. Everyone expected him to die, but he “suffered no ill effects.” (Acts 28:5). God had miraculously delivered His servant. But Paul had not intentionally picked up the viper in order to force God to protect him. That would have been “testing God”, which is prohibited according to the verse that Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy 6: 16.
While such snake handlers deserve some credit for the child-like faith that they seem to have, they are to be pitied from another point of view. They allow Satan to twist their faith into something ugly and dangerous. While they certainly put on a good show, it must be said that it brings more glory to them than to God. And this is not scriptural. Matthew 5:16 says: " Let your light shine before people in such a way that they may see your good works and praise your Father in heaven.” Most people praise the snake handlers and not God the Father. The snake handlers attract attention to themselves by their exhibitionism, and are proud of just how much they believe in God. This kind of pride is not a Christian virtue. In some cases they may even disdain and ridicule other Christians who are considered too timid to handle the snakes or drink the strychnine. And so the devil gets the victory as he persuades otherwise good Christians to cheapen their faith, making it a three-ring circus!
Is this how people are supposed to prove their faith in God? Not at all. The people mentioned above were asking for trouble. They created the danger for themselves, and they expected God to deliver them. Actually, they demanded that He do so. This was exactly what the devil wanted Jesus to do. Jesus was wise enough to see that this was not the correct way to prove His faith in God.
The Bible gives many instances of God protecting His servants. One example is Daniel. In the 6th chapter of Daniel there is the story of Daniel in the lion’s den. He did not jump into the den and expect God to protect him. He was thrown into the den against his will because he dared to pray to God rather than to the king Darius. Daniel spent the night with the lions but he was not harmed because God sent an angel to shut the mouths of the lions. God does protect his people from danger, but only when it is His will to do so.
In the Austin American-Statesman of Oct 14,1983 there was an article about a preacher's daughter in Tennessee who had a tumor on her leg which was about the size of a football. The father refused to let doctors treat the tumor because he believed in faith healing and thus was against the use of any kind of human medicine. The courts, however, ordered the l2-year old to be treated by chemotherapy, and the tumor was becoming smaller. The preacher father had faith that God alone would cure the tumor. But was it really faith? Many would say that it was not. God could and does heal our bodies, but He would expect people to use any legitimate means to heal themselves, and He has put many means at our disposal to do this, including trained doctors as well as all kinds of medicinal plants.
There is the story told about a flood that flowed through a certain town and it became necessary to evacuate families that lived in the lower areas. A boat went to one house and asked the owner if he would like to get a ride to higher ground. The man refused the help by saying that he had faith that God was going to take care of him. Later on, when the waters rose to higher levels the boat returned to rescue the man. Again he refused saying that he didn't need man's help since God would help him if the time ever came. Finally the waters rose so high that the man had to get on his roof. This time a helicopter flew over and dropped a rope to the man. Again he refused, confident that if he needed help the Lord would provide it. Finally he was washed away and drowned. In heaven, according to the story, he complained that the Lord had failed him. But the Lord explained to him: I sent two boats and a helicopter to rescue you, but you refused all of my help, so there was nothing more that I could do. This is typical of some people's idea of faith in God. God helps people in many different ways, and often through normal human channels. But such help is not always recognized as help from God.
C. Turning Faith into Unchristian Demonstrations
Sometimes Christians get an “F” in faith. This occurs when they exercise their faith in an unchristian manner. It has happened too many times in history and is one of the black marks that has hindered evangelistic efforts. Mahatma Gandhi (1869 – 1948) is reported to have said that he might have become a Christian “if he could have seen one.”
The Devil delights in turning a Christian’s faith into something despicable and hateful. That which should be the Christian’s most precious possession, that is, their faith, can become their most deadly distinction. The Devil longs to get a Christian to do something unchristian in the defense of faith. This takes place when Christians are intolerant, snobbish, cantankerous, hypocritical, or even murderous. Examples of this could be the Holy Inquisition that was directed at the suppression of heresy. Other instances might be the witch hunts and the burning of heretics at the stake or drowning them in the sea. Some of the most abominable wars are the so-called Holy Wars that have been waged from time to time.
Christians are not to compromise their faith, but should practice it with dignity and integrity, always honoring the name of Him Whom they serve. People can defend their faith honestly and even diligently, and always in a Christ like spirit. Paul said it well in Colossians 4:6: “Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt (never insipid, yet pointedly) and be prepared to give every inquirer a fitting answer.”
Jesus had real faith in God. He did not think it appropriate for Him to give God a pop quiz from time to time just to see if God was still awake and caring for Him. Jesus told the Devil: "You shall not tempt the Lord your God." In talking about the experiences of Israel in the wilderness, Paul writes: "We should not test the Lord, as some of them did and were killed by snakes." (1st Corinthians 10:9).
Who are we to demand proof of God's faithfulness? He has ever reason to suspect our faithfulness, but we have ever reason not to suspect His. His love for us should not need any more proof than was manifested so clearly on Calvary as Jesus died in our place.
It is right that He put us to the test, but it makes no sense for us to test Him. We are the ones who have shown instability, immaturity, and other defects of our finite nature. On the other hand, God is perfect, holy, and in Him there is no darkness. Our place is to trust Him, not permitting Satan to sow seeds of doubt in our minds about His goodness toward us. It is a false faith that would make us lean on sensational manifestations for our belief in God. We can and must defeat this second temptation just as Jesus did.
The Third Temptation: Worshipping Satan rather than God: Matthew 4: 8-11
This was the final, desperate attempt on the part of Satan to conquer Jesus. It lacked the usual trickery and cunningness of the first two temptations. Now, there was no longer any effort at pretense. Nor did the devil have any Biblical quotations. Rather, he came right to the point. He laid all of his cards on the table. He wanted Jesus to “fall down and worship me." This was Satan's goal from the beginning. This was what he had succeeded in doing with the rest of humanity, beginning with Adam and Eve. Now he wanted Jesus to fall in line. Would Jesus be faithful to His commitment to God or switch sides?
Satan’s first two attempts had failed to fool Jesus. The idea in the first two temptations was just to push God aside on a temporary basis. He suggested to Jesus: turn these stones into bread so that you can get enough strength to continue your life's work. In the second, Satan wanted Jesus to deliberately put Himself in danger in order to test the Father's willingness to rescue Him. Jesus saw through these two smoke screens. He knew that even the least deviation from God's will, as innocent as it might appear, would be a step in the wrong direction, a step away from God and toward evil. Jesus did not want to take such a step in the first two temptations nor in this third one.
1. Jesus and the Third Temptation
In the third temptation, the devil had no more time for cute tricks. He was running out of ammunition. So, he came out boldly and said that which he had had in mind all along. More than anything else he wanted Jesus to worship him. The word "worship" (Greek: proskoneo) literally means, "to kiss towards" (from pros, towards, and kuneo, to kiss). Satan longed for Jesus to prostrate Himself before him and pay homage to him. This would have made Jesus acknowledge that Satan was a spiritual being who deserved to be obeyed and served.
So much did Satan want to bring Jesus to his knees that he offered to give him everything in the world. He showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. He thought that such a prize would surely get Jesus' attention and his loyalty. It was the most glittering package that Satan could put together. It was a deal that would be hard to turn down. After all, Jesus really did want to rule over the kingdoms of this world. That is why He came into the world. That was His ultimate goal! But Satan had not counted on Jesus' unusual sense of values. Later on Jesus would express those convictions in Mark 8:36: "what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul."
Also Jesus must have questioned Satan's claim to the ownership of all the kingdoms of the world. Satan may have thought that this was true, and in one sense it was. The kingdoms were his because the rulers and people of these kingdoms did really belong to Satan. They had sold their souls to him. He was their master, and they were his slaves. In this sense he was in charge of everything at least for the moment. His word was the law. He controlled everything in the world. He was saying to Jesus: You are now living in the world, and it is my world, my turf. Therefore if you want to get ahead in this world, you had better jump on my bandwagon.
In this third temptation, Satan was asking Jesus to follow the rest of humanity in worshipping him. He was saying: Forget about God and join up with me. In more modern language he was saying: You are living in the world now, not in heaven. And here everything and everyone belongs to me. So, wake up and get real. If you want to get ahead in this world you must deal with me.
Jesus saw the flaw in the Devil’s reasoning even though He recognized that Satan really did have most everything in the world under his control. Three times Jesus called him “the ruler of this world”. (John 12:31; 14:30; and 16:11). Paul said that he was the “god of this age” (2nd Corinthians 4: 4). These names reflected the enormous influence that the Devil had in the world. But Jesus also knew that this control over the world was only temporary. In reality, God the Father, as Creator, still owned everything in the world, and He had not transferred its control to anybody. And in the end God would cast out the Devil and his followers.
In Jesus' response to this third temptation He used His sternest language. At this point He must have been very tired, and therefore anxious to terminate this useless conversation. Satan had bullied Him long enough. Jesus’ patience was running thin. So He called Satan by name to give him a personal message. Up to this time He had limited Himself to answering the devil's suggestions only with Scriptures. Now however, He bluntly said to the Deceiver: "Go! Away with you, Satan." He used the personal name for the devil, and politely but firmly indicated that the battle was over. There was nothing else to be said. Jesus had chosen to be faithful to God, and only serve Him. It was clear that the devil had lost out again. The devil got` the message for the Bible says that "at this the devil left him." Then the angels came and attended Jesus.
This means that Jesus had won the battle even though the war was still not over. He had managed to expose Satan as the father of lies. (John 8:44). In a final blow to Satan's ambitious goals Jesus quoted to him a third Scripture: "It is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God and him only shalt thou serve." (Deuteronomy 6:13 with 10:20). A man I know used a tee shirt that on the back showed a cross with the words underneath: Jesus Beat the Devil - with two sticks. This sums up the temptations of Jesus with the Devil. The final score was Jesus: 3; Satan: 0
2. People and the Third Temptation
This same temptation is used by the devil to fool many people today. Satan would have mankind "fall down and worship him." And he entices people to do this with some very attractive incentives. He tries to make himself out as an indispensable helper in life’s journey. He holds out the type of bait that would be most likely to appeal to humans. For some it is alcohol; for others it is power and prestige of some kind; still for others he uses drugs, or sex, or stealing, or a thousand other things. He attempts to bribe loyalty from his victims. The insinuation is that since he controls the world, humans would be smart to go along with him. Jesus calls him the "Prince of this world" (John 12:31). Paul calls him "the god of this world" who blinds the minds of unbelievers. (2nd Corinthians 4: 4). With all of this notoriety Satan presents himself to humans as the one person that we must follow if we are to make it in this world. He wants us to believe that since we live in this world controlled by him that we need him. We are in the real here and now, not in the sweet bye and bye. Satan says something like this: "Wake up, quit day dreaming, you are a human, you live in a real world. Do what it takes to get along in a real world.”
Satan still largely controls the world. The Bible verifies that: “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23). Every human being who has reached the age of accountability stands under God’s condemnation for deliberately submitting to the Devil’s siren call. It is no sin to be tempted, but it is sin to yield to the temptation. And God holds people responsible for any choice they make to follow the Devil’s suggestions. The temptations are at first aimed at material needs. If and when this tactic does not completely break the human spirit, then the temptations take on a more subtle aspect. People are tempted in the area of intimate spiritual sensibilities. These include their faith in God and the commitment to worship Him and Him alone.
The Devil is very persuasive and subtle as he deals with people. Normally he approaches his targets indirectly. For example, he sells his wares through his already conquered victims. Many times these are our close friends. At other times unfriendly people will be used to push the buttons that will make otherwise nice people do crazy things. Just why do these evil temptations so easily catch their victims? In part it is because they are so captivating and compelling, while at the same time costly. But they can be conquered!
2. People and the Third Temptation
They appeal to the eyes. They glitter. They offer maximum eye appeal in gold-plated treasures. These are real things that fit in so well with the material world. The victims become convinced that such attractive wares are really essential to their well-being. With such “goodies” a person attains status in society. The temptations begin with insignificant and apparently innocent things. But these create a thirst for more and more. Consequently, it does not take long for a person to be completely hooked by the bait that Satan lays down and the promises that he makes.
The Bible warns about loving the things that are seen and despising the things that are not seen. (2nd Corinthians 4:18). The reason is that the things that are seen are temporal, while the things that are not seen are eternal. The things that are seen by the natural eye are perishable and will some day pass away. They last only during this lifetime. But there is more to life than just this world. Afterwards there is eternity. Satan would like for all mankind to think only of this life's pleasures and nothing more. The Bible encourages people to see beyond this life, beyond what can be seen by the naked eye. Out there in the presently unseen world are the real treasures that God has prepared for His followers. It is a big mistake for people to think that this world is all that there is. Earthly realities should not blind us to the greater realities in eternity. Mankind was not meant to be totally captivated by material things and "sell our souls to the company store." Rather we were made with the capacity to live on a higher level and to choose to serve the Lord our God. The Bible confirms this in the life of Moses. "He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking forward to his reward." (Hebrews 11: 25,26)
B. Satan’s temptations are costly
The price of following Satan’s suggestions is not readily apparent. The “bill” always comes later. Jesus knew that He would have to fall down and worship Satan in order to receive all that was allegedly promised. But this was something that He was not willing to do. He understood the dire consequences. Human beings seldom understand the seriousness of what they are tempted to do in their encounters with Satan. It is like using credit cards. It is so easy to buy this and that without thinking about the cost. But some day the full payment is due.
The Bible warns: “the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23). This is serious. At first it means only spiritual death. This is the separation of a person from fellowship with God. But later it means physical as well as eternal death. The first is the separation of a person from the body and the second is the eternal separation of a person from Heaven. When a person commits the first act of disobedience to God’s laws, something drastic happens in the heart. The sinner is unchanged outwardly and physically but is spiritually dead in trespasses and sins. (Ephesians 2: 1). If this condition persists until death, then there is separation from God for all eternity.
C. Satan’s temptations are conquerable
Jesus proved that it is possible to just say “no” to Satan. The Bible says: “Resist the Devil and he will flee from you.” (James 4: 7). The Christian must try to be faithful to God regardless of what the Devil would suggest to us. People must realize that the Devil is full of promises that he cannot keep. He would deceive people into thinking that he owns the world just because he has so many followers. But the reality is that God owns the world. “The earth is the Lord’s, with all its wealth; the world and all its inhabitants.” (Psalm 24:1). Also, Satan’s too-good-to-be-true promises are limited to this life only. In eternity they do not mean a thing. In Heaven they are worthless. In eternity God’s will prevails. Therefore only He deserves the praise and worship of mankind. As heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17) we can defeat the pressures of the third temptation. Jesus defeated Satan and freed us from slavery to sin. But defeating Satan can not be accomplished in worldly strength and wisdom. Rather it will be by complete dependence on the Lord Jesus Christ. He and He alone can give us the victory over Satan.
Therefore, while we live in this world and it is a real place, it is not the ultimate reality for Christians. For Christians there is another world and it is a very real world. It is the real world where God lives and where He is preparing a place for all of His children. People are just passing through this temporary world, and they live in temporary houses which are their earthly bodies. But the promise that can be trusted says: "For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." (2nd Corinthians 5:1). The writer of Hebrews says that the giants of faith presented in the 11th chapter recognized that they were "only foreigners and strangers here on earth." (Hebrews 11:13).
So it is the fate of every human being to make this earthly pilgrimage. And while here every person will be confronted with the temptations of the Devil. Also it is inevitable that sooner or later each individual succumb to the Devil’s trickery. But each person can call on the Lord and receive the necessary power to defeat the diabolical maneuvers and remain faithful to God, worshipping and serving Him alone. Jesus will help His people to do just that.
The Psalmist Reveals His Weakness: Psalm 73: 1 – 20
The Third Section of the Book of Psalms (73 to 89) consists almost exclusively of psalms written by Asaph, who was made the leader of choral worship by King David. Psalm 73 raises the same issue that is found also in Psalm 37, 49, and 94, as well as in Job 21. The first verse of Psalm 73 is actually the conclusion of the Psalm: “Surely God is good to Israel”. This is the conviction that the writer reached after struggling with doubts about his faith.
The Psalmist confessed that he had not always been so sure about God’s goodness. He used verses 2 to 12 to reveal his moment of weakness during which his faith was shaken. He struggled with the problem of why the wicked prosper while the righteous suffer adversity. Frustrated with his inability to understand this dilemma, he began to doubt that the effort to live for God was of any value. To him it did not make any sense for the righteous to go unrewarded while the wicked go unpunished. His faith was shaken to the point that he was about to give it up. He elaborated on the inner battle that he had experienced (vv. 2 – 12). Because of this he was about to abandon his effort to try to please God (vv.13, 14). But finally, he decided to present his problem to God. He hoped that in the quietness of the sanctuary that God would solve his problem. He was not disappointed. (vv. 15 – 20)
1. He was Distressed at the Apparent Happiness of the Godless (vv. 2 – 12)
The Psalmist was confused as he observed the apparently good life of the wicked. He could not believe that a just God would let them get by with their life style. To him they deserved immediate punishment. He became very upset. He was just a step away from joining ranks with those pagan forces. His attitude reflected a popular conception. This idea suggested that prosperity was a sign of God’s approval, while adversity indicated some sin that should and would be punished. In the final analysis, he was being critical of God’s management of the situation in his home town. He probably felt that even he might do a better job than God was doing.
Verse 12 summarized his picture of the ungodly: “always carefree, they increase in wealth”. Today it might be said that they were always happy and laughing all the way to the bank. This was doubtless an exaggerated picture but it was the essence of what the psalmist thought he saw. In verses 4 to 11 he elaborated on the details of the life style of those who had no place for God in their lives.
They were virile. (vv.4, 5). Good health was, for the psalmist, a blessing from God. But the healthiest people that he knew were the most ungodly. Their bodies were strong and healthy, and they were seemingly immune to the ordinary sicknesses that plagued most people. They enjoyed a life of ease, relatively free of problems.
They were violent. (vv. 6, 7). They had an air of superiority. Pride, arrogance and conceit were typical traits of their lives. Their hearts were full of iniquity and their minds were full of evil schemes. They had no scruples and lived by no rules. They practiced whatever would satisfy their evil longings, regardless of how much harm it might cause others. There seemed to be no limits to their devilish escapades.
They were vicious. (vv. 8, 9). They had no respect for God or man. They would blaspheme the name of God and broadcast lies about innocent people. They evidently had bribed the authorities, and anyone who got in their way had to suffer dreadful circumstances.
They were venomous. (vv. 10,11). Their poison was poured out like honey to bring their opponents to their knees and to make them believe lies. They preached that if God existed He was just too busy to pay attention to what they were doing. And if God did happen to notice, there was nothing that He could do to stop them. They had ostentatious pride in all that they were doing. They were riding high and in complete control of the situation. They were the masters and others were allowed to be their slaves.
2. He was Depressed by the Apparent Hardships of the Godly (vv. 13,14)
In verses 13 and 14, the psalmist expressed his doubt about the value of trying to live a godly life. The hardships of such a life seemed unfair in comparison with the carefree living of the wicked. He examined his own life as a God-fearing person. It was far from easy. It was almost impossible to maintain life on the straight and narrow road. His guilt was constant since he knew that he did not live up to God’s high standards. In reality he was envious of the good life of those who had no place for God in their lives. And therefore he felt sorry for himself.
Surely he and the other godly people were wasting their time in trying to follow God’s strict rules. It just wasn’t worth it. Their days were full of trouble and failure. They tried so hard to please God, but apparently He was ignoring their struggles. The psalmist reasoned that if the wicked could live so happily without God, why was he depriving himself of that kind of happiness. Was he being naïve in thinking that what he did was of any concern to God?
The writer of this Psalm had his sincere doubts about God’s goodness. He could not understand why the strict God that he knew was so lenient on those who were deliberately ignoring and breaking God’s most sacred laws. His doubts probably made him feel guilty. These doubts must have made him reluctant to share his thoughts with any of his colleagues. He needed to go slow before going too far. He did not think it wise to blurt out his radical ideas in front of friends who looked up to him as a leader. He just was not sure where his doubts were going to lead him. He was ashamed to needlessly undermine the faith of others before he was certain of what he was doing. But the turmoil of his heart was about to explode. He was really hurting! Was there anywhere to receive help? And then, as a last resort, he thought about taking his problem to God, as embarrassing as that might be.
3. He was Driven to his Knees in the Sanctuary of God (vv.17-20)
Finally, he entered the House of God. This was a wise step. He knew that his problem was beyond human logic. Try as he might he just could not come up with an explanation of why the wicked were prosperous while God’s people were persecuted. He was burdened with a big problem; he was broken because he had no solution; and he was begging for any crumb of insight that would help him. In this spirit of humility he came to God, and God helped him solve the problem. (v. 17).
The solution came as he meditated in God’s presence. His blurred vision with respect to the dilemma was cleared up in the divine light. God wiped the cataracts out of his eyes, and everything slipped back into focus. God patiently led the psalmist to evaluate life on a long-term basis. He had been seeing the picture only from a human viewpoint and completely leaving out God’s perspective. The picture he saw was painted with just the drab colors of this earth, while the brighter colors of eternity were ignored. Now, in this larger vision, he was able to see beyond the present moment and take a long look into the future. He awakened to the fact that in the future there would be a Day of Reckoning for the wicked and a Day of Rewards for the righteous.
He finally understood what was waiting for the godless in eternity. It was not a rosy picture (vv. 18-20). What they had sown they would surely reap. (Galatians 6:7). In life God was allowing them the freedom to choose or reject His will. But He would hold them responsible in eternity for the consequences of their choice. (Romans 14:12; 2nd Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 20:12). The wicked were free to build their houses on sinking sand, but their doom was inevitable. (Matthew 7:27)
The psalmist’s prosperous neighbors were good at playing the game of life. They were adept at squeezing the last drop of pleasure out of every day. They indulged themselves with life’s best and most expensive material things. But, in eternity, they would be like fish out of water. In the afterlife, God would be in charge, and they would be adrift in confusion. They would not be able to stand in His presence. They would be slipping and falling at every turn. (v. 18). Their wealth that had been so useful on earth would now be worthless junk. It would not buy them any favors with God nor prevent their plunge into destruction. They would be helpless and paralyzed with terrors. (v.19). Punishment and sufferings in Hell would be constant, and there would be no relief. Their beautiful dreams on earth will have been changed to nightmares. (v. 20). They would be isolated from anyone or anything that might help them. On earth they had had no time for God. But now, in eternity He had no time for them. Their actions in life would return to haunt them forever and ever.
In Psalm 73, the writer had bounced along on a very rough stretch of his earthly pilgrimage. He revealed this sad experience in graphic details. Verse 1 gives his testimony based on his experience of almost losing his faith. This verse makes it clear that God is good and consequently it does pay to serve God. Yes, in spite of his momentary weakness, he concluded that God’s way of life was the best. God is good to all who will allow Him to be. It does pay to serve God. Any other way of life is a bad bargain, a losing proposition, a lost cause. To serve God is to discover the real meaning of life. Anything else is not real living, but rather a mere existence on a low level. Without God life makes no sense. Without God life is like a moving car without a driver or a ship without a rudder. God makes life complete, regardless of the hardships. Jesus said it well: “I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly (overflowing, to the fullest).” John 10:10.
The Psalmist Repents of His Weakness: Psalm 73: 21 – 28
In the first part of this Psalm the writer revealed a crisis that had occurred in his spiritual life. He confessed that he had become jealous and envious of the ungodly as he compared his life style to theirs. To him, in this period of depression, the wicked seemed to be so happy and prosperous while he was having an uphill struggle in living up to God’s high standards. He came to the point of wondering if it was really worth while to serve God.
He had temporarily forgotten that the blessings of eternity will far offset any burdens of the earthly life. In the second part of the Psalm he begins to remember just who he was and whose he was. He recalled many of the things that God had done and was still doing for him. His anguish and doubt had blotted out these divine blessings. But now these truths came back to revive his faith.
It is easy to see how the psalmist was fooled with regard to the ungodly. He was seeing them at the peak of their success, and it did look good. This is one of the weapons that Satan uses to taunt Christian people. He emphasizes the bright side of sin. He would never fool anyone if he immediately showed the dark side of sin. For a time, in its early stages, sin does look inviting. It is only later that the true picture begins to emerge. The psalmist fell into this trap, and was almost completely taken in. But God helped him before he had gone too far.
In the sanctuary the psalmist not only was able to get things in focus as far as the wicked are concerned but also as far as the righteous are concerned. He came to understand that there will be a Day of Reckoning for the wicked and a Day of Rewards for the righteous. He assumed full responsibility for his warped thinking. And he remembered the blessings of his loving Lord that made it such a pleasure to submit to His sovereignty, and to serve Him regardless of the brief suffering that it might entail. All of this led him to repent in sackcloth and ashes for his moment of weakness. He repented for forgetting his special nature, and for forgetting God’s special love for him, and for forgetting his special advantages, and also for forgetting his high calling.
1. For Forgetting His Special Nature, (vv. 21,22)
For a moment he had lost sight of the fact that His Creator had given him a very special nature. He was made in the image of God. And with this special nature he became a child of God with the ability to have fellowship with Him.
The Psalmist was chagrined and grieved to remember that this wonderful truth had been temporarily blotted out of his thinking. He had reacted to the prosperity of the wicked and to the sufferings of the saints as if he were one of God’s lower irrational creations. He had been thinking only of carnal things as a “brute beast” might have done. He had been guilty of being envious of the transitory material benefits of life. He had forsaken the pure air of the higher life for the smog of the jungle. How blind he had been! How stupid! He was at the point of selling his birthright for a mess of pottage. (Genesis 25:29-34). Those of whom he had been so jealous were just a bunch of foolish, misguided people who had chosen to squander their birthright for momentary pleasures. And the psalmist realized that he had almost fallen into the pit with them!
He was an animal, but a human animal, a special creation. And as such, he could walk with God! He was the lucky possessor of a very wonderful relationship with God. And this was so special that no amount of money on earth could buy it. It was priceless! And it was a loving gift from his heavenly Father.
2. For Forgetting God’s Special Love for Him (vv. 23 – 24)
In spite of the psalmist’s weakness, God was still with him. God had not abandoned him. The psalmist had moved away from God, but God had not moved away from him. God still loved him even though He disapproved of his lack of faith. Throughout the crisis God remained at the doubter’s side. This was the kind of love that would not let go. Now the psalmist realized this, and it made his moment of weakness even more embarrassing. Unworthy as he was, God held on tightly to his right hand. He was in God’s loving hands, and, when he stumbled, he did not fall because God prevented such a disaster by holding tightly to his hand.
And to make his embarrassment even more humbling, God gave proof of His love by forgiving the psalmist for his lack of faith. And God also assured him that He would continue to be with him right on through the rest of his earthly pilgrimage. But there was still more! An additional assurance was given the psalmist. God promised him that after the earthly struggles were over that He would receive him, a rebellious doubter, in heaven. Verse 24 says: “and afterward you will take me into glory.” What a powerful demonstration of divine love! God’s love had held his hand, promised to lead him on through life, and even assured him that heaven would be his home forever.
These two verses (23 & 24) confirm what the Bible teaches in other places about the security of the believer. If a person becomes a child of God, he/she will always remain in God’s family. The person may sometimes be a disobedient child, but such disobedience, while disappointing God, will not lead God to disinherit him. It is heartening to know that God will not give up on His people during their earthly struggles. Rather, He will hold tightly on to them and guide them safely into the eternal haven of rest. See John 10: 28, 29; Romans 8: 37 – 39; 1st Peter 1: 4, 5.
3. For Forgetting His Special Advantages (vv. 25-27)
A. As a child of God, he had a thirst for heaven
The psalmist came to see that this world was not his home. He had too many longings in his make-up that could not be fulfilled through material benefits. He did not live by bread alone. He also needed spiritual food. God had put these spiritual longings in his innermost being, and they could only be satisfied in the more spiritual atmosphere of heaven. He had a dual citizenship. He was a citizen of this world, but he was also a citizen of heaven. Between the two, one temporal and the other eternal, the latter was far superior to the former.
No person who weighs the advantages of the two could ever wish to swap the glories of heaven for any or all of the most desirable benefits of this earth. Jesus summed it up in this statement: “What shall it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul? “ (Mark 8:36)
B. As a soldier, God would help fight his battles
The psalmist remembered that he could count on God’s strength in helping him to fight his earthly battles. He realized that with his own resources he was frail and weak. He was no match for the many enemies that he would have to face, both material and spiritual. But he could always rely on divine resources to supply his every need. This glorious truth had eluded him while he was feeling sorry for himself. He was trying to fight his enemies in his own strength. He finally did call on God to help, but only after he had needlessly suffered a lot of anguish and despair.
Like Paul the psalmist now knew that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12)
C. As a Christian, he was on the winning side
The psalmist also knew that he was on God’s side, and therefore on the side that would ultimately be victorious. The doom of those who opposed God was already sealed. No human being can defy God without suffering eternally disastrous consequences. The Bible teaches that “the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23). It also warns: “Be not deceived, God is not mocked (you cannot make a fool of God), a person will reap what he/she sows.” (Galatians 6:7)
God knows those who are on His side, and He also knows those who are against Him. In the end God will separate these two classes of people. (Matthew 25:31-46). So it is comforting for a Christian to know that when the final choices are made, the redeemed will reign forever with God.
4. For Forgetting His High Calling in Life (v. 20)
In this last verse the psalmist sums up his philosophy of life. He was in this world to meet God, and then, to introduce God to other people. In his recent period of depression, he had lost sight of this high calling. Now he wanted to let the world know just how good it was to be back on track. It was great to be back in fellowship with God, his sovereign Lord. And more than that, it was great to pick up again his work of proclaiming the wonderful deeds of the Lord of the Universe. He was ready to shout this good news from the housetops. He believed that if other people knew the Lord like he knew Him, that they too would want to be on God’s side.
This Psalm has painted a picture that is true to life. It has shown the psalmist in all of his weakness as well as in his good moments. He admittedly was blinded by the prosperity of the wicked and by the suffering of the saints. But he finally came to see the indisputable value of a close relationship with God. In the sanctuary God helped him to get everything in focus and his faltering faith was revived. Finally he understood that this life is only a small part of the whole. The rest, the larger part, is after death and in eternity. And while the Christian life is not easy, there will come a blessed day of reward. Then the Christian will understand and rejoice for the brief moment of suffering that he/she might have endured on earth. Without a doubt any hardships brought on by a Christian's stand for God will have been well worth while. God is good (v.1) was the way the psalmist summed up his experience. And every Christian pilgrim will surely say a hearty "amen."
Our Good Shepherd by His death on Calvary delivered His sheep from the clutches of Satan and his evil empire. The apostle John explained the difference between the Good Shepherd and a hired hand: "The hired hand, who is not a shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf carries off some of the sheep and scatters the flock. This is because he is a hired man and does not care a straw for the sheep." (John 10:12, 13). Jesus, our Good Shepherd, loved His sheep too much to permit Satan or any other enemy to destroy His flock. He gave His life to protect His defenseless sheep. But He not only delivered them from dangers but also fed them. He nourished them with hope and joy and comfort. He wanted them to live on the highest plane of life. He led them to quality living and gave them encouragement for any and every crisis.
The Christian's Living Hope: 1st Peter 1:3 - 5
Some of the saddest words in the Bible are found in Ephesians 2:12: “having no hope, and without God in the world”. This describes those who do not know Christ as Lord and Saviour. Those who do not receive Christ into their hearts are without hope in this life or in eternity. But, those who do know the Lord have hope, now and forevermore. And they are always ready and proud to explain to others this hope. In 1st Peter 1:3-5 the writer talks a great deal about the Christian’s hope. He calls it a living hope. He goes on to show that its source is none other than the abundant mercy of our sovereign Lord. Also, Peter compares its substance to a rich inheritance. And finally he makes clear that its security is in the power of God.
1. A Hope Whose Source is in the Mercy of God, v. 3
(1) It was a merciful Father Who sent Jesus to die for sinful humanity, the Just for the unjust. Fallen mankind was the helpless victim of its own carnal nature. Without outside help every person, as a convicted sinner, was condemned to die. But God did for mankind that which could not have been achieved in any other way. God had mercy on His rebellious creatures. Paul explains the blessing that this mercy brought to mankind:
“For once we too were without understanding, disobedient, misled, habitual slaves to all sorts of passions and pleasures, spending our lives in malice and envy. But when the goodness and lovingkindness of God our Saviour were brought to light, He saved us, not for upright deeds that we had done, but in accordance with His mercy, through the bath of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, which He abundantly poured out upon us through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that we might come into right standing with God through His unmerited favor and become heirs of eternal life in accordance with our hope.” (Titus 3:3-7)
(2) This abundant divine mercy enabled all sinners to receive the Lord Jesus as Saviour and Lord. These sinners deserved to die for deliberately defying the will of God, but God reached down to His fallen enemy, and offered a full pardon. Those, who by faith accepted this divine pardon, were blessed with a new nature, the spiritual rebirth. (Romans 5:6-8)
(3) This mercy from God was based upon the resurrection of the crucified Jesus from the grave. Through Jesus' death on Calvary and subsequent victory over death, the believing sinner was set free from his slavery to sin. He became a new creature with a new and living hope. His status was radically changed. Now in Christ he was free from eternal condemnation and assured of eternal life. As Jesus was resurrected, so would be every believer! This was the hope that would never die.
2. A Hope Whose Splendor is in the Magnificence of God, v.4
Peter compares this living hope to a rich inheritance. He proceeds to describe this incredible inheritance with four significant phrases that emphasize its splendor. These phrases depict the lavishness of God’s provision for His people. There was nothing shabby about this hope. It was built on the best that heaven could provide.
(1) First, Peter says that it is an inheritance that is incorruptible or imperishable. The same word is used to describe the nature of God in Romans 1:23. God is incorruptible while man is corruptible. God is not subject to death while death is the fate of every human. The word is used again in 1st Corinthians 15:52 with reference to the Christian’s resurrection body. This body will be incorruptible and not subject to death. So the Christian’s inheritance is not some earthly treasure, but rather it is heavenly riches. It is something permanent, perpetual and perennial. Being incorruptible the inheritance transcends physical death and every other physical limitation. So, it is a hope that is incorruptible, that is, a hope that cannot be touched or altered by death.
(2) Second, Peter says the inheritance is undefiled, or flawless. It is pure and perfect. This word is used in Hebrews 7:26 to describe the Lord Jesus Christ as High Priest. He was totally different from the other high priests. As humans, and therefore sinners, the other high priests had to offer sacrifices first of all for their own sins before they were qualified to offer sacrifices for the people. But Jesus was not like these other priests. He had no sin of His own. He was not defiled in any way. He was without blemish or flaw. He was the perfect Lamb of God. This is an apt description of the Christian's inheritance. It is not tainted or blemished. It is perfect. So, the inheritance is a hope that not only stands untouched by death, but also stands untainted by evil.
(3) In the third description, the writer says that the inheritance will not fade away. This word is not used elsewhere in the New Testament. But it means that even after millenniums in eternity this inheritance will still be perpetually new and fresh. It must be exceedingly wonderful for it to never become routine or commonplace. Its beauty evidently has a million facets that will eternally intrigue and interest its beneficiaries. This agrees with what Paul says in 1st Corinthians 2:9: “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, also which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him.” This inheritance is in sharp contrast, therefore, to any treasure that might be obtained on earth. Humans know that everything on earth fades away, even fabulous material inheritances. Time takes its toll on every earthly possession, including our health. But the Christian’s spiritual inheritance is different. It is not only incorruptible, standing untouched by death, and also untainted by evil, but it is also unfading. That means that it is unimpaired by time. It never grows old.
(4) The fourth dramatic description of the Christian’s inheritance is that it is reserved in heaven. The individual Christian has reservations already made in the heavenly mansions. So the Christian’s inheritance which is a living hope is not only incorruptible, and undefiled and unfading, but it is also reserved in heaven. This means that the inheritance will be the same regardless of where the Christian might be, in this world or in the next. Nothing will be changed by the Christian’s passing from time to eternity. The reservation will be as valid in eternity as it is on earth. It must be remembered that the redemption which the individual Christian possesses has roots that reach back before the foundation of the world. The Bible confirms the fact that God’s eternal plan of redemption was established “before the foundation of the world.” (Ephesians 1:4; 1st Corinthians 2:7) The first written indication of this plan was in Genesis 3:15, the so-called “protevangelium” or the first Gospel. It indicated that Jesus, the seed of the woman, would mortally wound Satan, while Satan would only inflict insignificant damage to Jesus. The Lord Jesus Christ, the Messiah, did in the fulness of time, by His crucifixion and resurrection, fulfill all the conditions for the redemption set forth in God’s eternal plan. Therefore those who received Him, “to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.” (John 1:12). Thus, children of God, even while living on Earth, have their names indelibly written in the Lamb’s book of life. Their reservations are assured, and in eternity those reservations will be duly honored by Him who is the same yesterday, today, and forever more.
3. A Hope Whose Security is in the Might of God, v. 5
The Christian’s place in heaven is reserved, but some may wonder about actually arriving in heaven in order to claim their reservation. Verse 5 settles this question. In the original Greek the emphasis in this verse is on “the power of God.” That is the determining factor. The mercy of God is the source of the Christian’s hope, the magnificence of God provides the splendor of the hope, and the might of God is the security for it. This hope is guaranteed by nothing less than the power of the almighty God.
The word “kept” or “guarded” is a military term meaning to be safely escorted by soldiers through a battlefield. The world through which Christians have to pass in their pilgrimage is a stormy battlefield. It isn’t always some quiet and peaceful meadow across which a person can stroll at a leisurely pace. Rather it is a place full of danger where attacks are commonplace. This is because our adversary, the devil, constantly tempts the Christian to compromise his testimony. No one escapes his evil claws. But, the safe arrival on the heavenly side is absolutely certain! The Christian will be securely escorted by guardian angels, and adequately protected by the power of God.
This does not mean that the guardian angels will keep the child of God from sinning in moments of weakness. It doesn’t mean an end to temptations. Nor does it signify that the carnal nature will lie permanently dormant to never again raise its ugly head. Neither does it mean that the Christian will ever be so sanctified that he can dispense with divine help in his earthly trials. Rather it means that as the Christian journeys through life, he may lose a few skirmishes, but the final victory is guaranteed, thanks to the power of God. There is no enemy anywhere that will be able to pluck the believer out of the Father’s hand. (John 10: 28, 29).
This doctrine of the eternal security of the believer is not always easy to understand, principally because it seems too good to be true. But the power of God must not be underestimated. That power, and only that power, supplies the child of God with all the help needed to weather the storms of life. Divine power escorts him/her, not only through earthly storms, but also through the transition from time to eternity. In nature millions of planets follow the same orbit for thousands of years. Scientists use the precision of the planet’s regularity to predict years in advance any eclipses of the sun or moon. Surely the God who controls such gigantic planets in space can keep every Christian’s life in its correct orbit.
The Bible uses the term “salvation” in three different senses. There is the salvation that is received the moment a person accepts the Lord Jesus Christ into his heart and life. This is called regeneration, or justification, the born again experience. It is instantaneous. Also there is salvation in the sense of sanctification. This is a process that lasts for a lifetime. And finally the word salvation is used, as in this verse, referring to the full freedom from earthly struggles and the beginning of the heavenly existence. This is called glorification. This is salvation “ready to be revealed in the last time.” This is salvation in all its glory, the final stage of the process. It is the wonderful culmination of the victory over sin. And it is all made possible by the power of God. He, and He alone, is able to guide His children through this vale of tears and guarantee their safe arrival on the heavenly shores. This is the living hope of the child of God.
Christians have every reason for being the happiest people on earth. They are the ones who have a hope that will never die. The source of this hope is in the mercy of God. Its substance is described as an inheritance of many brilliant facets. Its security is nothing less than the power of the Sovereign God, the Creator of the universe. It is because of this hope that millions from every nation under heaven will one day gather around God’s throne, praising Him and saying: “Blessing, honor, glory, and power, be to Him who is seated on the throne and to the Lamb forever.” (Revelation 5:13)
The Eternal Joy of Salvation: 1st Peter 1:6-12
It is not possible for true children of God to lose their salvation. But is possible to lose the joy of that salvation. Sin may cause this to happen. After David had repented of his sin he asked the Lord to restore to him the lost joy of salvation. (Psalm 51:12). But besides sin there are other possible ways to lose sight of our Christian joy. Disenchantment caused by serious personal problems may also cause us to temporarily forget the joy of our salvation. This discouragement may turn into bitterness toward someone or even rebellion against God. When this happens it is time for the child of God to remember the initial joy of becoming a Christian.
1. Its Source, "In this you greatly rejoice", v.6a
This phrase could be translated: "as a result of the statements that have just been made." What are the preceding statements? They appear in verses 3 to 5, and they emphasize three things: the sober reality of our salvation, the splendor of it, and the security of it. By faith in Jesus Christ, and through His death and resurrection, we Christians have been born again. This means that we have become a part of the family of God. We have a new nature. The old nature with all of its defects has been purified and made over. We now have new spiritual natures, and a new standing before God. We are no longer condemned by Him for our sins. These sins have been completely removed from our record, and will no longer be held against us (Psalm 103:12; Isaiah 43:25). In Christ we are prepared to stand without any fear in the presence of the Living God. (Romanos 8:1) This is the first reason why we as Christians can greatly rejoice.
This salvation that we have received is described as imperishable or incorruptible, undefiled or unspotted, and it will not fade away or become boring. Also, besides all of this, our salvation is reserved in Heaven for us. Furthermore, verse 5 indicates that the power of God has taken control of our lives. We are now plugged into the most awesome force in the universe. The Eternal Creator is our best Friend. And He is making certain that we will one day arrive in Heaven to claim our promised inheritance!
It is no wonder, then, that the text says: "in this you greatly rejoice". The reference is to the hope that a Christian has in Christ. Considering the advantages that this hope brings, there is every reason for us to have this abundant and constant joy, that is, joy in all of its fullness. It is not just some passing fancy or momentary pleasure. Rather it is a deep sense of satisfaction that will never be depleted. It is a well that will never run dry. We Christians can certainly rejoice and be exceedingly glad. And the source of this joy is in the abundant mercy of God, the ample redemption provided for us by Jesus Christ, and the abiding companionship of the Holy Spirit.
Anytime that we are discouraged and on the point of giving in to our depressed feelings, we need to remember the kind of salvation that we have. This should be enough to rekindle joy in our hearts.
2. Its Strength, "even though now”, 6b
It must be understood that the salvation that we possess does not exempt us from problems. We are still subject to all of the limitations that other human beings have to endure. We have a new spiritual nature, and what a difference this makes, but we still have our physical adamic natures. Thus we can expect hardships of various kinds. And besides the ordinary hardships of human existence, the Christian can expect the extra trials that come with serving Christ. There will be persecution of some kind or other. We may be laughed at. Some may call us crazy. We can expect such hostility as normal. In fact, it would be strange if everyone spoke well of us.(see Luke 6:26). Also we can rejoice when we are persecuted for our faith. (see Matthew 5:11,12). And of course, such trials bring sorrow.
(1) Peter says: “although for a little while you must be sorrow stricken with various trials.” (v.6). He has just finished emphasizing the joy that our faith brings. Then he says that we can expect our faith to bring us sorrow. How can we understand what seems to be a contradiction. Evidently, both things are true. The sorrows that the trials produce will be real but they cannot cancel the joy that our faith brings to us. The joy of our salvation will be stronger and more durable than the sorrows caused by any hardships of life. When the storms have passed, the sun will shine again. Any price that we might have to pay for our Christian witness will be insignificant in comparison to the prize that we gain in Christ.
But there is another way of understanding the dilemma. Peter is addressing Christians. The Christian is living in the world clothed in a physical, human body. But Paul says that the Christian is not only body and soul but also spirit. (1st Thessalonians 5:23). The third part of the Christian nature is the spiritual side that may also be referred to as the new birth. The joy that he/she feels in regard to salvation is an eternal joy. This joy is in the spirit and is in a different dimension from the body and soul. Whatever sorrow that comes from trials in the body are limited to the earthly, material side of mankind. They end with the death of the physical body. They have no way of effecting negatively the joy that is a part of the spiritual side of a Christian’s nature. This part of the Christian’s nature is eternally protected from whatever might happen in the material realm of life. That is why the joy in the Lord is everlasting. So Peter can truly say that there is everlasting joy in the Christian’s redemption from sin, even though while he/she lives on the earth there will be sorrows that come from earthly trials.
In 2nd Corinthians 12:7-10 Paul talks about his "thorn in the flesh." The word "thorn" (Greek: skolops) can also be translated as "stake" which was used for torture or execution. This may be another reference to what Paul said in Galatians 2:20: "I have been crucified with Christ." Paul describes this "thorn" as a "messenger of Satan to continue afflicting me, and so to keep me from being over elated." (v.7) The thorn could therefore have been a series of satanic attacks that tried to make Paul's physical existence so miserable that he would have to give up his ministry. He lists some of these attacks in verse 10. But after wrestling with these trials Paul understood that they actually drove him to put full and total trust in God and His grace. He could even boast about his weaknesses (v.10) since they taught him humility, and that he could only do his ministry in Christ's strength. His weaknesses led him to experience God's grace and power afresh. The "thorn" enhanced his joy in Christ.
Even Jesus was subject to all kinds of suffering. He knew what it meant to be thirsty, to hunger, to be weary. He also was disappointed by His friends and crucified by his enemies. Thus He was no stranger to pain even though He was the best person that ever lived. His holiness did not exempt Him from the hardships of this physical existence here on Earth.
Jesus is our example in suffering. He did not shun it when He knew that it was necessary for Him to suffer in order to bring mankind closer to God. "He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross." (Philippians 2:8). "For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit." (1st Peter 3:18).
Jesus said to His followers: "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.” (Matthew 5:11). On one occasion after the disciples had been flogged, they went on their way "rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name." (Acts 5:41).
Yes, the joy of salvation is so strong that it can weather all of the storms that might come. They enhance, heighten, and even intensify the joy of the salvation that we possess. This strength is not too unlike that which the athletes gain as they undergo training. As they work out on the field, they strain their bodies almost to the breaking point. Day after day their bodies are put through the paces of rigorous exercises. Gradually their bodies are strengthened, and become more capable of meeting the challenges that they might be called upon to face in an athletic contest. So it is with the trials and struggles that a Christian faces as he grows and matures in his Christian responsibilities.
(2) The Bible is clear that hardships are normal for the Christian life. They are to be expected. Peter says that no child of God should be astonished that tests by fire occur. (1st Peter 4:12). They go hand in hand with the stand that a Christian is called upon to take in a hostile world. But the Bible also says that they are just for a little while. In comparison with an endless eternity a "little while" is relatively insignificant. We have a little time to be buffeted by life's unfavorable winds, but an eternity to bask in the refreshing winds of the Spirit. Paul expressed it like this in 2nd Corinthians 4:17: "For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all." Considering the list of brutal sufferings mentioned by Paul in 2nd Corinthians 11:24-28, it is something of an understatement for Paul to call his afflictions light. But what he is saying is that they are light in comparison with the sufferings of Christ, and in comparison with the rich rewards that they are bringing and will bring throughout all the millenniums of eternity.
(3) Another encouraging word about these trials in the Christian life is that they give additional proof of the genuineness of our faith. (v.7). Our joy in Christ is not put out but rather brought out by these sufferings. They become blessings if they are properly perceived. As gold is purified by fire, so is our faith. We learn through the experiences of suffering. We come to depend less and less on what we can do, and more and more on what God can do. Paul said: "We were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves in order that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead.” (2nd Corinthians 1:8,9). A Christian needs to have "self" burnt out of his life so that he can be more pliable in the hands of God to do God’s work. Thus, the problems that we face as Christians can make us more submissive to God and more useful to Him.
(4) A final encouraging word about these trials and afflictions in the Christian life is that they give us something to shout about in Heaven. They will "result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (v. 7). When we get to Heaven we can praise Jesus Christ, and glorify His holy name, and honor Him for the different burdens that we were called on to bear for Him while we were on this Earth. How sad it will be for those who get to Heaven but who have no sufferings to talk about. Some Christians live sheltered lives, and they purposely go out of their way to avoid any hardships in the Christian life. They may think this is wonderful here on Earth, but how will they feel in Heaven when they hear Paul and most other saints recounting their sufferings for Christ during their earthly pilgrimage?
3. Its Splendor, "joy inexpressible and full of glory", v.8
The splendor of this joy is beyond words to express. It is extraordinary and unfathomable. Our difficulty in trying to describe its splendor lies in the fact that it is straight from Heaven, a spiritual gem that far surpasses anything that we have ever known. It is not only inexpressible but it is full of glory. In chapter 4, verse 14 of this epistle, Peter tells his readers that “the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you”. It is no wonder that we as Christians consider our salvation as the most important experience of our lives, and we would not trade it for all of the treasures of this world. We may not be able to adequately explain it, but we know enough about it to know that it is the Pearl of Great Price, the greatest Gift that a human being could receive from God.
(1) This splendor is even more brilliant when we read in verse 10 that the prophets of old made careful search and inquiry about this grace. Jesus verified this in Luke 10:24 when He said: "For I say to you, that many prophets and kings wished to see the things which you see, and did not see them, and to hear the things which you hear, and did not hear them." The prophet Joel foretold that there would come a time when God would pour out His Spirit generously upon all mankind. This prophecy was fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost. So this joy that we feel in our salvation was something that the prophets longed to experience, but it did not come in their generation. We are the privileged ones that have the honor of feeling this joy in our hearts.
(2) We learn something more about this splendor of the joy of our salvation when verse 12 tells us that the Holy Spirit set aside special messengers to bring us the Good News of God's plan of Salvation. It was such important news that God did not leave its spread to chance. He commissioned His followers to "Go into all of the world and preach the Gospel to every creature". (Mark 16:15). His plan was that no one be overlooked, rather that everyone should be informed. And to help insure His plan He told His disciples, as He gave them this charge, that "all authority has been given unto me in Heaven and on earth." These messengers were not sent out as lambs to the slaughter, but as ambassadors with all of the backing of their King. The message of salvation was just that important to our Lord. He desired with all of His heart that every sinner on earth should hear about and experience the splendor of the joy of salvation.
(3) The last part of verse 12 tells us something else about the splendor of the joy of our salvation. It says "which things the angels desired to look into." This seems to indicate that this is a splendor that not even the angels will be able to experience. We generally think of the angels as those heavenly beings that have access to all the celestial glories. We may even have felt a little jealousy toward them because of their proximity to the throne of Glory. But, we know, of course, that salvation is only for sinners such as earthly human creatures. It is not for the angels. Therefore, they will never know the joy that Christians feel as we are pardoned for our sins and made to sit in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.
Thus, we see the Source, the Strength, and the Splendor of the Eternal Joy of Salvation. We humbly acknowledge these Biblical truths, and wonder how we could be the objects of such wonderful blessings from above. May God help us to be better stewards of the salvation He has so generously and lovingly bestowed upon us.
A Daily Prayer for Quality Living: Psalm 90:12
There are many prayers addressed to God and asking for certain instructions or teachings. Psalm 25:4: "teach me your paths"; Psalm:119:12: "teach me your decrees"; Psalm 143:10: " teach me to do your will" ; Luke 11:1: "teach us to pray". . God is always anxious to answer the sincere petition for such noble undertakings. His answer is given in Psalm 32:8: "I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you." In Psalm 90 the request is: "teach us to number our days."
Just what does the psalmist have in mind as he makes this request? It is doubtful that he is just requesting an exercise in arithmetic. Surely he has more in mind than knowing something about addition and subtraction. Did he long to know that a person’s age times 365 equals the number of days that that person has lived so far? Just what does the psalmist have in mind as he prays: "teach us to number our days?"
The latter part of the verse elaborates on his motive: "that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom." Another translation says: "that we might get us a heart of wisdom." And still another says: "that we may gain a heart of wisdom." This leads us to conclude that the psalmist was asking for a heart full of wisdom in regard to the days of life that God would give him. He longed to live each day wisely. Therefore, this is an important request to God. It is a prayer that all of us need to pray. It is a prayer that is appropriate for any age, for the young and for the old. It is not a prayer about how long we live but rather how well we live. "So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom". It is A PRAYER FOR QUALITY LIVING.
Sometimes a Christian will say: "I can't do much except to pray." The inference is that this person can't do anything really important, but he/she can pray. But as a matter of fact, praying is the most important activity of the Christian life. Without prayer any other activity performed would not be very effective. Singing, preaching, giving, and other spiritual activities should first of all be bathed in prayer. This is important to remember as we think of praying for quality living.
Consequently, to number our days, we must count them one by one, evaluating them as significant milestones in our existence. No day of our lives should be monotonous and boring, a humdrum or lackluster event. Rather, each day should be a significant and important happening. Each day is something new, and is full of exciting possibilities. Never should a new day be regarded lightly, as if it were of no special significance, or as if it were dull and uninteresting. Our days are too precious to be wasted. We must remember that each new day is the first day of the rest of our lives. And we must look to the Lord to help us to live each day wisely. Human life is at its best when lived in harmony with God.
That is why the Psalmist encourages us to pray: "So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom." There are several good reasons for such a prayer.
1. Because Our Days Can Be Brief, vv. 5 - 6
One reason that we ought to pray for wisdom in living the days of our lives is because they are, at best, so brief. This is what the first part of the Psalm stresses.
Life is so brief, especially as we contemplate certain things in our world, and as we think of God Himself. Verse 2 mentions that God is from everlasting to everlasting. He existed long before He called the world into being. He is eternal, without beginning and without end. He created the mountains and everything that is in our world. Human beings were created last, so material things in this world are older than mankind. And many things in nature outlast generations and generations of human beings. How old are the oceans? How old are the mountains? How old are many trees? I have seen some that supposedly were in existence in the time of Abraham.
The oldest person who ever lived was Methuselah, who lived 969 years, almost a thousand years. But even a thousand years are brief in God's sight, according to verse 4. To Him, they are "but as yesterday, as a watch in the night".
In verses 5 and 6 our lifetimes are compared to the grass which flourishes in the morning but withers in the evening. This same thought is found in many other places in the Bible. 1st Chronicles 29:15 says: "Our days on earth are like a shadow "; In Psalm 39: 5 we read: "each man's life is but a breath". James 4:14 paints a graphic picture: "You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes". Verse 10 of Psalm 90 affirms that even though we might reach 80 years of age, our life is "soon cut off, and we fly away.”
So the lifetime that is allotted to each of us is limited. No one lives forever. The day will come to each of us when time will be no more. But, as short or as long as life may be, it is always in God's hand. We cannot deny His involvement with our lives. He controls it, even though some might be unaware of this, and God knows its most minute detail. Before we were born, He already knew everything that we would do here on this earth. Psalm 139:16. And, this leads us to an important concept. It is God that we should try to please as we live day by day. Life is a gift from Him, and each day we need wisdom so as to please Him in the way that we spend each day.
This leads us to a second reason to pray for wisdom in living each day, and this concerns those days that we have wasted as far as God is concerned. Sadly we confess that there have been too many of such days. Yes, we need to seek God's guidance for each day, otherwise they turn out to be disastrous.
2. Because Our Days Can Be Barren, vv. 7-11
There is a dark and negative thread woven into the fabric of this Psalm. We read of days being spent under God's wrath. (v.9). What would bring forth this reaction from God? The Psalmist answers this question. Our secret sins are an open book to Him. (v.8) These are the bad days when we rebel against God and defy His right to control our daily activities. These are the days when we resent His close scrutiny of our lives. They are times when we choose to live without His guidance, just doing whatever our carnal natures would dictate.
Though our days are gifts from God, we sometimes live our lives as if He didn't exist, and as if He had no right to share in our daily activities. Too many times we go for days, weeks, or even years without thinking of God. One of His most sacred gifts to each of us is the number of days that He allows us. (Psalm 118: 24). But we trample under feet these sacred gifts, never admitting that each day should glorify Him. Too many times we act as if our days belong to us without any accountability toward God. We waste our days when we selfishly use and abuse our own physical assets and/or those of other human beings. Thus, our lives become empty, unproductive and sterile. And this leads to the illusion that we have many years ahead of us in which to "eat, drink, and be merry."
If this Psalm was written by Moses as many people think, then it probably reflects the latter part of the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. Israel had sinned against God by refusing to enter the promised land, and He condemned the people to wander in the wilderness until all the adults had died, with the exception of the two good spies, Joshua and Calebe. The bitterness of those days of punishment is outlined in verses 7 to 9:
"We are consumed by your anger and terrified by your indignation. You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence. All our days pass away under your wrath; we finish our years with a moan."
We have all known such days. Days that were lived completely out of harmony with the will of God. Days when we deliberately defied Him and insisted on having our own selfish way. Days when we made important decisions and took major steps in life without a single thought of what God would have us do. They are dark days and we can feel God 's disapproval with us because of our disobedience.
All of us have seen too many of these squandered days in our history, and it is all because we have failed to ask God for the wisdom to number our days. He has sovereign rights over our lives and it is the height of folly for us to forget this. The rich man in Luke 12 went about his business as if God didn't exist nor have any right to interfere in what he wanted to do. God said to him: "Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?" Man cannot make a fool of God.
"Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows'" (Galatians 6:7)
The sovereign God is more than a match for any living thing. Defiance of God and disobedience to His holy will can only lead a person to drink the dregs of unhappiness. Life was meant to be lived in harmony with the Giver of life. And life is altogether out of focus and barren when God is not clearly at its center! And thus we come to a third reason why we ought to pray for wisdom in living each day of our lives.
3. Because Our Days Can Be Blessed, vv. 13-17
We have also known these days of happiness that were lived in harmony with our Maker, the great God of the Universe. Such days may be few and far between as we look back over our lives, but they verify the wisdom of seeking God's help for daily living.
The Psalmist talks about repentance in verse 13. This is the door that opens God's blessings for His children. The idea is not that God repents, but simply that when sinners truthfully repent, God's attitude toward them is entirely different. He has no choice but to punish the disobedient. But with repentance He is able to pour out His richest blessings to enrich the lives of His obedient children. That is why we can recall with a great deal of pleasure and satisfaction the days when we repented of our sinful ways, and allowed God to take His rightful control over our lives. Such days stand out as red-letter days in our history. We experienced a peace that passes all human understanding.
In verses 14 and 15 the Psalmist talks about satisfying us "with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days." God desires happiness for His people. Christians ought to be the happiest people in the world. And we can be when we recognize God's control in our daily living. This is not hard to do. We were created with the capacity to have fellowship with God. So, every day we can leave some room for spiritual activities. These might take the form of prayer, or Bible reading, or helping some needy person. Some days will have more of these activities than others, but all of them should have time for the nobler things of life.
The wise men of Matthew chapter 2 were sensitive to spiritual things, always alert for a message from above. When the star appeared they recognized it as a sign from God. And they followed the star until it led them to Jesus. But even in our generation God still communicates with mankind, through His Word and through other means. And we can hear His message if we are alert and sensitive to His will. There is always something that we can do for God's glory and for the building up of His kingdom. We are to be partners with God in carrying out His will in this world. Opportunities to serve God and humanity should be considered as God-given even though they might just be impressions that we receive or needy situations that we observe. In other words, if we make ourselves available to God each day, He will lead us to many wonderful and exciting things to do in His name.
Each day of our lives is a day full of potential - for good or for bad. The difference is how we perceive each day. Is it a gift of God, given to us as His servants to do something for Him? If we can look at each day in that manner, then we will have days of great blessings for our own lives and for the Kingdom of God. Each day that we have left should be looked at as an opportunity to cooperate with our God as He moves in mysterious ways throughout our world.
Let us resolve to pause at the beginning of each day and recognize God. Start the day with Him, and allow Him to walk with us through all of our waking hours. If we do so, without a doubt He will use us to be a blessing to someone. There are a lot of people that God wants to touch, and through us some of them can be reached, if we are alert to His leadership. Then, at the close of the day, we can have the satisfaction of returning God's precious gift to Him with the addition of some return on His investment in us. God has made considerable investments in each of us. He has poured out on us many material and spiritual blessings. Therefore, the least that we can do is to let Him get some return on His investment.
And that is why it is so important that we join the Psalmist in his prayer: "Lord, teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. We need to pray this prayer for at least three reasons: (1) because of the frailty of life in its normal span, and (2) because of the futility of life outside of God's will, and (3rd) because of the fulness of life in the center of God's will.
Encouragement for Crises in the Christian Life: Acts 16:40
The Christian life is not always a bed of roses. It is not always a leisurely stroll through a peaceful park with flowers blooming and birds singing and children playing. Sometimes it is a battlefield, a war zone with pitfalls to dodge and enemies to face. The truth is that there will be some crises in the Christian life. Paul and Silas seemed to have one crisis after the other as they traveled on their missionary journeys.
In Philippi, a city of Macedonia, Paul and Silas had some wonderful success as they crossed into Europe on their second missionary journey. But the devil was not satisfied with this success, so he created problems for the two servants of the Lord. One example was in Philippi when a slave girl was freed from the demons that possessed her. The owners of the girl became very angry and brought the two missionaries before the authorities in the market-place. After hearing the charges, the authorities had Paul and Silas flogged with many lashes and then thrown into prison. They were put into the inner part of the prison, and, to keep them even more secure, their feet were put into the stocks.
We can only imagine the suffering that they went through. They were in a dark place, doubtless without any food or water. Their open wounds must have attracted flies, bugs, and even rats. They were truly pathetic creatures. But in spite of their physical distress, they kept up their spirits by singing hymns to God. Thus they were able to preach to all of the other prisoners.
At midnight the Lord sent an earthquake that shook the prison and opened all the doors and chains. The distressed jailer was about to kill himself when Paul stopped him, assuring him that all of his prisoners were still secure. The jailer was so impressed that he asked about how he might be saved. Following Paul’s instructions, he and his household were saved and baptized. Then the jailer expressed his gratitude by bathing the wounds of the two missionaries and feeding them.
The next day the authorities realized their mistake in flogging two Roman citizens without a trial, and they came to apologize, pleading with the two men to leave town. Before the missionaries left, however, they went by Lydia’s house where the small group of new Christians was huddled in fear. By Paul’s words to them they were comforted and encouraged. It seems strange, at first glance, that the victims of the persecution were the ones who had to offer the comfort. But, on second thought, the new Christians at Philippi were also involved in the persecution even though none of them had been beaten or put in prison. The shock of what had happened to Paul and Silas was a traumatic experience for the other church members also because it was against their Christian leaders. It also was very early in their Christian journey, and now perhaps for the first time they had encountered opposition to their faith. They must have been deeply disturbed as they suddenly realized that their new found faith could be dangerous. They needed a word of comfort from their leaders.
We have no way of knowing the specific kind of comfort that Paul and Silas gave them. But it is easy to imagine that the two missionaries covered the principle aspects of the persecution, emphasizing that in every way God had helped them to endure. They must have spoken about the physical pain that they had suffered. Also, they might have talked about their handling of the Roman authorities. And it is logical to assume that they went into detail about the powers of spiritual darkness that had instigated the whole episode.
They were living proof to the new Christians that God did help them bear the most excruciating physical abuse. Also, they were eye witnesses to the fact that God could bring the mighty Roman empire to its knees. And, they had been instruments in God’s hands in bringing the light of the Gospel to one of Satan’s most hardened slaves. The test had been a hard one. But since God had helped them to weather this storm, the new Christians could feel more at ease about future trials. They were comforted to know that God’s power was truly sufficient for every crisis in the Christian life. Victory was certain, even if it involved pain, prisons, or the powers of darkness. They could witness for God victoriously in spite of discomfort, dungeons, or demons. They were truly on the winning side, and needed no longer to fear what man or Satan could do against them.
In part this must have been the kind of comfort that Paul and Silas gave that day to the church at Philippi. And it serves to comfort us today as we also face crises in our Christian lives. Yes, God still helps His servants to live victoriously in spite of the obstacles in the realm of pain, or pressures, or powers of spiritual darkness. Let us examine these three areas of possible crises in our lives. May they bring comfort to our hearts also.
1. When Pains Intrude
The physical pain that Paul and Silas suffered must have pushed them to the very brink of human endurance. But, as intense as it was, they never considered it a reason to recant their faith. Job’s wife said to him: “Curse God and die”. (Job 2:9). This is a common reaction. People tend to blame God for their physical problems, and especially those problems brought on as a result of their work for the Lord. Satan’s aim is to use any and everything to lead us to question God’s goodness, and to make us doubt that He cares for us. But Paul and Silas faced this crisis in physical pain without complaint against God or man. Probably many thoughts raced through their minds, helping them to put this testing in proper perspective. Let us imagine some of these: the example of Jesus, the effectiveness of the Gospel, and the expectation of Heaven.
(1) Paul and Silas must have realized that Christ had suffered much more pain than that which they were feeling as He died for them on the cross. Their suffering was directly related to their faith in Christ. Their only crime was the service that they had performed in His name. So, in light of what Jesus had suffered for them, they were more than willing to go through this trial for Him. It would be almost nothing as compared with the physical pains that Jesus had had to endure in order to make salvation available to them and to all sinners.
(2) They also must have reasoned that their tormentors had acted as they did for lack of a spiritually transforming experience with Christ. At least Paul surely recalled that he too had been a persecutor of Christians before Jesus had touched his life. So, they could not be too harsh on their persecutors. If these Roman authorities in Philippi had been given an opportunity to hear the Gospel, their lives also could have been transformed. Consequently, forgiveness and witnessing rather than revenge must have been in the hearts of these two missionaries. Jesus Himself had asked forgiveness for His crucifiers on the basis that they did not understand what they were doing. Stephan, also, prayed: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60). This prayer was probably seared into Paul’s memory.
(3) They also must have rejoiced in the fact that the most that could happen to them in this testing experience would be the termination of their physical existence. And if they did die, the result would be “a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens”. (2 Cor 5:1). In other words, the loss of life would be a “gain” for them. They would simply exchange their cross for a crown, their hut for a mansion, their material bodies for glorified bodies, and their absence from the Lord for His glorious presence.
The early Christians did not pray for escape from physical suffering. Rather they prayed for boldness to preach the Word, no matter what the circumstance. (Acts 4:29).
The growth of the Baptist witness in Brazil has its roots in physical sufferings. For most of the first hundred years, Baptist progress was made in spite of brutal physical oppression on the part of the Roman Catholic Church. Misguided priests instigated their equally misguided people to destroy church buildings, burn Bibles, and threaten or kill or excommunicate those who dared to become true believers. But the patient acceptance of this physical abuse, without any attempt at revenge, has been one of the main building blocks in the strong churches of the present day.
Yes, it is a great comfort to know that there is power from the Lord for the crises in the realm of bodily suffering. This can be true for even normal aches and pains but especially for those agonies endured for the Cause of Christ. Paul and Silas were trying to comfort the young Christians by asking them to remember what Jesus had suffered for them. But also, they must have encouraged the young Christians in yet another area: that of social pressures.
2. When Pressures Intimidate
Paul and Silas were prisoners of the mighty Roman government, the most powerful political and military force of that first century society. The two men were helpless from the human point of view. They had no weapons or armies. They had no wealth or political pull. They were just a couple of itinerant preachers of the Gospel. They were easy targets for the brutality of the Roman authorities. How dare them stir up the wrath of some of the town’s leading citizens! They had to be taught a lesson. They had to be taught respect for those in authority. And so, the wrath of the greatest human power of that time fell like a ton of bricks on these two pathetic creatures.
Two other frail human beings went to Brazil over a hundred years ago: William and Anne Bagby. The authorities did not take notice of their arrival, nor did the newspapers make it a headline of their morning edition. But this did not intimidate them, nor through the years did they flinch before the wrath of the authorities, either civil or ecclesiastical. There burned in their bones a mandate from God to evangelize the Brazilians, and they went about this task irrespective of what people thought or said. Today, in Brazil, a great host of believers rise up to call them blessed.
Too often Christians are intimidated by what others think of how they express their Christian faith. Paul said in Romans 8:31: “If God be for us, who can be against us?” Another translation reads: “If God is for us, what does it matter who may be against us?” It is hard for us as Christians to go against the stream of popular opinions. It is much easier for us to go with the crowd even if in doing so we have to compromise our Christian standards. It is almost a daily battle that we must wage against all kinds of pressures that would seek to make Christians lower their standards. They hate to stand out like sore thumbs among their peers. Peer pressure is eating away at the moral fiber of the Christian, especially the young people, and often they are confused and overcome by this pressure. What our Christian young people need to remember is that they have ready access to a resource that is greater than all human powers. This resource is the power that our Lord has to help us all stand tall when worldly pressures seek to bring us to our knees. As Christians we have no strength in and of ourselves, except as we commit ourselves to Christ and allow His strength to flow through us. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13).
Paul and Silas were humiliated by the Roman authorities but they were not intimidated by them. Most people of those days did not know of any greater power than the Roman Empire. But Paul and Silas did! They were convinced in their hearts that God was the sovereign Owner of the universe, and that all earthly powers were subject to His will. These political powers were not aware of this truth, but in reality they functioned only as God allowed them to do so. In many instances God used these earthly powers to bring about His eternal purposes.
Paul and Silas were not intimidated by the Roman government since they were under orders from a much greater power, even the Lord God Himself. Their mission in life was to please their Commander-in-chief, the Ruler of the Heavens and the Earth. So, while they were busy carrying out the orders of their Lord and Master, they refused to be side-tracked by some secondary authority that tried to oppose them.
Christians, too, can better deal with the pressures felt from various human powers when they have a correct understanding of those powers in relation to God’s power. God’s power is greater than all others, and He will eventually triumph over all human forces that oppose Him. Those who compromise their morals in accordance with the wish of some earthly power will stand condemned by the Lord along with that power. Therefore, Christians should strive to live to please God, not worrying about the ridicule of some earthly group or institution that might laugh at them. Rather, their concern should always be to please God and not those people who would trick or shame them into following their own satanic practices.
The young Christians at Philippi were comforted by knowing that severe physical pain could be endured. They also must have been encouraged to know that the mightiest power on earth was still subject to the will of God. From a human point of view it might be supposed that the two preachers were the pitiful victims of Roman brutality. But, rather than victims, they were really the victors. This was evident when the Roman magistrates begged the pardon of these two humble servants of God. What a victory for God's people! But, by far, the greatest comfort must have come in verifying that God’s power could successfully battle spiritual darkness. Even Satan was helpless against God! This is possibly the final and greatest comfort that the church at Philippi received that day.
3. When Powers of Satan Irritate
The Bible doesn’t say so, but it stands to reason that Paul and Silas had brought the jailer and his family to the meeting at the church. This would have been a wonderful opportunity for them to meet their new Christian brothers and sisters. It is always wise for a new believer to align himself with others Christians. So, it must have been a great deal of comfort for the Church to see with her own eyes how God’s power could penetrate the strongest citadel of Satan, and win over one of his most degenerated servants. The jailer’s conversion experience was positive proof that God’s power could successfully illuminate the most darkened human heart.
This was just what the new Christians most needed to understand. They knew that the church of the Lord Jesus Christ had received orders to evangelize the whole world. But they were also aware that satanic forces were strong and totally dedicated to stopping this program of evangelism. In the face of such opposition, these new Christians needed fresh assurance that the resources at their disposal were equal to the task. Was there power available to conquer demonic maneuvers? The jailer was all the proof that they needed!
The jailer must have been one of the cruelest men in town. Only a person of this type would have been entrusted with such inhumane responsibilities as those at the Roman jail. He was a hardened human being, but not at all beyond the reach of the Lord. His last two prisoners must have stirred something in his heart as he listened to them sing praises to God. Then, when the earthquake came, he recognized that he was on the wrong side, working for the wrong boss, worshipping the wrong god. The kindness that he received from Paul in holding the prisoners in check and saving him from suicide must have been the final incentive for him to switch sides, and seek a new way of life. His lifetime of defenses against God and spiritual matters came tumbling down, and he cried out in all humility: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” The implication of this question was that he was ready at whatever cost to align himself with the Sovereign Lord of the Universe.
It was the supreme test! If salvation could happen to a man like the jailer, it could certainly happen to anybody. Satan was a foe to be reckoned with, but one that could be defeated in God’s power. This was the assurance that the Church at Philippi most needed to have! No greater comfort could have been given to them.
God knew what He was doing when He ordered His Church to evangelize the world, and He provided everything that was necessary to the task. The only thing left in doubt was the willingness of His followers to enter the fields and go to work.
He was well aware of the frailty of these human servants, and how that they would be tempted in thousands of ways to hide their lights under a bushel rather than being the lights that a darkened world so needed to see. He knew that they would face crises in their Christian lives, and He wanted them to be assured that He would help them to conquer any crisis, whether in the area of physical pain, or human pressures, or satanic powers.
It isn’t easy to lead a Christian life. Paul and Silas would be the first to admit this. But they would also be the first to encourage us to stand up strong against any and all discomforts, dungeons, or demons, since “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world”. (1John 4:4). They would say to us what Elijah said to his servant: “fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.” (2nd Kings 6:16).
Let us therefore also take comfort in these thoughts.
The Good Shepherd not only loves His sheep and protects them and feeds them, but He strives to develop their God-given spiritual gifts. To this end He enlists their cooperation in His work in the world. He longs for them to become fully mature. It is the privilege of all Christians to be partners with our Good Shepherd in living in harmony with His will and letting Him use our time, talents, and treasures in any way that He chooses.
Making Eternal Investments: Matthew 6:19-21
The words of Jesus are no more inspired than the rest of the Bible, but for most of us they seem to carry a little more weight. Our text is one of Jesus’ points in the Sermon on the Mount. That sermon is recorded in Matthew, chapters 5, 6 and 7.
Along with the accumulation of earthly treasures that are always temporal, Jesus wanted His followers to accumulate spiritual treasures that are always eternal. JESUS WANTS US TO MAKE ETERNAL INVESTMENTS. In other words, He was saying: “As you go through life, be sure to take time to make some investments that will continue to pay dividends even after death.
Everyone knows that you can’t take it with you, but Jesus says it isn’t worth taking with you even if you could. Jesus’ assessment of material things is two-fold: (1) treasures on earth are perishable, and (2) a person shares the fate of that to which he gives his heart. Moth, rust, thieves illustrate a few of the threats to our earthly possessions. There are others that could be mentioned such as floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, fire, stock market crashes, etc. Another that readily comes to mind is our health, our physical strength. When we are young our physical stamina is one of our treasures, but as we get older we just don’t function as well as we use to. I find that my get up and go has got up and went! There is no durability or stability in material or physical things. Earthly treasures are fickle and finite, spiritual treasures are faithful and forever. It is evident to all of us as it was to Jesus that we cannot forever hold on to earthly treasures. Since this is so then the pursuit of treasures in heaven is really worth consideration. Luke’s version of our text is very expressive: “provide yourselves with a purse that time cannot wear holes in.” (12:33, Knox version)
Jesus’ challenging words were an effort to direct our attention to something more permanent and satisfying than earthly treasures. He longed for us to accumulate real riches, spiritual wealth which moth and rust and thieves cannot destroy. He wanted each of His followers to be a spiritual billionaire. Making eternal investments is a reasonable goal that starts with salvation and continues throughout life and all eternity.
1. A Reasonable Goal
A. It was not a call to renounce all material treasures
In this text Jesus does not condemn the acquisition of that which is necessary for a person’s material needs. It was not a call to asceticism, that is, renouncing all the comforts of society and leading a life of austere self-discipline and bodily flagellation. He was well aware that some earthly treasures are essential to living on the earth. Jesus just didn’t want the highly seductive powers of those earthly treasures to blind His people to higher spiritual attainments.
Earlier, in chapter 4, Jesus had said: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” (4:4). Jesus knew that humans were made with a dual nature: the EARTHLY and the ETERNAL. The earthly side must receive nourishment such as physical bread. But the eternal side should also be nourished. And for this God provides spiritual mana.
Two of our daughters were born in Brazil and therefore have dual citizenship. They are Brazilians because they were born in Brazil, but they are also Americans because their parents are Americans. Christians also have a dual citizenship. They are earthly because they were born on the earth to earthly parents. But they are also citizens of Heaven because they were born “from above” of spiritual parentage. With this dual nature Christians are allowed to accumulate all that is necessary to nourish their physical existence. But because of their spiritual natures they are capable of accumulating treasures that will live on in eternity long after their lives on earth are finished.
B. It was a call to acknowledge God
So, Jesus was not asking the impossible when He recommended that His followers “treasure up treasures in heaven.” He was not asking the absurd, but was rather recommending that which was very reasonable. He who provides all of His creatures with life knew that some of their time could and should be used in the pursuit of spiritual treasures. From early in life through the golden years Christians are charged by the Lord to make investments that are eternal. The Psalmist said: “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (118:24). Our days are gifts from God, and thus are given to us as sacred trusts. They represent opportunities that God provides. So each day is another chance to acknowledge Him. As Christians gather material things they are providing for their earthly lives. But as they develop the spiritual side of their natures, they are recognizing, honoring and exalting the God they serve.
C. It was a call to live on the highest level
Therefore, as we go about our normal daily activities, let us lay up some treasures in heaven. Otherwise, days, weeks, months or even years may slip by as so many wasted opportunities. We can refuse to talk with God and we can live our lives as if He didn’t exist. This would be like living our lives on the lowest level, on the merely carnal level, on the animal level. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Humans were created in the image of God. He is constantly calling us to the abundant life, nearer and closer to the heavenly goal. (Philippians 3:14)). Therefore, life can be lived on a higher plane, with God in the center. There is really no good excuse for leaving God out of our daily living.
This goal of heavenly investments can be attained in spite of hardships, set backs, struggles, or similar stormy mishaps. For example, Paul wrote many of the New Testament books while in chains. Also, John Bunyan wrote his masterpiece, “Pilgrims Progress”, from the Bedford jail. Laying up treasures in heaven and living on the highest plane can be done in spite of a hostile environment. Neither is it limited to any special group of people. Rather, it is open to all of God’s children, young and old, rich and poor, educated and illiterate, of any race or culture. It is a reasonable goal for every Christian, and it begins with the new birth.
2. That Starts with Salvation
The first step in laying up treasures in Heaven is to become a Christian, a born-again child of God.
The Bible indicates that a non-Christian is dead in trespasses and in sins. (Ephesians 2: 1). Such a person is without God and without hope in this world. (Ephesians 2: 12). But then, as a repentant sinner this person is made alive in Christ Jesus. In Christ he/she is a new creature, the old nature has given away to a brand new spiritual nature. Before this happened the sinner was enslaved to sin and his only concern was for the things of the flesh, and the pleasures of this world. He was absolutely dead in regard to spiritual things. But in Christ, everything changed and suddenly there is in his/her heart a hunger and thirst for spiritual things. There is a new sense of obligation to follow Christ and obey Him. Consequently, this saved sinner is now ready to begin to lay up treasures in heaven. His/her name is written in God’s record book, and the account is open for transactions.
Can a person who is not a Christian lay up treasures in Heaven? I have known some non-Christians who have done some very kind and generous things for needy people and worthy causes. Will God accept their offerings as treasures in Heaven? Only God can be the final Judge on this, but the Bible seems to indicate that the unbeliever’s generous acts cannot be counted as treasures in Heaven. In Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus gave the example of some who at His coming would protest to Him that they had prophesied in His name, and cast out demons, and performed many miracles in His name. But Jesus will answer: “I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.”
If I were to go into a bank where I do not have an account, it would not be possible for me to add money to a non-existent account. The bank teller would say: “We have no record of your account.” So it is in heaven. Before a person can add treasures to an account in heaven, an account must be in existence. And it can only exist when his/her name is added to the Lamb’s book of life. Names are duly recorded in God’s heavenly bank ledger for any and every individual who receives Jesus as Lord and Saviour. There is no other way to open an account. The rules are rigid and no mistakes are made. But every true Christian meets the requirements. Now, this new child of God is ready to begin laying up treasures in Heaven.
What a blessing it is to be a Christian! Life takes on a new dimension. There are new goals and nobler purposes. The spiritual birth is the most important and the most far-reaching event in a sinner’s life. In an instant he/she passes from death to life. He is no longer a child of darkness but rather a child of light. (Ephesians 5: 8). His sins are blotted out and will be remembered no more. These sins are removed as far as the east is from the west. (Psalm 103:12). The child of God has a new name and a new song in his heart. He is given spiritual gifts with which to carry out the mission that God has ordained for him (1st Corinthians 12: 4-11). His heart is the temple where God dwells, and God’s Spirit is his constant companion and helper. Guardian angels watch over his every need. (Hebrews 1:14). And when his task on earth is completed, he will be ushered into God’s presence where he will live for all eternity. He will receive the crown of righteousness and glory. (2nd Timothy 4: 8). And he will rest from his toils and be blessed with all of the blessings that God has prepared for His people.
3. And Continues Throughout Time and Eternity
The Christian’s goal in life is to follow God’s plan wherever it might lead. During this pilgrimage the Christian has the privilege of laying up treasure in Heaven. And that means making eternal investments. This is a part of the life-long process of sanctification.
However, the laying up of treasures in heaven is always a voluntary option for the Christian. No undue pressure or coercion is placed on the Christian to do something for Christ. Treasures are only accepted in heaven if they represent the sincere and spontaneous effort on the part of the Christian to express his/her gratitude to Christ.
Can a true Christian steadfastly refuse to do something for the Christ who gave His all for the eternal redemption of mankind? Not according to James. He very bluntly stated in his epistle that just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead. (2:26). All true Christians will produce good works as naturally as an orange tree produces oranges. And these good works will be eternal investments in Heaven. Christ’s challenge to lay up treasures in Heaven is a reasonable one, and it applies to all of His followers who are now actively engaged in His sacred Cause as co-laborers with Christ.
Jesus did not spell out in detail in this text just what these treasures might be. But He did give us some broad hints in other Scriptures. In Matthew 6: 33 He showed the priority of spiritual treasures over earthly treasures: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things (earthly things) shall be added unto you.” Our primary task in this world is to promote the interests of God’s kingdom and to demonstrate to the world the kind of life style that He approves. We are to be good examples of His saving grace. We are to be the salt of the earth! We are to be the light of the world! All of this is involved in laying up treasures in Heaven.
In chapter 25 of Matthew, Jesus indicated that a Christian’s service to needy people was the same as ministering directly to Him. The needy that He mentioned specifically were the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and those in prison. In other words a ministry to needy people is a ministry to Jesus Himself. In the main, these will be needy people who cannot reimburse the Christian for his services, nor thank him for his help. But even a cup of cold water given in Christ’s name will not lose its reward. (Matthew 10: 42) The Christian is not pursuing an earthly but rather a heavenly reward.
Mother Teresa, a Catholic nun from Calcutta, India died on September 5, 1997 at the age of 87. Her ministry had been to the poor and outcasts of the world. She said: “When I wash the leper’s wounds (and she had done this), I feel I am nursing the Lord Himself.” This statement is a wonderful summary of what Jesus meant in Matthew 25.
A Christian journalist traveled to Calcutta to interview Mother Teresa. While walking the streets he was deeply depressed at the unbelievable squalor, filth, and misery that he witnessed. Finally he found himself thinking: “God, why don’t you do something?” Almost immediately the answer came: “I am doing something through Mother Teresa, and if I had a thousand more like her, the situation would be a thousand times better.” Yes, God works through human channels.
It is so easy to find some needy person to whom we can minister in Christ’s name. This will be a person that Christ would minister to if He were still on the earth. We are now Christ’s hands and feet. We are His body. Through us He continues His earthly ministry of healing and teaching. Yes, as we minister to needy people in His stead and in His name, we are laying up treasures in heaven.
An unusual example of this occurred in the aftermath of the tornado that devastated Jarrell, Texas in May of 1997. A group of Mennonites came to help rebuild the fifty homes that were destroyed. Many Texans responded to the need in Jarrell, but these Mennonite Christians came from the Midwest. One of them said: “Our goal is to show the love of Christ in action.” The author of the Book of James would have loved that statement. That is what he believed. He thought Christians ought to walk the walk as well as talk the talk. His thesis was that faith without works is dead.
Dr. Keith Parks, a distinguished leader in worldwide mission endeavors said in one of his messages: “Christians can change the world with a towel, not a sword. Jesus took a towel and washed His disciples’ feet in an act of humble service. The towel demonstrates what the gospel is all about. You may preach powerful sermons and demonstrate amazing technology ... But the people of the world will be more deeply impressed when you pick up a towel and get down on your knees to do some humble service to a needy person”. (Source: "The Baptist Standard", July 9, 1997.) That’s what Jesus must have meant as He said: “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.”
Christians are saved to serve. Each one is assigned a mission field. This is an area somewhere in the world where the Christian can carry out tasks for the Lord. As each one serves needy people in the name of Christ he/she has an inner satisfaction of being useful. This in itself is the only reward that a Christian could ask for. But the Lord receives that service in heaven and credits it to the Christian’s account. And thus the Christian is “laying up treasures in heaven”. And these heavenly treasures are the ones that Jesus highly recommended to all of His followers.
Heaven's High Standards for Eternal Investments: Matthew 6:19-21
When Jesus told His followers to “lay up treasures in heaven,” He included all of them, without exception. To Him it was a reasonable assignment, and something that all of His people could and should do. But, for certain, this task involved high standards. God’s standards are always high, for Himself and for His people. Consider, for instance, what He demanded of those who would become His disciples. He said: “If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” (Luke 9:23). And again He said: “If anyone comes to me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26). Paul understood this high standard as he stated: “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted loss for the sake of Christ... for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:7-8). Not only are the requirements high for being a Christian, but also for being a leader such as a pastor or deacon in Christ’s church. (1st Timothy 3).
Therefore, it is logical to conclude that all potential eternal investments would have to meet high standards. God does not necessarily reward everything that a Christian does. Sometimes the quality of the Christian’s work is sub-standard. Such work will not be received in heaven and added to the account of the Christian. How does God decide which of a Christian’s work is worthy of commendation? What tests must this work go through in order to qualify as “treasures in heaven?” The Bible gives some hints on this subject. First of all, they must be for the growth of the church. Then, they must be for the glory of God. And finally, they must be performed in Godly love, agape love.
1. They Must be for the Growth of the Church (1st Corinthians 3:1-15)
There were many problems in the church at Corinth. In verse 1, Paul says that the church was not composed of Spirit-led people, but rather that many members were carnal or worldly Christians, that is, they were letting the flesh control and dominate their activities. He called them “babes in Christ.” They were childish! They had not grown spiritually. There was jealousy and strife among them. Paul asks them: “are you not acting just like non-believers?” What an indictment!
Christians must be constantly on the alert, for their adversary, the Devil, prowls about, seeking someone to devour. (1st Peter 5:8). They face strong spiritual foes. (Ephesians 6: 12). As a result they lose a great many of their battles. This means that sometimes they are not properly prepared for their Christian activities. Sins of the flesh may throw them off balance. But also, sins of the spirit, like jealousy and strife, plague the Christian and tend to spoil the effectiveness of the work that is done. This is what was happening in Corinth, and serving to stunt the spiritual growth of the Corinthian Christians.
In v. 12, Paul brings up the subject of the building up of the church on the solid foundation of Jesus Christ. Jesus occupies the exalted position as the Head of the Church. The Church is His Body, and is the army that He is enlisting to fight the battle against evil. There was/is no more important organization on earth as far as Christ is concerned than His church. He placed all of the powers of heaven on the alert to help in the building up and the nurturing of the church. Every member of the church is supposed to be a worker who helps to build up the church. But Paul cautions the Corinthians to be sure to use quality material in their work. For instance, some Christians might use material like gold, silver, and precious stones. This was good material, and would withstand the scrutiny of God’s testing fire. And furthermore, those who worked with such material would be rewarded for their work. On the other hand, some Christians might pretend to build with material like wood, hay, and straw. Such material would be consumed in God’s test by fire. This work would be destroyed while the workers themselves would still be saved. But that portion of their work would be a total loss, a wasted effort. It would not meet heaven’s high standards. (v.15). Therefore no reward would be credited to the worker’s account.
In other words, only the work done in the church by Spirit-filled people would be counted as part of their treasure in heaven. Their work would contribute to the building up of the church. But the work done by the carnal Christians would be rejected by heaven as unworthy. Instead of building up the church their activities would have the effect of tearing her down. Such activity was the cause for divisions in the church at Corinth that disrupted her fellowship. But most of all it curtailed the church’s effectiveness in reaching the lost.
2. They Must be for the Glory of God (Matthew 6:1-18)
The first part of Matthew 6 gives us another insight about whether the would-be treasures are accepted or rejected in heaven. To be accepted as treasure, the Christian’s work must be done for the edifying of the church. And it also must be for God’s honor and glory, rather than for any personal applause or earthly acclaim to the Christian worker.
The 6th chapter of Matthew illustrates this concept with three common spiritual exercises: alms giving or charity, praying, and fasting. If the Christian performs these activities only to gain recognition from other humans for his generosity, piety, and consecration, then such a Christian can expect no reward from God. If society’s appreciation of the Christian’s display of his faith is his primary goal then that is the only reward he will receive. Heaven will not add anything to it. There will be no treasure in heaven as a result of such ostentatious spiritual activity.
There is nothing wrong with giving, praying, or fasting. They are wonderful Christian activities. All Christians ought to be more involved with them. But the primary purpose should always be to glorify God, to point people to Him. Matthew 5:16 says: “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”
The world will notice how we Christians express our religious convictions. And our acquaintances will judge us according to our words and deeds. We are the only Bible that some people will ever read. But, it should be clearly understood that the Christian does nothing in his own power. Rather, we worship and serve a divine power that motivates and sustains us. We are just channels through which God works. This will take the spotlight off of the Christian and shine it squarely on God. Therefore, if the spiritual activities serve to point to the Heavenly Father, then such activities may well be counted as treasures in heaven.
The first spiritual exercise that Jesus mentions is the act of giving. Of the three exercises mentioned this one seems to be on the bottom level. However, it is important and legitimate, and should be practiced by all followers of Christ. Jesus gives some rules for the achieving of its maximum benefits. Christians in general like to receive some credit for the money they give. This may not be all bad, but it opens the door to taking more credit than is deserved. Jesus said that the giving should be done in secret. (v. 3, 4). Consequently, boasting about it is not compatible with the true Christian spirit. Paul asks: “And what do you have that you did not receive? But if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it? (1st Corinthians 4:7). These are good questions. And, if answered honestly, they will take most of the wind out of the giver’s sails. Ultimately, the Christian must admit that everything he possesses comes from God. And God expects him to share some of his material blessings with the needy. If this giving is done in the right spirit, God will openly reward it.
Praying is the second spiritual exercise mentioned and seems to be a notch higher than giving. Praying is one of the principle activities in worship, but sometimes even it is defective. This happens when Christians direct their prayers more to people than to God. These are prayers that aim to please people and catch their attention and perhaps admiration. Sometimes prayer is done in a spirit or attitude that is repugnant to God. In the 18th chapter of Luke there is the story of the prayers of two men: one by a Pharisee and the other by a tax collector. The first, by the Pharisee, was just telling God how good he was in comparison with other people. The second, by the tax collector or publican, was an humble entreaty for God’s mercy. (v. 13). God accepted the prayer of the publican, but repudiated the haughtiness of the Pharisee. Prayers that call attention to one’s self get no higher than the ceiling. There is no way that they can reach as high as heaven.
This passage in Matthew 6 indicates that to avoid “praying to the gallery”, prayer should be done in a closet, away from the scrutiny of other people. God will be present in this private place and will hear and reward such prayer. This does not mean that public prayer is forbidden, but that sometimes it is best to pray alone. Jesus Himself gave a model prayer for His disciples to use in public or in private. Also there are many instances in the New Testament where Christians met together to pray. For example, Jesus said in Matthew 18:19: “Again I say unto you, that if two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in Heaven.” Also Paul advised the Christians to “Pray without ceasing.” (1st Timothy: 5:17). And, in Acts 1:14 we read: “With one mind they (the apostles) were all continuing to devote themselves to prayer with the women and Mary and His brothers.”
Fasting is the third spiritual exercise that is mentioned. The fact that it is mentioned last may indicate that it is even more spiritual than giving or praying. It is a seldom-used path that people take in order to draw closer to God. But it also can be perverted and so twisted around that it actually leads away from God. Once again, vanity and pride transform a highly spiritual exercise into something that is cheap and shoddy. Outsiders who can see only what is on the surface may applaud the extreme consecration of a Christian who is fasting. But this tends to inflate the ego of the one who is fasting. On the other hand God, who sees into the heart, will not accept false fasting as a treasure in heaven. He only rewards true fasting. Fasting is something that is very personal and intimate. The Christian who truly fasts will not make a public display of it. It will be a secret between him and his Maker. Without any fanfare, the Christian ought to fast because he is hungry for more communion and fellowship with God. His desire for spending time with God will be greater than the desire for food or any other earthly pleasure. God rewards this kind of fasting.
3. They Must be Done in Godly Love (1st Corinthians 13:1-13)
One other of many tests that the Bible gives for judging “treasures” is found in the great love chapter of 1st Corinthians 13.
In the Greek language, there are several words translated as “love.” One is “eros” from which comes the word “erotic. It refers to lust. The second is “phileo” and refers to brotherly love. The third word is “agape” and refers to Godly love. It is the word used in John 3:16, which explains the kind of love that led God to send Jesus to die for us. The word “agape” is used to describe God Himself. 1 John 4:8 says: “God is love (agape).” That is who God is. It is the word that most accurately defines God for us. He is love, agape love. And God expects His followers to try to exercise this godly kind of love as they go about serving Him on this earth. It is a high standard and not easily attained. In fact it is the highest standard of all and rarely practiced by humans on a consistent basis. Does God really expect His disciples to be governed by such love? Yes, at least that is the ideal and Christians should strive for it even though they might not attain perfection. But God will understand when a sincere effort is made to practice this kind of godly love. Just how important is it that agape love control the Christian life? Paul gives us the answer in this love chapter.
In the first verse, Paul imagines himself as having the ability to speak in every language on earth or in heaven. Then he makes a startling statement. Even with all of this wonderful ability, if he did not speak with agape love in his heart, he would be just a big noise. Is love important for the Christian’s work? Paul did his best to emphasize its indispensable importance.
In the second verse, Paul continues to imagine having the gift of delivering the most spell-binding sermons from God’s Word, and explaining all the sacred secrets with an unlimited amount of understanding. And he paints an even more vivid picture as he sees himself having such great faith that he would be capable of moving mountains. This borders on what would be impossible human achievements. But, if it were possible for Paul to attain such phenomenal success, he would be an absolute failure if he did not have agape love. Once more Paul uses exaggeration to emphasize how very indispensable agape love is in the Lord’s work.
The third verse continues with the same emphasis. This time Paul is very rich, and he volunteers to undertake to feed the poor of the world. He even imagines the possibility of becoming a martyr and paying the supreme sacrifice for his faith. But to do all this without agape love would be meaningless for him. Instead of being a hero, he would be a zero.
To Paul, agape love makes the difference in the Christian’s task. It divides the good work from the bad. It separates the wheat from the chaff. It determines what is treasure and what is trash. It raises God’s standard for His followers’ service to the highest point. Yes, the Christian’s work should be to edify the Church as well as serving to exalt God, but it must also be characterized by agape love.
Jesus expects His people to “lay up treasures in heaven.” But He reserves the right to accept or reject the would-be treasures that are sent to Him. Therefore, Christians must be constantly on guard to examine their hearts as they continue to work for Him. If the heart is in tune with Him then the work done will be acceptable “treasures in heaven.” Yes, God’s standards are high, and we can be grateful for that. We should never be resentful of such standards. Instead of excusing ourselves behind our own spiritual weaknesses, we should recognize that the fault lies with us and not with God’s high standards. On the other hand these standards are not meant to intimidate or discourage us. The fact that they are hard to reach challenges the Christian. Lower standards would not serve to bring out the best in Christians. God understands that the standards are high but they serve to force the Christian to draw on God’s strength and not human strategy. God did not mean for His standards to be easy to attain. However, He knows when Christians make a sincere effort to reach them. He will judge His people and their service accordingly. Each day, therefore, we must vow to strive again and again in His strength to fulfill to the best of our ability His high expectations of us. Then, we can rest assured that He will reward us with all that we deserve.
The Value of Eternal Investments: Luke 16:1-13:
1. The Parable of the Shrewd Manager, vv. 1 - 8a
Many think that Jesus could not have told this parable about the unjust or shrewd steward. It is better to assume that Jesus did tell it but only using the man as an example of resourcefulness rather than an endorsement of his financial shenanigans. Jesus believed that His followers could learn a lesson from the cleverness of this man who handled a great deal of money for his master.
It is likely that in his daily contact with a great deal of wealth, the steward was tempted to misuse it. Or, it could be that he was accused unjustly of this crime by one of the master’s close friends. At any rate, the boss believed that the steward had been dishonest and ordered him to turn over his accounts and get out. The manager or steward was shrewd in that he devised a plan for taking care of himself comfortably after he was removed or discharged. He had lived the good life far too long to think of doing manual labor or of begging. The first would be torture for his soft hands and the other humiliating. So, he carefully and quickly mapped out the best road for himself under the circumstances.
Scholars say that the word “removed” (v.4, “put out, removed”) was used by the Greeks to denote one’s removal from this world to the next. Today there are a number of expressions for this event: it is said a person has died, or gone to be with the Lord, or entered the pearly gates, or gone to his reward, or exchanged his tent for a mansion, and many other expressions. The word (Greek: methistemi) certainly has the idea of changing from one place or position to another. It is used in Colossians 1:13: “For He delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred (metestesen) us to the kingdom of His beloved Son.” Thus it is another way of saying that a Christian is transferred from the darkness of sin to the light of Christ. In Acts 13:22 it is used of God’s removing Saul from the throne of Israel to make room for king David. In Acts 19:26, Paul’s enemies in Ephesus accused him of leading a number of people to transfer (metéstesen) their allegiance from gods made with hands to the true and living God.
So the shrewd manager was to be removed, that is, fired. He was facing a major change in his life. It was almost like a death experience. He was going from the world that he knew and loved to one that was unknown. He was moving from his good life into the cold, cruel world that lay just outside the walls of the palatial mansion of his rich master. He searched his mind to think how best to make provision for himself in the new world to which he was going. So, he thought of the many debtors of his master, and picked out the one’s who owed the most, or at least the one’s who were available on such short notice. He plotted to do such big favors for these debtors that they would become his debtors, and would naturally feel obligated to him for years to come. Then, after he had lost his job he could call in these favors and keep himself going until he could work out some other source of income. One man owed eight hundred gallons of oil. The manager combined with this debtor to agree that he only owed half that amount. Another owed a thousand bushels of wheat. The manager reduced his debt to only eight hundred bushels. Both of these debtors were saved a great deal of money. And the shrewd manager had bought himself some good insurance for his own future without spending a dime of his own. He was a shrewd manager, even though the deals he made were more than shady.
However, v.8 says that the rich master “commended” the manager because he had acted shrewdly. How could he be anything but very angry since he had just been swindled out of a lot of money? It might be that the master realized that the original debts were inflated, far beyond their fair market value. Or, more likely, since he also was a good business man, he could hardly withhold praise for the astute deals that the manager had made. The master must have even felt some pride in the transactions that were made. Without a doubt the steward knew his business. He was a wheeler-dealer, probably the best in the area. Any other entrepreneur could have learned a lot just by observing how smoothly the manager manipulated people and their money. His craftiness was in the long run probably worth to the master all that it cost him.
2. Jesus’ application of the Parable, vv. 8a - 13
Jesus made the application of this story in verses 8b to 13. He drew a distinction between the people of this world’s darkness and the people of light. The implication was that His people ought to be as astute in the handling of their earthly wealth as are those who live in sin. He did not condone the unethical tactics of the shrewd manager, but He challenged His disciples to find an ethical way to administer their possessions. The shrewd use by His children of their material possessions could result in bringing great glory to the Lord. Money invested wisely in Kingdom endeavors could bring multitudes out of the darkness of sin into the light of salvation. And subsequently, the Lord Himself along with these new converts would someday welcome such shrewd managers into the heavenly kingdom (into everlasting habitations; into the tents of eternity). (vv.8b,9)
A. Eternal Investments Turn Evil to Good, v. 9
In Jesus’ day money still had a bad reputation. And Paul verified that the “love of money was the root of all sorts of evil.” (1st Timothy 6:10). In several Scriptures money is coupled with the adjective “sordid” or “filthy”. (1st Timothy 3:8; Titus 1:11; 1st Peter 5:2). Preachers and deacons were to be disqualified if they had a reputation of being covetous or greedy.
The parable designates money as “the mammon of unrighteousness.” This is because through the years money had, and continues to be, associated with injustice and other evils. Jesus wanted to remove this stigma from earthly possessions. He well knew that in and of itself wealth is neither good nor bad. It is rather the way that people use it that makes it evil or good. Jesus was convinced that money could do a lot of good in this world if it were wisely used. And He wanted His followers to do just that. Therefore, He spent a lot of time (some say 2/3 of His parables deal with money), such as in this parable, to challenge His followers to use their worldly goods astutely. By this He meant that they were to underwrite His Kingdom’s work whatever the cost in money or effort. Thus the “mammon of unrighteousness” would become the “mammon of unselfishness.”
Then, when their money failed (gave out, came to an eclipse, ekleipo - leave off, cease, fail - v.9) at the end of their lives, these shrewd disciples would pass into eternity and verify first hand the astuteness of their investments. Here in this life we can really have no clear idea of just how much good our money is doing that we give through the church or to other good causes. But when we get to heaven, then we will understand the value of our investments in the Lord’s work. Jesus recommended that we “lay up treasures in heaven” (Matthew. 6:20). Those treasures will some day be at least one source of our joy in eternity.
B. Eternal Investments Turn Greed to Generosity, v.10
So, Christ’s disciples were to learn to use money so that it would do the most good, and, of course, that meant ministering in His name to supply the physical and spiritual needs of people. (v.9). Christians were to be free from the low, selfish and covetous motives that dominated the steward of the parable. They were to avoid the pitfalls of avarice and selfishness that would close their minds and purses to those in need. They were to be generous and liberal stewards of the wealth that God allowed them to have. Paul used the churches of Macedonia as an example of true giving. “They gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will.” (2nd Corinthians 8:3-5). A few verses on in 9:7 Paul said: “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” This pictures the proper spirit that every Christian should have toward earthly possessions. Christians are to use their money shrewdly and always for the glory of God. This would serve to erase the stigma from money. Money would then be considered as an angel of God, providing for the needs of those who were poor or sick.
C. Eternal Investments Turn Possessions to True Wealth, vv.11, 12
The disciple of Christ was to learn to form a proper evaluation of money. It was certainly not to be confused or equated with the “true riches,” that is, spiritual riches. Worldly wealth is inferior to the true riches because it does not last. It is fickle, being here today and gone tomorrow. It gives a false sense of security to its owners. The true riches are authentic and permanent that never give out and never disappoint. Earthly possessions can overpower a Christian and distort his better judgment, and even smother his noblest instincts.
Some people will do anything for money. Esau sold his priceless birthright for a free lunch. Judas Iscariot betrayed his Lord for thirty pieces of silver. Many a family has been torn apart over the distribution of an inheritance. And on and on the tragic list can go when people give too much importance to material things. The rich, young ruler asked Jesus: “what good thing must I do to have eternal life?” After Jesus found out that he was a good moral man, He said to him: “go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and then you will have treasure in heaven.” But on hearing this the young man became sad and disappointed and turned away. That is when Jesus said: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:16-24). For those whose god is money, heaven has no attraction.
Jesus would have His followers have a proper perception of money. It has an essential place in this life, but it must be restricted and limited to that place. Never can it be as important as the true riches that will last throughout eternity. (v.11)
Earthly wealth is always “someone else’s property”. (v.12) In the final analysis the earth and everything in it belongs to the Creator. He made it all and then loaned it to people to use while they occupied the earth. God intended for the material things of the world to be for the benefit of mankind. He created this world in just such a way so that human life can exist here. And He intended for people to make ample use (but not abuse) of all of the natural resources created by Him.
But these resources are only for this world. Nobody can take any of the world’s material things into eternity. They would be completely out of place there. They are only for this world. And, people are just stewards that administer or use the material riches of the earth while they are living. They don’t really own it but they just make use of it for a little while. And therefore, people are responsible to God for the way they use His material blessings. But if a person doesn’t accept this principal as to the world’s goods, he will not be at all impressed by any suggestion of an eternal possession.
However, there is a sense in which material wealth can be transformed into spiritual riches. This is true when the material possessions are used to underwrite spiritual activities here on earth. Jesus recommended that His followers "lay up treasure in heaven." (Matthew 6:20). He longed for His people to use their material possessions in a way that would pay eternal dividends! This does not mean that people can buy their way into heaven. Jesus has already paid the full price for our salvation. But, Christians can handle their wealth is such a Christ-like way that they will prove their mature understanding of the only way that material wealth can became true riches.
D. Eternal Investments Turn Drudgery to Delight, v.13
Jesus, in v.13, sums up His thesis by stating the truth that “man cannot serve both God and mammon.” Too often people do not possess money, but rather are possessed by it. They are not the masters, but rather the slaves of their possessions. This happens so easily, and is the reason why Jesus used this and many other opportunities to warn against the deceitfulness of riches. The rich farmer of Luke 12 was so engrossed in his newly found wealth that he had no time or desire to think about God. Consequently he was not prepared when his time on earth suddenly ran out. That is why God called him “a foolish man.” (12:20). This literally means “without a mind,” or the lack of commonsense perception. He w as a slave to and not the master of his wealth. He was a slave to a cruel taskmaster. His money held his nose to the grindstone and stripped his life of the freedom that God meant for it to have.
Therefore Jesus is dogmatically stating that a person cannot be a slave of God and at the same time a slave to money. A real slave can only have one true master, and to that master he owes every bone in his body, every dime in his pocket, and every moment of his time. There is no room for a second loyalty. Every person is a slave to someone or something. Choosing to be God’s slave is the wisest choice a person can make. It is a pleasure to be His slave. He is the kind of “boss” that every worker dreams about. If someone did try to serve two masters, as Jesus said, he would either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. It was an impossible situation.
And so it is with the Christian’s relationship to God. God owns us in a double sense: through creation and through redemption. He is our Creator and also our Saviour. He wrought us and also bought us. We are His and His alone. We are His slaves, and He is our Master. Everything a Christian has or ever will have really belongs to God. And we are stewards of that which He has committed to our keeping. We are to make wise investments of our material possessions. If we are faithful stewards and shrewd administrators of our time, talents, and treasure, we will one day hear him say: “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness.” (Matthew 25: 21)
What is the Gospel?: Acts 28:30, 31
"And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters, and was welcoming all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered."
The last word in the Book of Acts, according to the Greek text, is "akolutos", an adverb that means "unhinderedly". Under house arrest in Rome, Dr. Luke tells us that Paul preached the Gospel unhinderedly.
It is on this note that Luke finishes his Book. Some have thought it a strange way to end his writing about the early Church. They would have preferred additional information about what happened to Paul after his two years of imprisonment. In the Book of Acts we have the beautiful history of the progress of the Gospel during the first 35 to 40 years of the Christian Church. The story is woven around the lives of faithful men and women. For the first 12 chapters Peter is the principal character, and then, through chapter 28, Paul becomes the central figure. So, it is natural for us to have a great deal of curiosity about these pioneers of the Christian faith in the First Century. But Luke doesn't seem to finish the story, especially about the Apostle Paul. Some have thought that maybe Luke died before he had a chance to conclude his remarks about Paul. Or, maybe he wrote a conclusion that was later destroyed. At any rate it seems to some that Luke left the story dangling in the air, unfinished. The story stops abruptly, seemingly unfinished.
But there is another explanation about this seemingly abrupt ending to the Book of Acts. Some Bible scholars believe that the last verse of Acts is a fitting climax to all that Luke wanted to relate about the progress of the Gospel in those early years of the Church. Therefore, the last word "unhinderedly" was the best word that Luke could have chosen to end his story. These scholars see in that word the crowning climax of the 28 chapters of the ups and downs of the Gospel. Luke is finally able to say that the Gospel is being proclaimed unhinderedly.
The Book of Acts thus becomes the history of how the Gospel threw off all of the shackles and chains imposed on it by good and by evil people, freeing itself to be that which God had intended from the beginning. It took a while for people to understand the real meaning of the term "Gospel." But, at last it came to mean a universal message of "Good News." It was inclusive, not exclusive, that is, it was not restricted to any one group of people. It was God's good news for the whole world. And when it was proclaimed it had the power to set people free from the bondage of sin.
So, Luke as he wrote the early history of the Church, was not as concerned about people as he was with the Gospel. His thesis was centered, not on the fate of Peter or Paul, but, rather, around the fate of the Gospel. People were important in the story, because God had chosen to spread the Gospel throughout the world through human channels. But people were expendable, the Gospel was not. After Peter and Paul would come other human instruments, through which the Holy Spirit would cause the Gospel to flow out to the ends of the earth. This was to be God's plan until the end of time.
Gradually the Holy Spirit led the mainstream of the early Church to correct their misconceptions of the Gospel. This is recorded in the Book of Acts. So it is very fitting that Luke would finally be able to write that, under house arrest, Paul was preaching the Gospel "unhinderedly". He must have written this with a great deal of joy, almost shouting. At last the Gospel was unhindered! There were no limitations to its power or to its scope. It was no longer fettered by the chains of narrow-minded misconceptions. It was free from the road-blocks thrown up by both friends and foes. Now, it was as God intended from the beginning, a powerful force flowing freely through dedicated human beings out to a lost world!
This is a lesson that must be learned anew by each generation. God intended for the good news of salvation to flow freely throughout the world in all of its fulness and glory. Do we today understand just what the Gospel is? We should understand it as a powerful truth that leads to salvation. It is also a precious treasure that is for all nations. And, finally, it is a personal task for all Christians.
1. The Gospel is a Powerful Truth for All Sinners
Paul wrote that the Gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. (Romans 1:16). That is why Paul was not ashamed of it. It was the good news about how a sinner could be forgiven of all sin and reconciled to God. It was based on the redemptive work of the Lord Jesus Christ. By His death and resurrection Jesus opened the way for sinful humanity to become citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. That was/is the most important and the most powerful truth that the world has ever received. It is Heaven's Emancipation Proclamation.
But when Jesus was born this was a foreign conception in Jerusalem. The Jewish religion in Jesus' day was centered in the Temple where the many sacrifices were offered during the annual festivals. The synagogue leaders taught and enforced the Law with all of its many rules and regulations. Pomp and ceremony was the order of the day. Creedalism was obligatory and dogmatic. The Torah meant what the religious leaders said it meant. There were no alternatives. This made the Torah an unbearable yoke around the people's necks. Jesus set about to correct these abuses. In the fifth chapter of Matthew He boldly announced new interpretations to certain well-known laws.
The Law itself was of Divine origin but human interpretations had succeeded in subverting the original intent. (see Mark 7:8-13). So Jesus' harshest criticism was directed at the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees. He called them "blind guides." (Matthew 23:16). They were guilty of promoting a religiosity that had no real spiritual substance. They were outwardly pious but inwardly corrupt. Jesus said that "unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:20).
On one occasion Jesus was asked to name the greatest of the commandments in the Law. Jesus quoted the Shema from the sixth chapter of Deuteronomy: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." These verses in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 were supposed to be quoted daily by every Jew. The "shema" begins with the word "hear" which means listening in the sense of obeying. Jesus then added a second commandment which was taken from Leviticus19: 18: "Love your neighbor as yourself." After giving this answer, Jesus added: "All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." (Matthew 22:40). In other words, Jesus was saying that the whole of the Law and the Prophets was summed up in these two commandments. This was a revolutionary teaching! Instead of the Law being a "burdensome yoke" it became a "labor of love."
Paul explained the purpose of the Law. He says that it was "our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ." (Galatians 3:24). The image is of a tutor or attendant employed by parents to conduct a child to and from school. This illustration indicates the subordinate character and the disciplinary function of the Law. It made people conscious of sin. It could not forgive sin but it did create a longing in the sinner's heart for forgiveness. The law lacked the power to "impart life." It could demand, state conditions, and produce guilt, but the Law was powerless to provide the strength for holy living. The Law blocked all routes for escape from God's verdict of guilt. Paul clarifies the situation under Law when he declares: "Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin." (Romans 3:20).
But even before the Law that was given through Moses, there were righteous people in the world. This was accomplished, not by obeying some commandment or offering some special offering, but as a gift of God because of their faith in Him. Abraham is the prime example of this. Paul says: "He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." (Galatians 3:6). According to verse 8 of this chapter the Gospel was preached beforehand to Abraham, indicating that people of similar faith would also be blessed in like manner. Also in the Old Testament there is mention made of the "new covenant" that God would make with His people. This covenant was one that God would write on their hearts. (see Jeremiah 31:31 - 37). It was the new covenant with Christ as the mediator. The good news in Christ was guaranteed.
So Jesus changed the Law to Grace. This agrees with what John said in the prologue to his Gospel: "For while the law was given through Moses, spiritual blessing and truth have come through Jesus Christ." (John 1:17). This concept of the good news of the Gospel was promoted by Jesus and began to take hold of His early followers. But at first it was on a collision course with traditional Judaism. The Book of Acts relates how this strangle hold was gradually broken.
The New Testament is full of proof of just how powerful the Gospel really is. Its first big break-through was on the Day of Pentecost when 3000 souls were converted to faith in the Lord Jesus.
The Feast of Pentecost that followed the crucifixion was a significant Jewish observance. It was both a harvest festival and a commemoration of the giving of the Law to Moses at Mt. Sinai. There were Jews present from everywhere. On this historic day as was foretold by the prophet Joel (2:28-32) there was a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Jews from many different nations listened to the apostles speak in their own native languages of the mighty works of God. This was followed by a sermon that explained what was happening. Peter used the occasion to present the Gospel message. He told of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. At the conclusion of the sermon he called on the multitude to "Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:38). Some three thousand people were convicted and responded to the presentation of the Gospel. The appeal was made to all who were present, Jews and proselytes alike. Peter was specific in verse 39: "for the promise belongs to you and your children, as well as to all those who are far away whom the Lord our God may call to Him." So on this occasion the Gospel was beginning to be presented as God intended.
So, because of the teachings of Jesus and His followers, the early church finally understood that the Gospel was to be free from legalism, that is, from an overly zealous interpretation of the Jewish Law. This was a break-through for the correct understanding of the Gospel. But there had to be more. The Gospel also had to be freed from racism, that is, its exclusive relation to the Jewish nation.
2. The Gospel is a Precious Treasure for All Nations
The Jewish leaders in Jerusalem thought that the Gospel was just for the Jews. These leaders could not believe that God would bless any other race outside of His chosen people. In their minds His favors could only be received by the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Centuries of tradition had set this idea in stone, and the Jews religious leaders were inflexible to any change. Centuries of cobwebs would have to be removed from their minds before any deviation would be tolerated. And this would not be an easy task.
One of the pioneers that God used to shake the old establishment was Philip. After the persecution related to the stoning and death of Stephen, many Christians were scattered around over Judea and Samaria. (Acts 8). Philip was one of those. He began to preach Christ to the Samaritans, and as a result men and women were being baptized. This news was heard in Jerusalem by the apostles. So, they sent Peter and John to investigate this heresy that was occurring among the hated Samaritans. But the two emissaries could only feel God's approval of what was happening in Samaria, and they joined in with the preaching to the Samaritans.
And in the 10th chapter of Acts Peter had a dream in which he saw a great sheet full of unclean animals descend from heaven. And he heard a voice that ordered him to slay one of the animals and eat it. This took place three times. Later Peter was summoned to the house of Cornelius who was not a Jew but a righteous and God-fearing man. Peter entered the house even though such conduct was against the Jewish law. But he explained that God had taught him in his dream not to call any man unholy or unclean. Then Peter proceeded to preach the Gospel to Cornelius and his friends. At the conclusion Peter made an unusual statement: "To this very One (Jesus) all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in Him is to receive forgiveness of sins through His name." Immediately, the Holy Spirit fell on the listeners. It was a repetition of the Pentecostal experience that had happened to the Jews. The Holy Spirit was showing no partiality as He blessed Gentiles equally with the Jews.
Then, a further step was taken in the 15th chapter of Acts that continued to confirm that the Gospel was a precious treasure for all mankind. A Council of religious leaders was called to discuss the relationship of the Christian faith to the Jewish ordinance of circumcision. After discussion from both sides it was agreed that the Jews should not demand Gentile conformity to Jewish law. Thus the new Christian group was freed from Judaism! It was another victory for the correct understanding of the Gospel. The shackles of long tradition were gradually being removed by Divine power. Proof after proof was given that God would accept Gentile believers, and now He would do so without any requirement related to Jewish rituals. The Gospel was well on its way to being preached "unhinderedly."
These early followers of Christ finally understood just how powerful and how precious the Gospel truth was. Our generation needs to have the same conviction. Otherwise the Gospel will not flow through us "unhinderedly." We are witnesses to the power of the Gospel in our own lives. And most of us have seen how the Gospel has worked so powerfully in friends or acquaintances. Also we are well aware of just how precious the Gospel is. We know that it is the only hope for reconciliation with God. There is no other way for a sinner to be forgiven and made a citizen of Heaven. The obstacles of legalism and racism that at first kept the Gospel from flowing unhinderedly were finally being conquered. But there was still the obstacle of apathy on the part of some early Christians. This also had to be overcome.
3. The Gospel is a Personal Task for All Christians
In the beginning the early followers of Jesus thought that the task of preaching the Gospel was mainly restricted to the twelve apostles. Jesus had chosen the twelve to follow Him and to be "fishers of men."(Mark 1:17) He trained them for about three years as He lived and worked with them. Consequently, after the crucifixion, a hundred and twenty of Christ's disciples met for the purpose of naming a successor to Judas Iscariot (Acts 1). Peter was probably speaking for the group as he led them to seek out a person who would become the twelfth apostle. Apparently Peter believed that they had instructions from the Bible to fill the gap left by Judas. This was based on Psalms 69:25 together with 109:8. This latter Psalm says: "may another take his place of leadership.” For some reason Peter thought that this Psalm applied to the case of Judas. At any rate after prayer and the casting of lots, the group chose Matthias to serve in Judas' place.
As the church began to increase in membership the apostles saw that they needed help. So, in chapter six of Acts, six non-apostles were chosen to help the apostles administer the affairs of the church. Not all of the men chosen confined themselves to the secondary matters of the church administration. For example, Philip and Stephen became powerful preachers of the Gospel.
Acts 8:4 says: "Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word." These new Christians who were forced to flee for their lives after the stoning of Stephen, were used of the Lord to plant the seed of the Gospel wherever they went. Only eternity will reveal the names of these and the tremendous influence that they had on the spread of the Christian faith. This registered another milestone in the progress of the Gospel. Every Christian, and not just the leaders of the church, was a proud bearer of the "good news" of salvation in Christ Jesus.
Paul of Tarsus was not one of the original twelve, but God chose him to accomplish a monumental work. This former persecutor of the Christian faith became its most ardent defender. Paul described his Damascus-road experience to king Agrippa: "And the Lord said, 'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But arise, and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; delivering you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God in order that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in me.' (Acts 26:15-18).
Finally Paul reached Rome where " he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters, and was welcoming all who came to him." (Acts 28:30). And it was there that he preached and taught his Christian faith "with all openness, unhinderedly."
Paul is a good role model for Christians in our generation. His motto was: "I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some." (1st Corinthians 9:22). His goal in life was to preach the Gospel. This should be the priority for every Christian. But two thousand years have passed since Jesus ordered His church to "go into all the world and preach the Gospel." What has the church done in this long period of time? There are still millions who are unevangelized. Among Southern Baptists the picture is not bright. Statistics say that it takes some 40 Southern Baptists a whole year to win one lost person. Some estimate that 95% of Southern Baptists do not practice one-on-one evangelism. This means that most Southern Baptists are not convinced that the Gospel is a task for every Christian.
This story of the liberation of the Gospel from preconceived notions is one that our generation needs to hear. We need to realize that the Gospel is a powerful truth, a precious treasure, and a personal task. Are any of these points applicable to our lives? Is the Gospel being hindered by legalism, racism, or apathy? Or is the Gospel being preached by Christian people "unhinderedly"? Perhaps the weakest area in most of our lives is in making the spread of the Gospel our personal task. We believe that it is the power of God, and that it is a treasure that everyone should possess. But are we dedicated to the task of letting the Gospel flow through our lives to a needy world? Some of us leave this important task up to trained clergymen. Or we may hinder the spread of the Gospel through our indifference, rebelliousness, or immorality. If this is true, then we need to ask the Lord for help. He will be happy to lead us to become clear and clean channels through which His wonderful "good news" can be announced. Then, we can let His wonderful truth flow from our lives to those of our acquaintances who still do not possess the precious treasure of life eternal. In this way the Gospel will again be preached through us "unhinderedly".
How to Spread the Gospel: Romans 15:14-33
The Epistle to the Romans was apparently written from Corinth during Paul's third missionary journey. Paul had collected from the Gentile churches of Greece and Asia Minor an offering that was for the poor saints in Jerusalem. He was waiting to go to Jerusalem with the offering when he wrote the letter to the Romans. Afterwards he had dreams of going to Spain, and on the way there he wanted to visit in Rome. But, as we know, his trip to Jerusalem led to his arrest, and eventually to a Roman prison. Whether or not he ever got to Spain we do not know. But at least his ambition was to go there if at all possible.
The doxology of v.13 of chapter 15 indicates the end of the main arguments of the book of Romans. Beginning with v.14 we have the conclusion of the book.
Verses 14 to 33 present three essential actions in a program to win the lost world for our Lord. The first is a steadfast burden for those who have never heard the Gospel, the second is a sacrificial sharing of our material goods with the needy, and the third is a sincere belief in the power of prayer.
1. Through our Preaching (14-24A)
Paul felt a special burden for the non-Jewish world. He saw himself as a "minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles" (v.16). It was at the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch that Paul first felt a rejection by the Jewish leaders. So, he quoted Isaiah 49:6 as if it were orders that the Lord had given especially to him: "I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth." (Acts 13:47).
At the time he wrote this letter to the Romans he had just completed his third missionary journey. His travels had taken him through Asia Minor, and then into Greece. He said that he had preached the Gospel of Christ from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum. (v.19) It is uncertain whether he meant that he had actually gone into Illyricum (present day Albania), or that he had just gone as far as the borders of Illyricum.
He had a burden to preach to those who had never heard the message of salvation. (v.20). He felt no need to "build upon another man's foundation" while there were so many areas where no preacher had ever proclaimed the good news of salvation. He believed in the right of everyone to hear at least one time the good news of salvation.
At any rate he felt like his pioneer work in the areas that he had touched was done with. He said that there was "no further place for me in these regions" (v.23). In other words he no longer had a burden for the people of these areas. The seed of the Gospel had been sown abundantly, and some thriving churches were now established, and they would continue the work. Among these churches were the ones at Phillipi, Thessalonica, Corinth, and Ephesus. With these churches now available to the people of Asia Minor and Greece, Paul felt drawn to more pioneer areas.
These words of Paul lead us to the conclusion that it is possible for a minister to feel that his work in a determined field is over. Just why Paul felt that his work was over is not explained. Logically, it could not be because all of the people had been evangelized to the fullest. It has to mean that he, Paul, came to feel that the Lord was leading him to some other field of service.
God does lead his servants to certain fields. This does not mean necessarily that such fields are permanent assignments. They may or may not be. But just as God can impress a person to take up a position in a certain area, so He can impress that person to move on to another. In Paul's case it could very well be that his principal work for the Lord was the breaking of "new ground". After this was accomplished, Paul may have felt that he must move on to new areas, leaving others to plant and cultivate the seed sown in the broken-up ground.
So he announced to the Roman Christians that he planned to go to Spain, and on the way there, he would stop by to see them. (v. 24) He had never been to Rome, but, since there was a thriving church in Rome, he only wanted to stop by there on his way to Spain, the most distant and unevangelized field that he knew about. He had a burden for the unevangelized cities of his world. He knew that there were needs in every city, but he was drawn to those who had the least spiritual light..
In our own country there are many who have never heard the Gospel message, but outside of our borders most of the people have never heard. If we are to win our world to Christ we must have a burden for all of the unevangelized, not just for those who are the easiest to reach.
In the United States there are thousands of Southern Baptist Churches with a membership in the millions. Most Americans have at least one Baptist church in their community. This is not so in the rest of the world, where 95% of the people live. Some countries have no Baptist work at all. It is easy to see that a part of our world has been badly neglected as far as the Gospel is concerned. This should be a matter of grave concern for all of us.
From time to time the world is made aware of tragic needs in one nation or another. In every case thousands of victims die every day from starvation or floods or earthquakes. Our television screens and newspapers are filled with the pictures of emaciated and hurting men, women, and children in those countries. This has pricked our consciences, and given us a burden for these unfortunate people. And, as a result the necessary relief monies and supplies are contributed.
Yes, the physical situation of these people is indeed very pathetic. But the spiritual condition is even worse, not only in one nation but in the whole world. We need to understand the reality of our world without Christ. If we could just fully understand the emaciated spiritual condition of these millions who have never heard the Gospel message, then we would have a burden for them. Without the Bread of Life they are dying daily, and moving out into eternity without Christ.
2. Through our Possessions (24b - 29)
"and to be sent there (Spain) with your support" (NEB,v.24b)
Paul was counting on financial help from the Church in Rome to make possible his trip to Spain. He reminded them about what other churches had done with their money.
The churches in Macedonia and Achaia were "pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem", and Paul, along with seven representatives from the churches, were selected to take the offering to Jerusalem.
In 2nd Corinthians 8 and 9 we are told more about the sacrificial spirit of the Christians in Macedonia toward the offering. They first of all "gave themselves to the Lord". This is the first step in the kind of sharing that pleases our Lord. After a Christian offers his whole life to God, then, in comparison, his financial contributions are insignificant. After giving the greater, the lesser is no problem. When a person starts with the whole, the individual parts of the whole are already included.
And, what these Christians did, they did with "an abundance of joy". Their generosity was so great that Paul was reluctant to let them do more than he thought they could reasonably do. But they begged "with much entreaty for the favor of participation" in the offering. They gave "beyond their ability". (26, 27). They felt a debt toward those saints in the mother Church in Jerusalem. After all it was from that church that the Gospel was first preached, and all of the Christians of those days were reaping spiritual benefits from what had started in Jerusalem. It was only natural then that they share some of their material blessings with the saints in Jerusalem. In the same way the church in Rome could help with the work in Spain.
It is also a privilege for Southern Baptists to share their material resources with those who stand in need of the Gospel. With our regular Sunday tithes we have a chance to go into all of the world and preach the Gospel. In addition, it is our custom at Christmas time to raise millions of dollars to carry out a challenging evangelistic program in many different nations of the world. The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering has since 1888 given Southern Baptists an opportunity to express their gratitude to God for the abundance of blessings that He has poured out upon us. And He has been so good to us. But I'm afraid that the result of the offerings through the years has not reflected a great deal of gratitude. Most of the time the offerings have fallen short of the established goal.
Through our financial contributions we Baptists have a wonderful opportunity to put our money where our beliefs are. As Baptists our theology is sound, but what we preach isn't always matched by the necessary funding. We do believe that the new birth experience is essential for those who want to spend eternity in Heaven. And we know that there is no other name but Jesus' whereby a sinner can be saved. Jesus loves all sinners, and has commissioned us with the Good News of spreading abroad His message of forgiveness and pardon. This is what we believe, and our giving should reflect this biblical theology. We say that we want to win our lost world to Christ, but for this to become a reality we must underwrite the cost of such a program. It is expensive to evangelize the world, but the means for this are easily within our reach. It is just a question of sharing liberally with the lost world a portion of that which God has placed in our bank accounts.
There is no better place to invest our money. God's program of world-wide evangelism pays the highest dividends that are available to us. Where else could we invest in a program that would result in several new Baptist churches being organized every day of the year? This is what is happening on the foreign fields where we send missionaries. How much would you pay to organize even one new Baptist church somewhere in the world? I can't think of anything better to do with the money that we have at our disposal. In this same foreign mission program there are hundreds of new believers baptized every day. How much is one soul worth? Jesus said: "For what will a man be profited, if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul?" (Matthew 16:26). There is no price that can be put on a person's soul. And Jesus is saying that it is not a good bargain to sell your soul even for all of the riches of this world. But you and I, as Southern Baptists, have the privilege of investing our material resources in a program that leads hundreds of people a day to the baptistery of some Baptist Church. Such an investment will pay rich dividends throughout all of eternity!
Jesus complimented the widow who put all that she had into the offering box at the Temple, even though it only amounted to two small copper coins. Jesus said that she had really given more than the rich contributors because she had given everything while they had only given a small percentage of what they possessed. (Mark 12:42-44).
Paul reminds us of a principle that applies to giving. He said "He who sows sparingly shall also reap sparingly; and he who sows bountifully shall also reap bountifully." (2 Corinthians 9:6)
3. Through our Prayers (30-32).
"...be my allies in the fight; pray to God for me". (NEB)"...agonize with me (BER), wrestle with me (Wms) "
A. Prayer and our Mission
The third action that will help us win a lost world to Christ is prayer. Paul talks about this factor in last place, because it is the crowning ingredient. We must have a burden for the lost, and we must share our money with the needy, but, first and foremost, we must pray. This is because we are involved in a mission, that is, a spiritual battle. And in spiritual tasks everything depends on God. Without Him nothing that we could do would make any difference in our sinful world. We are up against spiritual enemies in this fight and only God's power can give us the victory. We go and we give, but only God makes His kingdom grow (increase). See 1st Corinthians 3:6,7.
B. Prayer and our Ministry
In prayer we admit our dependence upon God. And, in prayer we seek His will as to our field of service. Our burden for the unevangelized must be placed on us as we listen to His still small voice. Otherwise, we might be led to make decisions to go to preach or serve in certain areas just on the basis of our likes and dislikes. Our weak human nature might prevail on us to choose what we would consider easy or lucrative places to serve the Lord. But in prayer He will lead us to get our priorities straight. Unless the burden comes from Him, it is not to be trusted. But when it does come from Him, it is not to be lightly regarded.
C. Prayer and our Money
In prayer we seek His wisdom in the distribution of the wealth with which He has endowed us. It is not ours, but His. We are only stewards, not the owners. So we only have a right to use the money in one way or another after duly consulting the Owner. It is for this reason that giving can be a spiritual experience, leading us to feel closer and closer to our Lord as we faithfully carry out His will. It is no wonder that the Old Testament prophet promised faithful stewards that God would "throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it". (Malachi 3:10).
D. Prayer and our Motives
Paul had several motives in asking for three very special prayers. One was in regard to his work with the unbelievers. He knew that there would be some opposition to be faced. And He also knew that God would be with him in these difficult moments. So he wanted the prayers of the Romans to go with him, helping to sustain him as he ran the gauntlet that the Devil would be preparing for him.
Then, he also asked for their prayers as he worked with the believers in the churches. There was still a lot of misunderstanding in the churches, and it wasn't always easy for the Christians to accept him as the Apostle to the Gentiles.
Finally, in v.32, he asks for prayer in regard to his future ministry, wanting always that it be according to the will of God. He knew that if his future service was lived according to the will of God that it would bring joy to him and to those he served.
And even today we need to ask God's guidance on missionaries as they work with national Christians. Sometimes the missionary is misunderstood, especially among nationals who might have sensitive feelings about "outsiders". So the missionary must refrain from "Americanizing" those with whom he works. Neither can he afford to be domineering just because he might hold the purse strings for a determined project.
So it is that we must give this third factor the highest place in our own lives. We must be constantly in contact with God. Only He can give us the courage that we need to face our enemies. And only He can give us the grace to deal with the problems that come each day.
We can win our world to Christ if we have a steadfast burden for the lost, a sacrificial sharing of our worldly goods, and a sincere belief in the power of prayer. Bold Missions demands bold going, bold giving, and bold praying.
Are we willing to get serious about winning our world to Christ? Paul proved that he was, and now it is our turn. May the Lord Eternal help us to see our world as He sees it, and go in His name to minister to it with our lives and all that we possess!
God is not only the Creator and the Good Shepherd but He is the Eternal King of Kings. His activities in our world, therefore, go from the beginning to the ending. He determined when time would begin and He will also determine its end. Someone has explained the Big Bang Theory of the creation: God spoke and (bang) it happened. This could also be said about the end of time: when God's clock reaches midnight (bong) - eternity will begin. Jesus came to earth in the "fulness of time" to be the Suffering Servant of Isaiah. But He will appear again as the conquering Lord of Lord and King of Kings.
The First and Second Advents of Jesus Christ: John 5:39,40; 14:3
The Lord has already tabernacled among men during His First Advent. And, at the close of that period, when He ascended back to the Father, He promised that He would return again. The first time that Jesus came to the earth He came as the Suffering Servant. (Isaiah 53:5; Luke 9:22). The second time He will come as Sovereign Lord to condemn those who refused His love as well as to receive His faithful followers. These two great events, the First and Second Advents, are divine initiatives that represent the working out of God’s eternal purposes in regard to mankind. Since they are two parts of one eternal plan, much can be learned about the second in light of the first. These two divine visits were intended to be for the good of God’s people. They were meant to comfort, not confuse; to unite not divide.
These two advents of our Lord have been scoffed at by some and misunderstood by others. But regardless of what people thought or did, the First Advent happened right on schedule. Galatians 4:4 says:
“But when the fulness of time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law.”
The Second Coming will also be right on schedule. There was no force, neither human nor otherwise, that could deter God’s first appointed incarnation on Earth. Likewise, His second visit will happen exactly as God has planned it, regardless of any type of opposition, or irrespective of what people think or desire.
There was a great deal of confusion about His First Coming, and there are also many divergent opinions today about His Second. This is natural since some people are totally ignorant about Biblical matters but also because God’s ways are too complicated for human comprehension. God has not chosen to reveal the complete details of what He has in store for mankind. He expects Christians to live by faith and not by sight.
“But as it is written, Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love him.” (1st Corinthians 2:9)
God has many surprises in store for mankind! But through the ages, some people have claimed to be the recipients of more revelation from the Lord than they have actually received. This has led to a great deal of speculation that, while interesting and maybe even sensational, was and is, nevertheless, unfounded. God has an eternal plan that is being played out on the stage of history. From before the foundation of the world this plan was established. It was and is anchored in the person of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. Nothing that anyone can do will change it either by repudiation, rejection, ridicule, refinement, or rebellion. It is God's plan and therefore a good plan and will be done exactly His way. Some people did not understand this and made tragic blunders concerning the First Advent, a mistake that will likely be repeated concerning the Second Advent.
1. The First Advent
In the Old Testament the promise of the Lord’s First Coming was more than evident. Beginning in Genesis 3:15 and throughout revelations from the prophets it became very clear to every Jew that the Messiah was coming.
“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14)
“But you Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clan of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from old, from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2)
There was a great deal of excitement as Israel looked forward to that great event. Even the woman at the well, a hated Samaritan, told Jesus:
“I know that Messiah (called Christ) is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” (John 4:25)
Jesus Himself explained to His listeners what the Old Testament writers had to say about Him.
"And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, Jesus explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself." (Luke 24:27)
"You diligently study the Scriptures because you think by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life." (John 5:39)
Many other New Testament references document very clearly the facts about Jesus that were prophesied in the Old Testament.
"He came and resided in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, 'He shall be called a Nazarene." (Matthew 2:23). See also Matthew 1:22; 2:15; 4:14; 8:17; 12:17; 13:35; 21:4; 26:56; Luke 21:22; John 12:38; 15:25; 17:12: 19:24; Acts 3:18:13:29.
Yet, when Jesus did begin His public ministry, many of the Jews, including leading theologians, failed to recognize Him, and in the end utterly repudiated Him. How could such a mistake occur after God had given in the Old Testament so much detailed information about His coming? How could the picture so plainly painted by the prophets be misunderstood by so many? The answer must be that many of the people who read the Scriptures had their own conception of just what the Messiah would look like and what He would do. They read between the lines and made the coming Messiah fit the mold that conformed to their personal prejudices. Many reasoned that when the Messiah did come He would immediately take vengeance on all of the enemies of the Jewish nation. He would be a political figure. It was inconceivable to them that He would hesitate in ascending to the throne of David in Jerusalem. In other words, He had to conform to their preconceived understanding of Scripture or be dismissed as a fraud.
Jesus’ heart was broken as He witnessed the stubborn blindness and arrogance of His chosen people. His lament in Matthew 23:37 is well known:
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.”
2. The Second Advent
If the Scriptures could be so woefully and inadequately misinterpreted about the First Advent, and lead to such disastrous consequences, the same possibility seems plausible in regard to the Second Advent. Those who look forward so eagerly to the Second Coming should learn a lesson from the erroneous interpretations that led to the rejection of Jesus Christ as the long awaited Messiah. Red flags of warning should be heeded by those who unduly squeeze ideas out of messianic and prophetic passages, forcing Scripture to conform to their preconceived notions and theological systems.
Well meaning and dedicated Bible scholars have in recent years used the same Scriptures to arrive at divergent plans about God’s program at the time of the Second Advent. They cannot all be right. Obviously some are totally wrong. And this is not a reference to those who from time to time announce with sensational fanfare a definite date for the Messiah to reappear. Their date-setting is too infantile to deserve any mention in a serious discussion of the Second Coming. The fact remains, however, that not every student of the Bible agrees on the details of what Christ will do when He returns in glory. Like the scholars who were completely, though sincerely, wrong about the First Coming, many today are claiming to know things about God’s plans that apparently even He does not know. Proof of this is that it would be impossible for Christ to fulfill every Bible-based schedule that has been projected by one theologian or another. This is in light of the fact that few of them agree on basic details, not to mention minor considerations. How disappointing it will be for these scholars if Christ does not follow their charts when He comes again!
The confusion about the Second Advent concerns end-times subjects such as the millennium question. This is the belief that when Christ comes the second time there will be a utopian peace and holiness on this earth during which Christ will reign with His own in Jerusalem for a thousand years. The principal Biblical basis for this theory is found in Revelation 20:1-10. Volumes have been written about the many theories of the millennium. The three basic views are post-millennium, pre-millennium, and a-millennium. Also there are sub-divisions in some of these. There are classical dispensationalists, revised dispensationalists, progressive dispensationalists, historical premillennialists, as well as pre and mid-tribulationalists. They all agree that Christ will return, and that there will be a resurrection of the dead, and then final judgment. The details surrounding these theories are as varied as the interpreter. Theoretically, one’s position on the millennium has not been made a test of fellowship among Baptists. But some proponents on each position tend to be dogmatic about their views. Some would even have little or no fellowship with those who do not endorse their interpretation.
Dr. Albertus Pieters points out that “at least one of the sources of chiliasm (the Greek term for the Latin term millennialism) in the early church must be found in Jewish imagination, which originated the ‘Jewish fables’ against which the apostle Paul warns Titus (1:14)”. He points out that the language that Papias (died A.D. 155) used in describing the unusual productivity of the grape vines in the millennium is taken almost verbatim from the Apocalypses of Baruch and the Book of Enoch.
In 1883 John R. Graves, who was probably the first premillennialist in Southern Baptist life, wrote a book outlining seven dispensations in the Bible, four in the Old Testament and three in the New. They were the Adamic, the Antediluvian, the Patriarchal, the Legal or Jewish, the Gentile or Gospel, the Millennium, and the Eternal. This was the forerunner of the Charles Ingersoll Scofield system. But he called the seven dispensations: Innocency, Conscience, Human Government, Promise, Law, Grace, and Kingdom.
In more recent days the year 1982 was predicted to be a pivotal year in eschatology. Two respected astronomers, Dr. John Gribbin and Dr. Stephen Plagemann, announced in 1974 that there would be on March 10, 1982 an unusual alignment of our nine planets on the same side of the sun. This would have serious side effects for the earth. Based on this prediction some Bible scholars were quick to preach from their pulpits that this was nothing more than a confirmation of prophetic Scriptures announcing the end of the world. And some of them could even point to the very texts that proved their point of view. However, the designated day in 1982 came and went by like any other day in spite of the scientific data and the supposed Biblical proof-texts.
Other interpretations that have caused much confusion relate to the identification of the Anti-Christ mentioned in Revelation. Some thought it to be Nero or Domitian. Others were sure it was the papacy. Later in World War 2, it was Mussolini or Hitler. Then it was Joseph Stalin or Saddam Hussein. Some have even mentioned Henry Kissinger. And the list of guesses goes on and on. It is no wonder, therefore, that many people have become disillusioned with such inept and contradictory handling of God’s Holy Word.
Most Bible scholars would agree that there are some minor facets of the millennial question that are interesting but not too important. And some would even concur that there is just one really important emphasis in regard to the Second Coming. This major and primary emphasis concerns the fact that Jesus Christ will return some day and that every person must be adequately prepared to receive Him. This is the most important aspect of the triumphant return of the Lord Jesus Christ. Everything else is secondary. This is what deserves a dogmatic approach. This is that which must be made very clear. It is the basic information that is absolutely essential. To be adequately ready for the Second Coming every person must be a born again Christian. Many things can be said about the millennium based on the writings of Daniel, Zechariah, Ezekiel, or John, but the message that has priority is that which leads a lost sinner to place his/her faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus Himself told His inquisitive disciples:
“It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1: 7,8)
In this Scripture Jesus brushes aside incidental and minor questions concerning the Second Advent while keeping the focus on the priority of bearing witness to unsaved people. The Bible clearly teaches that Christ died for all sinners, making provision for the pardon that each one needs. And the Bible also makes it clear that there is a time limit for a sinner to accept this pardon. The decision must be made while the sinner is still alive and/or before the Lord returns. This is what the world needs to hear from Christian people. There must be no confusion on this point. The danger of a heavy emphasis on lesser aspects of the Second Coming is that these might distract attention away from the one essential aspect.
Only eternity will reveal the extent of the damage caused by eschatological bickering. Only God knows how many lost people have been disillusioned and disgusted by Bible-thumping orators who have called down anathemas on anyone who dares to differ with their millennial stance. While a lost world hungers for the Bread of Life, many theologians debate such questions as the identity of the beast and the false prophet, the timing of the rapture, the signs of the Second Coming, the significance of the seals, the trumpets, and the bowls, the identity of the two witnesses and the sun-clad woman, as well as other mysteries of the apocalypse of John. These endless discussions have become obsessions for too many students of the Bible and have left in their wake a broad segment of humanity to die without knowing how to get ready for the Coming of King Jesus.
The effects of the debates over the Second Coming may be even more disastrous than that which was evident in the rejection of Jesus as the Messiah in His First Advent. In the first century the Messiah was crucified on a cross. But in our day He is being artificially affixed to a chart. Those in the first century who thought that they were experts on prophecies about the Messiah, put Jesus to death on Calvary. And, unfortunately, it looks like that at the end of time the returning Lord will encounter people who think that they know all about the millennium but remain indifferent to or illiterate about the redemption story. The simple but powerful story of salvation is often overshadowed by the sensational details of the millennium. In the First Advent the misinterpretation of messianic prophecies led many to reject Jesus. In the Second Advent many will not be adequately prepared to receive the returning Lord because for one reason or another they have failed to hear and heed the Gospel message.
Through the years the devil has used many different means to distract sinful people from God’s plan of salvation. Most of these distractions have come from outside Christian circles. But the millennial question is a particularly effective smokescreen for Satan to use because it comes from within the Christian brotherhood. This by no means minimizes or belittles the study of prophecy. The Bible has much to say about this subject and we all owe a debt of gratitude to the great scholars who through the centuries have shed much light on the subject. It is wonderful to be informed about any and every part of the Biblical material. This writer confesses that he also has made an in-depth study of the various theories of the Millennium. The only danger is in emphasizing anything that will divert attention from the Bible’s principal message. This danger is compounded when the proponent makes dogmatic claims to infallibility.
“Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 29:30,31)
The average sinner can often be confused, bewildered, and even disgusted when he hears divergent views being espoused by Biblical scholars who base their arguments from the same Scriptures. Similar scholars made serious mistakes in interpretation about the First Advent and the same may be happening about the Second Advent. Therefore, every Christian should learn from the mistakes of the past so as not to repeat them in the future. Christ came the first time to redeem sinners and He will come again to receive those who believe in Him. Our role as Christians is simply to spread the Good News until He returns. Even so, come Lord Jesus!!
The Drama of Revelation Twenty: Revelation 20: 1-10
The first ten verses of the 20th chapter of Revelation give a very interesting story. It serves as the Biblical basis for the theories of the Millennium. The story is presented in three acts.
The first act is covered in the first three verses and shows an angel descending from heaven and binding with a chain the dragon (Satan) and shutting him up in the abyss for a thousand years.
“And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, the ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time.”
The second act is in verses 4 to 6 and takes place during the thousand years mentioned in the first act. It pictures the souls of the Christian martyrs who lived again and reigned with Christ.
“I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshipped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.”
The third act, in verses 7 to 10, shows the dragon escaping from the prison for a short while but finally being dominated along with his followers. The devil is then thrown into the lake of fire where he was to be tormented forever and ever.
“When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth – God and Magog – to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore. They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.”
1. What is the Title of This Drama?
What is the main thrust of this story? That will determine its title. And the answer to this question will also indicate a person’s millennial position. Before trying to answer this question a person should forget all previous opinions and read the verses again as if for the first time.
If the main thrust concerns the thousand years, then the title should be “The Millennium”. This is the title that pre and post millennialists would prefer.
On the other hand, if the main point concerns the dragon or Satan, then the title should be “The Dragon”. This is the position of the amillennialists.
It seems to this writer that the latter answer is the correct position. The story is not about time but about the tempter. Its emphasis is not on millenniums but on the obliteration of Satan. Therefore the drama is not about decades of time but about the defeat of the devil. At first he was put in prison. There he stayed for a long period of time. But he finally escaped and got together an army to fight against the people of God in the Holy City. However, fire descended from heaven destroying Satan’s army. Then, he was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone forever and ever.
So, the drama is about the downfall of Satan. In the first act he was partially dethroned but, in the third act, he suffered his second and final humiliation that put an end to all of his diabolical activities.
2. What is the Application of This Drama?
From what the New Testament reveals about Satan, when did he first suffer a defeat that could be considered as his first imprisonment? The Bible answers this question very well. Beginning with Adam and Eve, Satan trampled at will over the human race. That is, he did until he met the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus was a different human being. Jesus was tempted but he did not fall into Satan’s snares. In the years that Jesus lived on the earth He successfully resisted every effort to be controlled by Satan. And Jesus finally gave Satan a demoralizing defeat as He died on Calvary’s cross. Many Scriptures confirm this truth.
“Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out (expelled)”. (John 12:31)
“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy (break the power of) him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil.” (Hebrews 2:14)
“He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy (undo) the devil’s work.” (1st John 3:8)
The Bible clearly indicates that Satan was defeated and expelled from this world by the powerful redemptive work of Jesus. This thought agrees with what is said in Matthew 12:29.
“Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can rob his house”.
It was Jesus who entered the strong man’s (Satan’s) house and tied him up and robbed his house. In the preceding verses of Matthew 12, Jesus is accused of getting His power from Satan to heal the blind and dumb demoniac. (v.24). But Jesus pointed out to the Pharisees that the driving out of demons could not have been the work of Satan for he would not be so foolish as to destroy his own kingdom. (v.26). Rather the casting out of demons was an indication that the kingdom of God was now overcoming the kingdom of Satan. (v.28). The strong man (Satan) was already being bound and people were being freed from the power of evil. (v.29).
So it is logical to conclude that Jesus was the angel in the first act who came down from heaven and tied up the dragon and put him in a place that would curtail his activities of “deceiving the nations”. This Jesus did when He, as the Lamb of God, came to the earth to die vicariously for sinners on the cross.
But even after this marvelous victory, the presence of evil in the world was not totally eradicated. The seeds that had been sown so abundantly from the beginning of time continued to bear its evil fruit. Every generation had been and will be contaminated by its malefic influence. There must be, therefore, another event that will represent the last and final stage of Satan’s defeat. When will this be? The Bible indicates that it will be when Christ returns in glory at the end of time. He will then be the fire out of heaven that is spoken of in the third act. This will seal the doom of Satan and be the absolute end of his influence.
Yes, when Christ comes again He will finish His work of totally eliminating evil. This is also clearly the lesson taught in the Parable of the Tares in Matthew 13: 24-30; 36-43. In this parable Satan planted tares among the wheat that Jesus had planted. (v. 37) and then “Satan went away”. (v.25). This could be a definite reference to the first imprisonment in the first act. Yes, Satan went away but the crop of evil that he had sown continued to multiply year after year as weeds are prone to do. The servants in the Parable suggested to the owner that the weeds should be pulled up so as not to contaminate or hinder the growth of the wheat crop. But Jesus restrained them saying that the weeds would only be pulled up “in the time of the harvest, at the close of the age”. (v. 30, 40). And that this harvest work would be done by His angels. He further said that the tares would be bound in bundles by the angels (v.30) and burned in the furnace of fire. (v. 42). Thus again Jesus in this Parable predicts the ultimate fate of Satan and his evil empire. This prediction coincides with the drama of Chapter 20. Yes, evil will be an evitable fact of life for a time, but finally, Satan and his followers will be eternally destroyed.
It seems clear, therefore, that the first and second advents of Jesus Christ are the two decisive events in the downfall of Satan. At Calvary the Devil suffered a mortal wound, but his work that was already well under way would continue to exist. However, in the second triumphal return of Christ the complete eradication of the work of Satan will be successfully and permanently accomplished.
3. What is the Message of This Drama?
It is a message in figurative language. The whole book of Revelation was written in apocalyptic language with figures and symbols that represented certain individuals and ideas. For example, in this drama the angel is Jesus, but He is also the fire that descended from heaven. The dragon is obviously Satan himself. The lake of fire and brimstone is hell. Those who are seated on thrones in the second act are the saints who had not bowed down to the image of the emperor. And in the midst of these personalities the story uses phrases such as “the first resurrection” and the “second death” and “the thousand years”. What do these mean?
A. The First Resurrection
The “first resurrection” can very well be the new birth experience of those who put their faith in Christ. The Bible says that such people pass from death to life:
“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24)
“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.” (Ephesians 2:4, 5)
“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ.” (Colossians 2:13)
A lost sinner is dead (spiritually) in his sins. But, at the conversion experience, Christ makes the sinner come alive. From that moment on the sinner is a new person. (2nd Corinthians 5:17). The Greek word “new” means more than new in time. It is new in kind. The old life has been replaced with something entirely different and new. The new Christian has a resurrection experience. He is no longer dead spiritually but is alive spiritually. This is the Christian’s “first resurrection”. But, after he is dead physically, then he will have a second resurrection, the resurrection of his body.
B. The Second Death
This phrase “the second death” most likely refers to eternal death, that is, eternal separation from God. The “first” death would be the physical death of the body. This is a common experience for all human beings, the separation of a person from earthly life. But the “second death” would not apply to Christians as verse 6 confirms. This “second death” has no power over them since they have the privilege of reigning with Christ.
C. The Thousand Years
The term “a thousand years” appears six times in these ten verses of the drama of chapter twenty. It translates the Greek word “chilioi etos”. The Latin equivalent is “mille anni”. In these ten verses, therefore, is found the basis for the doctrine of Chiliasm or millennialism. Volumes have been written about the various interpretations of the “thousand years”. Those who think that Christ will return after the millennium are known as post-millennialists. Those who believe that Christ will come before the millennium are known as pre-millennialists. Each of these two positions consider the millennium as a literal period of a thousand years. But those who believe that the millennium is not a literal thousand years are known as a-millennialists. The last two are the most prevalent interpretations today. Also there are sub-divisions in some of the theories regarding certain details
This phrase "the thousand years" is figurative language and not to be taken literally. There is no good reason for picking out this one phrase for a literal interpretation when most of the other symbols of these ten verses are translated figuratively. The phrase, "the thousand years", figuratively represents the period of time between the two events related to Satan’s downfall. It is the period between Satan's first imprisonment and his final destruction. It is the time between the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ and His triumphant return at the end of the ages. Or to put it another way, it is the period of the Church in which we now live. Two thousand years have passed and still our Lord is delaying His Second Coming. But, He will return one day to complete His eradication of Satan's evil empire.
Those who take the a-millennium position do not deny a millennium. They just do not believe that it is a literal period of exactly one thousand years. For them, the phrase describes the long, indefinite period between the first and second appearances of Christ. Or more precisely, the period between the crucifixion and the Second Coming. Jesus’ redemptive work on the cross broke the power of slavery to sin. And at His Second Coming all of God’s enemies, including Satan, will be doomed forever to eternal punishment.
The message of the drama, therefore, is just another way of expressing the Good News of God’s eternal plan for mankind. In other words this is the same overall message of the entire Book of Revelation. God's will for the universe will prevail in spite of all opposition! His plan was formulated before the foundation of the world. It was first recorded in the "protevangelium” of Genesis 3:15 where the Lord said to the serpent: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”
When our Lord came to the earth in the form of a human being, He rejected the idea of being a “political” Messiah. He preferred to be “the Lamb of God who takes and bears away the sin of the world”. (John 1:29). His priority was to redeem lost humanity from its bondage to Satan. To accomplish this He had to break Satan’s hold on people, and to give human beings the option of serving Him. Jesus' goal was gloriously realized when He died on the cross and subsequently rose from the grave. (1st John 3:8). Now, seated at the right hand of God, He intercedes for sinners so that they might accept His mercy and forgiveness. And, some wonderful day, when the time is just right, He will come back to reign forever with His followers. He will also bring eternal defeat to the Devil and his followers.
The foregoing, therefore, is my best effort to interpret this rather difficult passage. I am satisfied with the results, but I am not critical of those who might reach different conclusions about the millennium. The important thing to me is not my position on the millennium, but rather that my Lord has broken Satan’s strangle hold on humanity. This is emphasized in many other place in the Bible and repeated here in this drama. Satan has been defeated! This means that I and other sinners are free to live out of the reach of Satan’s filthy paws. Most Bible scholars would agree with me on this even though they might have different opinions on the millennium. The hope and desire of every Christian is only that many others might experience equal peace and joy in the grace and forgiveness of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
God’s Covenant with Abraham: Genesis 12: 2 - 3
What in the world is God doing? He has done and continues to do millions of things. In the beginning God created our world. Then, as the Good Shepherd, God provided everything that His people might need: food, protection, peace of mind, guidance, encouragement, victory over enemies, etc. Finally as the Eternal King of Kings He has promised to receive His people in heaven and reign with them forever and ever. This latter truth is embodied in the covenant of grace that God made with Abram who is later called Abraham. This covenant is His greatest and most important involvement in every generation of the affairs of mankind because it represents God's eternal plan to redeem His people.
It has been God’s master plan through the ages to accomplish His work in this world through human instrumentality. Soon after the creation of Adam and Eve, God gave them the responsibility for the environment in which they lived. (Genesis 1:28). Then, as the population increased, people became increasingly corrupt until it grieved God that He had made them. (Genesis 6:5-7). Only Noah found favor in His eyes. After the great flood that destroyed all living creatures except Noah and his family, God sought out a man to help Him with the spiritual welfare of the human race. The man chosen was Abram, later called Abraham. God made a promise to this man saying:
“I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you: I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:2,3).
God’s covenant with Abraham was an everlasting covenant that extended to the patriarch’s descendants in future generations. (Genesis 17:7, 8). God would keep this promise, as He always does (Titus 1:2), but according to His rules. It is vital to remember that God’s promises are always conditional (Genesis 17:9-14: Deuteronomy 28:58-63; 29:24-28), and if these conditions are not clearly understood and fulfilled, then some might blame God for reneging on a promise and question His faithfulness. But God is trustworthy and well aware of the fine print of His covenants and He cannot be held responsible for human rebellion or misunderstandings or misinterpretations.
1. The Relation to other Covenants
As God involved Himself with worldly matters He made several covenants with humans. One of them was the covenant with Noah. (Genesis 9). In this covenant God promised to never again destroy all life on earth with a flood. The sign of this covenant was the rainbow. It was a covenant related to the physical life of living creatures. In contrast, the covenant with Abraham was related to the spiritual life of human beings. The terms of this covenant of grace were that Abraham and his descendants would be blessed by God and that He would make them a blessing to the world. The sign of this covenant was circumcision. (Genesis 17:11). It had as one of its rewards the possession of the land of Canaan. (Genesis 15:18). This covenant was confirmed to Isaac (Genesis 26:23; 35:10 -15)) and to Jacob (Genesis 28:13; Leviticus 26:42). It was supplemented 430 years later with the Mosaic covenant which was related to laws and rituals involved in the worship of God. (Galatians 3:17 - 20). The last covenant, which is called the New Covenant, is a continuation of the Abrahamic covenant. Its culmination was in the coming of the Messiah and the establishment by Him of His church. (Hebrews 1: 1- 3). These last three covenants were all a part of God's master plan that he had made before the foundation of the world. The Abrahamic, the Mosaic, and the New Covenant are linked together as God's gracious plan of grace to draw sinful humanity back to Himself.
2. The Heirs of the Covenant with Abraham
A. Not All But Just Some
The logical interpretation of God’s promise to Abraham is that ALL of the patriarch’s physical descendants would automatically be heirs of the covenant. This is how the average person would read the words of the promise. ANY and ALL of Abraham's physical descendants would be the legal heirs of the covenant. But it is quickly apparent that God was thinking otherwise. Beginning with His initial instructions soon after the covenant was made, it became very clear that only SOME of the natural descendants of Abraham would be included in the covenant. The Biblical text states that God immediately eliminated Ishmael as an heir. Some of Abraham's posterity would be heirs of the promised blessing but not everyone. This is verified by a careful examination of what God said about Ishmael and Isaac. (Genesis 21:12; 17:19-21; Romans 9:7). This startling but important truth is also seen as God spoke about Esau and Jacob (Genesis 25:3; 26:35; 35: 10-15) as well as about Jacob's sons and grandsons. (Genesis 48:17 -20); 49:10). These Scriptures set the tone for what God really meant when He spoke about the descendants of Abraham.
So from the beginning of the covenant God clearly revealed that there would be an Israel within Israel. The apostle Paul confirms this truth in Romans 9:6-8. In the covenant God promised to bless Abraham's descendants and make them a blessing to everyone on earth. He also promised to bless those who bless the descendants of Abraham and curse those who do not. It is also true that God promised the land of Canaan to Abraham's descendants. But, just who were these descendants? Certainly not ALL of Abraham’s physical descendants were to be children and heirs of this covenant. The Scriptures show that God intended from the beginning to selectively choose those who would be Abraham's descendants, and, subsequently, heirs of the covenant, and owners of Canaan. This truth about the terms of the Abrahamic covenant may have been overlooked or misunderstood by some but God attempted to make it very clear. By His actions and with His authority God defined the descendants of Abraham. This was His sovereign prerogative, even though it might appear arbitrary to some. Isaiah 55:9 expresses the correct perspective on God’s actions: “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
B. Not Just Flesh But Faith
It is quite evident from the historical records in Genesis that God never intended for ALL of the physical heirs of Abraham to be heirs of the promises in the covenant. Therefore, there is only one logical conclusion and it is very important. God must have intended that the descendants of Abraham should be his spiritual descendants rather than merely physical posterity. God Himself specifically eliminated a substantial part of Abraham's physical offspring. Therefore, since God always keeps His promises, He must have had in mind those who were related to Abraham by faith and not just by flesh. The spiritual connection to Abraham (as opposed to a mere physical connection) is amply endorsed in many places in the New Testament as well as the citations mentioned in the Old Testament.
This truth is confirmed in the Romans 2:28-29. Paul teaches that God does not measure people, either Jew or Gentile, by outward ceremonies, but rather by looking into the heart. Circumcision was "the sign of the covenant" between God and Abraham (Genesis 17:11). But Paul is saying that true circumcision was not outward and physical but was rather inward of the heart. This idea has confirmation in the Old Testament. Both Moses and Jeremiah spoke about circumcision of the heart. (Deuteronomy 10:16; 30:6; Jeremiah 4:4). The apostle Paul believed that the true descendants of Abraham were only those with spiritual ties to the patriarch. They were those who in their hearts believed in God.
Therefore, faith is the indispensable characteristic of a descendant of Abraham, rather than circumcision or family ancestry. The real children of Abraham and heirs of the promise are only those who imitate his unwavering faith in God. This came to include both the uncircumcised as well as the circumcised. (Romans 4:10-12). Those who practice Abraham's kind of faith become the true spiritual heirs of the covenant, and the true recipients of its promises. Consequently, those who bless such spiritual descendants will be blessed while a curse remains on those who do not. Likewise, only the spiritual descendants of Abraham are the legal heirs to the land of Canaan.
C. Not Many But Just One
Perhaps the clearest interpretations in the New Testament about Abraham's descendants is found in Galatians 3:16:
"Now the promises were made to Abraham and his descendant. It does not say, 'and to your descendants,' in the plural, but in the singular, 'and to your descendant,' that is, Christ."
God gave His promise to Abraham and his descendants. The word for descendants in Genesis is the singular word “seed” and, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul saw in the singular form of this word a reference to Christ. Paul’s point was to affirm that Abraham’s most prestigious descendant was the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, Christ is the true Heir of the promises made to Abraham. Subsequently, those who become related to Christ by faith are “in Christ,” and in that relationship both Jews and Gentiles can inherit the blessings of God that were promised to Abraham. (Ephesians 2:11-22). The promised blessings of God therefore must refer to spiritual redemption, the forgiveness of sin. That is surely God's highest blessing and the one that He desired to bestow on all sinners. But, the Bible teaches that such a blessing only comes through Christ, the Messiah. (Acts 4:12; John 8:24). There is no other way to be saved. When God promised to bless Abraham, it must have been through spiritual reconciliation. And it was through Christ that God intended to bring about this blessing of spiritual redemption.
The only way to receive God's blessings is through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ who died on Calvary's cross. The sacrifice of the “Lamb of God” opened the door to the divine plan of redemption. (John 1:29). It was necessary that the Just should die for the unjust. (1st Peter 3:18). Therefore, God’s plan to bless the world through divine pardon and eternal life has kept moving along right on course. And it is still secure in the good and capable hands of the elect Israel. The elect Israel was and would continue to be a "chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession." (1st Peter 2:9). This citation of Peter was a direct reference to the body of Christ, the church. Peter applied to the church the terminology that had traditionally been applied only to the Jews. Under spiritual inspiration Peter was boldly declaring that the church was God’s chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people. And as such, this elect Israel was to be a blessing to the world, proclaiming the excellencies of Him who calls people out of darkness into His marvelous light.
The elect Israel remains alive and well today. Through the centuries the Lord has carefully selected Abraham’s descendants.. These choices have all been characterized by their faith and not by circumcision or any other physical distinction. This brief and hurried look at Biblical history proves that God never intended for the true Israel to be made up of just those people with Abrahamic blood in their veins. The true Israel certainly did include some of Abraham’s physical descendants but was not limited to them. For reasons far beyond any human capacity to understand, God’s election of the descendants of Abraham knew no distinction of race, gender, or ethnic background. God’s kingdom was too important to Him to be entrusted to unworthy individuals, no matter who they were, or from whom descended. And while there is no way to fully understand His choices, there is no doubt that God made the best selections.
3. The Promises of the Covenant with Abraham
A. Fulfilled in the New not the Old
The Greek word “diatheke” is translated into English as “covenant” or “testament”. Thus the Old Testament is the Old Covenant and the New Testament is the New Covenant. The word is used thirty-three times in the New Testament. Twenty times it is translated as “covenant” and thirteen times as “testament”. When “diatheke” is used it signifies that God on His own terms is establishing a covenant for mankind to keep. The recipients do not have any basis on which to bargain with the Creator and argue about the terms of the covenant. In fact, humans did not even exist when God’s covenant of grace was made before the foundation of the world. Therefore, they can only accept or reject the offer that God makes. The perfect example of such a covenant is in fact, a will. One person makes the will, and the heirs can only accept or refuse the inheritance as it is offered. That is why our relationship to God is described by the word “diatheke", that is, a testament, covenant, or will. At the inauguration of the Lord’s Supper Christ said: “This cup is the new covenant (testament) in my blood.” (Luke 22:20). The word “cup” is used in a figurative way to refer to the sufferings of Christ. (Matthew 20: 22, 23; 26:39, etc.) His death on the cross gave all sinners free access to God’s plan of eternal redemption. "But now, once and for all, Christ has come to us at the end of the old order to put an end to sin by His sacrifice." (Hebrews 9:26b). The new covenant was consummated, or brought to fulfillment, in Christ's death.
The old order or covenant has been replaced with the coming of the Messiah. His appointed role in God's eternal plan of redemption was to inaugurate a New Covenant. The writer of Hebrews says that in this final age God has spoken to us in His Son. (1:2). The inspired writer proclaims Christ’s superiority in His person and in His ministry over all who preceded Him. He is the guarantee of a covenant that is better than the old one. (7:22). Jesus is the mediator of that covenant (8:6; 9:15; 12:24). This New Covenant was predicted by the prophet Jeremiah and is quoted in its entirety in Hebrews 8:8-12. This is the longest quotation of an Old Testament text in the New Testament. The inspired author of Hebrews is hereby giving the New Testament clarification and explanation of the blessings that God had planned for His people and promised to them in previous covenants.
In making a New Covenant God pronounced the first one old and obsolete, and no longer valid. The old covenant was out of date and the time had come for it to be discarded. (Hebrews 8:13). The old covenant was great but the new was much greater. The old was earthly and material, the new was heavenly and spiritual. The old used types, the new reveals the antitypes. Chapter nine of Hebrews points out that the old covenant prescribed ceremonial observances based on the blood of slain animals, while the New Covenant was based on Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross. The result of the two is like the difference between night and day. " How much more certainly shall the blood of Christ who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself as an unblemished sacrifice, purify our conscience from a lifeless formality and fit us for the service of the Living God." (9:14) The Old Testament sacrifices prescribed in the Mosaic system only brought ceremonial cleansing and never reached the conscience or heart of the sinner. So, all Jewish ceremonies were but “dead works” in comparison to a living relationship with Christ under the New Covenant.
This New Covenant was "Good News" for mankind. It was such a revolutionary concept that a special group had to be organized and trained to proclaim its earthshaking truth. For this Jesus established His church. It was now to be the channel through which God could reach out to shower His blessings on the world. The church's task was glorious but not easy. She has always carried out her assignment in a hostile environment. But she has the promise of Christ’s presence as she faithfully carries out her task. (Matthew 28:20). The church also is assured that she is built on a solid foundation, and that not even "the gates of Hades shall overpower her." (Matthew 16:18). Those who denounce and curse her will never prevail because such animosity is actually against God Himself. The church is assured that she will be triumphant in spite of all opposition. God has promised to see to that. This then is how the New Covenant reinterprets the promised blessings and curses spoken of in the covenant with Abraham.
God did make a promise to Abraham in these words: "I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse." (Genesis 12:3). The study thus far has shown that God’s promise was to Abraham and certain selected ones of his descendants. The heirs would be spiritual rather than just physical descendants of Abraham. This ultimately meant that the heir would be Jesus Christ, the Messiah, and His church that was composed of the Jews and Gentiles who had faith in Him. The “blessings” and the “curses” therefore, would apply under the New Covenant to the church, the body of Christ. God wants to bless the world and He has chosen certain messengers to reveal just how such divine blessings can be received. Those who accept the message of these chosen servants (the believers in the Church) will be blessed because they show deference to God. But those who scornfully reject their message will be cursed because they show defiance of God.
Most Jews of today are ecstatic with the political prestige that has been given to them by the United Nations. They firmly believe that God used this world organization to fulfill the promise that He made to Abraham. But many do not recognize that God now operates under a New Covenant, and that the promised Messiah has already come. The Jews who reject the Messiah today are committing themselves to an outdated covenant that has now been superceded by a much better one. They are like derelicts on an abandoned island who stand watching the ship of God’s eternal covenant flow on by them. Hopefully, many of them will learn this truth before it is too late. They need only to embrace the Lord Jesus as the Messiah who came and died for them on Calvary’s cross almost two thousand years ago. With their acceptance of Jesus as their Lord and Master, they will become a part of the elect Israel, the true and spiritual Israel. They will become by faith the true spiritual descendants of Abraham, inheriting all of the glorious promises of the New Covenant.
B. Fulfilled in Substance not Shadows
In the New Covenant a promise of eternal life in Heaven replaces the possession of a piece of land located on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Canaan was only the shadow or figure or illustration of better things to come. Heaven is the substance, the real reward and incentive for God's elected people. It is the reality of the future for God’s people. A type or pattern is a divinely purposed illustration of some truth. It may be a person (Adam is a figure or type of Christ according to Romans 5:14c), an event, a thing, an institution, or a ceremony. Besides the land of Canaan, there are other types in the Old Covenant, such as the law, the tabernacle, circumcision, the sacrificial system of the Temple, etc. (Hebrews 9: 23,24). They all prefigured the substance of God’s plan that is revealed in the New Covenant. At the time of the first covenant, the land of Canaan was a worthy incentive. But it is nothing in comparison with the more glorious New Jerusalem, "coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband." (Revelation 21: 2). Jesus said to the Samaritan woman: "Believe me, woman, the time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem." (John 4:21). This affirmation of Jesus would be hard to explain if such a thing as the literal return of all Jews to Jerusalem, as a world center for Christ’s reign after His Second Coming, was something to be hoped for.
Many present-day Jews are captivated by the prospect of reigning with the Messiah in the city of Jerusalem. This is doubtless due to the very prominent place that this city has had in Jewish history. But their father Abraham seemed to have had his eyes fixed on something beyond an earthly city. We read in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews that "he made his temporary home in the land that God had promised him", but that, "he was confidently looking forward to that city with the solid foundations, whose architect and builder is God." (vv. 9,10). The other patriarchs and heroes of the faith in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews confessed that they were "strangers and pilgrims" on this earth, and that the permanent country that they sought was better than anything on this earth due to its being a heavenly country. Their testimony affirmed that the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God, would be far superior to the earthly Jerusalem. (vv.13-16).
One of the blessings that God promised Abraham and his descendants was the land of Canaan, known also as Palestine and the Promised Land. (Genesis 12: 7; 15:18-21). Present-day Jews have occupied this land since 1948. It is now their official homeland after many centuries of being scattered all over the earth. And it is common for many to affirm today that God promised Palestine to the Jews as an everlasting possession. But did He? It is an indisputable fact that God made such a promise to Abraham and his descendants after him. It is also an indisputable fact that God handpicked the descendants of Abraham who were to inherit the promise. And the basis for their being chosen was on a spiritual level and not on a physical level. God, exercising His sovereign prerogative, selected an Israel within Israel on the spiritual level. God chose Abraham's descendants on the basis of faith and not on the basis of human flesh. And, as has been shown in this study, the principle descendant of Abraham was the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. Also the inspired Bible makes it clear that those who follow Christ by faith are directly linked back to Abraham. They are the heirs of the promises made to him, whether Jew or Gentile. Therefore, the Church, the Body of Christ, composed of Jewish and Gentile believers, would really have more divine right to Palestine today than the unbelieving Jewish political leaders who now rule the land. Naturally, the Church has no political interest in Palestine or any other piece of worldly real estate. Her eyes are fixed on something more precious.
Those who continue to rely on the Bible as their divine deed of ownership to the Holy Land should remember that the promise of the land was just a part of the covenant that God made with Abraham. The covenant was a package deal. The land was an incentive or reward for faithfully following the Lord God. Through the years history records the spiritual failures of Israel, especially the rejection by many of the Messiah. It also makes clear that God gave Israel chance after chance to repent and be His messengers to the world. Unfortunately, their repeated rebellion exhausted the patience of God. With the arrival of the Messiah came the New Covenant. According to this New Covenant repentant sinners will be forgiven and purified in the sacrificial blood of the Messiah. Jesus was the Lamb of God “Who takes away the sins of the world.” (John 1:29)
This research has attempted to trace the descendants of the covenant of grace with Abraham from its inception to its fulfillment in Heaven. Without a doubt this covenant of grace was God's crowning involvement with mankind. No attempt has been made to use all of the material available, but just enough of the inspired Biblical text to give the general direction of the Covenant authorized by the Lord God Himself.
The study assumes that God knew exactly what He was doing as He spoke to Abraham. He saw His plan from beginning to end even before He spoke with Abraham. Nothing that took place later has done anything to nullify or change God's master plan. Some scholars believe that the Jewish rejection of Christ took God by surprise. And because of this the prophetic clock stopped and would not start again until the Second Coming of Christ. But this theory is an insult to the omniscience of God. There are no surprises for God. From before the foundation of the world God knew everything that would take place in His world. He chose people such as Abraham and his descendants to help Him carry out His eternal plan.
Many Scriptures in the Old and New Testaments reveal that God has selected or handpicked the descendants of Abraham. This is clearly His sovereign prerogative. Thus God has disclosed in the Holy Bible the authentic clue as to those whom He considers to be the true descendants of Abraham and, consequently, heirs to the promises in His covenant of grace. Abundant and clear evidence in the Bible points to the fact that the descendants were selected on a spiritual or inward basis rather than on just a physical or outward basis. This, therefore, is the magic key that must be used to correctly unlock the interpretation of the long history of God’s involvement with the human race through His covenants. God used the Jewish race in a very prominent way in His covenant with Abraham but not exclusively. In His eternal plan of grace He did not restrict Himself to any one race, but indiscriminately chose those from among mankind who would be the most suited to accomplish His spiritual purposes. His plan continues to the present day, right on schedule and strictly follows the blueprint established by the Sovereign Lord of the Universe from before the foundation of the world!
Some have misinterpreted God's efforts to involve Himself in the world and especially in regards to the spiritual welfare of mankind. This does not nullify the fact that God took the initiative in the redemption of fallen humanity. Its success depended on His active participation for otherwise it could not have been done. The spiritual recovery of sinners was so vitally essential in God's eternal plans for mankind that He carefully picked Abraham to be His representative to the world. And then, through him and certain ones of his descendants, God's redemptive plan has been slowly but surely implemented. So, of all the ways that God has involved Himself with the human race, this covenant with Abraham has got to be the greatest of all. It is no wonder then that He selected certain people, beginning with Abraham, for this all-important demonstration of His love and grace. That is why the saints of all ages will spend eternity around His throne saying: "Holy. holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come." (Revelation 4:8)
"And they were singing the song of Moses, the slave of God, and the song of the Lamb: Great and wonderful are your works, Lord God, Almighty One; upright and true your ways, O King Eternal. Who will not fear and glorify your name, O Lord? For you alone are holy, all the nations will come and worship you, because the justice of your sentences has now been shown." (Revelation 15: 3, 4)
The Author has expanded the
last chapter of What in
the World Is God Doing? under the title of "Abraham's
Family Tree of Faith." It analyses the covenant from Genesis to Revelation
showing that God's eternal plan was to establish His Kingdom out of the kingdoms
of this world.