Christianity 201

June 28, 2018

Empire, or Kingdom?

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
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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

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

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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)

 

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