Christianity 201

April 16, 2017

Why Good Friday is Good?

by Russell Young

This being Easter weekend, I was compelled, like most, to consider the events that took place more than two millennia ago. The immense importance of the passion of Christ can never be taken for granted, but perhaps the exact events, those hidden from view, can escape our appreciation. I have discovered that reflecting on the sacrificial offering of Christ has given clarity to other biblical teachings.

Accepting that Christ died for my sins is humbling and awe-inspiring. Appreciating the unseen dynamics is enlightening. For instance, how did his death “destroy the work of Satan”? The Lord’s death was not a simple trade of his life for mine.

Christ came “to destroy the devil’s work.” (1 Jn 3:8 NIV) Trading lives would not have accomplished the destruction of Satan’s power. His power rested in his ability to make people sin, bringing about their death and ultimately defeating God’s plan to have a kingdom of priests, a holy nation. The defeat of Satan’s work could only be accomplished by eradicating sin and the death that accompanied it. It is transgression of the law that comprises sin-the law of Moses. Paul wrote, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.” (1 Cor 15:56 NIV) And, “Where there is no law, there is no transgression.” (Rom 4:15 NIV) The law had to be satisfied and terminated. That is what Christ accomplished.

It is true that I deserved death for sin just as do all of humankind. I had been caught in Satan’s deceits and those practices that were offensive to my creator and sovereign. Had justice been served neither I nor anyone else would have survived. Satan would have won. There would not have been a single person suitable for God’s presence. Had Christ died for my sins and for those of all of humanity, the devil’s work would still not have been completed since sin would have reared its ugly head again during the remaining part of my life.

Some teach that all sin was forgiven at the cross but this is not so. According to Hebrews 9:15, “[Christ] died as a ransom to set [believers] free from the sins committed under the first covenant.” If at confession of faith, only my past sins had been forgiven, I would have still been at the mercy of the devil since my evil nature would have compelled me to continue in sin.

Christ not only provided my pardon, he defeated sin by destroying the law that defined it. Christ brought to an end the Old Covenant, the covenant of the law of Moses, the covenant that kills. (2 Cor 3:6) There can be no more sin under its jurisdiction. (see again Rom 4:15) This is Christ’s great victory over the devil. He robbed Satan of his power. Again, the writer of Hebrews stated, “For this reason (to cleanse our moral consciences from acts that lead to death) Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance.” (Heb 9:15 NIV) The writer also stated, “By calling this covenant ‘new,’ he has made the first obsolete.” (Heb 8:13 NIV) Believer’s are no longer under the righteous requirements of the Old Covenant and the evil one can no longer use its laws to cause sin and to bring about death.

That is not the end of the matter, however. John wrote of The Lord’s victory and of his proclamation: “I am the first and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” (Rev 1:18 NIV) The one who holds the keys has the power to control their use. That is, Christ has the power to determine who will die, who will be sentenced to Hades, and who will find eternal life. These are his determination!

The sacrificial death of Christ, in itself, does not fully meet the need of believers. The Lord holds the keys, and the matter of righteousness has not been concluded as some suppose. God still has requirements for those who are to dwell with him throughout eternity and the issue remains a “law” issue, not the law of Moses but the law of the Spirit. (Rom 8:2) “For the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.”(NIV) The issue remains one of obedience, and God’s righteous requirements still exist; Christ is the means of accomplishing them, however. Paul wrote: “For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so, he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Rom 8:3─4 NIV) The New Covenant is a covenant of the Spirit. The Lord is the Spirit (2 Cor 3:18) and he must be obeyed. (Heb 5:9) Fortunately for me and for all who claim the name of Christ, the law of the Spirit is embodied in the Spirit and he gives the power to accomplish his law and to achieve victory over Satan for the believer. (2 Pet 1:3) I have been freed from the death I deserved and from the weakness of my sinful nature. I walk cleansed and in the power and authority of the Spirit of Christ. Greater is he that is in [me] than he that is in the world.” (1 Jn 4:4 NIV) I have a better hope of victory because I have Christ and his presence in me. (Col 1:27)

In the end those who have claimed belief will face Christ at judgment to determine their reward or judgment in compliance to his rule. Freedom from judgment comes from allowing the Spirit to enlighten, lead, and empower the believer so that he or she does not commit practices that are offensive to God. Believers are compelled to walk in the light-in obedience to the Spirit-or as Christ walked. (1 Jn 2:6)

The great work of the cross was the destruction of Satan’s power by instituting a new and better covenant empowered by Christ, and the cleansing of believers from the sin that they carried while under the Old Covenant.

February 23, 2017

Little Power and Great Affirmation in Philadephia: Revelation 3

by Clarke Dixon

You feel powerless. Something is broken and you don’t think you can fix it. There is a problem and you don’t think you can find a solution. The complexities of life are like a maze and you don’t think you can find your way. What are we to do when we feel powerless?

Our friends may respond with a big dose of positive thinking; you are powerful, you can do anything, you are amazing! And sometimes, when we are thinking of ourselves more lowly than we ought, we need affirmation. But sometimes affirmation falls short. It feels hollow somehow. It is not just that we think we can’t fix it, or find the solution, or find our way. It is that we can not fix it, find the solution, or find our way. Sometimes we don’t just feel powerless, we are powerless.

In Revelation chapter three we have a letter to a small community of Christians who are of “little power.” (Revelation 3:8) This small community of Christians in Philadelphia could easily feel overwhelmed by those loyal to Roman ways of thinking and acting. They could also feel overwhelmed by those who strictly observe the Hebrew Bible but who don’t share their excitement over Jesus as the fulfillment of those scriptures. These two communities were much larger than the Christian community, and persecution was known to happen. So what does Jesus have to say to these powerless Christians?

Here is what Jesus says:

“These are the words of the holy one . . .” (Revelation 3:7)

Jesus is in effect saying, “I am the Holy One, and so the only One who has the power of God.” We read in Mark chapter 1 of a demon saying “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” (Mark 1:24). The demon knew Jesus had the power to destroy because the demon knew Jesus was God’s Holy One. 

“. . . the true one, . . .” (Revelation 3:7)

The word “true” here means “authentic, genuine.” Jesus is the “real deal.” No one but Jesus can promise relationship with God, life, or eternal life, and deliver on the promise.

“. . . who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.” (Revelation 3:7)

Jesus holds the key of of the Kingdom, and makes decisions on the door of the Kingdom. Persecutors may make decisions about a person’s death, but Jesus is the one who makes decisions on every person’s life & eternal life.

“I know your works.” (Revelation 3:8)

Jesus knows stuff! Nothing escapes his notice, neither the patient suffering of the persecuted, nor the evil deeds of those who persecute.

“Look, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut.” (Revelation 3:8)

Jesus creates opportunities. It may feel like opportunity belongs to the strong and powerful. However, Jesus can create opportunities for those with little to no power.

“I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but are lying—I will make them come and bow down before your feet,” (Revelation 3:9)

In other words “I will make justice happen.” There is a turning of the tables here, from the Philadelphian Christians being kicked out of the synagogue to those of the synagogue gathering around them.

“ . . . and they will learn that I have loved you.” (Revelation 3:9)

Jesus will clear up misunderstandings. Those who hate people because they think God hates them will someday find out whom God loves and how foolish it was to hate.

“I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.” (Revelation 3:10)

Here Jesus promises to hold the Christians through a time of trial. There are differing interpretations on the “what” and “when” of this “hour of trial.” The important thing is the promise of Jesus to keep his people through it.

“I am coming soon;” (Revelation 3:11)

Jesus will return and those persecutors who say that he is of no consequence, will see him and come to a new appreciation of just Who He is.

“If you conquer, I will make you a pillar in the temple of my God; you will never go out of it.” (Revelation 3:12)

Jesus will ensure the believer’s presence with God. They may have been cast out of the synagogue, and disowned by the city, but Jesus will give them a secure standing in his temple, the Bible’s great symbol for the presence of God.

“I will write on you the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem that comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.” (Revelation 3:12)

This is a promise of inclusion in God’s people, as well as a promise of reflection of God’s character, a “family resemblance” if you will.

The Christians in Philadelphia have little power. Does Jesus respond with affirmation, telling them that they have much more power than they think? There is affirmation, but most of the affirmations are about Jesus Himself! Let us look at the full letter to Philadelphia and notice the affirmations that pertain to Jesus:

And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These are the words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens8 “I know your works. Look, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. 9 I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but are lying—I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you. 10 Because you have kept my word of patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth. 11 I am coming soon; hold fast to what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. 12 If you conquer, I will make you a pillar in the temple of my God; you will never go out of it. I will write on you the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem that comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. 13 Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. Revelation 3:7-13 (emphasis mine)

Jesus does not affirm the power of his followers. He affirms His own power! In other words Jesus is telling the Christians in Philadelphia that they do not need to be God. He is! They do not need to be powerful. He is, and He loves them. Their part is to keep doing what they have been doing;

“I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. . . . Because you have kept my word of patient endurance, . . .” (Revelation 3:8,10).

Do you feel powerless? Something is broken and you don’t think you can fix it? There is a problem and you don’t think you can find a solution? The complexities of life are like a maze and you don’t think you can find your way? Perhaps you are correct. But you are not God. You don’t have to be. Look instead to the One Who Is.

There is one matter in life where we are completely and utterly powerless. We have absolutely no power to reconcile ourselves to God. But God does. And He has made it happen through Jesus at the cross. Let us not look to ourselves with false affirmations, but look to our Lord and Saviour with honest affirmations of His power and love.

 All Scripture references are from the NRSV

 Original Source: Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

December 17, 2016

What About Those Who Have Never Heard?

NIV Romans 10:14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”


NIV Luke 19:27 [Parable; rich man speaking]“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

Today we pay a return visit to the video series Seven Minute Seminary at Seedbed.com. This video is 3½ minutes long and features Dr. Ben Witherington. Have your Bible or Bible software/app handy while you’re listening.

What Happens to Those Who Never Hear the Gospel?

What happens to those who never hear the gospel? It’s a fair question to ask, and Christians throughout the centuries have answered it in different ways. In today’s Seven Minute Seminary, Dr. Ben Witherington tackles the problem by drawing a parallel to how God will deal with his people Israel at the end of the age, a theme treated in Romans 1.

How we answer this issue, sometimes framed as the destiny of the unevangelized, remains consistent with the consensus of historic Christianity and Scriptural teaching if we acknowledge that Jesus is the means of salvation—whether a person has explicit knowledge of Jesus and the gospel (exclusivist or restrictivist view) or whether a person has faith based on God’s general revelation made available to everyone (inclusivist view). On the other hand, the pluralist view, asserting that Jesus is just one of many ways to God, should be rejected (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Tim. 2:5-6).

Several challenges present themselves for each view. For those who argue that a person must somehow hear the gospel in order to be eternally saved, they must answer how exactly the saints in the Old Testaments will attain life everlasting (see this thought experiment by Roger Olson). Furthermore, they must deal with the fairness of their perspective. For those who affirm an inclusivist view, they must struggle with maintaining the centrality of repentance and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit in salvation, and the urgency of missions around the world. In the end, our Father, who has a holy and loving character that we can trust, will ensure that all is made right.

People of note throughout church history who taught inclusivism: Justin Martyr, Ulrich Zwingli, John Wesley, C. S. Lewis, Clark Pinnock.

More Scripture to consider: Psalm 19:1-4; Ezekiel 33:11; Luke 16:19-31; John 1:9; 9:12; 10:16; Acts 14:17; 17:26-27; Romans 1:20; 10:9-18; 1 Timothy 2:4; 4:10; 2 Peter 3:9; Hebrews 9:27.

See also: “What Happens to Those Have Never Heard the Gospel? How Prevenient Grace Makes a Difference” by Brian Shelton.

View the growing playlist of Seven Minute Seminary.

 

August 2, 2016

The Limits to Mercy

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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Occasionally we get a referral to an article on a blog which is new to us, only to discover the author has stopped writing. Still we wanted to share this February article with you today. This is a simply written response to a tough question that acknowledges its complexities. To read this at source click the title below. The author is Albert Wagner.

Is There A Limit To God’s Mercy?

This America can be a messed up place.

You can witness it on any given day.

People, while claiming to have their own reasons, go and repeatedly do the wrong thing – willfully and stubbornly, sometimes – while knowing deep down it is wrong.

They continue this process with the thought that a loving God will forgive them, because it states that in Scripture.

Sometimes the sin is minor (such as a white lie) and sometimes it is more significant (such as repeated cheating on a spouse).

But, in this case doing the wrong thing means the person knew better deep down. It might harm them financially or regarding their health, to use a few other examples, but it does not matter to them.

Some go to church on Sunday and ask for forgiveness and some don’t.

But the question for a spiritual blog is this:

Will God keep forgiving the same sin, or there a limit to God’s Mercy?

Jesus And Forgiving Sins

To begin with, here might be the thought process (for a Christian).

The Bible says that God forgives sin through the work of Jesus Christ. God is loving and wants his Creation to be saved.

1 John 1:8 reads,

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Jesus was asked by the disciples how many times they should forgive someone. Jesus said,

I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22).

 So, there it is in the Bible. It sounds like God will forgive your sin, as long as you repent.

After all, sinning is often the easier choice, even if it means pain later.

People might think that as long as they end up in heaven in the long term, then what does it hurt anyone to sin now? They think in their minds that, as long as they end up in the same place, what does it hurt to sin?

A Life Of Sin

So what is there to stop you from going and sinning repeatedly, with the idea that you will be forgiven?

Limits to God's MercyIn fact, Scripture is clear those who do not live a changed life and habitually continue in sin are not true believers.

There is also a matter of interpretation.

Take Matthew 12:31, which reads,

“And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.”

And, though this is a hard verse for some, one interpretation states this is speaking of those who do not repent. That means sincerely repenting, changing what you do and living a life of faith. It involves more than sitting in a church pew for one hour a week on Sunday.

Another relevant verse pertaining can be found in Matthew 5:48, where it reads,

“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”

Please also remember that Scripture mentions the concept of hell in several places. However one interprets this idea, it sounds like God does have some limits on those who repeatedly do the wrong thing.

And, please remember: A person can have eternal salvation, yet still experience consequences of sin. Humans might not understand how that works, but it is important to consider.

In addition to these things, It is also said if you are aware of your sins and they bother you, then the Holy Spirit is working and speaking to you. This is a good thing. It is better to have your sin bother you than to sin with no remorse.

All in all, one should be careful in ascertaining these things, as your eternal salvation is dependent on it. That might sound obvious, but it might be worth pondering.

Scripture is not intended to be black and white, but something to be pondered.

You still have time to change, because as humans we are all probably guilty of this at one time or another.

Yes, God wants you to repent. However, he also wants you to continue to live a life of faith like he directed in the Gospels.

In the end, though, God is the judge and it is not based on human reasoning.

The opinion of the author is to try to be aware of your sins and repent.

 

December 7, 2015

Have I Committed the Unpardonable Sin?

The question of “What is ‘the unpardonable sin?'” comes up often in church life. Many of you reading this have complete peace on this issue and don’t really feel you have anything to worry about, but would be at an absolute loss to explain it to someone who asked you. In part, we really don’t have a view of sin that goes beyond simple definitions, to see it from the point of view of a God who is full of both justice and grace; to see the things that grieve the heart of God.

This article by Patrick Hawthorne came recommended; it’s from his blog Serving Grace Ministries. Click the title below to read it at source (with comments) and then click “home” to view other articles.

Did I Commit the Unpardonable Sin?

The unpardonable sin!  Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit…  We read about it, but do we honestly understand it?  Is the unpardonable sin, a single sin by which there is no forgiveness?  Or is it, in actuality, a collection of sins stemming from an overall attitude, a willful blindness to the convicting power of the Holy Spirit?

The argument might be made, in my case anyways, that if the unpardonable sin were a onetime with no means of forgiveness sin then I should be found guilty.  In my younger and more stupid days, I had quite a few conversations with God in which I questioned His very existence.  In anger, I spoke harsh things to Him; I vilified Him which is exactly what blasphemy means.  Yet, here I am writing to you as a testimony to his His goodness and faithfulness.  Had I committed the unpardonable sin, I feel confident that I would be as the devil, completely void of any feelings of love towards my Heavenly Father.  Even so, what does the Word say about the subject?

In Mark chapter 3 we have the account of Scribes coming out of Jerusalem and confronting Jesus.  Seeing, yet belittling the miracles done before their very eyes, they mocked Jesus claiming that His healing powers were from Beelzebub.  Out of ignorance for their religious views, they made the claim that the power by which Jesus performed the miracles was unclean.  In other words, they likened the Holy Spirit to Satan. Notice the response of Jesus to their ignorance.

“Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation.”  (Mark 3:28-29)

By mocking Jesus and claiming that the miracles He performed were through the power of the devil, they were in essence mocking the Holy Spirit whom Jesus received real power.  But, did they commit the unpardonable sin? To answer this, look back at verse 29.  Jesus says, “But he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, BUT IS SUBJECT to eternal condemnation.  Jesus did not condemn them at that moment but let them know they were on very shaky grounds if they continued on their current path.

So, what can we make of the unpardonable sin?  Is it a onetime ordeal, or is it a progressive attitude?  It is my personal belief that the unpardonable sin is a progressive attitude whereby the offender grieves the Holy Spirit to such a degree that He forever withdraws His convicting power.  Without His convicting power, there can be neither forgiveness nor repentance.

If you are reading this and have been concerned that you have committed the unpardonable sin, rest assured that you have not.  The mere fact that you are concerned indicates that the Holy Spirit is very active in your life and He is trying to maneuver you to a closer relationship with the Father.  Be blessed.

December 2, 2015

Christmas is On the Way. So is Jesus.

by Clarke Dixon

•••click here to read today’s article at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

Christmas is on the way, but what kind of Christmas celebrations will there be for many Christians who have experienced persecution this year? Consider the outright violence and threats of violence. Consider the desperate times as ISIS spread across Iraq and Syria. Convert, pay a tax, or die. Christians in the Middle East are now among the most persecuted people groups in the world. We may trip over the words of Revelation 1:6 that speak of how God “made us to be a kingdom.” It can feel like a pretty weak kingdom.

It must have felt like a pretty weak kingdom to the first readers of the letter we now call Revelation. Those early Christians were facing greater amounts of persecution from a persistently powerful Rome. Though confessing “Jesus is Lord,” it must have seemed sometimes like Caesar was the more powerful lord, or at least the king of the winning team.

Having tripped over verse six, we fall headlong into verse 7:

7 Look! He is coming with the clouds;
every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him;
and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.
So it is to be. Amen
(Revelation 1:7)

Here are some things to notice:

“He is coming with the clouds.” Clouds often signify the presence of God and so we have the assurance of the presence of God drawing near here. But there is more; “Coming with the clouds” makes us think of Daniel 7:

13 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14 NIV)

In Daniel 7 there is a vision of four terrible beasts that come up out of the water, each one representing a kingdom. That these kingdoms are described as beasts points us to their inherent inhumanity. But these kingdoms each meet their end, and so begins a new era under a new king, one like a “son of man.” In other words one who rules in a truly human, or at least human as God originally intended, rather than beastly fashion. Revelation 1:7 therefore is not a new idea, but rather a confirmation that God’s Kingdom is coming, and it is Jesus who is the Son of Man, and so the true coming King. All the horrors that Christians might face at this time, no matter how beastly, will be swept away. Just wait.

“Every eye will see him.” Some people think that advances in technology will be what makes this possible at the return of Jesus as everyone will be able to see Him on their smartphones. I’m sure this is not a reassuring thought to technophobes! This actually describes a much more significant kind of event than a simple appearance of Jesus to be captured on an iPhone and shared through Twitter. The second coming of Jesus will be heralded with much more than a tweet. This is not like Christmas where we think of only the shepherds and magi having the opportunity to get close to him. While the conception of Jesus was supernatural, his birth was natural. You might even call it ordinary, except that every birth is extraordinary. The first appearing of Jesus was natural, the next time it will be supernatural. “Every eye will see him.” This includes even those currently without sight. This includes . . .

“Even those who pierced him.” Those responsible for the conviction and murder of the most innocent person in the history of the world will see Jesus. Noting that such people are currently dead, you will notice that a resurrection of the dead is therefore in view here. Again, “every eye will see him.”

As we think of those who were responsible for the murder of Jesus, we can think of High Priest following the arrest of Jesus: “Again the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?’” (Mark 14:61) Note how Jesus answers:

Jesus said, “I am; and
‘you will see the Son of Man
seated at the right hand of the Power,’
and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven. ’”
(Mark 14:62)

Here again is that reference to the prophecy from Daniel 7. On the lips of Jesus we now realize it is not just the Roman rulers, but even the religious rulers of Jerusalem who are implicated as being beastly powers. And in referring to Daniel 7 Jesus is basically saying “you stand over me in judgement now, but just wait, someday I will stand in judgement over you.” That those who perpetrated the greatest injustice of all time will see justice is a great encouragement for the Christian who experiences the injustice of beastly powers. Just wait and see.

“And on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.” Why will there be wailing? Because those who dish out injustice do not like being at the receiving end of justice. The next time Jesus comes it will not be the stuff of cutesy Christmas cards. Some people find the concept of Jesus being just in His judgement as being distasteful. It can sound rather “unChristian” and “unaccepting.” Yet we fail to recognize that we naturally celebrate when good triumphs over evil. The original Star Wars trilogy would have ended horribly had the emperor not met his doom. Spoiler alert! The Hunger Games trilogy would have ended horribly had good not finally triumphed over evil. The return of Jesus will be the final triumph of good over evil. The cross of Jesus is the ultimate triumph of good over evil.

This is the season of Advent, a time of waiting and expectation. Many people are looking forward to Christmas who are not not looking forward to the return of Jesus. Many people are looking forward to Christmas who really ought to fearful of the return of Jesus. This is a shame, because Christmas points us to the cross where Jesus died in our place. It was at the cross that the greatest triumph of good over evil occurred. And it is because of His love that we can look forward, not with fear, but with hopeful expectation to the return of Jesus. His judgement of sin has already taken place for those who turn to him in trust and repentance.

So what kind of a kingdom do Christians comprise when we seem to be so weak in the world? One with the greatest King ever, awaiting the final triumph of good over evil. If you have trouble believing that, then just wait and see.

All scripture references are taken from the NRSV unless otherwise noted.

 

August 31, 2015

Offering Unauthorized Fire

Leviticus 10:1 (NIV) Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, contrary to his command. 2 So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. 3 Moses then said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord spoke of when he said:

“‘Among those who approach me
I will be proved holy;
in the sight of all the people
I will be honored.’”

Aaron remained silent.

4 Moses summoned Mishael and Elzaphan, sons of Aaron’s uncle Uzziel, and said to them, “Come here; carry your cousins outside the camp, away from the front of the sanctuary.” 5 So they came and carried them, still in their tunics, outside the camp, as Moses ordered.

6 Then Moses said to Aaron and his sons Eleazar and Ithamar, “Do not let your hair become unkempt and do not tear your clothes, or you will die and the Lord will be angry with the whole community. But your relatives, all the Israelites, may mourn for those the Lord has destroyed by fire. 7 Do not leave the entrance to the tent of meeting or you will die, because the Lord’s anointing oil is on you.” So they did as Moses said.

8 Then the Lord said to Aaron, 9 “You and your sons are not to drink wine or other fermented drink whenever you go into the tent of meeting, or you will die. This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, 10 so that you can distinguish between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean, 11 and so you can teach the Israelites all the decrees the Lord has given them through Moses.”

These are two excerpts from the book What Would Jesus Read by Joe Amaral; two readings related to Leviticus.  In the last year, Joe turned his attention from First Century studies to the heavens. Check out our review of The Story In The Stars.For more of Joe here at C201, click this link.

Leviticus 10:1
They offered unauthorized fire

Aaron’s sons offered unauthorized fire to God. God struck them dead as a result of their sin. Seems a little strong, yet that is what the Scripture records. God is love and God is fair, but God is also just. We like to forget that sometimes.

Many Christians are taught that the God of the New Testament is not the God of the Old Testament – that the God of the New Testament is filled with love and compassion, and the God of the Old Testament is a violent, cruel, and angry God. That is simply not the case. The Bible says in Malachi 3:6, “I the LORD do not change.”

We need to understand the holiness and justness of God. He is slow to anger and he is willing to bless and love for a thousand generations. But we have to live in the reality that there are consequences to sin.

A police officer may forgive us for running a red light, but we still have to pay the fine. We must learn to live in reverent fear before the Lord and to walk in His ways. He is a loving God who guides our steps, even when we sometimes veer off the path.


Leviticus 10:7
So they did as Moses said

Have you ever used the term “scared to death”? That would apply to today’s passage. The entire camp was literally scared to death. Aaron’s two sons had just been killed for offering unauthorized fire.

God spoke through Moses, and the people did as Moses said. You can be sure that no one was considering disobeying Moses after what had just happened. This wasn’t the first time the people suffered death because of disobedience. Remember at Mount Sinai when they worshiped the golden calf? Three thousand were put to death that day.

People always judge the people of Israel for not “getting it.” They always seemed to stray away from God, get punished, get forgiven, and then stray away again. Let’s take a good long look in the mirror: are we any different today? How many times have you been forgiven for the same sin? We have all fought the same fight with our sins.

Let the fear of the Lord guide you as you strive to live for Him. He has given us His Word to be a light.

~Joe Amaral in What Would Jesus Read? (FaithWords, 2012)

 

August 4, 2015

Pentecost Expectations

Luke 24:49“And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

Today’s devotional was written in anticipation of Pentecost Sunday, but sometimes it’s good to distance our reading from specific dates. For example, as I’ve suggested before, reading the Christmas narrative on a hot August day may help you see something in the text you’ve missed before.

So we pay a return visit here to SpiritChatter, the blog of Jack Levison. As usual, click the title to read this at source.

The Promise of Pentecost You May Not Know

In the days prior to that first Pentecost, Jesus’ followers were huddled together, gathered around a single command, a solitary promise. Jesus had told them to wait in Jerusalem for the “promise of the father” (Luke 24;49). So they did.

What would that promise have looked like to them? What exactly were they waiting for? A clue to the answer lies in Peter’s sermon, which he delivers after the upper-room faithful are filled with the holy spirit and speak in other dialects, which scattered Jewish pilgrims from throughout the Roman Empire are able to understand. Peter quotes from Joel 2 (Joel 3 in Hebrew): the spirit has been out-poured, slaves and slave-girls, young and old, male and female can now prophesy.

Peter’s use of Joel provides a pretty good clue to what the earliest followers of Jesus were waiting for. They waited for the outpouring of the spirit. That was the promise of the father.

Joel 3, which Peter quotes, belongs to a collection of promises that God would pour out the spirit. Prior to this, our own Pentecost, let’s look at a lesser known promise of the outpouring of the spirit—in the hopes that we, like Jesus’ earliest followers, can wait for the promise of the father, too.

In the earliest of these promises, the prophet Isaiah confronts women who are mired in complacency—whether by their own choice isn’t clear. Isaiah predicts a failure of harvest, the aftermath of a war that will devastate the palace and city. These women, Isaiah urges, should beat their breasts in mourning for the death of their fields and vines.

Nonetheless, impending judgment is met with distant promise. The palace, city, fields, and vines will lie desolate:

… until a spirit from on high is poured out on us, and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field, and the fruitful field is deemed a forest. Then good judgment will dwell in the wilderness, and justice abide in the fruitful field. The effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever. My people will abide in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places. (Isaiah 32:15)

The advent of the spirit will mean the inauguration of justice.

Like so many promises, however, there is something vague and inexplicable, something unimaginable about this one. How will good judgment dwell in the wilderness, and how will justice occur in fruitful fields?

Shouldn’t justice come to city gates, where men gather to deliberate?

Shouldn’t justice come to palaces, where kings and queens rule?

Not this time. This may just be an image of justice toward workers, a promise of fields with corners left unharvested so that the poor and aliens, like Ruth, can gather their food.

Is Pentecost about migrant workers? Does the promise of the father demand that we work on behalf of the workers who pick and pluck our Pentecost lunches, our strawberries and lettuce leaves? Is that what Pentecost means today?

And the effect of right judgment and justice will be, of course, peace, quietness, lack of fear. There will be, in short, security and stability. In the aftermath of destruction, in the wake of desolation, people will come home. Home will come to the homeless.

Is the promise of the father, the foundation of Pentecost, that home will come to the homeless, to wanderers, to migrants?

Probably. That’s why the outpouring of the spirit in Isaiah’s vision doesn’t happen in sacred sanctuaries, with red-festooned banners, with red-vested priests and pastors, with red-breasted bishops. The outpouring of the spirit, the advent of Pentecost, happens elsewhere: on the edge of desolation.

That’s the promise of the father.

April 3, 2015

At The Cross

TOL squareToday’s article is presented jointly with Thinking Out Loud, part of our blog network, which looks at topical issues and Christian current events 7-days-a-week.

Gal 6:14 May I never put anything above the cross of our Lord Jesus the Anointed. Through Him, the world has been crucified to me and I to this world.

This morning I attended two very different Good Friday services in two different towns.  As I left the first one, and walked toward my car, I couldn’t help but ask myself, “What is my takeaway for having been here?” Also, “What does the cross mean to me, personally?”

Really, I have no words. A song came to mind from Matt Redman, I Will Offer Up My Life, and the line

Oh my words could not tell, not even in part
Of the debt of love that is owed by this thankful heart.

As I thought about it later, the song is strongly oriented to Easter even though the title points to a personal response of sacrifice to God.

You deserve my every breath, for You’ve paid the great cost
Giving up your life to death, even death on the cross
You took all my shame away, there defeated my sin
Open up the gates of heaven and have beckoned me in

The cross does demand a response however, and for Redman, the songwriter, that response is defined in the first verse,

I will offer up my life in spirit and truth
Pouring out the oil of love, as my worship to you
In surrender I must give my every part
Lord, receive this sacrifice of a broken heart

At the second service we looked at the verse in Galatians (above) and also this passage:

NIV I John 4:8b …God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

The speaker said that while “the holiness of God demanded that there be a punishment for sin, the love of God demanded that there be a way of salvation.” The sermon title was, “There Had to be a Cross.”  That reminded me of another song by another British songwriter, Graham Kendrick, Here is Love. The speaker said the cross is the intersection of our sin and God’s love; you could also God’s requirement for justice meeting his loving mercy.

Grace and love like mighty rivers
Born incessant from above
Heaven’s peace and perfect justice
Kissed a guilty world in love

My prayer today is that you also would find something new in the Good Friday/Easter narrative, and would make a personal response.

Here’s the song that follows the one above from Graham Kendrick.

March 18, 2015

The Exclusive Claim of Christianity

Clarke Dixon returns with part four of our midweek series in John 14 (and its relationship to Revelation.)
one-way-jesus

Why is Jesus the Only Way?

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6 NRSV

There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12 NRSV

Why is Jesus the only way? Jesus himself taught this, as did the first Christians. To believe otherwise is to depart from a Biblical Christianity. But why did it have to be this way? Why can’t God just make it such that all sincere believers of anything, or something, or nothing in the case of a sincerely good atheist, are all on a path to God?

Revelation chapters six and seven are helpful in understanding this. In Revelation chapter six we have a vision of the opening of six seals. With the opening of each of these seals terrible things take place. This is symbolic of the judgement of God against sin, and let’s just say that it does not go well for the sinner. It culminates in a desire to escape the judgement of God:

15 Then the kings of the earth and the magnates and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb; 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand? Revelation 6:15-17 NRSV emphasis mine

We should take a moment here to recognize that many people, Christians included, do not like to hear about the “wrath” of God. It makes God sound like he is terribly, well . . . judgmental. But let us consider that the wrath of God is the expression of the justice of God. While we don’t like hearing about wrath we recognize that justice is good. When justice is missing in the world, we long for it, we work for it, we pray for it. If justice were missing in God, we very soon find ourselves longing for it. The wrath of God, the expression of God’s justice is part of the glory of God. To ask God to express no wrath would be to ask God to have less glory. Wrath is part of the goodness of God. God is perfectly just. God cannot be perfectly just and turn a blind eye to sin no more than a judge can be perfectly just and pay no attention to the evidence just because he or she happens to like the defendant.

Revelation six therefore speaks to us about the justice of God, that yes, sin carries consequence. The chapter finishes with a question: when God’s justice is expressed, “who is able to stand?”

Now let’s move to chapter seven where we find there is a

great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10 They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” Revelation 7:9-12 NRSV

This sounds more positive! And did you notice something about these people? They are “standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” They are standing! On the day of God’s wrath, on the day God’s justice is expressed, who is able to stand before the throne? These people are. Who are these people? Good question, in fact it is asked:

13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” Revelation 7:13 NRSV

If we were John how might we have answered that question? Many might say things like “these are good people, nice people who are good to others, they are able to stand on the day of justice,” or “these are people who were sincere in their religion, no matter what religion it was.” John, however, does not attempt an answer, he asks the one who knows the answer:

14 I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Revelation 7:14 NRSV

Here we have the reason that Jesus is the only way. In Jesus the perfect justice of God meets the perfect love of God. No one comes to God the Father except through God the Son, because He is the only One through Whom the perfect justice of God could be expressed in a way that saves sinful people. This justice and love comes together at the cross. No one else could pay the penalty of sin for us, because everyone else has their own sin on their heads. Except Jesus, He is the only One who could stand in our place while the perfect justice of God is expressed. And He is the only One to ever have claimed to do such.

There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12 NRSV

Because of Jesus, people are able to stand on the day of God’s wrath, the day His perfect justice is expressed.

But this still sounds very exclusive to some people. However, notice how wonderfully inclusive this vision is. It is a “great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.” No one is excluded on the basis of race, gender, status, or nationality. God’s love knows no boundaries. You can be included in that multitude through repentance and trust. But perhaps it is your love that has boundaries? Perhaps it is not God’s love for you that is in question, but your love for God? If this is the case, I hope you will dig deep and consider your response to God’s offer of salvation through Jesus. I hope you will be found standing.

Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. 16 They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; 17 for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Revelation 7:14-17 NRSV

 


Today’s graphic is obviously a book cover, but now I can’t track down the source.

January 22, 2015

Longing for the End of Tyranny, Injustice, Inhumanity and Oppression

Today’s thoughts from Clarke Dixon are very timely.  To read this on his blog click the title below. You can leave comments here or there, but if you comment at Clarke’s blog he is more likely to read it sooner. We really appreciate him allowing us to use his material on a weekly basis.

Inhuman Empires and a Very Humane Ruler

There is a lot of bad news throughout the world with people seeking power through violence. Daniel had some bad news for God’s people in exile about successive beastly and violent empires:

In the first year of King Belshazzar of Babylon, Daniel had a dream and visions of his head as he lay in bed. Then he wrote down the dream:  2 I, Daniel, saw in my vision by night the four winds of heaven stirring up the great sea,  3 and four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another.  4 The first was like a lion and had eagles’ wings. Then, as I watched, its wings were plucked off, and it was lifted up from the ground and made to stand on two feet like a human being; and a human mind was given to it.  5 Another beast appeared, a second one, that looked like a bear. It was raised up on one side, had three tusks in its mouth among its teeth and was told, “Arise, devour many bodies!”  6 After this, as I watched, another appeared, like a leopard. The beast had four wings of a bird on its back and four heads; and dominion was given to it.  7 After this I saw in the visions by night a fourth beast, terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong. It had great iron teeth and was devouring, breaking in pieces, and stamping what was left with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that preceded it, and it had ten horns.  8 I was considering the horns, when another horn appeared, a little one coming up among them; to make room for it, three of the earlier horns were plucked up by the roots. There were eyes like human eyes in this horn, and a mouth speaking arrogantly. (Daniel 7:1-8 NRSV)

Most Biblical scholars see these four beast as representing the four empires that were in control from the time of Daniel. The lion is Babylon, the bear is Persia, the leopard is the Greek conquest of Alexander the Great, the terrifying fourth beast is Rome. So far this is all bad news for God’s people. But in Daniel’s vision there is good news:

9 As I watched,
thrones were set in place,
and an Ancient One took his throne,
his clothing was white as snow,
and the hair of his head like pure wool;
his throne was fiery flames,
and its wheels were burning fire.
10 A stream of fire issued
and flowed out from his presence.
A thousand thousands served him,
and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him.
The court sat in judgment,
and the books were opened.
11 I watched then because of the noise of the arrogant words that the horn was speaking. And as I watched, the beast was put to death, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire. 12 As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season and a time.
13 As I watched in the night visions,
I saw one like a human being
coming with the clouds of heaven.
And he came to the Ancient One
and was presented before him.
14 To him was given dominion
and glory and kingship,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
that shall not pass away,
and his kingship is one
that shall never be destroyed. (Daniel 7:9-14 NRSV emphasis mine)

The good news is the judgement of evil, and the appointment of a new ruler. The contrast of this new ruler to the old regimes could not be clearer, for where the beasts come up from the sea, the appointed ruler comes from heaven. Also, where the empires are described as beasts, and so inhuman, he is described as being “like a son of man,” so quite humane. With Daniel’s prophecy in mind let us move forward in time and see how things work out. Let us go to Jesus’ calling of Nathanael:

49 Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” (John 1:49-51 NRSV emphasis mine)

Here we are at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry and already Nathanael is speaking about the identity of Jesus: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Perhaps most were thinking that Jesus should rather be identified as “carpenter, the son of Mary, and perhaps Joseph.” So Nathanael’s confession of Jesus’ identity is very lofty indeed. But Jesus points the disciples toward an even sharper confession of identity: “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” The angels of God ascending and descending is a reminder of Jacob’s ladder and as such causes us to think of Jesus as the person where we meet God. Previous to Jesus that distinction was given to a place, the Temple. But we should also take note that Jesus refers to himself as “Son of Man.” Some will say that this an expression simply means “human being,” and so ,though Jesus uses it to refer to himself very often, perhaps he means nothing special by it. But notice how Jesus uses it once he is arrested:

Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?” 61 But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”
62 Jesus said, “I am; and
‘you will see the Son of Man
seated at the right hand of the Power,’
and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven. ’”
63 Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “Why do we still need witnesses? 64 You have heard his blasphemy! What is your decision?” All of them condemned him as deserving death. (Mark 14:60-64 NRSV emphasis mine)

At his conviction Jesus confirms what he has been meaning by “Son of Man” all along. He is the ruler God appoints in Daniel 7. He is the one who will end tyranny and oppression. He is the one who will bring justice. He is the good news.

So what do we learn from this?

First, we must think about the identity of Jesus. Many people in our society see Jesus as being a great moral teacher and nothing more. Some suggest that Jesus never pushed himself as being more than a moral teacher, that his divinity is a fabrication of his followers. But had Jesus been a great moral teacher and nothing more would he have been crucified? Notice the tipping point that caused the High Priest to declare that Jesus must die; It was Jesus calling himself the “Son of Man” who would be “coming with the clouds of heaven.” It was his blatant reference to himself as the coming ruler Daniel 7 points to. Do you go far enough in your understanding of who Jesus is? Have you really considered the Biblical teaching that Jesus is “Son of Man,” “Son of God,” and “God the Son?” Have you considered the evidence that the Biblical teaching is rooted in the teaching of Jesus himself and is not a later fabrication? Have you considered how He fulfills the prophecies and promises of the Old Testament?

Second, Jesus is the solution to the problem of inhuman empires today. How many empires and nations across our world could we describe as “beastly?” If rulers everywhere were to follow the example and teaching of Jesus in the way of the cross, the way of love, this would be a vastly different world, a more humane one.

Third, people and nations may ignore Jesus and his teachings now, but they will not be able to in the future. Atrocities are happening around the world and we wonder “where is justice?” The book of Revelation also reflects the fulfillment of Daniel 7:

7 Look! He is coming with the clouds;
every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him;
and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. (Revelation 1:7 NRSV)

Justice is on the way. So also is a ton of love.

The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! (Revelation 22:20 NRSV)

And He Shall Reign Forever

August 19, 2014

A Message to Prime Ministers, Presidents and Kings

We continue today with weekly contributor Clarke Dixon.  You can also read this at his blog by clicking the title below:

Biblical Message to World Rulers: Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid. Reflections on Psalm 2

There is no shortage of rulers, now, and in recent memory, who have plunged or kept the people under their care into darkness. We think of Bin Laden and the recruitment of people into lives of terror. We think of the Taliban and remember the dismal treatment of women. We think of Boko Haram and the atrocities committed of late. We think of those associated with the new “Islamic State” and the reports of beheadings, kidnappings, forced conversions, and executions. Already the rulers of these organizations are responsible for thousands dead and thousands more living in terror this year. But we can also look back to other atrocities within living memory. There is Hitler responsible for 10 million deaths, 6 million of which were Jews, and we are not even counting those who died in battle from the war he started. Stalin is said to be responsible for 7-13 million dead, some say much more. Mao is said to be responsible for 40-50 million dead. How many more lived, but lived in terror? These rulers and all like them have something in common beyond being responsible for plunging people into darkness: they are mentioned in the Bible. Consider:

1 Why do the nations conspire, and the peoples plot in vain? 2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and his anointed, saying, 3 “Let us burst their bonds asunder, and cast their cords from us.” (Psalm 2:1-3 NRSV)

These verses originally speak to the rulers surrounding Israel in Old Testament times, and the “anointed” referred to the earthly king of Israel. But they also point to Jesus Christ as true King, and to rulers throughout all of history and even today who operate in ways that are far from the Kingdom ways of the Lord. No thought is given by all such rulers to the possibility that Jesus Christ is “King of kings, and Lord of lords” (Rev 19:16) and that they are subject to His rule. They are expected to follow Christ as they lead others.

Since Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords, He has the right, in fact the obligation, to execute justice with regards to those who rule:

4 He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord has them in derision.
5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
6 “I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.”
7 I will tell of the decree of the Lord:
He said to me, “You are my son;
today I have begotten you.
8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
9 You shall break them with a rod of iron,
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
(Psalm 2:4-9 NRSV emphasis mine)

Revelation makes the connection between Psalm 2 and Jesus quite clear:

15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron; he will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, “King of kings and Lord of lords.” (Revelation 19:15-16 NRSV emphasis mine)

Keep reading in Revelation and you will learn what happens next to “the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of the mighty” (v18). It is not pretty.

Can you imagine that day, when the each ruler of the earth will stand before the judgement seat of Christ to give an account for how they ruled? Can you imagine the questions that will be posed to them?

  • Why did you not follow Me? Why did you not follow the example I set of servant leadership? I am the Good Shepherd, who laid down His life for the sheep. Why did you not do likewise?
  • Why did you not lead people to Me? Is it not your duty as a leader, as a shepherd, to lead your people to greener pastures? Why did you instead plunge them into darkness?
  • Why are you making excuses? Did you not notice the greener pastures? Did you not see the positive impact My people have had in the world, wherever they have been truly following Me?
  • Why are you making excuses? Did you not notice how people have been following Me for many, many, many generations. Did you seriously think Christianity was just a passing fad? Did it never cross your mind that maybe your rule and your cause was the passing fad?
  • Did you stop to consider the positive impact upon your people had you drawn close to Me? The potential was too profound to ignore the possibilities.
  • Did you stop to consider the eternal implications for you in your relationship with Me? The potential was too profound to ignore the possibility.
  • Did you put any effort at all into exploring the evidence for My claim to being your Lord? Did you ponder the evidence for the truth of Christianity? As a leader, ought you not to have taken a lead in the most important questions ever asked?

Can you imagine it? And can you imagine what would happen if rulers everywhere would seriously explore the Christian faith? Can you imagine what kind of world we would live in if rulers everywhere would repent from their sins and turn to the Lord following the example of the Good Shepherd who “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45 NRSV)?

Final questions: Are you aware that you have people in your realm of influence? Are you aware that you may be considered a ruler of this earth? Are you aware that those same questions could be posed to you?

10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
11 Serve the Lord with fear,
with trembling 12 kiss his feet,
or he will be angry, and you will perish in the way;
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Happy are all who take refuge in him.
(Psalm 2:10-12 NRSV)

Let us pray for those who are living in darkness. Let us pray for the rulers who plunge or keep their people in darkness. Let us be encouraged that this world’s story is far from over and that darkness will give way to light. Let us pray that we will serve well, whenever and wherever we reign, and that in doing so we will reflect light into the lives of our families, friends, and enemies.

February 9, 2013

The One Who Will Judge is Non-Judgmental

I believe in God,
the Father almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried;
he descended into hell;
on the third day he rose again from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty;
from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting. Amen

~Apostles Creed  (see also a musical adaptation)

This week we went to an event that featured Steve Geyer, who was billed as a comedian, but really shared his heart for over two hours in a much more pastoral sense.

In one section he spoke about the surprising and unexpected things that take place in the earthly ministry of Jesus; things where the events and people and situations get turned on their heads, including the time Jesus is anointed with perfume by an uninvited guest to a party.

Three gospels carry this story. Mark  (chapter 14) who is usually much more concise gives us more than Matthew

Now the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were scheming to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. “But not during the festival,” they said, “or the people may riot.”

While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.

Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.

“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

10 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them.

Luke 7 is considered to be a different story that took place at a different time, but is a similar story that includes a parable that Jesus teaches:

36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

As Steve Geyer referred briefly to this story he said,

“The One who will judge the earth is non-judgmental.”

That phrase really hit me. Here we see another example of the contrast between “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild;” (itself not a fully accurate rendering of the earthly ministry of Jesus) and the one who sits at God’s right hand from where “he will come to judge the living and the dead.” Mercy contrasted with justice. God’s love versus God’s judgment.

John 5:24 “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. 25 Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.

Acts 10:39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Matthew 25:31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.

Jesus pours out love and compassion to so many in the gospel narratives, but just as a parent gently loves a child, so also does a parent not hesitate to bring rebuke, correction and discipline. (See this link for an interesting parallel between that and the work of the scriptures in our lives.) God’s justice must be satisfied, and yet, as I ponder Steve’s statement, I see even there a justice that is tempered by mercy and grace.


Even though today’s story may not be exactly in all four gospels, I did a check to see what teachings/stories are found in all four gospels:

  • Feeding the 5,000
  • Identification of the betrayer at the Last Supper
  • Jesus prays in Gethsemane
  • Peter’s denials
  • various elements of the death and resurrection

Scriptures quoted today are NIV; all underlinings in the creed and Bible verses added.

September 29, 2012

Unauthorized Fire

Leviticus 10:1 (NIV) Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, contrary to his command. So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Moses then said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord spoke of when he said:

“‘Among those who approach me
    I will be proved holy;
in the sight of all the people
    I will be honored.’”

Aaron remained silent.

Moses summoned Mishael and Elzaphan, sons of Aaron’s uncle Uzziel, and said to them, “Come here; carry your cousins outside the camp, away from the front of the sanctuary.” So they came and carried them, still in their tunics, outside the camp, as Moses ordered.

Then Moses said to Aaron and his sons Eleazar and Ithamar, “Do not let your hair become unkempt and do not tear your clothes, or you will die and the Lord will be angry with the whole community. But your relatives, all the Israelites, may mourn for those the Lord has destroyed by fire. Do not leave the entrance to the tent of meeting or you will die, because the Lord’s anointing oil is on you.” So they did as Moses said.

Then the Lord said to Aaron, “You and your sons are not to drink wine or other fermented drink whenever you go into the tent of meeting, or you will die. This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, 10 so that you can distinguish between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean, 11 and so you can teach the Israelites all the decrees the Lord has given them through Moses.”

Today we jump back to the book What Would Jesus Read by Joe Amaral and consider two more readings related to Leviticus.

Leviticus 10:1
They offered unauthorized fire

Aaron’s sons offered unauthorized fire to God.  God struck them dead as a result of their sin.  Seems a little strong, yet that is what the Scripture records.  God is love and God is fair, but God is also just.  We like to forget that sometimes.

Many Christians are taught that the God of the New Testament is not the God of the Old Testament – that the God of the New Testament is filled with love and compassion, and the God of the Old Testament is a violent, cruel, and angry God.  That is simply not the case.  The Bible says in Malachi 3:6, “I the LORD do not change.”

We need to understand the holiness and justness of God.  He is slow to anger and he is willing to bless and love for a thousand generations.  But we have to live in the reality that there are consequences to sin.

A police officer may forgive us for running a red light, but we still have to pay the fine.  We must learn to live in reverent fear before the Lord and to walk in His ways.  He is a loving God who guides our steps, even when we sometimes veer off the path.


Leviticus 10:7
So they did as Moses said

Have you ever used the term “scared to death”?  That would apply to today’s passage.  The entire camp was literally scared to death.  Aaron’s two sons had just been killed for offering unauthorized fire.

God spoke through Moses, and the people did as Moses said.  You can be sure that no one was considering disobeying Moses after what had just happened.  This wasn’t the first time the people suffered death because of disobedience.  Remember at Mount Sinai when they worshiped the golden calf?  Three thousand were put to death that day.

People always judge the people of Israel for not “getting it.”  They always seemed to stray away from God, get punished, get forgiven, and then stray away again.  Let’s take a good long look in the mirror: are we any different today?  How many times have you been forgiven for the same sin?  We have all fought the same fight with our sins.

Let the fear of the Lord guide you as you strive to live for Him.  He has given us His Word to be a light.

~Joe Amaral in What Would Jesus Read? (FaithWords, 2012)

 

June 10, 2012

Merciful Judge

Saw this yesterday at the blog Jesus Carries Me and I knew it belonged here, too!  For best results (!) read this at source, where it appeared under the title,

The Judge who is Plentiful in Mercy

Isaiah 21:13-17New International Version (NIV)

13 A prophecy against Arabia:

You caravans of Dedanites,
    who camp in the thickets of Arabia,
14     bring water for the thirsty;
you who live in Tema,
    bring food for the fugitives.
15 They flee from the sword,
    from the drawn sword,
from the bent bow
    and from the heat of battle.

16 This is what the Lord says to me: “Within one year, as a servant bound by contract would count it, all the splendor of Kedar will come to an end. 17 The survivors of the archers, the warriors of Kedar, will be few. ” The Lord, the God of Israel, has spoken.

Although there are many who like to think of God as their fluffy little genie in the sky who will pander to all their selfish desires, the Bible paints a different picture. Yes, God is good. Yes, He delights in doing us good. But He is also a Judge –a righteous Judge at that.

He doesn’t turn a blind eye to hurts perpetrated against people. He doesn’t turn a blind eye against the wrong. But He is also a judge who is plentiful in mercy. In fact, He is a Judge who became a Savior. Therefore, in order to learn the truth about God’s character, we cannot separate the two –Judge and Savior. We have to study His judgments as much as we study His promises of goodwill.

The Scripture reference above is a judgement against Arabia. The Arabians were known as caravaners and were also notorious for robbing other caravaners. Disaster is about to hit this nation. They were well known as skillful archers but neither their skill, nor their strength or courage will be able to protect them against the judgments of God. This serves as a reminder for us to ensure that our treasures are stored up in a place that is safe from the invaders and thieves of this world. Where your treasure is there your heart will be also. What are we storing up? Where is our heart? Is it with things that can be shaken? At the end of the day only what cannot be shaken will remain. Paul writes to Timothy:

To put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:17b-19)

You caravans of Dedanites, who camp in the thickets of Arabia, bring water for the thirsty

The prophecy starts by painting a picture of an evening scene as if it is saying that the sun is setting for Arabia. There is a call on the Dedanites to extend hospitality to those who will flee in fear from the threat of the approaching enemy. The Dedanites were merchants known for trading with the prolific port city of Tyre. Apparently they usually camped in the thick, hard-to-reach wooded areas of Arabia through which they usually enjoyed safe passage. They are called upon to give water to the thirsty fugitives. In a dry and arid land, giving someone water is seen as one of the greatest acts of hospitality. As the Arabians flee the enemy they will now become dependent on the kindness of others. The lesson here is that we should be generous in our help of others. We never know when it is our turn to be in need of the kindness of others.
You who live in Tema, bring food for the fugitives

The people who live inTema is also called upon to provide.  Tema is believed to have been an oasis. This indicates how the Arabians will experience a scarcity of basic necessities of food and water.

We see from these calls to Dedan and Tema, that although God brings His judgments against those who disobey Him, He still provides a way out of the danger and we see in the later verse that not all of the Arabians are destroyed. A small remnant is saved from the disaster.  The prophecy is given a year before the actual disaster takes giving those who hear it time to repent and change their ways. This is in line with God’s merciful character. Although He cannot turn His back on the wrong, He provides a way out. We have all sinned and fallen short of His glory. But He provided a way out for us to be made righteous. He provided a Substitute so that the judgement due to us will fall upon Christ Jesus. By faith in Him we escape the inevitable final judgement coming on this world.
All the splendor of Kedar will come to an end

Kedar was splendid in beauty, in power, riches and military strength but all these things were to be torn from them. They were excellently skilled as archers but this will not help them as the judgment of God comes against them. In Psalm 120:5 dwelling in the tents of Kedar is symbolic language for being cut off from the true worship of the true God. “Woe to me that I dwell in Meshek, that I live among the tents of Kedar!” Sometimes, we look at what is splendid on the surface and we live by sight instead of by faith. This is a reminder that whatever looks grand in this world is destined for destruction and if we place our hope in these things we are bound to be terribly disappointed.

God is righteous. He is holy, but He will not leave us in our current state of hopelessness. He is merciful and will always provide a way out. If the Judge declares us innocent, who is there that can declare us guilty any longer?

If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us. (Romans 8:31b-34) NLT

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