Thursday, June 30, 2011

What do Two Jewish Kings Have in Common with Adolph Hitler?

Reading: Jeremiah 36 – 37   
Seems preposterous that the man who hated everything Jewish—ultimately everything but himself—could have something in common with two Jewish kings. But I suggest they do. First let's look at the Jewish Kings: Jehoiakim, son of Josiah (Jeremiah 36), and Zedekiah, son of Josiah (Jeremiah 37). Two sons of Josiah, one of the best kings of Judah. Josiah's response to God's Word is an amazing contrast to what we read of his sons (2 Chronicles 34:14-21, 29-33).
The Lord instructs Jeremiah to write on a scroll all the words the Lord had given him from the start of his ministry (Jeremiah 36:2-3), as one last plea for the people to turn from their rebellion. So, Jeremiah has Baruch write it all down on a scroll, and then to read the scroll at the temple in the hearing of the people (Jeremiah 36:4-6). This scroll is Scripture; essentially the book of Jeremiah. Micaiah heard this, and that led to a series of events whereby the king would have the scroll read to him (Jeremiah 36:11-21). Note how different, how polar opposite, Jehoiakim's response to God's Word is from his father's (Josiah).
22It was the ninth month and the king was sitting in the winter apartment, with a fire burning in the firepot in front of him. 23Whenever Jehudi had read three or four columns of the scroll, the king cut them off with a scribe's knife and threw them into the firepot, until the entire scroll was burned in the fire. 24The king and all his attendants who heard all these words showed no fear, nor did they tear their clothes. 25 Even though Elnathan, Delaiah and Gemariah urged the king not to burn the scroll, he would not listen to them. (Jeremiah 36:22-25)
Jehoiakim was the highest authority in his life, and demanded to be the highest authority in the land. He wasn't about to submit to another. So, he had to destroy the written words of God as those would speak against his totalitarian authority. Subsequently, we find the Jehoiakim and his family would die out (Jeremiah 36:30-31), but the Word of the Lord would live on (Jeremiah 36:32).
Then, Zedekiah, Josiah's other son, is found to be reigning on the throne. Zedekiah, however, didn't burn the word of the Lord, he was much more subtle. He simply didn't pay attention (Jeremiah 37:2). He still wanted the Lord's help, and could play along with religious activities in order to gain what he wanted (Jeremiah 37:3), but he didn't want to submit his life to a higher authority than himself. He had enough curiosity to inquire as to what God had to say (Jeremiah 37:17), but no interest in submitting to it. Any leader who sees himself as the highest authority will be threatened by the objective authority of God's Word.
So what do these men have in common with Adolph Hitler? In his hatred for the Scriptures. In the Nazi plan for the national church here are a couple of points (taken from Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, by Eric Metaxas):
Point 13: The National Church demands immediate cessation of the publishing and dissemination of the Bible in Germany...
Point 14: The National Church declares that to it, and therefore to the German nation, it has been decided that the Fuehrer's Mein Kampf is the greatest of all documents. It... not only contains the greatest but embodies the purest and truest ethics for the present and future life of our nation.
Point 18 requires the church to rid itself of the Bible.
Point 19: On the altars there must be nothing but Mein Kampf (to the German nation and therefore to God the most sacred book) and to the left of the altar a sword.
Of course, Hitler was anything but a Christian, and therefore, this should not surprise us. But in his hatred of scripture, God's Word and its higher authority than himself, he was just like these two Jewish Kings we read about, and very much not like Josiah. How about you? Do you love God's word? Do you pay attention to it?  Does God have authority over you? 
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Does Nicodemus Think He is Simon Cowell?

Reading: John 3
Most every American knows who Simon Cowell is—former lead judge on American Idol, now X-Factor. I haven't yet seen the latter, but we know how American Idol works. Eager to be affirmed contestants audition in front of three judges, who then critique and, in Simon's case, usually insult (almost always deserved), them. The much feared Simon's affirmation is the rarest, and, if given, most prized. Imagine a contestant singing magnificently, then interrupting to explain he is not the least interested in their affirmation.
That may well parallel the situation we find in John 3. In order to really understand Jesus' dialogue with Nicodemus, we must ignore the chapter break. John 2 ends with the following:
23Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name. 24But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. 25He did not need man's testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man. 3:1Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. (John 2:23 - 3:1)
Jesus would not entrust Himself to men, for He knew all men. He did not need man's testimony about man, for He knew what was in a man. And there was a man who came to Jesus offering his testimony about Jesus, and the testimony of the Jewish ruling council. Jesus had no interest in entrusting himself to Nicodemus; He did not need the testimony of the Jewish ruling council to affirm Him. Indeed, the Jewish ruling council would have done well to seek Jesus' affirmation of them by coming into the light and allowing Him, the Light, to expose them (John 3:19-21).
What was Nicodemus' motive in coming to Jesus? Since Jesus cuts him off after a brief introduction and seemingly changes the subject, his intentions are not immediately apparent. However, the fact that Jesus cut him off, and the immediately preceding comments by John (the narrator of this account), and the content of what Nicodemus said, together make clear Nicodemus' intent. What did Nicodemus say?
He came to Jesus at night and said, "Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him." (John 3:2)
Nicodemus came offering the testimony of the Jewish ruling council; testimony about Jesus. Nicodemus very likely expected Jesus to be gladdened by this turn of events, especially in light of John 2:18. But, Jesus had no interest in their affirmations and would not entrust himself to them. He had no need of their testimony, for He knew what was in man. (Note the continuity of thought: 25He did not need man's testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man. 3:1Now there was a man )
Jesus knew exactly what was in Nicodemus and his accomplices back at the council. Jesus immediately interrupts with a statement that gets right at the problem with what was in them. They were of their father the devil (John 8:44) and needed to be born again (John 3:3). In fact, they could not even see the kingdom of God, much less be in charge of it as they supposed, unless they were born-again.
In effect, Nicodemus was coming on behalf of the council, attempting to barter a deal with Jesus. The logical direction of the conversation from Nicodemus' viewpoint would be something like this: “Now Jesus, we are willing to affirm publicly that you are indeed a man from God. We will give you ordination credentials and all! But there are a few things we need to discuss in order for this to work...” Then of course, he would lay down the boundaries which Jesus needed to keep. There is only one big problem: Jesus wasn't subject to the Jewish Ruling Council, they needed to be subject to Him. After all, according to John 3:31, Jesus is above all, which is to say He didn't need to submit Himself to them for their judgment, they needed to submit themselves to Him for His!
Nicodemus came affirming that what Jesus was doing was done through God, but what Nicodemus needed was Jesus to affirm that what Nicodemus was doing was done through God (John 3:21). Nicodemus didn't come for that and didn't leave with that. Nicodemus presumed that he and the Jewish leadership were in the position of judging Jesus, that He was in need of their affirmation... like some sort of contestant on American Idol needing the judges to “put him through to the next round.”
A big question for us, as we examine the Gospels, is whether or not we are coming to Christ to examine Him and judge Him as to whether or not He is from God. Fact is, we should not trust our judgment for it is faulty; faulty because of what is in us. We must be born-again. It is Christ that we must come to in order for our deeds to be exposed. It is Christ that we must gaze upon in order that we might receive eternal life (John 3:15-16).
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Monday, June 20, 2011

Was Jehosheba Another Scarlet Pimpernel?

Was Jehosheba Another Scarlet Pimpernel?
Reading: 2 Kings 11
Each time I read this story, I can't help but think one day it should be made into a movie, or possibly the backdrop to a historical novel—maybe because I so enjoyed the 1982 movie version of “The Scarlet Pimpernel.1 There a young heir to the king is imprisoned, facing sure peril, but then he is rescued and whisked away into hiding to one day safely be put on the throne. The account here in 2 Kings is one of assassination, power grabbing, a wicked woman killing her grandchildren, rescue of infants, and more. Parts of this story may be more familiar to us that we at first recognize.
2 Kings 11:1 picks up the story of the Kings of Judah, the descendants of David from 2 Kings 8:26-27; 9:27. Ahaziah was in the royal line through which the Messianic King has been promised. So a lot is at stake in these events. When Athaliah saw that her son was dead, instead of doing the right thing and protecting her various grandchildren, so the rightful heir could reign on the throne, she wanted to hold on to her powerful position and increase it. She “arose and destroyed” or as the NET Bible points out in its notes, the sense is that she embarked on a campaign to destroy the royal offspring.
Princess Jehosheba, aunt of the royal heir, Ahaziah's sister, stole her brother's son away at about one year old and hid him in the temple for the next 6 years. The wicked grandmother was unaware that she hadn't succeeded in killing off the legitimate king. So when the child is seven, and the priest Jehoiada, in concert with the armed guards set the rightful king in place declaring, “Long live the king,” she comes out to see what the noise is all about and sees what is happening (2 Kings 11:13-14). There we read,
She looked and there was the king, standing by the pillar, as the custom was. The officers and the trumpeters were beside the king, and all the people of the land were rejoicing and blowing trumpets. Then Athaliah tore her robes and called out, “Treason! Treason!”
She was subsequently taken and put to death, and that is the end of her. Or is it? Is it possible that Athaliah is more prominent that at first perceived? Is it possible that she is a foreshadowing, a type of Judah herself who in the Bible's storyline has embarked on a campaign to destroy the royal offspring?
As I read this account, I consider its similarity to how God's people rejected God as King (1 Samuel 8:7-8, 19-20), wanting an earthly king. In Matthew 21:33-39, Jesus tells a parable of how the people of Israel, now the identity of the remaining tribe of Judah, had rejected the servants God had sent to them (prophets), and and how when the son was sent, the legitimate heir, they killed him saying, “This is the heir. Come, let's kill him and take his inheritance.” Just like Athaliah, they wanted to take for themselves was not rightfully theirs and were willing to kill in order to achieve it. (And they too were unaware that though they had killed him, they hadn't succeeded in killing off the heir, for He would rise again!)
When I read of Athaliah coming out and seeing the king standing by the pillar of the temple and her shouting, “Treason, Treason,” I recall the scene of Jesus, the legitimate heir to the throne, standing before Pilate and the people, accused of treason, and the shouts of the people, “Crucify, Crucify!” It is there that the story comes full circle from the rejection of Yahweh as King in 1 Samuel 8 (and in the Garden of Eden) as the people declare, “We have no king but Caesar,” swearing their loyalty to the earthly king over God. (See John 19:4-6, 12-16.)
Of course, if Athaliah is a picture of the Jewish revolt against Yahweh, then they are representatives of all mankind—the cream of the crop of humanity as the chosen people—in our rebellion and rejection of God. I know, you may be thinking, “But she is the antagonist in the story... the bad 'guy'! I more naturally think of myself as the rescuer (Jehosheba, or Jehoiada) or the one being rescued (Joash); I don't like being compared to Athaliah.”
Fair enough. But if the shoe fits.... Reality is that we have all, ever since Adam and Eve, rejected God as king and ultimately it is our sins that crucified Him, killing the legitimate heir. But the fact is, you can relate to the one being rescued also. For, thanks be to God that in the power and wisdom of God, the very act of rebellion in which Christ was crucified becomes the means through which God rescues us from our sin and redeems a people who will now come under the reign of Christ as King and serve the King in His Kingdom. Oh the glorious grace of God.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,
1If you haven't seen this, one of my very favorite all time movies, you may want to put it on your must see list.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

How Do You Keep Your Sanity?

Reading: Daniel 4   
Do you ever feel like you're losing your mind? Like you're on the edge of sanity and teetering? How do you keep your sanity? How do you regain it? Of course, I am using these terms in street vernacular, and not speaking of the more medical sense of the word. However, Nebuchadnezzar really did lose his mind can teach us a lot about how to keep our sanity.
Nebuchadnezzar had a nightmare (Daniel 4:5), and went mad—but not because of the nightmare. The nightmare was only warning him of what was to come. Nebuchadnezzar's insanity was no garden variety madness.
He was driven away from people and ate grass like cattle. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird. (Daniel 4:33)
What led to this kind of insanity? One day as he was walking on the roof terrace of his royal palace, gazing down across the great city he had built, the accomplishments of his reign, he said to himself:
Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” (Daniel 4:30)
Immediately, this insanity came on him. And then, we read, “At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored.” Nebuchadnezzar turned his eyes toward heaven and acknowledged the source of his rule (Daniel 4:34-35). Sanity begins with the acknowledgment of God in turning of our eyes toward heaven.
How often do we live our lives in our own version of insanity? Living our lives in prayerlessness is a declaration that we can do what we do by our own mighty power and for the glory of our own majesty. A prayerless life is a life lived in self-sufficiency, looking only down, or under the sun. This life is moving toward madness! Sanity is living a God-dependent life of prayer, turning our eyes toward heaven. If you need to restore your sanity, then turn back to God, turn your eyes toward heaven, looking to God in dependence, through prayer. (See also Psalm 123:2; 145:15.)
If what keeps you from going to God in prayer is a sense of unworthiness, then keep in mind two things. 1) That you are unworthy, and should never approach God based on your worthiness or lack thereof. 2) That there is a new way to enter God's presence without fear and with confidence to receive mercy in your time of need. Read about that in Hebrews 10:19-22, and never forget it. The new way if rooted in the worthiness of Jesus Christ and not our own. If you know these two things and are still not praying, then obey the imperative of verse 22 of that Hebrews text and stop wasting the work Christ did on your behalf. Regain your sanity.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Which Way to Zion?

Reading: Psalm 87   
...the LORD loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.”  (Psalm 87:2)
What a statement of comparison. God had chosen Jacob; Israel was His firstborn son. But here, God speaks of Zion, as loving its gates even more than the very dwelling places of Jacob. Zion is the place I want to be! But Zion can be elusive at times for me as I read the Scriptures. Sometimes I wonder, “Where is Zion? What is Zion?”
Originally, Zion was a fortified hill in pre-Israelite Jerusalem.1 In 2 Samuel 5:6-10 we read of how David conquered Zion and made it the City of David. Shortly after that David sets out to bring the ark of God, where God was enthroned between the cherubim, to the city of David. Subsequently, Zion becomes associated with the place where God's throne, the ark, is. Therefore, when David's son, Solomon, moves the ark into the temple, the temple mount becomes associated with Zion. Zion is that place where God's rule is centered; the place where His presence in mercy is manifest amongst His people.
However, when we arrive at Psalm 87:4-6, there are some surprising things spoken about Zion. Twice we read that God will write or record the names of individuals, including Gentiles, in the records of those born in Zion. These are not proselytes, they are now natural born citizens. And from amongst the enemies of God's people: Rahab is another name for Egypt where Israel was in slavery (Psalm 89:10); Babylon held God's people captive during the exile; Philistia was the persecuting neighbor of God's people (Judges 10:7; 13:1). Now God will create from them those who are part of Zion! A third time we read that it will be said of Zion, “This one and that one were born in her, and the Most High himself will establish her.” Zion is being transformed into a place that doesn't have ethnic boundaries.
This psalm is also very similar to some verses we covered in a recent message in our Isaiah Series, Calling Blind and Deaf Witnesses. In Isaiah 44:3-5, we read of the day when God will regather His people from the ends of the world by pouring out His Spirit. At that time,
One will say, 'I belong to the Lord'; another will call himself by the name of Jacob; still another will write on his hand, 'The Lord's,' and will take the name Israel.
Isaiah also speaks in many places of how this regathered people of God will come out of Gentile nations (i.e. Isaiah 19:23-25). Isaiah envisions the boundaries of Israel as a place expanded from the rising of the son to the place of its setting.
When we get to the New Testament, we find that Christ is the place where God's rule is centered; the place where His presence in mercy is manifest amongst His people. The Son of David, the Messianic King, relocates the throne of God to Himself, the temple of God (John 2:21) and therefore Zion is centered in Jesus Christ and where those who come to God through Christ are found.
22But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, 24to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (Hebrews 12:22-24)
Zion is that place where God's rule is centered; the place where His presence in mercy is manifest amongst His people. Zion is that heavenly city which we are part of through faith in Christ and where we worship God in Spirit and in truth. Zion is where we gather on Sunday mornings, not in our church buildings, but with all the true saints there worshiping God together. Zion is a place where we have access because the blood of Christ speaks better things of us (righteousness: love one another) than did the blood of Abel (the guilt incurred in brotherly hatred).
Christ is the Way to Zion! When we come to God through faith in Christ, then it is said of us, indeed God records of us, “this one was born in Zion.” This is the new birth. This is inclusion into the family of God. Here there is no difference between Jew and Gentile, between slave and free, but Christ is all and in in all (Galatians 3:28) We are no longer outsiders looking in; we are fellow-citizens, members of God's household (see Ephesians 2:11-22). We are in the place of which it is said, “...the LORD loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.”
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,
1Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. 4, pg. 959.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Restoration of God's People

Reading: Jeremiah 30 – 31   
To this point in Jeremiah, good news has been scarce. Three times we have read, “Do not pray for this people...” (Jeremiah 7:16; 11:14; 14:11), because their captivity was so certain praying for their well-being would be pointless. But now Jeremiah is told to compile a book of all the Lord has told Him because “the days are coming...when” God would bring His people, Israel and Judah, back from captivity and restore them (Jeremiah 30:3). That is how this section begins and it ends with a familiar promise:
31“The time is coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. 32It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. 33“This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)
The days in which God will restore His people from captivity corresponds to the time when God makes a new covenant with His people — a covenant not like the Sinai covenant, because that covenant was broken by the people, though God was faithful to it; a covenant in which God would put His laws in their minds and write them on their hearts, when all within the people of God would know the Lord, a covenant in which their wickedness and sins would be forgiven and no longer remembered. The day in which God would restore His people is none other than the New Covenant, or the New Testament, as we call it.
In the middle, between these promises of restoration of the people of God from captivity through a new covenant, these chapters are rich with promises that find their fulfillment in the Gospel; some very clear while others are a bit more veiled. Consider some of these promises that find their fulfillment in the Gospel.
In Jeremiah 30:8-9, the promise is that “in that day” the Lord would break the yoke off their necks and tear off their bonds; no longer would they be enslaved in bondage to foreigners but would serve the Lord (Yahweh) their God and David their king, “whom I will raise up for them.” I cannot help but recall the words of Jesus in Matthew 11:28-30 regarding His yoke that is easy and light replacing the yoke of bondage (bondage to sin and the law, which we had). (See also Jeremiah 31:2.) In the Gospel we realize the fulfillment of verse 9 when God raised up “David their king” (i.e. the son of David), in more than one way. First, in that the royal dynasty ended during the exile, an heir would have to be raised up, and secondly in how God raised up this heir, as Christ was truly raised up from the tomb as King over God's people (Matthew 28:18).
In Jeremiah 30:24, we are told about “the fierce anger of the Lord” not being turned back “until he fully accomplishes the purposes of his heart” with this Divine commentary: “In days to come you will understand this.” Jeremiah looked to a day when the mystery of the Gospel, now veiled (in his day), would be fully disclosed. Paul speaks of this mystery now revealed (Ephesians 3:3-5), as did Peter (1 Peter 1:10-12). This is the day in which we understand how God's fierce anger was not turned back until he fully accomplished His purpose to redeem us as He poured His wrath upon His Son who bore our sins. This is how the New Covenant would be put into effect (Luke 22:20).
This promise of restoration was not only for Judah, but also for Israel, the northern tribes, which had long since been scattered. In Jeremiah 31:5-6, promises are given for Samaria and Ephraim (Ephraim being another name for the northern tribes, Israel; Samaria the capitol) that they would “go up to Zion, to the Lord our God.” The conversation with the Samaritan woman in John 4:20-24 comes to mind and its discussion about where to worship. This Samaritan is assured that while Jerusalem is the place that Scripture affirmed for worship, the time has come where this Samaritan and all peoples are invited to worship the Father in Spirit and truth. This is the Zion to which we have come (Hebrews 12:22).
Jeremiah 31:8-9 speaks of how God will bring His people and gather them “from the ends of the earth,” and from among the blind, lame, expectant mothers and women in labor. That a great throng would return (see Revelation 7:9). Surely this is a promise that should encourage those serving in pregnancy centers rescuing women and their babies from the cruel clutches of the abortionists' grip. The Gospel is indeed the answer to deliver them from death.
We could find verses which find fulfillment in John 10 with the good shepherd, and John 15 with the well-watered garden finding fulfillment in those who abide in Christ. For a message in which I walk through Jeremiah 31:15, and how Christ's birth really does bring about the fulfillment of the “voice heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children,” go to and search for the message titled, “When Weeping Turns to Dreaming”.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,