Christianity 201

December 9, 2017

Unpacking 666

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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

July 10, 2017

The Comfort Found in John’s Revelation

ESV Rev 21:3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.

Today we’re paying a return visit to Out of the Ordinary; this time around the writer is long-time blogger Persis. I really appreciated the topic she chose. Click the title below to read at source, then take a few minutes to look around at what others on the blog are writing.

Comfort in Revelation

There was a time when the book of Revelation was my least favorite book of the Bible. I thought its main message was to foretell all the horrible things that would happen before Jesus comes back, and those horrors would be my fate unless I achieved a certain level of spirituality whereby God would deem me mature enough to escape them. Cold comfort, indeed! At least, Revelation was at the end of the Bible so I could avoid reading it as long as possible. But what a terrible state to be in. I had no assurance as to my salvation. God and His gospel seemed weak and ineffectual, and I was afraid to read part of the Bible. But I couldn’t be more wrong.

The gospel isn’t the power of God to just get me in the door and then the rest is up to me. What Christ has accomplished covers the beginning, middle, and end of my Christian life. I am not living in a dualistic Star-Wars-like universe where good and evil battle one another on a level playing field. Who in his right mind would contend with the Almighty? God has no rivals. And what if Revelation is less about decoding the events of the 21st century but a word of comfort and consolation for Christians down through the ages?

Providentially my pastor has been preaching through Revelation, and I have grown to love this book because I need it just as much as my brothers and sisters in the 1st century. I need something greater than earthly security when I hear of the lives lost in the bombing in Manchester and gas attacks in Syria. I need hope when I read of the injustices that mankind has inflicted on fellow image bearers throughout history and even today. I need the promise of the life to come when loved ones suffer in body and mind. And I need to be reminded of these truths:

~ There will be trials and persecution, but Christ is seated on the throne even now. He has won and is worthy to bring God’s plan of redemption to completion. (Rev. 5:5-14)

~ We have all had our share in the thread of suffering that began in Genesis 3, but it ends in Revelation. Sin and evil will be no more. “and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” (Rev. 21:4 NASB)

~ God’s purpose in redeeming people from every tribe, nation, and tongue will be fulfilled to the praise of His glory. And not only that, the good work He began in us will be accomplished. The Bride of the Lamb will be fit for her Heavenly Bridegroom (Rev. 7:9-17; Phil. 1:6; Rev. 21:1-2)

~ Fellowship with God was severed, and Adam and Eve were barred forever from Eden. But we will be united with Him forever with no shadow of sin, never to be parted again. And we will see His face. (Rev. 21:3, 22:4)

This is quite different from how I had previously viewed the book of Revelation. A source of fear has now become comfort and consolation indeed. May it take root in my heart.

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
 

June 13, 2017

Unwittingly Carrying Out Their Mandate

I thought I would begin today by sharing something of which today’s guest writer reminded me which we posted here in 2013. It’s the passage in John 11. It’s the section where the leaders are plotting the death of Jesus.

49 But one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all! 50 You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” 51 Caiaphas did not say this on his own. Instead, as high priest that year, he was prophesying that Jesus would die for the nation…

and echoed in John 18:14

14 Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jewish leaders that it would be good if one man died for the people.

Although he was about to be — along with his entire household — totally implicated in the crucifixion, he was still, in John’s opinion, speaking prophetically; speaking as a prophet.

You’ll see why I got echoes of that when you read this.

We’re paying a return visit to Patrick Hawthorne came who writes at Serving Grace Ministries. Click the title below to read it at source (with comments) and then click “home” to view other articles.

The Priest of the Offering

The following was sent to me by my dad. I found this very interesting in explaining Romans 8:28.

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.”

 Author unknown

Teacher, “I said, “I have a question. If the death of the Messiah was ordained by God, an event of the highest holiness, why did it happen through such unholy means?”

“How do you know that the means weren’t holy?” he asked.

It happened through evil men, through bribery, treachery, brutality, and murder…evil.”

“In ancient Israel, who were the ones ordained by God to offer up sacrifices?” he asked.

“The priesthood,” I said, “the sons of Aaron.”

“And who were the key people involved in delivering Messiah to His death?”

“The Sanhedrin.”

“Led by the high priest and including the chief priest of the Temple, the sons of Aaron, the same ones ordained by God to offer up the sacrifices. Why were they so obsessed with Messiah? They were the priest and He was the Lamb, the sacrifice. So they were the ones to initiate His death. That was their ministry and calling. Only they could deliver the Lamb of God to His death. That’s why they conspired and arrested Him and handed Him over to the Romans to be crucified. It was their ministry to offer up the sacrifice.”

“So they killed Him because they were the priest and He was the sacrifice.”

“Not because they knew it, but nevertheless, because they were the ones ordained to do so. And beyond the Sanhedrin, it was the high priest who, alone, was ordained to offer up the most holy sacrifice, the atonement by which the nation’s sins were forgiven. And who was it that presided over the Sanhedrin and was more than anyone else responsible for delivering Messiah to His death? The high priest. His intention was murder. Yet he was the one appointed in the Law to offer up the sacrifice. Messiah was the sacrifice. So it was the high priest who had to offer Him up.”

“But they were evil,” I said, “and their motives and actions were corrupt.”

“And yet through their actions came salvation,” he said. “The world is filled with evil, with the imperfect, and the wrong. But God causes all of these things, the wrong, the imperfect, and the evil to work together for the good, the holy, and the perfect…in this world and in your life. The tears, the cries, the heartbreaks, the evil, and all the wrong will, in the end, become the priests of the offering, to fulfill the sacred purposes and blessings God has ordained for your life.”

• • •

The Mission: What or who in this world is against you or working for evil? Commit it to God. And give thanks beforehand that He will turn it for good.

 “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.”

 

January 12, 2017

The Final Page of the Final Chapter of the Christmas Story

by Clarke Dixon

Now that Christmas is over we might ask, where does the Christmas story actually end? Nativity plays often finish off with the visit of the magi. Some may think the story of Christmas concludes  with Mary and Joseph fleeing to Egypt, or coming home to Nazareth. Actually, the Christmas story points far beyond itself as it is part of a much larger story. The magi point beyond themselves to that larger story. Consider how the presence of the magi alludes to this prophecy spoken many years prior:

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
2 For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you.
3 Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Isaiah 60:1-3

Though not kings, the magi are not Jewish and travel from afar, indicating that it is beginning; The nations are drawn to the light. It continues:

Then you shall see and be radiant;
your heart shall thrill and rejoice,
because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you,
the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
A multitude of camels shall cover you,
the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.
All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered to you,
the rams of Nebaioth shall minister to you;
they shall be acceptable on my altar,
and I will glorify my glorious house.Isaiah 60:5-7

We cannot help but notice the gold and frankincense along with the possibility of camels. The visit of the magi is not the full fulfillment of Isaiah 60, but it is the beginning of the fulfillment. This is also pointing more generally to a greater fulfillment of a greater promise: all peoples of the earth worshipping the God of Israel.

All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the Lord;
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before him.
For dominion belongs to the Lord,
and he rules over the nations. Psalms 22:27-28

Herod figures prominently in the account of the magi and he also points to the future when he says “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” (Matthew 2:8 NIV) Of course Herod has no intention of worshipping Jesus. Herod would rather have Jesus destroyed. Herod would rather be in charge. Herod would rather attempt to grasp at a throne that truly belonged to another. Herod did not worship Jesus. But he will:

To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
and I shall live for him. Psalms 22:29

The Old Testament points to even the dead bowing down to the true king, the Creator God. The New Testament makes this even more explicit:

Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:9-11

Every knee and every tongue includes even the knees and tongues of the dead. Even Herod. So ironically, Herod was speaking truthfully about the future when he said he would worship Jesus. He will. So will you and I. The question is not if you will bend the knee to Jesus, or if you will confess that He is Lord, but when

Does the fact that every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord mean that every person will experience eternal life with God? No.

Then I saw a great white throne and the one who sat on it; the earth and the heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books. And the sea gave up the dead that were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and all were judged according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; and anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. Revelation 20:11-15

You and I have the wonderful opportunity to be among those who bend the knee and confess that Jesus is Lord sooner rather than later. The sooner we do, the greater the opportunity to live with the hope, peace, joy, and love, that we celebrate during Advent.

So where does the Christmas story end? With Mary and Joseph going home with Jesus? Or is the end of the story yet to come, with you and I going home?

He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. John 1:11-13

If you are a child of God, you will feel right at home in the presence of God. If you are like Herod and would rather stay in charge, rejecting God and the possibility of a relationship with Him, then you will feel right at home being separated from God. The final words on the final page of the final chapter of the Christmas story will not be you or I saying “You are unfair, Lord” but “I’m home.”


Read today’s column online at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermons.

Be aware of new blog posts by Clarke by following him on Twitter.

 All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV unless noted otherwise

December 25, 2016

Rejoice, O World! Rejoice! A Savior Has Been Born!

by Russell Young

Today is Christmas! It is a celebration of the revelation of God’s grace and mercy to humankind. For millennia the human condition had been one that had brought grief to the Creator through the rebellion and intransigent hearts (Gen 6:6) of those whom he had created for his good pleasure and purpose. The mandate of the One born as a baby was to rescue or redeem the world from its depravity so that it might please God once again. It was and is the Creator’s desire to fellowship with those who had been formed in his image. For this purpose, the babe in the manger was born, lived his life and died among us.

John wrote: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save it through him.” (Jn 3:16─17 NIV) He did not come to condemn the world to destruction but to rescue it and it not just humankind that was his mandate, it was the world—all that had been created. The Lord came to complete God’s creation so that it would accomplish their (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) purposes. He came to “save” it.

The world had become a place worthy only of destruction; it was not worth preserving given its state of evil. The minds of people had allowed them sovereignty over the world’s affairs. “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work,” (1 Jn 3:8 NIV) which includes recognition of the sovereignty of the One who created all that is.

Part of the Lord’s ministry was to make people “acceptable” to God once again (Rom 15:16) and all creation is waiting expectantly for that to happen. (Rom 8:19–22) When the ministry of Jesus is completed there will be no more wars or hostility and he will reign in peace. It is in the hope of the restoration of God’s kingdom and our place in it that we rejoice.

Isaiah has presented his victory and the hope available to all of those “in him” upon his return as king.

“The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—
The Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
The Spirit of counsel and power,
The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD—
And he will delight in the fear of the LORD.

He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
Or decide by what he hears with his ears;
But with righteousness he will judge the needy,
With justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist.

The wolf will live with the lamb,
The leopard will lie down with the goat,
The calf and the lion and the yearling together;
And a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together;
and the lion will eat straw like an ox.
The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child will put his hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy on my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.

(Isaiah 11:2─9 NIV)

Rejoice and celebrate the hope, love, and promises provided through the One whose birth is honoured today, the One who has been provided for the salvation of man and of God’s creation, the One who has been faithful to the Father and to his promises. In the child whose birth is celebrated today rests the hope of humankind and of all creation.


eternal-salvation-russell-youngCheck out Russell Young’s book now in print and eBook — Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  9781512757514 $17.99 US

December 16, 2016

Priests, Kings, & Prophets: How the Old Testament Points to Christmas

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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bible-story-arc

by Clarke Dixon

From the series “The Christmas Story From Beginning to End,” we have thus far seen how Creation and The Fall both point to Christmas. After two weeks we are still no further than Genesis chapter 3! To speed things up let us consider the rest of the Old Testament. The presence of three different types of people within the Old Testament point to the advent of Jesus. These are priests, kings, and prophets.

Priests point to the coming of Jesus.

Though we sometimes hear of priests in Genesis, it is really in Exodus that we have the priesthood formally established along with instructions for the Tabernacle and ritual holiness. So what was the priesthood for? Hebrews 5:1 gives a useful summary:

Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. Hebrews 5:1

Because God is holy and people are not, the priests were to be the “go-betweens” between God and His people. Through sacrifices they would point to rescue from sin. However, there were two problems. First, the priests themselves were sinful. There were all kinds of ritual regulations to help the priests be holy people, set apart from the rest. However, no matter how holy they made themselves, they could always still relate more fully to sinful humanity than to holy God. The second problem was that they kept dying. In other words, the problem of sin kept persisting through every generation. Then Jesus is born:

and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. Matthew 1:21.

Jesus can truly deal with sin in a way that no priest ever could. He had the credentials including being sinless. This was in contrast to all priests, but especially the High Priest who would be involved in his execution. Jesus also offered the only sacrifice that could be truly effective. He offered himself.

For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he has no need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people; this he did once for all when he offered himself. Hebrews 7:26-27

The priests of the Old Testament filled many important functions, but the greatest was to point to the coming into the world of a better High Priest. And an effective sacrifice for sin.

Kings point to the coming of Jesus.

God’s people did not always have a king. But they asked for one:

Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to govern us.” Samuel prayed to the Lord, and the Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. 1 Samuel 8:4-7

Up to this point, Israel had enjoyed something that no other nation could boast of; God was their king. However they wanted a king “like other nations.” This would be be like a teenager of a well-to-do family who, in wanting a flip phone like what their friends have, is willing to trade in their iPhone, MacBook Pro, Ferrari, parent’s home, and their parents to get one. It would be a ridiculous trade. God gives the go-ahead but with the warning that having a human king is not always going to be rosy. Though an imperfect man, David was a good king who was promised by God to have his descendants on the throne forever. As you look at the history of God’s people, you see that this does not go very well as so many of the kings, even when descended from David, were so incredibly awful. Perhaps the worst king of all was Herod, the king at the time of Jesus’ birth. He was ruthless and to make matters worse, was not even a legitimate king, not being a descendant of David.

You can imagine how Herod must have felt when the Magi came to him and asked  “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?” (Matthew 2:2) This must have stung as Herod was not legitimately born king of the Jews, but was propped up as a puppet king by the Romans. He was furious and ordered that all the infants of Bethlehem be killed. A rotten king indeed. At Christmas, God in being incarnate is effectively saying “You asked for a king, but I love you to much to leave you at the mercy of ruthless kings. I am and will be your king, a merciful king, a good king.”

6 For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. Isaiah 9:6-7

Jesus went on to be that good king, that good shepherd who, far from destroying lives like Herod, lays down his life for the sake of his sheep. The kings of Israel had a spotty history of sometimes being good and sometimes being downright atrocious. Whether good or bad, their very existence pointed to the coming into the world of a better king, the true King of kings and Lord of lords, God Himself.

Prophets point to the coming of Jesus.

You cannot read the story of Christmas in the Gospel of Matthew without noticing that Matthew really wants you to understand how Old Testament prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus.

All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet (Matthew 1:22)  . . . for so it has been written by the prophet (Matthew 2:4)  . . . Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah (Matthew 2:17) . . . so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled. (Matthew 2:23)

But does Matthew just want us to think of these specific prophecies being fulfilled at Christmas? No, he mentions these as a way of alerting us that something far greater is going on. The great hope that God would keep His covenant promises, that God would intervene, is at hand. This is not just the fulfillment of a few scattered prophecies, but rather the hope of the entire Old Testament. As the writer put it in “O Little Town of Bethlehem;” “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

In conclusion:

  • The presence of priests in the Old Testament points to the need for a rescue from sin. The advent of Jesus marks the coming of the great Rescuer. Are you being rescued? Do you know Jesus as Saviour?
  • The presence of kings in the history of God’s people points to the need for godly leadership. The advent of Jesus marks the coming of the most godly leader you can think of, God Himself! Are you following Him? Do you know Jesus as Lord?
  • The prophets of the Old Testament shine a spotlight on the future. The advent of Jesus marks the beginning of that future. Does your future shine brightly?

Get Clarke’s posts as they appear on his blog before they appear here. Follow @clarkedixon for updates

November 15, 2016

Prophecy: From God or Made Up?

This weekend at church we heard a message on visions and dreams. Not surprisingly, the word prophecy came up a few times. The following verse was quoted:

NLT Jeremiah 23:16 This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says to his people:

“Do not listen to these prophets when they prophesy to you,
    filling you with futile hopes.
They are making up everything they say.
    They do not speak for the Lord!

But immediately my thoughts ran to this verse:

NLT 2 Peter 1:20 Above all, you must realize that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own understanding, 21 or from human initiative. No, those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God.

So which is right?

Context immediately solves the problem, the Jeremiah passage is dealing with false prophets. (Most Bible discrepancies and apparent contradictions are resolved when context is considered.) If there’s any doubt, God disowns these prophets a few verses later:

21 “I have not sent these prophets,
    yet they run around claiming to speak for me.
I have given them no message,
    yet they go on prophesying.

Does that seem like God has lost control over the situation? No, his affirmation of sovereignty and omniscience follows:

23 Am I a God who is only close at hand?” says the Lord.
    “No, I am far away at the same time.
24 Can anyone hide from me in a secret place?
    Am I not everywhere in all the heavens and earth?”
    says the Lord.

Similarly, the 2 Peter passage has a context, and that context is recorded prophecy in scripture.  The Bible Panorama commentary notes that, “…there is a surer prophetic Word, the Bible, which guides us into God’s truth. Someone may mistakenly think he has heard a voice from heaven, but the Word of God can readily be seen and examined. God revealed His Word in the Bible by moving holy men, by His Holy Spirit, to record His infallible truth.”

Peter is writing about the prophecies concerning the coming of Jesus (and in a sense, the entire thread of Israel’s history leading up to that point.) The Biblical prophets spoke of things Peter and The Twelve had heard with their own ears and saw with their own eyes.

NLT 16 For we were not making up clever stories when we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We saw his majestic splendor with our own eyes 17 when he received honor and glory from God the Father. The voice from the majestic glory of God said to him, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.” 18 We ourselves heard that voice from heaven when we were with him on the holy mountain.

19 Because of that experience, we have even greater confidence in the message proclaimed by the prophets. You must pay close attention to what they wrote, for their words are like a lamp shining in a dark place…

The challenge for the Christian in today’s world is that sometimes the lines are blurred. A modern day prophet may well quote scripture. They may speak of things which relate to the overall arc of the Bible story. Then, out of the blue, they might interject something which rings of truth because of everything said to that point, but is actually the starting point for a message that is heading off the rails.

On the weekend at Thinking Out Loud we spoke about discernment, which is key to untangling all of this. We ended with some verses I want to share here which mention this much needed gift. As we said there, in an internet-influenced world, so many voices are talking at once, and we need to be able to discern the difference between prophecy which is of human origin and prophetic words which are from God.

Here’s the first four of 71 verses on discernment from openBible.info:

1 John 4:1

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,

But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.                     (all ESV)

 

June 15, 2016

The Uncomfortable Message of Repentance

Clarke Dixon continues his series in Ezekiel… click this link to read at source.

•••by Clarke Dixon

The Church is called to deliver an uncomfortable message. If we look to Peter’s first sermon to the people on the Day of Pentecost following the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus we will find a key word. Upon being asked “what should we do?” (Acts 2:37), the very first word out of Peter’s mouth is “Repent” (Acts 2:38). This has been a central part of the Church’s message to the world ever since. The word “repent” literally means ‘to have a change of mind’ and the Church is to call people all over the world to have a change of mind in their worldview, and in their ethics. This does not sit well with everybody and needless to say many Christians find this message of repentance to be uncomfortable. Given that the culture of Canada is slowly but surely slipping away from Judeo-Christian values, a proper call to repentance will become even more uncomfortable for the Church in Canada in the days to come. Perhaps we would rather have a comfortable message, like “every religious worldview is valid,” or “God does not really care about how you live”. But we must go with an honest message, not a comfortable one.

Ezekiel was called to deliver an uncomfortable message as a prophet and there are some things we can learn from his experience. Let us consider the following passage:

You shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear; for they are a rebellious house. 8 But you, mortal, hear what I say to you; do not be rebellious like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you. 9 I looked, and a hand was stretched out to me, and a written scroll was in it. 10 He spread it before me; it had writing on the front and on the back, and written on it were words of lamentation and mourning and woe. (Ezekiel 2:7-10 emphasis mine)

This is going to be uncomfortable! While Biblical scholars debate whether Ezekiel was to literally eat the scroll, or rather if it is meant to be taken figuratively with Ezekiel knowing well the word he is to speak, there is no doubt about one thing. This will be a bitter message. The people will not want to hear it, and no doubt Ezekiel did not want to deliver it. Sounds a bit like the message of repentance the Church is called to deliver today. However, let us read on:

1 He said to me, O mortal, eat what is offered to you; eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel. 2 So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat. 3 He said to me, Mortal, eat this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it. Then I ate it; and in my mouth it was as sweet as honey. (Ezekiel 2:1-3 emphasis mine)

Bitter words of “lamentation and mourning and woe” end up being as “sweet as honey”? Could it be that the call to repentance is sweet? Let us consider why the scroll is sweet.

“Words of lamentation and mourning and woe” are sweet because apathy is bitter. There is nothing worse than a broken relationship with God. If you don’t believe me, ask Adam and Eve. Our hearts break for people when they experience health troubles and the like, but do our hearts break for people who experience a broken relationship with God? To be unaware of, or without care for, the judgement the lost are facing, and so to not share the good news of God’s love and salvation in Christ would be a bitter thing. To hear the word of woe and so have a broken heart for the lost is sweet indeed.

“Words of lamentation and mourning and woe” are sweet because injustice is bitter. Mention the justice and judgement of God and eyes roll. Yet when a criminal gets off on a technicality we cry out for justice. People naturally tend to have a keen sense of justice, it is part of having a conscience. Throughout the world you can hear cries for justice, it is something humanity yearns for. If you love justice you are really going to love God, for his justice is perfect, more thorough than any legal system, more keen that any judge, more to be trusted than any jury. The scroll is sweet because God’s justice is perfect.

“Words of lamentation and mourning and woe” are sweet because a missed opportunity is bitter. Contrary to what many believe, the prophets of the Old Testament did not share predictions of the future to satisfy curiosity. Rather prophets speak on behalf of God, often pointing to the future so that people could make wise choices in the present. Ezekiel is to bring a message of woe, he is to help the exiled people see that they are now experiencing the consequence of their sin by being in exile. But Ezekiel also will deliver a message of hope, God will remain faithful to His covenant promises. The hearers of Ezekiel’s message, in hearing the bad and the good, have the opportunity to make a good decision regarding their standing with God. The Church, in its prophetic role, is to speak of the coming judgement, and the love and grace of God in Christ, so that people can make the wise decision of facing the future with Christ on their side. In fact Christ has already shown He is on everyone’s side through the cross, but those who reject Him show that they do not want to be on His. It is a bitter thing to miss the opportunity for reconciliation with one’s Maker. To be motivated to think through all the implications of one’s relationship with God is sweet. The scroll is sweet because it speaks of the God-given opportunity to experience grace.

“Words of lamentation and mourning and woe” are sweet because being stuck is bitter. The yucky feeling of regret can lead us to a better place. Over the past three years I have lost 107 pounds. Mind you, I am not 107 pounds lighter for my weight has been up and down like a yo-yo and I have gained weight over that time as well. But had I never experienced the yucky feeling of regret I would be well over 300 pounds by now. To be feeling healthier has been sweet. While the evil one can use regret to keep us in a bitter place, the Holy Spirit uses regret to change us and bring us to a sweeter place. The Holy Spirit uses regret to drive people to repentance, to lead people to that place of being unhappy living in sin, and wanting to live in Christ instead. Regret leads people into the arms of God, and there is no sweeter place to be. The scroll is sweet because it un-glues people.

The Church has a similar calling in the world as Ezekiel did for God’s people in exile. We are to call people to repentance. Throughout history being a prophet has been an uncomfortable thing, but truly, the message of repentance is very sweet.

(Scripture references are taken from the NRSV)

 

 

May 10, 2016

The Bible Project: An Overview of the Book of Joel

If you haven’t already seen the fine work being done on video by The Bible Project, we couldn’t help observe that this is a perfect fit for us at Christianity 201. This overview of the writing of Joel (one of the ‘The Twelve’ or what we call the minor prophets) provides a great overview of this book.

Note: I would love to post the whole series here, but I know you come here daily for a teaching or inspirational writing that is written out in words, and some devotional websites can easily get lazy and just post videos. Still, feel free to use the comments or the contact page to let me know how this works for you. And really consider checking out The Bible Project on YouTube (link above) or subscribing to the channel.

March 14, 2016

More On the Holy Spirit in the First Testament

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Usually when we pay a return visit to an author, we catch up to their most current writing. But in this case, something quite different; we’re running part two of the article we used a year ago. (Here’s our link. Links to all four parts follow.) As always, click the title to read at source, and note the links to the other parts of the series. The writer is Brennan Hughes and the blog is titled Heaven’s Muscle, which is also the title of his book.

The Holy Spirit in the Hebrew Bible (2) Prophecy

Last time, we explored the idea of the Spirit as God’s presence on earth, the Spirit’s metaphorical association with water, and the Spirit as an agent of creation.  Now, let’s turn to things the Spirit does for people.

One thing the Spirit causes people to do is prophesy.  Topic number four is thus the Spirit’s association with prophetic activity.  But what does that even mean, really?  To get a handle on all the things prophecy entails, we need to examine what people in the biblical story do when they are said to prophesy by the Spirit.

Moses was a Spirit-filled leader, yet even he needed help.  In Numbers chapter 11, YHWH (that’s the Hebrew name for Israel’s God) gives Moses a break by helping Moses delegate his leadership responsibilities.  God tells Moses to select seventy elders who have proven leadership ability.  The group then assembles (with two of the elders missing).  The text says:

Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke with [Moses], and he took some of the power of the Spirit that was on [Moses] and put it on the seventy elders.  When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied—but did not do so again.

However, two men, whose names were Eldad and Medad, had remained in the camp.  They were listed among the elders, but did not go out to the tent.  Yet the Spirit also rested on them, and they prophesied in the camp.  A young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.”

Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses’ aide since youth, spoke up and said, “Moses, my lord, stop them!”

But Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake?  I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!”  Then Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.

Implicit in this passage is that the Spirit’s presence endows these 70 elders with authority and the ability to help Moses judge the people (Num. 11:17-29).  The Spirit’s presence is manifested in a temporary outburst of prophecy, but the text does not tell us exactly what these elders did that was so striking to the people around them.

Numbers 11 may be the earliest text that explicitly links the Spirit to prophecy, but it is not alone.  Let’s pause for a moment and think about what exactly these elders might have been doing when they prophesied.

Although prophecy sometimes entails proclaiming what the future holds (or rather, might hold), prophesy is not the same thing as future-telling.  Biblical prophecy is usually an intelligible message from God, either in the form of statements, dreams, or visions.  Prophets in other ancient near eastern cultures and in the Greco-Roman world also experienced visions and dreams and announced divine messages, but being a “prophet” in these cultures could also mean that one has ecstatic experiences.  Some linguists think the Semitic root word for prophet and prophecy means “bubbling over,” which is to suggest that prophecy involves (at least sometimes) wild, idiosyncratic behavior.  There are touches of this in the Bible, as well.

Let’s skip ahead to Saul, the first king of Israel.  In First Samuel 10, after anointing Saul, Samuel the prophet sends him on a mission and tells him:

you will go to Gibeah of God, where there is a Philistine outpost.  As you approach the town, you will meet a procession of prophets coming down from the high place with lyres, timbrels, pipes and harps being played before them, and they will be prophesying.  The Spirit of the Lord will come powerfully upon you, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person.  Once these signs are fulfilled, do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you. . . .

As Saul turned to leave Samuel, God changed Saul’s heart, and all these signs were fulfilled that day.  When he and his servant arrived at Gibeah, a procession of prophets met him; the Spirit of God came powerfully upon him, and he joined in their prophesying.  When all those who had formerly known him saw him prophesying with the prophets, they asked each other, “What is this that has happened to the son of Kish?  Is Saul also among the prophets?” . . .  After Saul stopped prophesying, he went to the high place. (NIV)

The Spirit of God again comes upon Saul in the next chapter, as Saul burns with anger against the Ammonites and summons an army using severed ox parts (I Samuel 11:6-7).

Unfortunately, the Spirit of YHWH later leaves Saul, and is replaced by “an evil spirit from YHWH” (I Samuel 16:14; 19:9).  By this time, Saul has become the enemy of David, God’s choice to be Saul’s successor as king.

First Samuel 18 records an incident in which Saul sends three waves of soldiers to Ramah to capture David.  Each band of soldiers runs into Samuel’s group of (musical?) prophets.  And each time, the Spirit of God “came upon” the soldiers, and they all prophesied.  Finally, Saul himself decides to travel to Ramah, and he meets the same fate:

So Saul went to Naioth at Ramah. But the Spirit of God came even on him, and he walked along prophesying until he came to Naioth.  He stripped off his garments, and he too prophesied in Samuel’s presence. He lay naked all that day and all that night. This is why people say, “Is Saul also among the prophets?”

Thus, in I Samuel, we see prophets that travel in groups, that play musical instruments, and that at least occasionally are publicly naked.  This prophetic activity is incited by the Spirit, and the Spirit’s presence changes a person’s heart and makes him “a different person.”  But for Saul, the prophecy was temporary and even his positive personality change ultimately did not last.

Much more common in the Bible, however, are episodes in which prophecy is equated with speech, and these divine messages are often explicitly linked with the Spirit.  For example, King David’s last words begin with “The Spirit of the Lord spoke through me; his word was on my tongue” (2 Samuel 23:2; cf. Matthew 22:43).  Much later, the author of Nehemiah notes that YHWH admonished the Jews “by his Spirit” through his prophets (Nehemiah 9:30).

Having the Spirit of YHWH come upon someone is often a prelude to a prophetic announcement (I Chronicles 12:18; 2 Chronicles 15:1; 20:14; 24:20) or a career of prophecy (Isaiah 61:1).  As an example of a prophetic announcement associated with the Spirit, Isaiah proclaims, “And now the Sovereign Lord has sent me, with his Spirit.  This is what the Lord says.. .” (Isaiah 48:16).  When YHWH called Ezekiel, the Spirit came into him and raised him to his feet (Ezekiel 2:2, 3:24, 11:5).

The Spirit also gives visions (Ezekiel 11:24).  And interpretations of visions and dreams.  Even Pharaoh could see that Joseph the interpreter of dreams was “one in whom is the spirit of God” (Genesis 41:38).

These passages illustrate the common biblical connection between being filled with the Spirit and experiencing prophecy, whether that prophetic activity is defined as delivering a powerful verbal message from God, experiencing meaningful dreams and visions, foretelling the future, or — at least in one episode — joining a commune of ecstatic nude musicians.

Prophecy can also manifest itself as a brief episode or as a lifelong avocation.

We should not be surprised, then, to see a direct link between the presence of the Spirit and the experience of prophecy in the New Testament, in early church history, and, I suggest, in the church today.

As a postscript, I note that several New Testament passages identify the Spirit as the source of Old Testament prophecy.

In Hebrews, quotations from the Old Testament are said to be words of the Holy Spirit (3:7; 9:8; 10:15).

First Peter 1:10-12 says that

“the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.  It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven.  Even angels long to look into these things.”

Finally, “Prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21).

I hope these glimpses of the Spirit’s prophetic activity in the Old Testament provide some useful context for understanding prophecy in the New Testament and even among God’s people today.  Feel free to share and to leave comments.  There’s more to come!
Click here for Part I
Click here for Part III
Click here for Part IV

March 3, 2016

When Peter Gets It

Last month several churches in my area held their annual meetings. Part of this is required by law and is intended to include the election of officers. Because one church has a rather unique take on this, I looked into the choosing of Matthias (to replace Judas Iscariot) in Acts 1, but ended up with a completely different takeaway.

First, the text (all scriptures today are NLT)

20 Peter continued, “This was written in the book of Psalms, where it says, ‘Let his home become desolate, with no one living in it.’ It also says, ‘Let someone else take his position.’

21 “So now we must choose a replacement for Judas from among the men who were with us the entire time we were traveling with the Lord Jesus— 22 from the time he was baptized by John until the day he was taken from us. Whoever is chosen will join us as a witness of Jesus’ resurrection.”

23 So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. 24 Then they all prayed, “O Lord, you know every heart. Show us which of these men you have chosen 25 as an apostle to replace Judas in this ministry, for he has deserted us and gone where he belongs.” 26 Then they cast lots, and Matthias was selected to become an apostle with the other eleven.

Some commentaries believe that they cast lots because they had two equally viable candidates and there was no clear consensus for choosing one or the other.

But it was verse 20 that got my attention; and I left the other consideration aside. Sometimes that happens when you’re reading scripture; you’re looking for topic “A” and find topic “B” jumping out at you!

First, some background. In Matthew 16, Peter starts the chapter doing really well. As the lead follower of Rabbi Jesus, he’s got the right answer.

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

14 “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”

15 Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?”

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

17 Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being.

But then things fall apart for Peter a few verses later:

21 From then on Jesus began to tell his disciples plainly that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, and that he would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day he would be raised from the dead.

22 But Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things. “Heaven forbid, Lord,” he said. “This will never happen to you!”

I think you know what happens next.

23 Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.”

What I think is clearly stated here is that Peter is unaware that everything Jesus is doing is following a divine script. It’s “necessary for him to go to Jerusalem.” This is all part of God’s plan. But Peter doesn’t see it that way.

Now, flash forward to where we began, in Acts 1. Peter is invoking two prophetic passages from the Psalms foretelling of the replacement of Judas:

Ps. 69:25 Let their homes become desolate
    and their tents be deserted.

and

Ps. 109:8 Let his years be few;
    let someone else take his position.

Suddenly, Peter realizes that he and the other disciples are following a divine script. He sees it as equally necessary for them to appoint a 12th apostle. He gets it!

At first, I thought this was even more remarkable considering Pentecost had not happened. I mistakenly concluded they were not yet filled with the Holy Spirit. This is, after all Acts chapter one, not Acts chapter two where we read:

Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. 4a And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit…

But in terms of The Twelve (and any others that were with them at the time) that’s not the case. If we backtrack to the time before Christ’s ascension, John 20 points out:

19 That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

The point is that Peter is now a changed person, and he recognizes the fulfillment of the Messianic Psalms in everything he is experiencing in his lifetime.

There is another example of the Psalm connection I want to end with. In Matthew 27, we see Jesus on the cross:

46 About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

This one verse is so rich and contains much we could discuss as to Jesus being abandoned by The Father. But one preacher I heard said that in saying what he did, it was like a giant, neon, flashing billboard saying “READ PSALM 22.” (The people of the day knew the Psalms by their first lines, the numbering system wasn’t around then.)

This is the clearest Psalm in terms of predicting the crucifixion which is taking place at that exact moment:

Everyone who sees me mocks me.
    They sneer and shake their heads, saying,
“Is this the one who relies on the Lord?
    Then let the Lord save him!
If the Lord loves him so much,
    let the Lord rescue him!”

14 My life is poured out like water,
    and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart is like wax,
    melting within me.
15 My strength has dried up like sunbaked clay.
    My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.
    You have laid me in the dust and left me for dead.
16 My enemies surround me like a pack of dogs;
    an evil gang closes in on me.
    They have pierced my hands and feet.
17 I can count all my bones.
    My enemies stare at me and gloat.
18 They divide my garments among themselves
    and throw dice for my clothing.

Imaging being there and knowing you are right in the middle of everything spoken prophetically in the Psalms.

Peter figured that out, and from this point on his ministry moves on a new trajectory, with confidence and power.

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