Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Whose Son Is He?

Reading: Luke 1—2   
Charles Dickens captured the minds of many instantly with the suspenseful opening to his renown work: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...”.1 The paragraph continues with stark contrasts of the human condition, describing the era just prior to the French Revolution. These words may well capture the essence of the beginning of Luke's Gospel. Hopes ran high; the hopeful were oppressed and beaten down. The time was at hand; yet the time couldn't seem further away. The promises of God to send a messiah, a deliverer, a son-to-be-king, have been hanging in the air like ripe fruit on a tree, but for so long that it may well seem like all the fruit has fallen to the ground and the season of hope is past.
It begins, “In the time of Herod king of Judea...” (Luke 1:5). Herod was king of Judea, but he was not of the house and line of David. He was certainly not the messiah. In fact, the messiah would compete for his throne. Herod stood in opposition to the messiah, the coming King of Israel, the promised son-to-be-king of Isaiah's prophecies. Additionally, Herod was merely a puppet king under the oppressive Roman government. Hopes ran high as the time was drawing near (Daniel 9:25); yet hopes were being pummeled through taxation, oppression, and poverty.
Into this scene Elizabeth and Zechariah are given a son. Like Sarah or Hannah before her, Elizabeth was barren. And both she and her husband “were both well along in years.” (Luke 1:6-7) Their prayers are heard and they are granted a son who will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. Israel has not had a prophet like this for about 400 years. John is to bring back to the Lord the people of Israel as was foretold. He would indeed be the forerunner to the messiah.
Then God sends the angel Gabriel, the same angel that told Daniel about the time when the Messiah would come, “to a virgin pledged to be married....The virgin's name was Mary.” He explained to Mary that she would have a child, which raised no small question,
How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin.” (Luke 1:34)
But the word virgin is not here. Lest we try to redefine the word virgin to mean something other than it does, the words of Mary here define for us what it means. Literally, it could be translated, “since I a man I do not know.” Now she was engaged, so she knew a man in the sense that we use that word. However, this is in the same sense that “Adam knew his wife Eve and she conceived...” (Genesis 4:1). In other words, how can this happen since Mary had never had sexual relations with a man. Fair question. And she receives a fair answer (Luke 1:35-37).
The Lord is telling us something. This is the son-to-be-king that Isaiah promised (Isaiah 7:14; 9:6-7; 11:1-4; 16:5; 32:1). When Isaiah prophesied this virgin born king, all we knew about the timing was that it would be in the future... before the child is grown, Assyria will be laid waste (Isaiah 7:16). That placed its fulfillment at least six decades future from Isaiah 7. By Luke 1, we are long past the minimum requirement! For more on Isaiah's prophecy I did a sermon on Isaiah's prophecy titled, Immanuel Means Trust.
We are also told that Joseph is “a descendant of David.” (Luke 1:27) This is important because the messiah king would reign on David's throne, and come from the stump of Jesse (David's father). Again this is emphasized because of the census, that Joseph “belonged to the house and line of David.” (Luke 2:4) He was born in Bethlehem, “the town of David” (Luke 2:11). But is this child born the son of David?
He was born of a virgin in order that He could be called the Son of God (Luke 1:35). By the time we get to the end of the birth / childhood scenes of Jesus this point is raised again. Jesus goes to the temple and stays there. Seemingly puzzled that his parents wouldn't know where to find Him, he asks, “Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?” He wasn't in the palace; He was in the temple. “But they did not understand what He was saying to them.” (Luke 2:49-50) Do we understand?
It was indeed going to be the best of times and the worst of times, as Jesus would “cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.” (Luke 2:34-35) He was the coming king, but not the kind that many were hoping for. He is the king of Israel, but not the kind of king Israel wanted (1 Samuel 8:7, 20; John 19:15). He is the very king Israel rejected because they could not see Him. Now He will come in flesh, and they will see Him, yet still reject Him.
When we come face to face with the fact of Jesus Christ we too face the best of times and the worst of times... we will either fall or rise. Do you submit to this King?
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,
1Opening words to The Tale of Two Cities, 1859.  

Friday, March 25, 2011

Did Joseph Wait in Vain?

Reading: Mark 15—16   
Joseph of Arimathea is described as one “who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God...” (Mark 15:43). Though he had been afraid to profess his allegiance to Jesus, now at his death, he boldly goes to Pilate to ask for his body. Seems ironic. But there is an even bigger irony in play here: He has been waiting for the kingdom of God, and now he is given the dead body of the King to bury. Had he waited in vain? Was he just another dreamer as his namesake?
Joseph was from Arimathea, which is apparently the same town Samuel was born. (Ramah in Hebrew, but in the Greek Old Testament called Arimathea.) Samuel was the prophet who led Israel as the last judge under the Kingship of Yahweh. Israel rejected God as King under his rule, and preferred to have a visible king like the nations around them. Samuel anointed Saul, and then when Saul rejected God's rule over his own life, David was chosen. Since David, Israel had been waiting for the one who would come and reign over the kingdom... the one who would be the restoration of Yahweh's rule over His people. We looked in depth at this in the message, “A New Kind of King and Kingdom”.
Just Solomon had been put on David's mule and rode to the spring outside Jerusalem, and then had ascended the throne, this promised King would be expected to do a similar act (Zephaniah 9:9). Jesus, in fact, rode into Jerusalem as prophesied with people shouting, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David.” Following this ride, He ascended the His throne, in His palace, at least as far as the earthly picture of it goes, when He went to the temple and began to teach the people (Mark 11:4-11).
At His trial this theme is central. Mark 15 records the trial of Jesus. Note the central theme in these verses:
Are you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate. “Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. (Mark 15:2)
Here, in the only words Jesus speaks at the trial, He acknowledges the central issue: He is the King of the Jews. He is the one they were waiting for. Yet, the Jews reject their king once again, shouting, “Crucify him!”
8The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did. 9“Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate...
12What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked them. 13Crucify him!” they shouted. (Mark 15:8-9, 12-13)
Then when the Roman soldiers flog Jesus, they mock him for being king. Note each element of their mockery centers around this point.
16The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. 17They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. 18And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” 19Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. (Mark 15:16-19)
This Praetorium is wherever the imperial official, Pilate, is staying. In Jerusalem it was either one of Herod's palace's when Pilate was there, or more likely the former palace of the Hasmonean Dynasty (the Kingdom which had successfully rid Israel of Gentile rulers under Simon Maccabeus). This scene is the complete rejection of Christ as King by the Roman soldiers.
Then as Jesus is crucified, the charge posted against Him is, “The King of the Jews” (Mark 15:26). Then mockery reaches its climactic irony in the mouths of the priests and teachers of the law:
In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can't save himself! Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” (Mark 15:31-32)
Let this Christ (meaning the one anointed king), the King of Israel, come down that we may see and believe. And He dies. Then Joseph, the one waiting for the kingdom is given the body of Jesus. Is this cruel irony? Is this a mockery of Joseph as a dreamer, and all who were awaiting the coming King? Maybe. Or, maybe not.
Joseph, once fearful to admit his faith, now boldly goes to the Roman procurator and asks for Jesus' body at the very time when the disciples had just fled. Joseph seemed to see something that the chief priests and teachers of the law had missed. Mark's Gospel drives home the point that those who come under His reign will come into it by faith, not sight. Mark ends with an angel telling us about the resurrection, with three fearful woman trembling and bewildered, fleeing the tomb. But they had an instruction and a promise.
But go, tell his disciples and Peter, “He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” (Mark 16:7)
They were to go tell his disciples that they would see Jesus just as He promised. And we, as disciples, are left with the last words of this Gospel. The implication is that we have the same instruction and promise. Go tell, and you will see Him just as He promised. But like Joseph, we only do that when we see by faith that the Crucified One is indeed the One they were waiting for.1
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

1The earliest manuscripts show that Mark ends at 16:8. A perfect ending for a Gospel which has emphasized faith—faith which has to do with what we see about Jesus. (For more on Mark and Faith read, Seeing is Believing After All.)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Pray or Fight?

Reading: Exodus 14-17   
Exodus 14 begins with Israel, having left Egypt, backed into a corner against the Red Sea (Exodus 14:1-3). So Pharaoh and his armies approach the Israelites. The Israelites begin to accuse Moses of being in league with Pharaoh to commit genocide: bringing them to this place because they needed a mass grave (Exodus 14:10-12). Meanwhile, Moses still seems to be working out exactly how it would be that the Lord would work in delivering them.
Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. 14The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.  15Then the LORD said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on.  16Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground.” (Exodus 14:13-16)
Moses seemed to think that God would work while they stood still. So the Lord says, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell them to get moving.” Now, if that were the end of the story, we might think it was all up to them. However, as they obey and “move on,” the Lord does indeed work by 1) dividing the sea; 2) causing the Egyptians to pursue them into the sea; 3) guarding them from the rear as they moved forward; and 4) he threw them into a panic and caused the wheels of their chariots to fall off as He fought against them (Exodus 14:17, 19-22, 25).”
Moses was correct to think, “the Lord will fight for you.” He did indeed. He was incorrect to think, “You need only to be still.” There may be times when being still is just the right posture, but often times we are called to obey and act as we trust the Lord to work.
In chapter 17, with Israel now on the other side of the Red Sea, we find the Amalekites coming out to attack the Israelites. This time I think we get a clearer picture of how God would work on their behalf. Joshua takes the army out to meet the Amalekites, while Moses goes to the top of the mountain lifting up his hands on their behalf. “As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning.” (Exodus 17:9-11) They were fighting, but it was supported by prayer.
Moses built an altar and called it The LORD is my Banner.   16He said, “For hands were lifted up to the throne of the LORD....” (Exodus 17:15-16)
This idea of a “banner” is a picture of the Lord going before them, leading them. This is vitally connected to hands being lifted up to the throne of God. Paul captures this story in a line in 1 Timothy 2:8, “I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing.” It is not just for Moses to pray, or for the pastors to pray, it is for all of us everywhere to pray. And as we pray, the Lord goes before us — or to say it another way, we will be led by the Spirit as we engage the world with the Gospel.
Christ has come and reigns as King in the Kingdom. Our calling on him in prayer, our lifting holy hands in prayer, as it were, as a dependence up on Him for the Spirit's power gets to the very heart of His rule over us that Israel rejected when they asked for a king. They didn't want the Lord, the invisible God, to go before them, they wanted a physical earthly power they could trust in (1 Samuel 8:20). Why? Because they didn't trust.
What do we trust in? One way to answer that question is to ask how we are doing in applying 1 Timothy 2:8 and Exodus 17:15-16. Our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual forces (Ephesians 6:12). It is absolutely vital that we let the Lord fight those battles, so we can love our neighbor here on earth, and win the battles. We love our neighbor, we are to be patient and kind, gentle and compassionate, and He fights the battles leading us in triumph as we lay down our lives for others. If we don't pray, we will likely end up fighting more often than not, as we will be trusting in the flesh.  For more on the topic of prayer and love, and how loving our neighbor is our battle see Fight! You Have an Inheritance to Take.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Monday, March 21, 2011

Why should I fear when evil days come?

Reading: Psalm 49   
This psalm begins much like our text yesterday morning in Isaiah 34 (see Isaiah 34:1). The world is being called together to consider something. The psalmist informs us that he is going to expound a riddle which begins with the question, “Why should I fear when evil days come, when wicked deceivers surround me—those who trust in their wealth and boast of their great riches?” (Psalm 49:5-6) This is a rhetorical question; the answer is an assumed, “I shouldn't.” But the reasons may surprise you.
I might expect an answer something like, “Because God is going to stop them from harming you.” Or, “Because God will deliver you supernaturally and you will not experience suffering.” But that is not the answer the psalmist gives. The answer he gives actually informs us more about biblical religion (using religion in the right sense of the word, i.e. worship and faith), than the other answer would have. The answer comes in two parts and is followed by a conclusion.
First, in Psalm 49:7-12, we are informed of a problem that seemingly has nothing to do with the question. “No one can redeem the life of another, or give to God a ransom for him.” That is a problem, no doubt, but what does it have to do with why I don't need to fear when evil days come? Nothing yet; but stay with him. He informs us of a serious problem we all have: we need a solution for death. In short, riches cannot buy your way out of death. Now that creates a problem for the enemy that surrounds me in vs. 6, “those who trust in their wealth and boast of their great riches.” However, it doesn't solve the problem I face when at any given point I might be surrounded by those intent on harming me.
Secondly, it begins to apply this truth to the situation which might normally cause great anxiety and fear (quite understandably), in Psalm 49:13-15. This application comes in two parts: 1) All who trust in themselves are destined for the grave, and death will feed on them; 2) The upright (those who trust in the Lord, not themselves) will rule over them in the morning (on the other side of the grave... resurrection), as God will redeem my life from the grave and take me to Himself.
While no one can redeem the life of another, because all must die themselves, God can redeem me, and indeed will (which came through Jesus Christ), so that the problem of death is solved. Now, on the other side of the grave, there is a reversal of fortunes, so to speak, a change of status or position.
The conclusion? Don't be overly impressed with success. Don't get too caught up in earthly mansion and splendor. For it is not how people count your life on this side of the grave that matters, it is how they will count it on the other side. Will they count you blessed then? (Psalm 49:16-20) Man, without understanding, perishes...and death will feed on him. What understanding do we need? The Gospel truth of how God redeems us in Jesus Christ.
Either we are feeding on the Bread of Life and going to live forever, or death will be feeding on us, forever. That is why I need not fear. Not because I won't suffer, for I might well suffer, but because of how things will be when all is said and done. God is watching and will set things straight.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Do You Curse in Your Sleep? Peter Did

Reading: Mark 14   
After being warned that he would do it, and emphatically denying the possibility—insisting he would die first—Peter “began to call down curses on himself, and he swore to them, 'I don't know this man...'”. This was now the third time that evening. “Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him...And he broke down and wept.” (Mark 14:71-72) Why? Because he was sleeping.
How often do we do the very thing we emphatically insisted we wouldn't? How often afterward do we break down and weep? How often do we deny our Lord? And why? Why do we do it? I believe for the same reason Peter did—we are sleep walking!
Mark 13 began with a question about when the “magnificent buildings” of the temple would be “thrown down.” Jesus gives them some very specific warnings: first, about when it isn't going to happen (these are only the beginning of birth pain, go home and wait til the contractions are closer together! Mark 13:5-11); second, about some very specific signs and actions they are to take (Mark 13:14-25). The chapter ends with a warning which has application to all of us. “Be on guard! Be alert!” (Mark 13:33) I believe chapter 14 teaches us a vital lesson about how to be on guard; how to be alert; how not to sleep walk. Peter still needed to learn this lesson!
You may be familiar with the account in which Jesus, following the last supper, predicts, “You will all fall away.” Peter immediately declares, with the utmost confidence, “Even if all fall away, I will not.” Now if faith were the same thing as bold confidence, Peter has it down! However, Jesus wasn't convinced.
30“I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.”
31But Peter insisted emphatically, "Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you." And all the others said the same. (Mark 14:27-31)
Jesus then leads the disciples to a garden called Gethsemane1. Jesus “began to be deeply distressed and troubled. 'My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,'” And then He instructs them, “stay here and keep watch.” (Mark 14:32-34) Jesus then goes off by himself and prays for approximately an hour. Jesus doesn't seem to have the same bold confidence that Peter had in the previous scene. He seems to think that He needed an hour of prayer... and wasn't done yet! If I had just gotten done praying for an hour, trust me, I would now think I had done enough praying for the entire day, possibly week! But not Jesus, he wasn't so self-reliant. How's that for irony!
Jesus returns to find the disciples sleeping. And he speaks directly to Peter.
"Simon," he said to Peter, "are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? 38Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak." (Mark 14:37-38)
What is Peter's problem? Not his willing spirit (Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.), but his weak flesh. Literally, his flesh which is completely unable! We think, “weak” as in 80% able, but not quite there. This is not that kind of weak. This is “totally unable to do it” weak. Your willingness will not overcome the inability of your flesh!
When Jesus returns the second time and finds them sleeping, we are told something I believe is key to understanding why Peter could not overcome his flesh; why Peter denied Christ three times.
When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him. (Mark 14:40)
Their eyes were heavy! This is why we must fight to stay alert, to watch: our eyes are heavy. Eyes play an important role in the Gospels, and Mark's is no exception. (For instance, see the following entries on Mark's Gospel: Your Faith Has Healed You?, Seeing is Believing After All, and What Do We Need to Follow Jesus?) It is hard to imagine, in light of the clear role of eyes and seeing in the Gospel that this is just a throw away comment. I suggest that this is a comment about the disciples faith. I would suggest it is a comment about our faith!
Our heavy eyes prevent us from seeing clearly. Jesus saw clearly, and so Jesus prayed for an hour and then thought he needed to return to pray two more times. Peter and the disciples didn't see clearly, because their eyes, their faith, was weak, and therefore they didn't pray. Prayer is the language of faith! Prayer is how we are to stay alert and awake. Your willingness will not overcome the inability of your flesh. You must have God's help and the Holy Spirit's power to overcome. Greater is He that is in you. And that power is called upon in prayer and accessed as we live God-dependent lives, not self-reliant lives. Peter cursed because he was sleeping instead of praying; because his faith was weak, so weak that he didn't see how desperate he really was. Jesus did.
We are indeed called to wake up!
13But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said: “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” 15Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise... (Ephesians 5:13-15)
We must wake up and be careful. There is only one way to do that. Open your eyes and pray. Become a radically God-dependent person, and may we become a radically God-dependent church. That is a church that walks by faith! Watch and pray!
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,
1For an audio message on this same scene in Gethsemane, go to .    

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Your Wedding Song

Reading: Psalm 45   
Did you know your wedding song was in the Bible? This Psalm is titled, “A Wedding Song.” Literally, “a love song,” but contextually “a wedding song” describes well the kind of love song it is. When you understand this song, you will see that it is your wedding song as a believer in Christ, and it has some important instructions for us.
This wedding song, however, is one that is out of sorts with our culture in a number of ways. First, because the groom is a king. He is not a politician—most of us might feel sorry for a woman getting ready to marry a politician. But this groom is a king. We don't have kings. Secondly, it is contrary to our culture because of how the bride, a princess soon to be queen, is called to honor her husband, to orient her life around her husband. Thirdly, but not in order of importance, this wedding song is unusual to us because of what it seems to be saying about the king. Who is this groom?
In Psalm 45:1-2, it is clear that this groom is “the king,” and “the most excellent of men.” In Psalm 45:4, he fits the description of the hoped for king whose government would be one of righteousness and justice, who would be the opposite of this world's kings who live for self-gain, self-protection and bilk their people for all they can get. He rides “forth victoriously in behalf of truth, humility and righteousness...”
Then, in Psalm 45:6-7, it almost seems as if the recipient of the song changes from the king to God. “Your throne, O God,” hardly seems like language befitting an earthly king, a king who was already described as “the most excellent of men.” However it is followed by, “therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions.” So now this king is called God and is also the recipient of position or status from God. So it is the same King we read of at the beginning of the psalm; yet, he is called God. He is the same king described in Isaiah 7:14; 9:6-7; 11:1-4; 16:5; 32:1 as we spoke about on Sunday 3/13/2011, in the message, A New Kind of King and His Kingdom.1
It should be no surprise, therefore, that the writer of Hebrews wastes no time quoting these verses in reference to the Son, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:8-9). He is the one the virgin gave birth to (Isaiah 7:14) who is the king Isaiah kept speaking of that would come. He came. YHWH incarnate is the King.
Of course no wedding song, or love song, is complete if it only speaks of the groom—even if he is the king. So the second half of the psalm addresses the bride. A number of things are said to the bride about her honored position, but in the midst of this is some very important instruction given to the soon to be queen.
10Listen, O daughter, consider and give ear: Forget your people and your father's house. 11The king is enthralled by your beauty; honor him, for he is your lord. (Psalm 45:10-11)
I am immediately reminded of Ruth, the valiant woman who was the grandmother of David. Even though urged to return to her father's house, she made it clear that she had made the people of God her new family, she had made Naomi's God her God (Ruth 1:16-17). Here in these two verses, I believe we find some very important, even sobering counsel.
Before we can understand why it is sobering, we must answer the question: Who is this bride? Given the identification of the groom with Christ, this bride can be none other than the body of Christ. Therefore, the counsel given this bride applies to those of us who would name the name of Christ.
Like a bride might be told to forget her people and her father's house and cling to her husband, to honor him, to revolve her life around him, for he is her lord, so here, we are being told to leave our people and our father's house, to cling to Christ, to honor him as our Lord. I wonder if all too often we view this counsel as optional. Does our life reflect that we have left our father's house—the world and its ways—and are clinging to our new husband, and living to honor the one who gave Himself for us?
Our culture rejects the idea that a bride should follow her husband this way (and many husbands commend their thinking by being horrid leaders). And we might want to complain about how our culture has rejected this ideal. But do we follow it in how we follow Christ?
If not, I suggest you spend time contemplating who your new husband is. Go back to the first part of this Psalm which describes Him. Study the Gospels. Read the book of Isaiah looking for who this King is. Contemplate His excellence, glory, and self-less love.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,
1For those who were there Sunday, or listen to this message, compare Psalm 45:16 with Isaiah 32:1-2. It may help fill out the meaning of this Psalm's promise to the bride.   

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Does Knowing God Make You Faster?

Reading: Exodus 5—9   
Pharaoh's question at the beginning of chapter 5 is being answered throughout this section (and beyond). “Who is the Lord, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord and I will not let Israel go.” (Exodus 5:2) Pharaoh was about to find out who the Lord is!
Pharaoh was familiar with his Egyptian gods, rooted, as pagan religions are, in created things rather than the Creator. So the Creator, Yahweh, would now reveal His power over all the gods of Egypt through each of these plagues. There are a number of good resources that show how each plague corresponds to an Egyptian god. The point is clear: The God you don't know, and therefore claim you don't have to obey, is going to show you His power over everything you trust in!
But God's promise was followed by a delay. Pharaoh refused to listen, but he also retaliated against the Israelites. Now they would have to gather their own straw, and maintain production of bricks. The foremen were being beaten. Their suffering increased. It appears that Pharaoh may have the power he thinks and God may not be so powerful. God's promises are always going to require that we walk by faith.
As we read through these plagues there is an occasional reference that Pharaoh's magicians could do the same. So what! What good is that. Moses turns the Nile to blood. The magicians could turn water to blood also. They didn't need more blood. If his magicians had any power over Moses they would have turned blood into water. Then with the plague of frogs, with frogs everywhere, the magicians conjured up more frogs. I think Pharaoh should have fired them. What takes the cake for me was when Moses said, “I leave to you the honor of setting the time for me to pray for you... that you and your houses may be rid of the frogs, except for those that remain in the Nile.” “Tomorrow.” (Exodus 8:9-10) Really? Can you imagine the conversation with the queen that night? “Sure, why didn't you say Tuesday of next week? I'm getting used to having frogs in everything!”
When we get to the plague of hail, the seventh plague, something significant happens that is instructive for us.
15For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth.… 17You still set yourself against my people and will not let them go. 18Therefore, at this time tomorrow I will send the worst hailstorm that has ever fallen on Egypt, from the day it was founded till now. 19Give an order now to bring your livestock and everything you have in the field to a place of shelter, because the hail will fall on every man and animal that has not been brought in and is still out in the field, and they will die.'"
20Those officials of Pharaoh who feared the word of the LORD hurried to bring their slaves and their livestock inside. 21 But those who ignored the word of the LORD left their slaves and livestock in the field. (Exodus 9:15-21)
Two things are important here. First, the plagues are a demonstration of God's patience. He could have wiped the Egyptians out completely (as we see from time to time in the Old Testament), but gave Pharaoh repeated opportunities to turn from his rebellion. Secondly, some of Pharaoh's officials were beginning to know the Lord. They were beginning to fear the word of the Lord, and that fear of the Lord led to quick obedience. Others ignored the word of the Lord. Which are you? Does your knowledge of the Lord motivate you to quick obedience, or does your lack of knowing Him lead you to ignoring Him?
The picture of these officials responding to God's word might give a good backdrop to some of the Gospel's commands such as those in Colossians 3:5-8. Note the phrase in 3:6, “because of these the wrath of God is coming.” (See also Ephesians 5:6.) In response to this word do we in haste rid ourselves of these things? Or, do we ignore these warnings and continue on? Knowing God should cause you to trust Him more and more. And that should always make us faster... faster to obey His call.
In order to escape the coming wrath, there is only one place we can flee to... Jesus Christ. He rescues us from the coming wrath. (1 Thessalonians 1:10; 5:9) But flee to Him we must!
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Monday, March 7, 2011

What Gospel Service and Farming Have in Common

Reading: 1 Corinthians 15—16   
What is the Gospel? What is the foundation of faith in the resurrection of Jesus? Why is the resurrection a vital part of the Christian faith? How will we be raised; what kind of body will we have? These are all questions that might direct us to 1 Corinthians 15, where we will find good answers for each of them. Because there is so much in this chapter, I wonder at times if we might miss one of the significant issues that Paul is talking about, as if it gets lost in the shuffle of discussion about these other important matters. And it is no small issue.
Have you ever heard someone say, “Even if Christianity wasn't true, I'd still believe it because my life is better as a result”? Paul wouldn't have! He says,
If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. (1 Corinthians 15:19)
Of course, no problem here, for Paul immediately asserts, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Corinthians 15:20) And how could he be so confident? Because of the resurrection evidence which both he and others had confirmed (1 Corinthians 15:4-8). But Paul doesn't think his earthly life is better off because of following Jesus; he thinks he should be pitied more than all men if Christ has not been raised. Why?
Paul's faith in the resurrection, grounded as it was in his personal witness to the resurrection, enabled him to live a farmers life! A farmer takes perfectly good corn, or wheat, and buries it in the ground. Why? Because he believes he will receive a harvest in another season. Paul, who had many reasons to be satisfied in this life prior to his conversion, was burying his life in the ground every day in hope of a harvest.
For Paul, the resurrection was the basis of his earthly life. “Now if there is no resurrection...why do we endanger ourselves every hour?” (1 Corinthians 15:29-30) Since Paul was convinced of the resurrection, he continues,
31I die every day— I mean that, brothers—just as surely as I glory over you in Christ Jesus our Lord. 32If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die." (1 Corinthians 15:31-32)
Paul was dying daily because he was sowing his life for the age to come. If there wasn't a confidence in the resurrection, then why not live as if the present party is all there is! Party on! How often do we as believers live our lives, in the mentality that we need to enjoy all we can in this life because tomorrow we die. That is worldly thinking. While I am not certain of what Paul is referring to as “beasts in Ephesus,” it is certain that it wasn't pleasant. It may well have been a metaphor for the opposition he faced there (see 1 Corinthians 16:8-9; Acts 19:23-41).
Paul expands on how it is that we practice this farming; how we sow our life for the age to come.
The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. (1 Corinthians 15:42-44)
I used to think that this was talking about our funeral. We plant one body in the ground but another kind will be raised. The problem is, that doesn't fit what is said, nor does it fit one of the key themes of this chapter which has to do with whether or not we are living our lives for the advance of the Gospel. At a funeral, the body which is buried (sown) is not perishable—it has perished; it is not weak—it is dead. It seems that these verses are picking up on what Paul was talking about in vs. 30-32. Paul lived his life endangering himself for the gospel, dying daily. In fact, he is capturing the same language he used earlier in this letter when he said,
10We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! 11To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. 12We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; 13when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world. (1 Corinthians 4:10-13)
Paul was sowing his life, perishable (not already dead), weak (not dead), dishonored in the eyes of this world. He did so knowing that he had a hope stored up in heaven (Colossians 1:5). It is for this very reason that he could urge us to always give ourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because we know that our labor in the Lord is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58). It isn't in vain because as you labor in the Lord you are sowing a perishable body in weakness, and at times in seeming dishonor, but you will be raised in power in a spiritual body (1 Corinthians 15:43,44). This is the hope that stands behind the instructions given in 1 Corinthians 16:13-16. This hope is essential for the advance of the Gospel.
What do Gospel service and farming have in common? We are to be sowing our lives every day into the field of the world for the advance of the Gospel in hope of the harvest in the age to come. Don't tire in doing good, for we will indeed reap a harvest if we do not give up (Galatians 6:9). Endanger your reputation when accused by entrusting yourself to God and not defending yourself. Endanger yourself in a dispute by preferring to be wronged rather than to wrong another. Endanger yourself by loving your neighbor as yourself. Endanger yourself by sharing the Gospel with those you meet and know.  Endanger your personal time by serving others in love. 
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Will the Real Anointed One Please Stand Up

Reading: 1 Samuel 16—19   
Have you ever found some of the events in Saul's life confusing? I find it especially so when we encounter him, after the Lord rejected him as king and the Lord had departed from him (1 Samuel 16:14), but then, as he walks up to the company of prophets, “the Spirit of God came even upon him, and he walked along prophesying...”. Then the people are asking, “Is Saul also among the prophets?” (1 Samuel 19:23-24).
In 1 Samuel 10:6-7, 10-11, Saul was anointed king over Israel. When the Spirit of God came on him with power, he became a different person, and the people asked, “Is Saul also among the prophets?” Saul did not, however, continue to trust the Lord and be directed by His Spirit, rather he trusted in himself; therefore, Saul was rejected as King (1 Samuel 15:26). This sets the scene for Samuel to anoint David as king.
The Lord instructs Samuel to stop his mourning over Saul and to go anoint one of Jesse's sons to be king. Samuel is instructed,
Take a heifer with you and say, 'I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.' 3Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate." (1 Samuel 16:2-3)
As I read this today I could not help but note the similarity between the instructions Samuel receives about how the new king will be identified and anointed with power and the instructions John the Baptist receives concerning the Messiah, the King who will sit on David's throne.
33I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, 'The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.'  34I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God." (John 1:33-34)
Like David's anointing, which was followed by years of powerful exploits accompanied with suffering before he would reign on the throne, Jesus' anointing as King over Israel with the Spirit and power was followed by years of powerful exploits accompanied with suffering before He would reign on High!
After David is identified by the Lord and anointed, we see the Lord come on David and we see David relying on the Lord. David walked in the Spirit, we might say, as he trusted God when he encountered Goliath. (1 Samuel 17:37). Simultaneously, as David is given great success because the Lord is with him, Saul is losing grip on the kingdom as he is tormented by an evil spirit. Even the success of military exploits becomes reason for bitterness as he is consumed with his own glory and can't stand that the people are singing about David too. Eventually, even his daughter is pulled from him as she assists David in his escape from her own father the king (1 Samuel 19:11-17).
Saul, in his anger sends men to find David and kill him. David had gone to Samuel in Ramah. So when Saul's men arrive, the Spirit of God comes on them and they begin prophesying— implying they are incapacitated to finish the job of killing David. And each time Saul sends a new group to finish the job, the same thing happens. Part of God's judgment on Saul, for trusting in himself and not the Lord is that Saul is now completely unable to do what would seem the simplest tasks for a king. (Recall how he failed to hit David with his spear!)
So finally Saul goes himself. I can imagine his thought was, “I'll show these incompetents how to do this.” And what happens? The Spirit of God comes on him again, in a way the same way as when he was first anointed king, but really, in exactly the opposite way. Now he is prophesying, and strips off his robes and lies there all day and night in Samuel's presence. This “prophecy” is really a sign of God's judgment on Saul. He is unable to do anything; he is humiliated before the Lord; He is stripped bare. It didn't produce powerful action, but powerless inaction.
Oh the joy to know that Christ trusted the Father to the very end (Luke 23:46). The Spirit was not taken from Him. And therefore He was able to send the Spirit from His throne on High to be with us. Oh that we would learn to trust in Him, and not lean on our own wisdom and strength. For more on how we do this, read a previous post called, “Who Will Go Before You?” The church does nothing apart from God's least nothing of kingdom consequence (Acts 1:4).
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

What Do We Need to Follow Jesus?

Reading: Mark 10
Mark 10 begins with Jesus crossing the Jordan into Perea, an area of Herod’s jurisdiction. It was here that Herod had John the Baptist beheaded, “For John had been saying to Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife.” (Mark 6:18) So the Pharisees are testing Jesus with a question about divorce. Most likely their test was designed to get Jesus in trouble with Herod, for their motive was murder (Mark 3:6). After Jesus handles this test, it is time to return to discipleship training, for it seems they still don't understand what it means to follow Jesus (Mark 10:13-14).
The rest of the chapter revolves around this topic of following Jesus. First there is the account of the rich man being invited to follow Jesus but He went away sad (Mark 10:21-22). This man was completely blind to who Jesus was and therefore could not leave his stuff for Christ. The third account is about a blind man who seems to see Jesus quite clearly and immediately followed Jesus (Mark 10:52). In the middle, are the disciples who are more like the rest of us who believe. They were following, indeed had left all to follow Jesus, but seem to be recoiling a little from their decision to leave all and follow Jesus. They seem to be a bit foggy on what this following Jesus is all about.
These three accounts are set up by a small interchange revolving around children.
14When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Mark 10:14-15)
The kingdom of God belongs to those who are like little children. Culturally this didn't mean cute and cuddly, but foolish, uneducated, unkempt, insignificant, weak and dependent. Children were on the bottom rung of their social ladder. But not the rich man. He was at the top. Unlike our modern/post-modern culture in which the rich are considered evil, in that day the rich would have been considered the do-gooders. They were blessed by God, and that was evident to all. It wasn't from winning the lottery, but from hard work and obedience. They were experiencing the results of finding and obeying God's Wisdom (Proverbs 3:16; 8:18). And this man's description of his own life demonstrates that he perceived himself this way.
So, if anyone was able to get into the kingdom, these guys stood a good chance. This explains why the disciples were concerned about anyone's chances if the rich were unable (Mark 10:26). But now he has run into Jesus. And the biggest problem he has is his blindness. I say that because he clearly doesn't see that the One standing in front of him is greater than all his wealth. When Jesus asked the man to sell everything, give to the poor and come follow Him, He wasn't asking him to do two things, but one. Jesus had left everything in heaven to come here to save us. To follow Him is to be like Him.
Now Peter is getting concerned and says, “We have left everything to follow you!” This seems to be one of those statements that has a dangling question somewhere nearby. What did Peter intend by this? Is it an implicit question? (What about our treasure?) Or, possibly a refund request? (“Impossible? But Jesus we put a lot in; any chance we could get it back?”) Or was it: “We’ve left everything to follow YOU! What else is there for us?” I'm not entirely sure, but however you slice it, I think they represent the average disciple well. We were gung-ho when we started following, but as time goes on we have our reservations. What about, what about, what about... ? Jesus graciously assures them that they have nothing to lose!
The next scene drives this heart issue home. James and John come to Jesus and zealously make a request.
Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”
What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. (Mark 10:35-36)
Their request reveals that they are still seeking glory for themselves. They are still unclear on what this is about. Their request was not granted. But it stands in contrast to the very next scene where Jesus offers the same thing to Bartimaeus, the blind man.
50Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. 51“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.
The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” (Mark 10:50-51)
The rich man thought he could see just fine, but was obviously blind and therefore unable to see Christ. The disciples were seeing Jesus, but not as clearly as they needed to. But the blind man kept calling out to Him, and jumped to his feet to come to Jesus when called, and knew exactly what he should ask for. Same question James and John were asked, but He knew what to ask for. Do you? I want to see!
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,