Christianity 201

November 9, 2019

Are We There Yet?

Christianity 201 has been blessed over the years to feature the writing of Elsie Montgomery at the blog Practical Faith. She is faithful in writing and consistent in terms of the content of what she posts. I’m breaking a rule here and re-posting some recent things from her blog both today and tomorrow. Visit the blog and click the headers for individual articles.

Is He here yet?

Children are noted for their impatience on a trip by continually asking, “Are we there yet?” In their minds, time has two characteristics: now and forever!

Some Christians have the same attitude toward the return of Christ. Every bad news story brings the hope that this signals His coming. We are continually looking for signs and indications. Scripture is searched, predictions are made, even though Jesus said no man knows the day or the hour.

Peter was close to Jesus. He had ideas about the Second Coming. First, he predicted the scoffers who mocked that it would never happen, He said to his readers:

You should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” (2 Peter 3:2–4)

There are Christians that may not scoff but also desire that all things stay the same. Thoughts of the end of life here as we know it makes people uncomfortable. I’ve felt concern too, not wanting Jesus to come until He saves those who I pray for and thousands of others that have no faith and no hope for eternal life with Him.

Peter may have been thinking that children think of time as now/forever as he continued to explain the end to his readers. The scoffers need to realize that eternity is not about time. While the Bible gives no explicit explanation, it seems that God lives in the realm where everything is NOW. That is, in His mind, there is no beginning or end, no clocks, no deadlines. He is also not interested in a calendar but in the hearts of men and women. If He seems slow to return in our minds, it is only because He is patient with those who do not yet believe:

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. (2 Peter 3:8–10)

That fits with my heart too. Even though the end of evil and hardship appeals to me, I also want all to repent and believe in Jesus Christ. I don’t want anyone to forever be separated from God.

Peter gives an application for thinking about the Second Coming and the end of this life as we know it. He says:

Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:11–13)

His words are simple. Be a holy, godly person who waits patiently for Jesus to come and for the promise of a renewed creation. Evil will be removed and those who choose evil will be separated from God’s presence. All who trust Jesus will be with Him. This is not a popular topic and this application seems too vague. How do I live a holy life? What does it mean to be godly today?

For me, the answers are to seek the Lord in study and prayer, to obey what I know, and to rely on His grace and Holy Spirit to do it. This is not a list of rules nor laying out a plan. I can plan, but if interrupted, must listen for His direction. He will let me know what calls to answer, what chores to do, who to contact, and when I am procrastinating. In other words, the application is about knowing and being guided by the voice of Jesus.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Lord, help me hear You today. You know how my head can be filled with ideas and plans. May You guide me, and if today turns out to be ‘ordinary’ then I know You will have a few unexpected assignments thrown into my to-do list. That is fine with me. Just help me listen and willing to do all that You ask and at the same time rejoice in Your promise to return, knowing it will be exactly at the right time.

Today’s thankful list . . .
– the certain promise of Jesus to come again.
– the ability to plan and His willingness to be interrupted.
– today’s major interruption was important.
– making it through my chore list anyway.
– tilapia in lemon-flavored olive oil, yum.
– fresh snow.

October 31, 2019

Helping People Connect with God in an Increasingly Godless Society

(This “Shrunk Sermon” is from a series on The Book of Daniel which begins here)

by Clarke Dixon

How can we help people connect with God in an increasingly godless society? Fewer are calling themselves Christians. Fewer are committed to attending church. Fewer people turn to churches in times of spiritual seeking. People now look for wedding officiants instead of pastors. People now desire a celebration of life rather than a Christian funeral. There is no doubt that people in North American and Western Europe have been turning away from Christianity. With this being the trajectory, are we able to help them connect with God?

In Biblical times Babylon was more godless than we are. King Nebuchadnezzar makes Prime Minister Trudeau, President Trump, and President Putin, all look like angels. Yet in Daniel, chapter 4 we see something remarkable:

Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble. Daniel 4:37 (NIV)

Nebuchadnezzar, a far-from-godly king over a truly godless empire made a God-connection! God’s people were very much in the minority, so we cannot give credit to prayer in schools, or Bible based laws. Church attendance was at an all time low! There is therefore hope for Canadians. If Nebuchadnezzar can make a God connection, anyone can. There are lessons for Canadian Christians in Daniel, chapter 4.

First, note Daniel’s heart:

“Upon hearing this, Daniel (also known as Belteshazzar) was overcome for a time, frightened by the meaning of the dream. Then the king said to him, ‘Belteshazzar, don’t be alarmed by the dream and what it means.’
“Belteshazzar replied, ‘I wish the events foreshadowed in this dream would happen to your enemies, my lord, and not to you! Daniel 4:19 (NLT)

Daniel’s heart broke for Nebuchadnezzar. There is no doubt about Daniel’s heart for God. However, Daniel also had a heart for Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel was moved by what he knew would happen to the king. Keep in mind that this is not a good and godly king. This is a not a friendly empire. This king had thrown Daniel’s friends into the fire. This king had threatened to destroy all the wise men, including Daniel, when they were unable to discern his dream. This empire had invaded Daniel’s homeland and taken people, including Daniel, as captives. Yet, it touched Daniel’s heart that Nebuchadnezzar was about to experience misfortune. Daniel was loving the enemy long before Jesus taught us to do so.

Do our hearts break for those who experience disconnect from God? Nebuchadnezzar was very different from Daniel. He had a different background, grew up speaking a different language, followed a different religion, and therefore had different values. Do our hearts break for those who would seem to be very different from us?

Do our hearts break over the struggles and misfortunes of others, even perceived enemies, or do we say, “told you so”? Do our hearts break for people? Do we faithfully love others? Broken hearts will be the evidence.

Second, note that Nebuchadnezzar’s connection with God was a journey.

Nebuchadnezzar had glorified Daniel’s God before, in chapter two. That did not stop him from throwing Daniel’s friends into a furnace in a fit of rage in chapter three. Chapter four ends with a stronger connection between the king and God than ever before. Yet there is likely more distance to go in Nebuchadnezzar’s understanding of the divine and his relationship with God. The path to, and with, God can be a long journey.

A relationship with God is always a journey. In previous Kanye West albums I have heard some Christian thoughts. In his latest album, called “Jesus is King,” there are nothing but Christian thoughts. Kanye is on a journey! Yet Kanye calls into question the ability of established Christians to walk that journey with him:

Said I’m finna do a gospel album
What have you been hearin’ from the Christians?
They’ll be the first one to judge me
Make it feel like nobody love me
They’ll be the first one to judge me
Feelin’ like nobody love me
Told people God was my mission
What have you been hearin’ from the Christians?
They’ll be the first one to judge me
Make it feel like nobody love me

https://genius.com/Kanye-west-hands-on-lyrics

Helping people connect with God is a great privilege, at any point along the journey. Daniel never gave up on Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel never wrote the king off, but served him with heart. Do we give up on people? Have we given up on our nation? Do we engage with people, serving others as Christ served us? Or do we isolate ourselves? Worse, perhaps we might prefer to isolate them. Are we faithful in our journey with people, as they are on a journey in their relationship with God? Relationships will be the evidence.

Third, watch for God’s heart work.

There was an essential ingredient that Nebuchadnezzar needed for a better connection with God. He needed humility. In Daniel chapter 4, God, not Daniel, takes Nebuchadnezzar on a journey of self-awareness and God-awareness:

29 Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, 30 he said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?”
31 Even as the words were on his lips, a voice came from heaven, “This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you. 32 You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like the ox. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes.”
33 Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled. . . 34 At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. . . . 37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble. Daniel 4:29-34,37 (NIV)

Nebuchadnezzar is taken on a journey from thinking he is the best, with no need for God, to an awareness that he is, and has, nothing without God. Nebuchadnezzar does not make a vital connection with God until he is humbled. He needed some heart work, and God brought about that heart work.

People will not connect with God without some heart work. Merely sharing information won’t establish a God connection. Hearing the truth is often not enough. Daniel could say it, and he did. But Nebuchadnezzar did not learn it until he experienced it. The king had all the information he needed. Daniel put it in his head. However, the king did not have the humility to accept it until God prepared his heart. Still, it was important that Daniel say it. Are we committed to faithfully sharing the Good News of God’s love in Christ, even when we are being ignored? Are we faithful in engaging people’s minds, while we look to God to open hearts? Prayer will be the evidence.

Conclusion

Fewer people seem to be making a connection with God in our not-so-Christian-anymore society. We might despair. But there is hope. If Nebuchadnezzar can make a vital God-connection, anyone can. Daniel was involved in that connection. We can be involved also. Are we faithful in our love for people, really and truly loving our neighbour, even our enemies, as Jesus calls us to? Are we faithful in our journey with people, every step of the way, even the smallest steps, even steps sideways or back? Are we faithful in engaging people’s minds, while we look to God to open their hearts?

June 9, 2019

Jesus in the Psalms

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:48 pm
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John 5:39:

You pore over the Scriptures because you presume that by them you possess eternal life. These are the very words that testify about Me (BSB)

You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!   (NLT)

■ Worship liturgy by Ruth Wilkinson:

The Son of God
Comes in name of the Lord
Praised by children
Delights in God’s Word

Mocked by enemies
Accused by liars
Hated without cause
Betrayed by friend
Prays for enemies

Lots cast for clothes
Given vinegar & gall

Hands & feet pierced
Bones unbroken
Forsaken by God

His betrayer replaced
Rises from death
Ascends to heaven

A priest forever
The Chief Cornerstone
Ruler of all
The Eternal King
Rules over His enemies with justice

■ From Nick Batzig at The Place for Truth

Athanasius once made the following statement about the book of Psalms: “While the entire Holy Scripture is a teacher of virtues and of the truths of faith, the book of Psalms possesses somehow the perfect image for the soul’s course of life.” The Psalter has a unique place in Old Testament revelation in that it really is a sort of miniature Bible. Every systematic and biblical-theological truth of Scripture is found, in seed form, in the Psalms. It should not, therefore, surprise us that the New Testament writers cite the Psalms more than any other book of the Old Testament. Neither should it surprise us that, in each citation, Jesus and the Apostles teach us that the Psalms are Messianic in nature. In so doing, they teach us the principles that we must follow as we seek to discover Christ in all the rest of the Psalms.

■ Timothy Keller at Crosswalk

…Most of all the psalms, read in light of the entire Bible, bring us to Jesus. The psalms were Jesus’s songbook. The hymn that Jesus  sang at the Passover meal (Matthew  26:30; Mark 14:26) would have been the Great Hallel, Psalms 113–118. Indeed, there is every reason to assume that  Jesus  would have sung all the psalms, constantly, throughout  his life, so that he knew them by heart. It is the book of the Bible that he quotes more than any other. But the psalms were not simply sung by Jesus; they also are about him, as we will see throughout this volume.

■ Nicholas Davis at Core Christianity

…At first glance, Psalm 1 doesnt look like a Messianic psalm. Theres no mention of a king or of a kingdom like we see in Psalm 2 or Psalm 110. There is nothing that ties the psalm directly to the suffering work of Jesus Christ as in Psalm 22. Psalm 1 looks like its just about any Israelite who is given the basic instruction to follow the Torah (the Law). But if we look at it again, we see something else. On the road to Emmaus, Jesus taught his disciples how to read the Bible. In Luke 24:44, he claimed that the whole Bible is about himself. This means that even all of the Psalms are ultimately about him.

■ Jeffrey Kranz at Biblia (Noting that the connection runs both ways; the Psalms point to Jesus and Jesus points to the psalms.)

…People didn’t follow Jesus only because of his miracles—they also followed him because he knew how to handle the Old Testament…

…Psalms is the most-read book of the Bible, and it’s the one Jesus quotes most often.

The book of Psalms is a collection of 150 songs and poems written to God. David penned half of them, and the rest were written by temple worship leaders (like the sons of Asaph), wise men (like Solomon), and some unknown poets (like . . . well, I don’t know).

Jesus quotes the Psalms on 11 occasions:

 


Go Deeper: Click the individual links to read more of each article by each author.

March 20, 2019

The Gospel of New Creation

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NLT.2 Cor.5.18 And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. 19 For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation.

NLT.Rom.8.19 For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. 20 Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, 21 the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. 22 For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children,[a] including the new bodies he has promised us.

Today we’re back again at the online resource, Start2Finish.org which includes various blogs, podcasts and Bible study materials materials available on everything from a phone app to print. This time however, we’re visiting the collection of writing called Classically Christian by Steven Hunter.  Click the header below to read this article at source.

John’s Gospel as Re-Creation

Decades before John determined the produce a gospel, Paul had already written about “new creation.” To the Corinthians, he wrote, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17; NKJV), and to the Galatians, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation” (Gal. 6:15). There are two manners in which new creation appears in the New Testament: as a present reality and a future expectation. The present reality was what Paul and John respectively wrote about in the passages above and the latter’s gospel, but they also each wrote about the future expectation of new creation (Rom. 8:18–23; Rev. 21:1–5). My concern here is more the present reality as it pertains to the Christian than the future eschatological expectation, and I believe John’s gospel shows that God was in Christ recreating that which was in need of refurbishment.

Most of us have owned used things but have referred to them as new. The home I live in is new to me because we just moved into it within the past few months, but the house itself was built in 1984. The same goes for my wife’s car, a Kia Sorento. When we bought it, it was used, but we considered it new to us. I used to frequent a consignment store with my wife in Bowling Green that had name-brand clothing at a very low price. Others had paid the retail price, I presumed and taken the loss whereas I got to sweep in and collect the goods at a much lower price. They were new to me, but not entirely new in theory. New creation in the present tense, I suggest, is similar. Oh sure, we still have thorns and thistles, but we’re anticipating the end result and through the Spirit are new in Christ.

As Christians, we are “created” (note the past tense) in Christ Jesus for good works, for we are His “finished product” (Eph. 2:10; my translation). As such, we are present in the reality of new creation, but we still await its culmination in the fully realized experience at the resurrection of our bodies. As it is, we are participating in a greater eschatological reality. We express such by practicing the newness of life proper to the new creation (Rom. 6:4). We tend to call it living Christianly, but we are demonstrating to the world and God’s glory, we pray, that how we live while Christians on earth now is how things shall be in the heavenly kingdom of God.

Until this point in history (c. 96), John’s gospel had only ever been preached. The former fisherman, now an old man with gray hair, was the last apostle of Jesus remaining. He had seen the church grow by leaps and bounds. He’d testified of Jesus as Israel’s Messiah with signs and wonders. With him was Polycarp, a young Christian in his twenties who’d go on to be a great leader in the church, but who would be martyred when in his eighties (c. 156). Polycarp was learning from John and was an ever promising young pupil.

Jerusalem had been destroyed just over twenty-five years earlier, and in the last few years, the Jews assembled in Jamnia (c. 90) to establish a school of the religious study of the Jewish Law. One of the first appointed deacons, Prochorus had been with Peter who’d appointed him to be a minister of Nicomedia. However, Peter had been crucified just before Jerusalem fell (c. 64), so Prochorus joined John and aided him. Now, John was about to send Prochorus to oversee the work at Antioch, but before he was to depart, Prohorus was to help John with one important work.

John had read Matthew, Mark, and Luke. He thought them each well written and accurate accounts of the ministry of Jesus though only Matthew was by a fellow apostle. However, the Synoptic accounts overlooked the earlier years of Christ’s ministry, and John believed that the church ought to know about this period of Jesus’ ministry since John himself was witness to it. John wasn’t taking this task lightly, because the Spirit had been speaking to him about writing another gospel account. Nevertheless, as an aged man whose eyesight wasn’t the best, and whose hand wasn’t steady, Prochorus would serve as his amanuensis—John would speak, and Prochorus would write. The Spirit had told John, “Write a new genesis,” so John knew what he’d do. As Prochorus sat poised at the writing table, John first spoke, “In the beginning.”

What follows in John’s gospel is a retelling of the Genesis story, but this time instead of being separated from God, humanity is reconciled to Him. Rather than falling prey to sin and futility, freedom is given through the sacrifice of God on a cross. Yes, Jesus is God and identifies himself as such in the prologue of John’s gospel and throughout. Instead of being ruled by sin, the new Adam, Christ, conquers it so that His new creation can exist and operate in the newness of life. The entire framework of this is accomplished in the guise of the temple, as will be explained momentarily.

When in elementary school, I remember during science class the teacher showing us children how magnets stuck together and explained that they were from separate poles. However, when we’d take magnets from the same pole and try to put them together, they naturally repelled. When God created the heavens and earth, His creation of such was made so that we were with Him and Him with us. We had perfect fellowship, but when sin became the reality of human existence, we began to push God away. At every turn we have sought to push God away, likely due to our own shame. However, God has graciously pursued us to bring us to Himself. This is reconciliation. In His works on earth and the cross, God was, in Jesus, reconciling the world to Himself (2 Cor. 5:18–19).


Steven Hunter (PhD, Faulkner University) is the preaching minister for the Glendale Road Church of Christ in Murray, KY. He’s also authored several books for Start2Finish, and Classically Christian explores Christianity from a church-historical perspective.

December 28, 2018

Recurring Fulfillment: A Virgin Shall Conceive

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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Today’s post is new, but first I want to refer back to something we covered in 2012. At the time — as we will also consider today — the question was, “How can a prophecy which was so clearly fulfilled at ‘Point A’ in time, be considered to be one which will be fulfilled at ‘Point B’? Or to put it the other way around, “How can something which is so clearly speaking about something which will be fulfilled at ‘Point B’ be said to have already been fulfilled at ‘Point A’?

At the time I shared this:

I asked an old friend of mine and former seminary student about this, because it happens in the prophetic writings and also in the Psalms. He shared with me how the prophets see across a line of time, with the vision of someone following stones skipping across the water. So we find prophecies having fulfillment at various junctures in history; and while the a text in Luke [21] would seem to have its primary fulfillment in the destruction of the temple, it could also be argued that this is actually a secondary fulfillment because it is a mere foreshadowing of the main events to come.

When you’re in the moment however, things are different. In 2011, we shared this:

Bruxy Cavey is a pastor and author who maintains the prophecy should be read ‘backwards’ to see how God was in control all along, not ‘forward’ to try to predict the future. We can’t read forward. On the other hand, author and pastor Rob Bell teaches that every Jewish girl envisioned the possibility of herself being “the one” who would give birth to the Savior.

That brings us to today’s thoughts, our second visit to the site Discovering the Bible, written by Deborah, a retired doctor now living in Swansea, Wales.

The virgin shall conceive…?

Isaiah 7:1-17 [click here to read the whole passage]

King Ahaz has a problem: enemies are marching on Jerusalem, and he needs help urgently. The prophet Isaiah goes to meet him and declares that God will intervene. God even offers the king a sign of his own choosing, to bolster his faith. But Ahaz refuses – faith plays no part in either his religion or his politics. He has already made up his mind what to do – which is to entrust the fate of his people to the Assyrian empire (II Kings 16:7,8) – and he doesn’t want to be proved wrong.

But God doesn’t take ‘No’ for an answer! David’s family cannot treat David’s God in such a cavalier fashion; so instead of being given a clear sign of God’s favour, they will be given an enigmatic one that they cannot understand…

“Therefore the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14)

In its immediate context, this prophecy refers to a certain young woman (the Hebrew word literally means ‘young unmarried woman’, but those who translated the Old Testament into Greek chose to use the Greek word for ‘virgin’). She is known to the king (the virgin), and there is no suggestion that her child will not be conceived in the normal way, in due course, when she has a husband. Her son’s name is a statement of faith, echoed in the following chapter: “God is with us” (Isaiah 8:10). So the kingdom of Judah will not fall. In fact, the crisis will be over (because Judah’s enemies will have been crushed by Assyria) before the boy has even had time to grow up (Isaiah 7:15,16).

On the face of it, this prophecy was a straightforward one, fulfilled within a few years of its pronouncement. Why should it have anything to do with Jesus? Certainly the Jews never expected their Messiah to be born of a virgin…

And yet… there is nothing particularly unusual about a young woman having a baby (those of us who work in contraceptive clinics know that it happens all the time)! And after the solemnity of Isaiah’s preamble (“Ask the LORD your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights”), this is surely something of an anticlimax! Perhaps this is one reason why the old translators used the word ‘virgin’. It was an interpretation rather than a literal translation; nevertheless, their instinct was sound.

However, it was only after the Messiah was born of a virgin mother that the full significance of this prophecy was realised (Matthew 1:20,21). ‘Immanuel’ turned out to be not a prediction of His name but an accurate description of His nature: Jesus is not a symbol of God’s presence with us, but its reality (John 1:14).

November 29, 2018

Who’s In Charge Down Here?

Today marks the 20th anniversary of Clarke Dixon’s ordination. Congratulations on two decades of faithful service!


by Clarke Dixon

Who is in charge down here? Life can make us wonder. Is God in charge? Are we ever in charge? It might feel like the battle goes to the strong and the bullies are in charge. World history reads like a list of bullies giving way to bigger bullies. Personal relationships are marked by bullies taking charge. This past Sunday marked the International Day of Elimination of Violence Against Women. How long has humanity been around and women are still being bullied by men? Perhaps disease is in charge, or finances, or whatever we might be addicted to. Who is in charge down here?

It is a question the people of God in Daniel’s day could ask. They were well acquainted with big, brutal empires. If it is not the Egyptians, it is the Assyrians, and if not them it is the Persians. The first part of Daniel chapter seven affirms that this has been and will be the experience of God’s people. Daniel was given a vision of four terrible beasts arising out of the Sea. This is symbolic of the rise of four successive empires that are brutal. Bible scholars have seen these as symbolic of a mix of the Babylonians, Medes, Persians, Greeks and Romans. Whichever empires they refer to, the bullies are in charge. This is an affirmation of what God’s people were experiencing; yes, it seems that bullies are in control down here.

However, there is a crucial moment spoken of in Daniel 7:

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.
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. Daniel 7:9-10 (NRSV)

Brutal empires seem to be charge down here, but that is only until we are reminded Who really sits on the throne in the heavens. The imagery used in the passage above speaks to the wisdom of God and to judgement. Indeed, judgement comes next:

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. As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season and a time. Daniel 7:11-12 (NRSV)

The Kingdoms are stripped of power.  So who is in charge?

“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. 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)

The Son of Man is in charge. In other words, the beast-like empires give way to someone who knows how to rule like a real gentleman. According to some Bible scholars, the original readers would have focused on this as a promise to the whole people of God rather than to the Messiah. That is, Israel will someday rule instead of these empires. However, Jesus did something remarkable. At various times he referred to himself as “son of man.” He goes on to explicitly make himself the focus of Daniel 7:

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?”
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.’

Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard his blasphemy! Mark 14:60-64 (NRSV emphasis added)

Looking back to Daniel 7, Jesus is the one who “approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence” (Daniel 7:13). We see elements of this is what we call the ascension of Jesus:

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”  He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.  While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them.  They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Acts 1:6-11 (NRSV)

While the disciples were asking about the kingdom of Israel as a political entity, fact is, Jesus is now the king. As per Daniel 7, Jesus has taken his rightful place as the one in charge, now all nations are to worship him. His disciples are to be members of His kingdom, calling others to trust and worship the true king:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20 (NRSV)

Jesus is the rightful ruler, the better ruler, the one who reigns as a good and humane king unlike the empires that were described as beasts in Daniel 7. Jesus is a better ruler than anyone or anything else that tries to take charge in our world or in our lives. The awful things in life can make us wonder who is in charge. It might not feel like God is. It certainly might not feel like we are. Part of trusting Jesus, is to trust that Jesus is the king,  the good king, the coming king, and we are already his kingdom people.

Though the bullies may take charge and we may be victimized by life circumstances, when all is said and done we are not victims, but victors in Christ. Let the bullies do their worst, the true king has done and will do his best!

When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:54-57 (NIV)


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada.

Check out Clarke’s blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

June 28, 2018

Empire, or Kingdom?

by Clarke Dixon

Will we ever wake up in a world with no violence or conflict? We see it on the news, we hear about it in the lives of people around us, maybe we experience it personally. Yes, there will be a day there will be no more conflict. Christ will return and there will be

a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away . . . And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’” (Revelation 21:1,5 NRSV)

But are we to just wait for that day, putting up with all this conflict until then? The prophet Nahum will help us find our way.

Nahum points us in the right direction by pointing out what happens when we get on the wrong track. Nahum is a prophecy to a people who had been on the wrong track. The Assyrians were on the track to empire. Nahum had the task of telling them that they had reached the end of the line. There are three problems with the track to empire.

First problem with the empire track; empire is temporary. Much of the history of the world is a history of the empire after empire seeking to become the biggest and best. The history of the world teaches us that they all fall in the end. Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Roman, it doesn’t matter, empire is always temporary.

There is a better track; the track that leads to the Kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is eternal. We may struggle to understand the book of Revelation, but the main message is really quite simple; empires rise and fall, but the Kingdom of God is eternal.

So are we building towards empire, or Kingdom? Are we building for things that are temporary? Are our time, talents, and treasures going toward things that last?

Second problem with the empire track: empire destroys relationships. In empire living, there are only allies or enemies. The peoples within and around an empire are either going to help the empire get bigger, or they are going to get in the way and be a threat.

There is a better track, one that leads to the Kingdom of God. In the Kingdom of God, there are only neighbours. Jesus taught us to “love thy neighbour as thyself and then went on to define our neighbour as anyone and everyone.

When we meet people, do we see them as either allies of enemies? Do we see them as either being useful to us, or in our way, and even a threat? Or do we simply see them as neighbours to be loved?

Third problem with the empire track; empires are built through brute force and brutality. Nahum tells of this, for example:

Ah! City of bloodshed,
utterly deceitful, full of booty—
no end to the plunder!
 The crack of whip and rumble of wheel,
galloping horse and bounding chariot!
 Horsemen charging,
flashing sword and glittering spear,
piles of dead,
heaps of corpses,
dead bodies without end—
they stumble over the bodies! Nahum 3:1-3 (NRSV)

Yet she became an exile,
she went into captivity;
even her infants were dashed in pieces
at the head of every street;
lots were cast for her nobles,
all her dignitaries were bound in fetters. Nahum 3:10 (NRSV)

In building empires, countless of people were killed. For those who lived, eyes were often gouged out, tongues cut off, people sold off and removed far from home. So brutal were some empires that even unborn babies were ripped from their mother’s wombs, and orphaned infants dashed to the ground. This is how empires struck fear in their enemies. Better to surrender to the power of a “better” empire, than experience it firsthand. Nahum’s prophecy is about the Assyrian empire experiencing what it dished out to others.

All who hear the news about you
clap their hands over you.
For who has ever escaped
your endless cruelty? Nahum 3:19 (NRSV)

There is, thankfully, a better track, the track that leads to the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is built with a different kind of force: “not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit” Zechariah. 4:9 (NKJV).

Jesus said “those who draw the sword, will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:62-54 NRSV). Jesus was doing two things when he refused to use violence at his arrest in Gethsemane. He was taking the Kingdom track for our sake, so that we might be forgiven rather than destroyed. But he was also giving us an example to follow, an example of Kingdom thinking, Kingdom living, Kingdom dying. Jesus call us to pick up the cross and follow, which means to trade empire for Kingdom. We are to become Kingdom people, good news people.

We are empire people when we show up with swords and guns and bombs. We are Kingdom people when we show up with the Spirit of God: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Galatians 5:22,23 (NRSV). Do we show up to our relationships with swords or the Spirit? Do we show up on Facebook, Twitter and other social media with swords or Spirit? Do we show up ready ready to fight people? Or to fight with people against the evil in their lives? Do we show up as empire people or Kingdom people?

You might perceive a problem with the Kingdom track. It does not seem to take into account your suffering at the hands of another. It is unfair. You deserve vengeance. And perhaps you are right. It is unfair. However, the prophecy of Nahum, though addressed to the Assyrians, was for the encouragement of Israel when they experienced what seemed to be very unfair treatment. Having been on the wrong track for a long time, Assyria has reached the end of the line. However, nowhere in the prophecy of Nahum is there a call for Israel to take up arms. There is no need. We can think of Paul’s word to the Christians in Rome who also knew a thing or two about being treated unfairly:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:17-21 (NRSV)

Every day we wake up to violence and conflict. Every day is an opportunity to live as God’s good news people. Every day is an opportunity for Kingdom rather than empire. While we may not feel we have much influence in conflicts around the globe, the ones close to home are opportunities for Kingdom building.


Clarke Dixon is the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada.

Listen to the audio of the full sermon on which this based (33 minutes).

clarkedixon.wordpress.com


This weekend we continue the theme of empire vs. kingdom with two posts from a well-known and often controversial writer! Stay tuned on Friday and Saturday.

March 28, 2018

“Open Your Bibles as We Read from the Book of…”

With the 8th anniversary of Christianity 201 happening on Easter Sunday, we’ve been looking at some of the older articles on file; this one is from March, 2012…

I believe the most powerful words with which a preacher can begin any sermon is to say, “Take your Bibles and turn with me to the book of…” I love analogies, I love to hear about the context in which the writers wrote, I love it when a preacher quotes contemporary and classic writers, and I need to hear the suggested application of the passage to my life…

…but it all has to begin with scripture.

2 Peter 1:16-NIV For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” 18We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.

19 We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

Verse 21 in the above is key to this discussion. No matter what my will would desire to say, my words must, first and foremost, be guided by the direction of the Holy Spirit.

Eugene Peterson translates the concluding section of the passage:

The main thing to keep in mind here is that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of private opinion. And why? Because it’s not something concocted in the human heart. Prophecy resulted when the Holy Spirit prompted men and women to speak God’s Word.

The problem we face in the Christian media, including Christian radio and television, and in Christian books, is that you’re hearing a lot of what Peter would call “private opinion.”

Any blogger or pastor or author has to be continually running a check: Is this my opinion or is this what God is saying? Is this my pet peeve or favorite subject or am I letting the passage speak?

In the U.S., there was (and probably still is) a network of radio stations that operated under the corporate name Clear Channel. That’s a radio term originally referring to certain powerful AM-frequency signals that broadcast over a wide area — especially at night — without interference from local stations that were assigned the same frequency.

Being a clear channel of what God means speaking with the power of His Word and not allowing the message to be fuzzy or subject to interference.

Continuing this theme in the next chapter — and remember the chapter divisions don’t exist in the original — Peter goes on to describe those whose signal is “interfered with” as false teachers.

Years ago, I asked a friend of mine who was doing research into cults to explain to our church exactly how does a cult get started. I used the analogy, “How does a rocket, properly aimed and positioned start to veer off course?”

I think it’s not a stretch to look at chapter two of Peter’s epistle as having some origins in what he says in chapter one: It began with someone’s “own interpretation” (NIV) or “private opinion” (Peterson).

A crowd can be wrong. Just because hundreds of people are jumping off a cliff doesn’t mean you should also. But there is a security in both (a) the way the ‘church fathers’ have traditionally dealt with a passage of scripture; established through study Bible notes and commentaries, and (b) the confirmation that comes through the reading of other passages.

In preparing today’s thoughts, I was somewhat astounded by the large percentage of commentary and writing in the Christian quarter of the internet that begins with opinions and stores, compared with the very tiny percentage that begins with a verse or chapter of the Bible. (And yes, my other blog was trending that way so I created this one to give my own life and writing some balance.)

When it’s your turn to be the speaker, make the first words out of your mouth, “Take your Bible and turn to…”

~PW

 

March 8, 2018

Signs of the End: Mark 13

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , ,

by Clarke Dixon

Should we expect the world to end soon? Are the signs that the end is near lining up? Some take Jesus’ words in Mark chapter 13 to refer to the end times and the signs to watch for. However, others think it has nothing to do with the end of the world and everything to do with the destruction of Jerusalem long ago in the first century. How are we to know? Let us dig into Mark 13 and see what we can learn:

1 As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” 2 Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
3 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” Then Jesus began to say to them, . . .  Mark 13:1-5

Let us first consider that we have a statement, a question, an answer, and a fact.

  • First the statement: Jesus says the Temple will be destroyed.
  • Then the question: The disciples ask when the Temple will be destroyed.
  • Let us jump now to the fact: Forty years later the Temple indeed lay in ruins.

Given that Jesus tells the disciples the Temple will be destroyed, the disciple ask when, and the Temple is in fact destroyed within forty years, it is reasonable to expect that at least some of Jesus’ answer has something to do with that destruction of the Temple. But is Jesus only speaking about the destruction of the Temple? Let’s take a look and think about how it affects us today.

Verses 5-13 can be understood to refer to either the first century or to the end times. The followers of Jesus did experience persecution then, and have continued to experience persecution at various times and places ever since. But let us dig deeper into the rest of the chapter.

14 “But when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains; 15 the one on the housetop must not go down or enter the house to take anything away; 16 the one in the field must not turn back to get a coat. 17 Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! 18 Pray that it may not be in winter. 19 For in those days there will be suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, no, and never will be. 20 And if the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would be saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he has cut short those days. 21 And if anyone says to you at that time, ‘Look! Here is the Messiah!’ or ‘Look! There he is!’—do not believe it. 22 False messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. 23 But be alert; I have already told you everything. Mark 13:14-23

Ironically, in our day it is so easy for the reader to not understand what the “desolating sacrilege” refers to in verse 14. But in the first century, the typical Jew and Jewish Christian would have understood the reference to the book of Daniel as pointing to previous sieges against  Jerusalem by foreign armies. Jesus is teaching the disciples here to watch for signs of another siege. When it happens, do not fight, but flee. Some will point to verses 19 and 20 and declare that such intense suffering can only refer to the end times. However, Jesus is using the common literary device called “hyperbole” and Bible scholars point out that the Jewish historian refers to this same destruction of Jerusalem in a similar way. We should also point out that under a siege in the first century, many Jews would have been watching for a Messiah to rescue them from the enemy. Hence Jesus’ instruction to watch out for false Messiahs. By the time Jerusalem falls Jesus has already effected a much grander rescue.

24“But in those days, after that suffering,
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
25 and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
26 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. Mark 13:24-27

Some think these verses continue to refer to the destruction of the Temple in the first century. However, many many think this refers to the return of Jesus that we still await sometime “after” (verse24) the suffering of the destruction of Jerusalem. We ought not to get too caught up in expecting stars to literally fall. This is poetry here and just as we might call an event of great significance an “earth shaking event”, the stars falling and the powers shaking alert us to a very significant event. The destruction of the Temple in the first century was a significant event as it signalled a new era. However the return of Jesus will be even more significant, signalling the beginning of a new “age“.

28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. Mark 13:28-31

Those who understand all of Mark 13 as referring only to the end times tend to trip over verse 30 since that generation certainly has passed away and we are still waiting. However, there is no problem when we understand that Jesus is referring here to the destruction of the Temple. In fact while many translations tell us, like our NRSV here, that “he is near” in verse 29, the “he” is supplied and some translations go with “it is near”, that is, the destruction of the Temple. Jesus is now answering the original question of the disciples. Verse 29, “when you see these things” refers back to verse 14, “when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be”.  So to answer the question of the disciples, watch for the armies approaching (and run for the safety!).

32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35 Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” 13:32-37

Here we have a contrast. The signs of the destruction of Jerusalem are clear, and you need to act on those signs. However “that day”, that is, the day of the Lord’s return as spoken of in verses 24-27, will come suddenly and without warning. There are no signs to watch for, one just needs to be always ready.

SO WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH US TODAY?

  1. Take to heart that Jesus was correct about the destruction of the temple. Mark, along with most of the NT was written prior to the destruction of the Temple. Jesus’ prophetic words of judgement against the Temple did come about. He is to be trusted.
  2. Take Jesus seriously. With regard to his return, there are no signs to watch for. We do well to keep this in mind when people try to sell us books about when we can expect Christ’s return. They don’t know.
  3. Look Forward with Hope and Anticipation. In verse 7 the Greek word telos is not just “end”, but “goal”. It really is not the end, but a milestone, and a new beginning. We can also think of the “birth pains” of verse 8. No one asks a pregnant woman “when does your pregnancy end?”. We ask when the baby is to be born. What begins is worthy of greater excitement than what will come to an end.
  4. Be ready. How do we get ready? We look to the One who gets us ready. Within a week of speaking of the destruction of the Temple and his Second Coming, Jesus gave his life for us on the cross. Are you ready?

Should we expect the end to come soon? No one knows but God alone, but we should be ready for Christ could arrive at any moment.



All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Listen to the audio of the full sermon on which this based (26 minutes).

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

 

February 20, 2018

Ancient of Days

Daniel 7.9 ‘As I looked,

‘thrones were set in place,
    and the Ancient of Days took his seat.
His clothing was as white as snow;
    the hair of his head was white like wool.
His throne was flaming with fire,
    and its wheels were all ablaze.
10 A river of fire was flowing,
    coming out from before him.
Thousands upon thousands attended him;
    ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.
The court was seated,
    and the books were opened.

11 ‘Then I continued to watch because of the boastful words the horn was speaking. I kept looking until the beast was slain and its body destroyed and thrown into the blazing fire. 12 (The other beasts had been stripped of their authority, but were allowed to live for a period of time.)

13 ‘In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man,[a] 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 worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

When we were launching our Sunday Worship series of articles, we discovered the blog Ascents. We made a return visit this week and noticed this particular topic, which had been discussed in the church service we attended on Sunday. The writer is Tim Adams.

The Ancient of Days

The other day, I posed a question to my family and a few friends asking whether or not we should refer to Jesus Christ as the Ancient of Days, as many songs we sing in church do. I felt that I had already come to an opinion on the subject, but I wanted to encourage them to research the question for themselves and articulate a position.

One of the dangers of internet research is the fact that anybody armed with a laptop, tablet, or smartphone sitting in a secluded corner of Starbucks can publish their ramblings, credible or not, on the world wide web. What I found when I asked Mr. Google for the identity of the Ancient of Days was that opinions were many and varied. It seemed as if all those people with laptops at Starbucks had weighed in on the issue.

Obviously, as with all questions like this, the place we need to go for clarity and guidance is not Google, but Scripture. When we do, we find that the phrase, Ancient of Days, only appears in the 7th chapter of the book of Daniel. Here, Daniel is describing a vision consisting of 6 primary characters: 4 beasts representing 4 earthly kings, the Ancient of Days in all His glory and power, and the Son of Man who receives from the Ancient of Days an everlasting kingdom. From this passage we can see that the Son of Man and the Ancient of Days are separate persons. From Christ’s own words we know that He is the Son of Man and that he has received all authority from God, the Father. Therefore, the Ancient of Days in Daniel 7 cannot be Jesus Christ.

So there. Another theological mystery solved and more ammo to shoot down the biblically illiterate, contemporary Christian songwriter. Well, not so fast Marshall Dillon (ancient TV show reference). There may be other things to consider. First, Ancient of Days, is a title God has given to Himself referencing His own eternality. In other words God precedes time itself. But, Jesus is also eternal. John 1 tells us that He was there, one with God the Father, at the beginning of creation. Therefore, Jesus is, in fact, ancient of days. Perhaps not the Ancient of Days, but ancient of days, nonetheless.

I know what you’re thinking. “Tim, could you possibly split a smaller hair?” Probably, but here’s why it’s important. When we worship, when we pray, and when we join voices with other believers to teach and admonish each other with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, we must take great care to regard God in a manner that is worthy of Him. In Scripture, God has given us insight into certain truths and mysteries about Himself; and, while we don’t yet know Him perfectly, what we do know must be proclaimed in truth with authority; and, whatever we proclaim must be informed by and filtered through the lens of Scripture. Also, it’s usually risky to refer to Him in ways He has not referred to Himself.

As we worship, as we pray, and as we speak of God, let us always be mindful of who it is we are talking to, or about. He is God, the all powerful creator of all that exists, and the sustainer of life itself. To know Him is eternal life. It has been said that as God is infinite, we will be spending eternity learning about God. What an amazing thought. But until that day, as imperfect as we are, let’s always strive to see God as He has revealed Himself to us in His Word.


Prophetic books are complicated. Before we leave this subject today, I know some are wondering, ‘Is Daniel really the only place where ‘Ancient of Days’ is used?’ It may be that you’re making a connection to Revelation where we read.

‘Look, he is coming with the clouds,’
    and ‘every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him’;
    and all peoples on earth ‘will mourn because of him.’
So shall it be! Amen.

which is a reference to Daniel 7:13.

Who you think is being referred to in Revelation, probably has much to do with how you’ve heard that text explained, but Tim raises a good point distinguishing between who appears in the Daniel 7 passage.

…While you’re thinking about that, we couldn’t let this text go by without including the worship song, Ancient of Days by Ron Kenoly.

Texts today: NIV

 

 

December 9, 2017

Unpacking 666

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
Tags: , , ,

Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for the number is that of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty-six.– Rev 13:18

Today we’re paying yet another visit to the blog of BibleStudyMagazine.com and a short article on a topic that you’ve probably encountered. You’re encouraged to read this at source, and then take some time to look at other articles on the site. The author is Michael S. Heiser.

666: What Theories Add up?

If there’s one part of the Bible virtually everyone has heard of, it’s 666—the “number of Beast.” And if there’s one thing no one can agree upon, it’s what that number stands for. We find the number in Revelation 13:18: “let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.” The wording here is important: John tells readers that the number needs to be “calculated,” which means there must be a hidden meaning behind it. But how do we calculate it?

Calculating Symbolism

One option for solving this biblical riddle is gematria, the idea that numbers have symbolic meaning. While some have called gematria a tool for speculation, it actually derives from an ancient convention in languages like Greek and Hebrew where letters of the alphabet are used to represent numbers.

But gematria is not limited to just Revelation; the New Testament contains several other symbolic figures. The 153 fish of John 21:11 could be interpreted as ancient symbolism for the Church, the body of Christ, and the Old Testament sons of God as analogous to believers in the Church. The Greek word for “dove,” like the dove that descends on Jesus at His baptism, has a numerical value equivalent to the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, thus symbolizing the Alpha and Omega (Rev 1:8).

Calculating 666

When it comes to 666, one gematria explanation is that the number represents Nero Caesar. The Greek Neron Kaisar adds up to 1,005, but when the name is transliterated into the Hebrew letters nrwn qsr, the sum is 666. Nero Caesar also would explain the variant number of the Beast (616) found in some New Testament manuscripts. Transliterating the Latin Nero Caesar into Hebrew, nrw qsr, yields 616, suggesting John may have been thinking of the well-known Nero Redivivus myth when writing about the Beast (i.e., that Nero would rise from the dead to destroy Christians).

The gematria solution presents three major problems: it could be viewed as cheating with the spellings (the usual Hebrew spelling for Caesar is q’st, not qsr, although the qsr form does exist). It assumes that readers knew Hebrew well enough to do the transliteration from Greek back into Hebrew. And, perhaps most tellingly, the early Christian commentators who knew of the Nero Redivivus myth never identified 666 with Nero.

Ancient Sudoku

There is another possibility: 666 is a magic square. From very ancient times, philosophers and mathematicians were fascinated that the numbers 1–36 could be arranged in squares so that each row and diagonal would add up to the same sum (the same principle as modern Sudoku). One magic square has four rows and two diagonals that each add up to 111. The six lines of 111 = 666. Each magic square in ancient Jewish and Greek tradition was also associated with a celestial body. In the case of the 666 square that body was the sun, which was associated with Zeus, the highest god in the Greek pantheon.

Zeus was often associated with Baal and the mythological north (tsaphon) of Canaanite religion. Most relevant to the Beast of Revelation is Baal’s (and Zeus’) title, “lord of heaven” (Baal-shamem). It is possible that the “abomination of desolation” (shiqquts-shamem) in Daniel 9:27 is a play on Baal-shamem, since the Old Testament writers sometimes substituted words that meant “shame” or “abomination” into proper names that formerly contained “Baal” (e.g., Mephibosheth, Ish-Bosheth). This would mean 666 is a symbol for the abominable Baal, the dark lord of the Old Testament world—satanic power in New Testament thinking.


Biblical references are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 4 No. 5

November 15, 2017

Is This the End?

This our ninth time returning to the writing of pastor B. J. Rutledge.  These articles kicked off a sermon series at his church.  First, he wrote a shorter introduction:

Sometimes I think we’ve become a desensitized to the tragedies that happen around us. The news will sensationalize it for a while, but then there’s the next story. We care about the people impacted, but if it doesn’t hit close to home we don’t dwell on it too long. However, when we experience a personal tragedy, a question that lingers in the back of our mind or may be asked is: “Where’s God in all of this?”

Our country has been experiencing many tragedies over the past few months: the horrific shooting[s]… hurricanes, wildfires, and flooding. We’re also very aware of the tragedy that impacted our southern neighbors as another earthquake ravaged Mexico City. There’s horrible violence and flooding going on in Asia…

Two days later he posted our key article for today:

Are These THE END TIMES?

In light of all the chaos going on in our country and world, I get asked this question from time to time.  Here are a few things I believe.

Throughout history when there have been major wars or many natural disasters, there’s an increased focus on “the end times” among Christians.   This is good because it reminds us to focus on the fact that Jesus will return and time as we know it will end.

Every day we get closer to the End Times, and Scripture gives us numerous signs we can look to and expect; like what Jesus told us in Matthew 24.   However,  Jesus was clear to His disciples and us:    36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark;39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.  42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.    Matthew 24:36-42 NIV

Here’s what I suggest we keep in mind:

  • Jesus will return as He promised
  • Every day we’re getting closer
  • No one knows when He will return
  • We need to be ready every day  (1 John 2:28)
  • We need to share the truth about Jesus with as many people as possible

He then linked to an article from the Billy Graham Association:

Q: How bad is the world going to have to get before God finally steps in and Jesus comes back? I get very concerned when I see all the evil things that are happening in the world today. Are we living in the last times?

A:

The Bible warns us against making precise predictions about the exact time of Jesus’ return—but His return is certain, and we may well be living in the last days before He comes again. The Bible says, “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here” (Romans 13:12).

Shortly before returning to Heaven Jesus told His disciples that someday He would come back to establish His Kingdom. But before that could take place, He said, certain things would have to happen—and we see many of these today. For example, He said that before His return the Gospel must be preached throughout the world (see Mark 13:10). Never before has this been possible—but now it is, through radio and the Internet and other modern means of communication.

You also have placed your finger on another sign Jesus gave: Satan’s final attempt to halt God’s work through a massive onslaught of evil. Our world is no stranger to evil; Satan has always been working to stop God’s plans. But God’s enemies now have access to modern weapons of mass destruction, and no one can predict what the outcome will be. Jesus said, “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. … Nation will rise against nation” (Matthew 24:6-7).

The real question, however, is this: Are you ready for Christ’s return? You can be, by turning to Him and putting your faith and trust in Him. Don’t take His warnings lightly, but commit your life without delay to Jesus Christ.

Are you ready for Christ’s return?

Read the full set of five questions and answers from Rev. Graham at this link.

November 6, 2017

Developing the Discernment to Call Out False Prophets

I am grateful for the writers and musicians who speak into my spiritual life. But it’s only through God’s Word that I have a framework to know if they speak from God authentically. I need to be assured that their words resonate with scripture before I allow them to resonate with me.

Today we return to Todd Sepulveda who lives in Houston and writes at Glorify God • Magnify Him in This World. Click the title to read at source.

All the Voices

Scripture

Then the prophet Jeremiah told the prophet Hananiah, “Listen, Hananiah! The Lord did not send you! You are making these people trust in a lie!
Jeremiah 28:15 NET

Observation
Believers need to understand that not everything that proclaims to be from the Lord is truly from the Lord.

In Bible times, there were prophets whose message was different from each other. Both proclaimed to be prophets of God. Both proclaimed to have a message from God. But both had very different messages, one from God, one from wishful thinking.

Because people don’t necessarily want to hear a message of repentance and becoming holy, they usually listened to the false prophets. They listened to the wrong prophet.

At the most basic level, people who followed the false prophets we’re lazy. They didn’t care to know what the Word of God said. They didn’t examine or question the religious leaders. They new Jewish history, but they thought they were different.

And today, we have more access to the Word of God than any other time in history. Are you trusting what others say, or are you getting in the Word for yourself?

Application
There are so many voices vying for our attention. As a Believer, you should want the only voice you respond to, to be the true voice of God.

This means that you need to know Him, His Word, His presence!

Don’t rely on someone else to give you insight into spiritual matters only. Don’t fall into the trap of false teaching and false prophets, because there is much out there today! Don’t be lazy!

Start reading the Word today! Start praying today! Start walking with Him on a deeper level today. Nothing else compares.

Prayer
Lord, I desire to know You fully. Reveal Yourself to me as I read Your Word and I pray. Show me Your ways.

 

August 23, 2017

Unsettling Times

Today I picked up a Christian periodical and discovered that Arnold Reimer, a retired pastor from a church I frequently attended — Bayview Glen Alliance Church in Toronto — had a blog titled Finishing Well. I read several articles, but this one from June jumped out at me as still being quite timely. Click the title to read it at source.

Unshaken?

It is hard to remember a time in world affairs more unsettling than this present one.  When the greatest economic and military power seethes with division, indecision, hateful accusations, political stagnation, worrisome threats, and moral decay,  then international angst soars.  It is possible that some foolish enemy might take advantage of the situation , when respect and confidence in authority are so confused, and leadership is so consistently distracted and defensive.

We are living in times Scripture describes as follows: See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking.  For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, (Noah, Moses, the prophets) much less shall we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven.  And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven.’  And this expression, ‘Yet once more,’ denotes the removing of things which can be shaken, as of created things, in order that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. (God’s truth and righteousness)   Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.”

I repeat what I have often said… the Church, its leadership and followers, must speak, live and demonstrate with awe and reverence, not just the love of a gracious God, but the wrath of a holy God, who is a consuming fire.  Yes, the Lord our God, Sovereign Ruler of the universe, Creator, Saviour, Healer, Sanctifier and coming King, is patient, loving, gracious and forgiving.  But, He hates sin and judges it.  Eventually, He withholds blessing from the disobedient and indifferent. That great and awesome God insists that we proclaim both His cursing and His blessing, whether they listen or not.

If the proverbial house on fire requires a daring saviour to disregard self in order to rescue the perishing, why, in heaven’s name, are we pampering the saints, watering
down prophetic truth, and coddling sin and sinners?  Do we not understand our times?  Do we not realize that the popular parading of evil, running rampant in our day, and generally approved, left unmentioned, unchallenged and un-rebuked will hasten the exercise of God’s wrath?   Is sin so obscure in Scripture that we can be ambivalent about it from our pulpits?  Are we not to hold governments, educational and religious institutions and the general population accountable for degenerate behaviour?  Is the applause and approval of men so important, or the fear of their response so great, we dare to please men rather than God?

These are sobering, heart-searching thoughts for which we who own His name shall stand accountable.   Surely, for those who know God and His Word, finishing well demands a bold, fearless acknowledgement and response to these things.  Those of us who are older have been given the perspective of time, duty and experience to see a bigger picture.   We know the value of love, prayer, lifestyle and sensitivity necessary to an acceptable presentation of truth and warning.   We also know what evil can do!   In a shaken world an unshakeable faith in a gracious, forgiving God will enable us to speak lovingly, wisely and clearly.

Rev. Arnold Reimer


You may also enjoy: Righteousness

August 10, 2017

Jeremiah and the Popularity Contest

by Clarke Dixon

“Your popularity has gone down 25%!” Such was a new expression one of my boys brought home from school as a way of expressing annoyance. I suppose I should have been happy that my son was learning percentages, or that my popularity was not dropping near as fast as my other sons. What I was not so happy about was the lifting up of popularity as something of great importance.

As prophets go, Jeremiah was not popular, indeed he went beyond being unpopular to being hated. And little wonder, Jeremiah 1:10 gives a nice summary of what Jeremiah was expected to do:

See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.”
(Jeremiah 1:10 NRSV)

You may have noticed that the description of Jeremiah’s call has twice the amount of negative sounding items as positive. Read the entire book of Jeremiah and you will notice that Jeremiah spends most of his time prophesying destruction and hard times. Such messages would not help his popularity rating! Jeremiah’s contemporaries preferred a kinder, gentler, and of course, more popular message, but Jeremiah remained faithful. Had he cared more for his own popularity than God’s truth, he would have faded into obscurity as a prophet not worth remembering. Like most of his contemporaries he would have become irrelevant.

There is a great effort in the Church today to try to be relevant, to regain some of the popularity we perceive ourselves to have lost. There are those who think the Church can be relevant if it pays attention to the shifts in society in world-view and ethics and make similar shifts, “keeping up with the times” as it were. However, the opposite is true. It is by maintaining the distinctive teaching from God’s Word that we become relevant. It is when we play the popularity game that we become irrelevant.

Jeremiah lived in a time and place where his message was necessarily negative. The time had come for judgement, for which there was no sugar coating, and about which Jeremiah could do nothing. As Christians we live in a time and place where our message will necessarily be unpopular.

Let’s consider one of the most unpopular teachings of the Church in our day. Consider our message regarding sexuality. The message of the Church that sex belongs within marriage sounds antiquated to many, judgemental and negative. Should we play the popularity game and change our views? While viewed negatively by society, there is much to commend a Biblical view of sexuality. Sexually transmitted diseases are not transmitted by God fearing people. Marriages are not ripped apart by adultery among God fearing people. The Canadian definition of marriage today may as well be “the relationship among the many we have had that we hope lasts the longest.” Among God fearing people marriage is a fundamentally different relationship from any other relationship ever had, not just the longest lasting among many. “Being faithful so long as we both shall live” rings deep and true when a person can speak of “being faithful so long as I have already lived.” Faithfulness to one’s spouse can and should begin long before the wedding day. But even if there was nothing practical to commend our message, faithfulness to it would still demonstrate our faithfulness to God, and that ought to matter. The message of the Church with regards to sexuality is not popular today. But that should matter to us about as much as the popularity of the message of judgement mattered to Jeremiah. What matters is faithfulness to God, and it is by remaining faithful to Him we remain relevant to our society.

There are many other examples of Christian teaching that will be unpopular; belief in the supernatural, belief that abortion is wrong, belief in the importance of sobriety, belief that Jesus is the only Saviour, belief that other world-views are wrong. We can not expect the Church to win a popularity contest while it holds to these teachings. But neither do we need to enter a popularity contest. God calls us, like he called Jeremiah, not to popularity, but to faithfulness to Him, and to true and lasting relevance.


Read more at Clarke’s sermon blog: clarkedixon.wordpress.com

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