Heaven (Part Three)

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God (Revelation 21:3).

What will be some of the essential features of the future happiness of God’s chosen people?

We will have an intimate knowledge of God. Though God is everywhere present, he will reveal himself especially in the eternal city, where he will live with his people forever

  • This will be the fulfillment of all the covenant promises (Leviticus 26:12; Ezekiel 37:27; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Hebrews 8:10; 13:5).
  • At that time, we will be permitted to see God (Psalm 17:15; Matthew 5:8), not that we will see God’s spiritual essence, since that is invisible (1 Timothy 1:17; 6:16), but that we will be able to see God as revealed through the Mediator, Jesus Christ the Lord (John 1:18). He will communicate the glory of God to our senses (2 Corinthians 4:6; John 17:24; Revelation 21:23). “The glory of God is the illumination, and the Lamb is the luminary from which it emanates. Jesus will still be our teacher there, and through him we shall acquire our knowledge of the perfections and counsels of God.” [Dagg, Manual of Theology, p. 359]
  • Our knowledge of God and God’s ways will always increase, as those in fellowship with each other continually grow in knowledge of each other, as we will not have anything to hinder its progress, and we will have an inexhaustible subject for study.
  • What will we learn of God? We will be able to study his works (cf. Psalm 111:2), his government of history, and his deep plans of redemption (cf. Romans 11:33). Perhaps in the eternal state, we will be able to see how truths that now seem disconnected form one harmonious whole and perhaps many other things beyond our current understanding.

We will have perfect moral conformity with God (Romans 8:29; 1 John 3:2). In Christ, this is already begun (Ephesians 4:24), but then it will be perfected. Being free from sin forever and always thinking righteous thoughts will be a new and very enjoyable experience. “In being conformed to God, who is love, we shall love the display of divine perfection, of which we shall obtain increasing discoveries… As our knowledge enlarges, our love to the things learned will become more intense, and the new developments which will be made at every stage of our endless advancement will be increasingly ravishing” (Dagg, p. 361).

We will have a full assurance of God’s approval. Now in this world, we grieve because of our sin, even though we know the truth of justification (Romans 5:1-11; 8:1; etc.) But in that day, the assurance of Christ’s word of welcome (Matthew 25:34) will govern our hearts and banish all fear (cf. 1 John 4:18).

We will have the best possible society (Revelation 21:3; Hebrews 12:22-24). Since our eternal home is a city, we should think in terms of residing in fellowship with beings sharing the exceeding riches of the eternal God.

  • God will live with us.
  • We will be with Jesus the mediator of the new covenant.
  • There will be an innumerable company of angels.
  • The full assembly of Christ’s chosen people will be present (Hebrews 11:39-40). We will sit down (Matthew 8:11) in perfect fellowship with the people of God from all generations. We will be with believers from before the Flood and before the giving of the law. We will meet those believers like Moses, Joshua, David, Hezekiah and Daniel, who lived under the law. We will fellowship with the apostles, prophets and many others whose names are written in the New Testament Scriptures. We will share life with those who suffered martyrdom in the earliest days of the church, with those who lived during many dark years, with those who rejoiced during times of great awakenings and the spread of the gospel to all nations, with those from other places and times, and those who sat in church buildings and homes with us, and with those who will make up the last generation when Christ returns.

We will have delightful employment. We are told simply, and his servants will serve him (Revelation 22:3). This service will occur in an atmosphere where the curse because of sin will be removed, and so we will be released from wearisome toil that characterizes our work now. What kind of service is not revealed, so it is useless to speculate. But we will be doing the will of the holy, wise and loving God, and we may sure that it will be significant and fitting for us. One of our activities will include worship.

Nothing will be present that can damage our happiness. God will remove our sorrows and all that accompanies them. Everything will be new (Revelation 21:4-5). No sinners will be present to disrupt the joy we will forever experience (Revelation 21:8).

Grace and peace, David

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Heaven (Part Two)

Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world (John 17:24 NIV).

Since heaven is not presently accessible or visible to us, we should expect many honest questions on the subject. All that we can know is what God has chosen to write in the Scriptures, and in his word, we are not told many details. This can be somewhat frustrating, but this is the will of our Father in heaven. I think it is useless to speculate about God’s reasons, but since he is holy and wise, I’m sure that his reasons for not telling us more are best for us and most for his glory. Consider 2 Corinthians 12:3-4. The apostle Paul said by the Spirit, And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows—was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell (NIV). God does not permit knowledge about heaven outside of what is written in the Bible. For this reason, do not be led astray by these supposed accounts of people that claim to have seen heaven’s glories. In this and a couple posts to follow, let’s consider various questions sincere questions that believers in Jesus have about heaven.

Is heaven a place or a state of mind?

Many outside the sphere of Bible-believing Christianity deny that heaven is an actual place, and they consider it to just be a state of mind. However, we do not determine truth by the opinions of people, but on the authoritative word of God. We have clear evidence from the Scriptures that heaven is an actual place that can be inhabited by physical beings.

  • The Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven in his resurrection body (Acts 1:9-11; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3; 9:11-12, 24)
  • The Lord Jesus was seen in heaven by Stephen at his martyrdom (Acts 7:55-56)
  • The Lord Jesus promised to prepare a place for us to be with him (John 14:2-3; cf. 17:24)
  • The Lord Christ will come from heaven (1 Thessalonians 4:16)

Where is heaven?

The Bible nowhere states where heaven is, and we have no way of finding out. In addition, we have no way of knowing how the universe will be formed after the reordering of all things in the new creation. Avoid empty on these matters.

Will we know one another in heaven?

Yes, we will. Why would we not? An example of personal knowledge is found in the account of Christ’s transfiguration (Luke 9:30-33). Peter could recognize Moses and Elijah, though he had never met either man. If we were not able to recognize one another in heaven, how could the words of hope and joy of the apostle be true (1 Thessalonians 2:19)? Clearly, the apostle expected to recognize his converts and to rejoice with them to the glory of Christ. Paul comforts us with the assurance that those who have died with Christ will be brought with the Lord at his return (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14). Where would the comfort be if we were unable to know one another? The point of his comment is that we are not parted in fellowship forever. We will be with one another again!

Grace and peace, David

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By Faith Joseph (Part Two)

Genesis 50:22-26

In our previous post, we saw how Joseph completed his earthly pilgrimage with joy. We conclude this series on his life with this: By faith Joseph spoke about the future. By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the exodus of the sons of Israel, and gave orders concerning his bones (Hebrews 11:22 NASV).

For their immediate future, he encouraged them to rely on the Lord. He comforted them with the same comfort that he had received from his father (48:21). This is a pattern for our lives. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God (2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NIV). They who believe God’s promises are desirous of persuading others to believe also. That which had sustained him for over ninety years, he now leaves as a heritage of faith to his family.

Joseph had been the means of God’s support and protection for the family. Now that the means was passing away, what would become of the family? He directed them to the actual source of their security: The God who had made covenant promises to his people (50:24). “God’s gracious visits will serve to make up the loss of our best friends. They die; but we may live, and live comfortably, if we have the favor and presence of God with us” (Henry).

For the more distant future, he encouraged them to hope in God. God’s people must journey through this world with their hope (confident expectation) on what God has promised. We don’t look for satisfaction in this present world but in the world to come. Joseph’s family, which would become God’s covenant nation at Sinai, was not to look for satisfaction in Egypt. God had a better place for them, a place where they could flourish as his people. But they would not reach that land for many years. Until then, by faith Joseph spoke two messages of hope.

First, Joseph told them that God would come to their aid. Their way would eventually turn out to be bitter slavery. The people themselves would even turn to idols (Joshua 24:14). But God’s grace is greater than his people’s sins and sorrows. Hear the word of the Lord, “But God will surely come to your aid.”

Second, Joseph prophesied that God will surely take them to the land of promise. Egypt was not to be their home, and as a testimony to them, Joseph ordered that they take his bones out with them in the Exodus. Famous men often want to build monuments to their own honor in this world. Joseph was of a different spirit. Let Egypt do as it wished for the present; he had his sights set on a better country.

God’s people in all ages must keep their eyes on God’s promised rest for them. Let us remember where our home is. We are only strangers and pilgrims here. All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth (Hebrews 11:13 NIV). We are looking for a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness (2 Peter 3:13).

Let’s focus on some lessons we can learn from Joseph’s life.

  • What made Joseph tick? He had surely seen God do great things for him and through him! But was his experience his consolation in the end? No, it was the word of God. His hope was in what God had “promised on oath” (50:24). Two unchangeable things sustained him at the end, God’s promise and oath (cf. Hebrews 6:18). We will do well to pay attention to the word of the prophets made more certain, for it is the word of God (2 Peter 1:19-21).
  • Let us not be weary of repetition. Joseph repeated that God would surely come to their aid. Weak minds continually lust after new, exotic, spicy spiritual and intellectual dishes. Strong minds are content to feed on meat and potatoes. Make God’s word your delight and rely on it; beware the opinions of people.
  • Joseph endured thirteen years of suffering, but he also enjoyed eighty years of honor. Let us not lose heart concerning any present suffering for Christ. He can abundantly reward us. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all (2 Corinthians 4:17 NIV).
  • A godly man may die in the Egypts of this world. That matters not. All the godly will share perfection together someday (Hebrews 11:40). O that it was today!

Grace and peace, David

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By Faith Joseph (Part One)

Genesis 50:22-26

We come now to our final posts about the life of Joseph. He could say that God intended his sufferings for good. Our own souls can benefit as we meditate on what God did for him, leading him through the lowest depths to the highest honors. Trials may come to the child of God, but the Lord is with him through the trials.

While it is God’s purpose always to work for the ultimate good of his people (Romans 8:28), it is our responsibility to trust him as he works toward that end. Suppose you have car with engine problems, and you take it to a good mechanic for repairs. How does he fix the car? By taking the engine apart. You must rely on his wisdom and good intentions.

By faith Joseph completed his earthly pilgrimage. God blessed him with a long life. In the old covenant, the first command with a promise (Deuteronomy 5:16; Ephesians 6:3) promised a long life. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation (Psalm 91:16 ESV). My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you peace and prosperity (Proverbs 3:2 NIV). We must read verses within, not only their context, but also the context of the progress of redemptive history. Prior to the old covenant, we find that several of the godly (no record of the ages of the ungodly) attained very great years: Abraham, 175; Isaac, 180; Jacob, 147; and Job, 140+. Yet though they were loved by the Lord, sin’s partner, death, at last laid hold of them. We should daily thank the Lord for the gift of life and all that is necessary to sustain it and make it enjoyable. Now is the time to remember him. Remember him—before the silver cord is severed, and the golden bowl is broken; before the pitcher is shattered at the spring, and the wheel broken at the well, and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it (Ecclesiastes 12:6-7 NIV).

God blessed Joseph with a growing family. The text can be interpreted as either grandchildren or great-grandchildren. In either case, he could bless God as he saw the promise to Abraham begin to be fulfilled. Genesis 12:2. The enjoyment of grandchildren is a blessing from God. May the Lord bless you from Zion, so that you will see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life and will see your children’s children! Peace be with Israel (Psalm 128:6 CSB; cf. Job 42:16). I was joking with another grandfather yesterday that grandchildren are new and improved versions of children. We laughed, but I think that perception lies more within the grandfathers than the grandchildren, since we can love them and hand them back to our children after we have “spoiled” the grandchildren with kindness.

Note well that Joseph could rejoice in the mercies of God to him. He did not embitter his own life by obsessing on the suffering that he had had to endure because of his brothers’ cruelty. Since he knew that God had intended everything for the good of his family, he accepted his place in the plan of the Sovereign God. This required faith. God’s people must always live by faith.

Grace and peace, David

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Intended for Good (Part Two)

Genesis 50:15-21

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives (Genesis 50:20 NIV).

To restore relationships, we must act according to God’s word. To approach situations in conformity with God’s word, we must understand it. We need to be convinced that the leading person in the God’s plan is God himself, and not ourselves or the other person. This God-focus is often alien to how we act. But observe Joseph’s good and godly reply.

First, Joseph brought God into their problem. He directed them to replace their fear of retaliation with a fear of God. It is like Joseph said, “Make your peace with God, and then you will find it an easy matter to make your peace with me” (Henry). I think you will find that most believers will have a responsive heart to requests for forgiveness (Matthew 18:21-35), though granting forgiveness might not happen without an internal struggle. As a godly man, Joseph knew that vengeance belongs to the Lord, and he was content to leave that to God. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:17-21 NIV). It is very tempting to want to even up the score a little, isn’t it? Even when you’re right, you must resist the desire for personal revenge.

Joseph had already forgiven them, but had they made things right with God? There is a scene from Chariots of Fire, which is almost certainly fictitious, and used by the script writer to express Eric’s inner struggles. Jenny said to Eric after he missed a service, “It’s not me you have offended.” God was in his thoughts. While it is good to seek a restoration of relationship with another human we have offended, we must seek God’s favor above all. Do not make an idol out of your relationship to another man.

Second, Joseph explained God’s providence to them. They had intended evil; they truly had sinned. Notice that Joseph didn’t minimize their sin. When you counsel someone, don’t minimize their sin, but maximize God’s grace. Yet, Joseph made it clear that God had intended good. He can use a bad situation to produce a good end. Remember Peter’s words. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross (Acts 2:23 NIV). God and people can intend two contrary purposes in the same incident, but God’s ultimate purpose will prevail (cf. Proverbs 16:1, 9). Joseph also reflected God’s character to them. He promised to provide for them (cf. Matthew 5:44-47).

We ought to imitate Joseph’s excellent attitude and actions. Learn to return good when you have received evil. And so, Joseph spoke words of assurance and kindness (cf. 2 Corinthians 7:8-10). When we speak this way, we keep the instruction of the Lord Christ. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4:32 ESV).

Grace and peace, David

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Intended for Good (Part One)

Genesis 50:15-21

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives (Genesis 50:20 NIV).

We come to the climax of our study about God’s providence in the life of Joseph son of Jacob. Through many twists and turns, God planned the events of Joseph’s life for the Lord’s goals in the great story of his glory in Jesus Christ. It is this section that provides God’s viewpoint on all that has happened.

We should approach this with more than a casual interest. It is one thing to say that God intended good in the events of Joseph’s life. It is quite another to make that same affirmation about our own lives. The way to begin is not to hope for or to wait for some crisis in our lives, and then to hope that we will see that God is working for our good. Instead, we must see God involved in our lives today, and every day and night. Wise military commanders prepare their troops for battle before they ever enter into harm’s way. God’s instruction about his story prepares us to serve him in all circumstances of life.

The account begins with the brothers’ misinformed plan (50:15-18). People, especially men, have the tendency to approach problems as “the fixer”. We listen to someone’s difficult situation for a couple minutes, and then spout out solutions to fix the other person or their circumstances. We try this with ourselves constantly by seeking advice from supposed experts or reading self-help books or surfing the internet. This approach is a recipe for disaster, and it could have made things much worse between Joseph and his brothers. Let’s think through their proposed solution.

  • It arose from uncertainty in their hearts: “what if.” They were trapped in guilt producing fear sequence. Guilt so awakens fear that a person will not feel secure. Cain became ruled by guilt and fear after he murdered his brother (Genesis 4:13-14). Joseph’s brothers lacked insight about Joseph’s character. Godly people are often misunderstood. The Lord Jesus was misunderstood by his family, Paul by the Corinthians, and David by his wife Michal.
  • It showed a mixture of worldly-wisdom and spiritual wisdom. They hid behind their father’s coat tails. They told a doubtful scenario from our perspective, but it might have happened. Did Jacob know about the sin of the ten against Joseph? Did they mislead Joseph that Jacob did? Would Jacob doubt Joseph’s intentions? The brothers took advantage of the grieving process, when a tender heart would be even more sensitive to an appeal like this. They did ask for forgiveness. Perhaps they should have used a better approach, but they did attempt to correct their problem.
  • It was presented in an inexact way. We have the advantage of possessing the Scriptures, and so we should do better. They spoke through a messenger instead of personally. Fear, rather than love was controlling their hearts. The brothers appealed to Joseph with a legal attitude: “we are your slaves.” Compare the lost son in the parable (Luke 15). They wouldn’t claim the relationship that was theirs. How do you approach God after you have sinned? Do you attempt to pay your way back into his favor, or do you ask for cleansing because of Christ’s atonement? Christians don’t make light of their sin, but they exalt the preciousness of the blood of Christ. The brothers’ plan to fix their relationship caused Joseph more hurt. While he could be glad about their repentance, their distrust of him after years of kindness would hurt (50:17).

Are you in need of restoring a relationship with someone? Are you tempted to follow worldly wisdom to find a fix to the situation? Make a fresh start by seeking the Lord in prayer. Call upon him in your trouble. He can act in the hearts of all involved (you and the other person or people). Humble yourself in prayer, asking him to act by his powerful grace and love.

Grace and peace, David

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Heaven (Part One)

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things (Colossians 3:1-2 NIV).

One of the privileges of being a pastor or elder is the spiritual care of God’s people, especially as they approach the end of their earthly journey. Then, we see together what is truly important in this life, and it is not houses, cars, career accomplishments, victories by our favorite sports teams, vacations, entertainment, and gourmet restaurants. At the end, family and friends matter most, and if we are wise, our approaching meeting with the Lord. Our present purpose is to examine what the Bible says about life after death for believers, about what most people refer to in a general sense by the word “heaven”.

What do we mean by heaven? The term is used in two general senses in relation to God’s purposes of salvation. The first refers to the past ages and this present age. When we speak of heaven in the first general sense, the term is used in to speak of:

  • The sky (Matthew 8:20; 16:2-3)
  • The region of the stars and galaxies (Acts 7:42: Hebrews 11:12)
  • The place in the present age where God reveals his glory, where Christ resides in his glorified humanity, and where the angels and the spirits of the justified currently reside (Isaiah 66:1; Matthew 5:45; 18:10; Luke 22:43; John 12:28; Acts 1:11; 3:24; 2 Corinthians 5:8; Galatians 1:8; Hebrews 8:1)

When we speak of heaven in the second general sense, which is the primary subject of this study, we are speaking of the eternal destiny of God and his people. In this second sense, we refer to the new heavens and the new earth, and what the Bible reveals about them. “Heaven is the place where God most fully makes known his presence to bless” (Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 1159).

Eternity is a most solemn and heart-searching subject. Our present life is but a very brief blip. Think on the following (cf. Ryle, Practical Religion, pp. 472-488):

  • We live in a world where all is temporary and passing way (2 Corinthians 4:18), whether beauty, strength, wisdom, or the worldly wealth we accumulate.
  • We are all going to a future where everything is eternal, whether for eternal happiness with God or for eternal misery under God’s wrath (Matthew 25:46)
  • Our state in eternity depends entirely on what we are in time (John 3:16-18, 36; Romans 2:6-7; Galatians 6:8)
  • The Lord Jesus Christ is the Great Friend to whom we must all look for help, both for time and for eternity (John 6:37-40; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 2 Timothy 1:10; Hebrews 2:15; 1 Peter 2:24; 3:18)

Next, consider the various terms used in the Scriptures to describe the future blessedness of the saints. Invest some of your time in reading and meditating on these verses.

  • Life, eternal life, live forever (Matthew 7:14; 19:16, 29; 25:46; John 5:24; 6:47, 54-58)
  • Glory, the glory of God, an eternal weight of glory (Romans 2:7, 10; 5:2; 2 Corinthians 4:17; Ephesians 3:21; Colossians 3:4; 2 Timothy 2:10)
  • My Father’s house, home with the Lord (John 14:2; 2 Corinthians 5:8)
  • Peace (Romans 2:10)
  • Salvation, eternal salvation (1 Thessalonians 5:9; Hebrews 5:9; 9:28)
  • Paradise (Luke 23:43; 2 Corinthians 12:4; Revelation 2:7)
  • The Jerusalem that is above, the city with foundations, the heavenly Jerusalem, the new Jerusalem (Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 11:10, 16; 12:22; Revelation 3:12)
  • A better country (Hebrews 11:16)
  • The kingdom, heavenly kingdom, eternal kingdom (Matthew 8:11; 25:34; 2 Timothy 4:18; 2 Peter 1:11)
  • Eternal inheritance (Hebrews 9:15; 1 Peter 1:4)
  • Eternal dwellings (Luke 16:9)
  • Glorious freedom (Romans 8:21)
  • To live and reign with Christ (2 Timothy 2:11-12)
  • Heaven (Matthew 5:12; 6:20; 19:21; Luke 12:33; 2 Corinthians 5:1; 1 Peter 1:4)
  • New heavens and a new earth (Isaiah 65:17; 66:22; 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1)

Each of the above ought to stir the hearts of followers of the Lord Jesus. They tell us what to set our minds upon. Make room for heaven in your thoughts today!

Grace and peace, David

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Help for Reading the Bible

John 5:31-47

Let’s look at an overview of the message or story that God tells all people everywhere in his word, the Bible. It will focus on some of God’s ideas in his word about his word. Knowing these ideas will help shape and inform our approach to every book in the Book of books. I think this overview provides equipment needed for reading and learning and applying God’s word to our lives.

The Bible tells the story of God’s glory in Jesus Christ through salvation by judgment. God gives the written record of his word or message to people in what has proved to be an enduring and accessible resource that is better than merely hearing the spoken voice of God. The Sovereign God spoke this word through people he chose, and the Holy Spirit caused that message to be recorded by people in written form (2 Timothy 3:15-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21). For example, God spoke to Abram (Genesis 12:1-3), and the Spirit of God had Moses write down those words (John 5:46).

The Bible is primarily made up of God’s narrative or story about his purpose to save and of his commentary upon that narrative. In this way, we read about God’s actions in history to save a people he chose through Christ’s person, word, and redemptive accomplishments. In his commentary on salvation history, God explains the significance and meaning of all this to us. Together they form our world and life view. For example, in the Four Gospels, we read the story of Christ’s crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, while in the letters of the apostles we learn the significance and meaning of those gospel events for our lives.

The story the Bible makes known is the message about God’s glory. It is his surpassing value and significance as the supreme and ultimate Being and the shining brilliance and magnificence of all that he is and does. Since God is the first and best, his glory is the ultimate purpose of his creation. For example, think of Psalm 19:1.

As God tells the story of his glory in Christ, he invites people to enter into his story. We enter through regeneration and conversion (Acts 20:21). And then our lives become worship. How we live proclaims and enables the enjoyment of God’s excellence. Consider Romans 11:36; 16:27; 1 Corinthians 10:31. What is God’s plan? Read Numbers 14:21; Isaiah 6:3; Habakkuk 2:14; Psalm 72:19; Revelation 4:11. In fact, our destiny is the experience of God’s glory (Revelation 21:1-4, 9-11, 23).

The main character in God’s story is the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. I see this point made in two general ways in the Holy Writings. First, it is made by direct statements of Jesus the Messiah. He tells us that God’s story is about him. The Scriptures testify about Christ (John 5:39, 46). The Bible is only understood correctly as we hear it telling us the good news of Christ (Luke 24:25-27, 44-47). Compare how Paul’s testimony was formed by this idea (Acts 26:9-23). This is why our theology, what we believe the Bible teaches, must be Christ-structured. God does not tell his story by talking about one of his attributes (like sovereignty or love) or about the covenants or promise-fulfillment or Israel or the new creation. These are part of the story, but the main idea is God’s glory in Christ in salvation through judgment. For example, how can sinners be saved? It is because Jesus took God’s wrath or judgment when he died on the cross, and in that way he rescues or saves all who trust in him.

Second, it is made by the content of the story. When you study how the story unfolds, you see four ideas: creation, fall, redemption, and renewal. All point in some way to the Lord Jesus Christ. For example, read Colossians 1:15-20. When you study how the story is told by men chosen by God to tell it, you hear the story proclaim Christ (Colossians 1:28; cf. Acts 2:22-36; 3:12-26; 17:16-31; Romans 1:1-4; 3:21-26).

God’s story should be heard according to the way God told it. At this point I could say a lot about such matters as progressive revelation, key people in God’s story (cf. Matthew 1:1; Romans 5:12-21), and important ideas like the seed, the temple, the Biblical covenants, God’s worldwide mission, etc. Instead, I want to focus on how the Bible was put together, so that you can better understand the storyline.

Concerning the Old Testament Scriptures (OTS), we are used to the order of the books in our English Bibles, but Jesus had a different view (cf. Luke 24:27, 44; Matthew 23:35). He presented a three-fold division of the OTS: Torah (Law), Neviim (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Writings).

  • Torah: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy
  • Neviim: The Former Prophets (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings) and the Latter Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Book of the Twelve)
  • Ketuvim: The Book of Truth (Psalms, Proverbs, Job), the Megilloth or Small Scrolls (Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther), and other sacred Writings (Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, Chronicles)

Notice in this arrangement there are 24 books but they have the same content as our English arrangement of 39 books. In both cases the Apocrypha are not considered part of the Bible. Notice also that the last book of the OTS in this arrangement is Chronicles.

When you read the OTS in this order, you see God’s narrative storyline, followed by his commentary, which is followed by narrative storyline.

  • First narrative storyline: the Torah and the Former Prophets
  • Poetic commentary: The Latter Prophets, the Book of Truth, and the Small Scrolls. For example, consider how Ruth functions as commentary about David’s kingship.
  • Second narrative storyline: the other sacred Writings.

The NTS are providentially put together in a similar way.

  • First narrative storyline: The Four Gospels and Acts
  • Commentary: The Letters (Romans through Jude)
  • Second narrative storyline: The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Revelation 1:1)

Reading the Bible in this sequence will help you to grasp the storyline more easily, and to find God’s own commentary about Christ’s person, word, and redemptive accomplishments. Enjoy reading God’s word!

Grace and peace, David

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Discover What Unites Us

Philippians 2:1-2a

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete… (NIV).

Philippians is a very rich letter to a local church that had been longtime partners with the apostle Paul in his ministry. If the apostle needed help, they did all they could to provide it quickly. We might almost want to think of them as the ideal gathering of believers, except for the stern reality that ideal churches do not exist in this world. A close reading of the book reveals that they needed transformation in various areas. One of them was their unity.

Paul spoke to their need, first, in sort of in a “back door” manner. He did not bluntly tell them to be like-minded, to share the same love, to be one in spirit, of one mind, and to get rid of selfish ambition, which was the root of their disunity. Instead, he first asked them to make his joy complete. They needed to think of someone else’s joy first. Then, he presented some areas in which they needed change. We all can learn from his tactfulness. He built a better way of life through better relationships.

Christians have been too task-oriented, trying to achieve perfection in themselves and others by beating people with a code of conduct or steps to change. While repeating the cliché, “Christianity is not a religion but a relationship,” to the unsaved, we quickly forget this as we pursue perfection to have a better life.

How did Paul motivate his friends to make his joy complete? He wrote about what they possessed through their relationship with God in Christ by the Holy Spirit. He emphasized spiritual relationships.

  • He reminded them of their encouragement from being united with Christ. Observe that they knew about their union with Christ. It was the relational core of their Christian experience. We ought to wake up thinking about the truth of being united to Jesus the Messiah. This is intended to affect how we think of ourselves, how we relate to others, and how we confront the events of our lives. I have just received word of the “homegoing” of a dear sister in Christ. Praise God for the eternal encouragement that we have because of the gospel.
  • He pointed to the comfort from his love that all in Christ share. We are people that are loved by the Lord; in fact, we are his dearly loved children. Wherever we go and whatever we encounter, we live as his sons and daughters.
  • He recalled their common sharing in the Spirit. We have fellowship with the Spirit of God. He leads us in ways of godliness. He strengthens us in the inner person of the heart. He intercedes for us, because our prayers seldom make sense. He helps us endure, making God’s peace real in our souls.
  • He recollected the tenderness and compassion they had experienced. Paul wrote in part to prepare them for the suffering for Christ that was coming to them. They were in the Lord’s plan together, and they needed to be ready to help one another when the journey to glory would become harder. It makes no sense for Christians to quarrel with one another, when there is a real enemy who delights in our suffering.

Let us remind ourselves of what we share in Christ. The believer that you suppose is a problem is someone who can build you up, or rather, someone whom you ought to bless, strengthen, and comfort. It’s a matter of spiritual relationship in the Lord.

Grace and peace, David

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Twice Spared

When we were overwhelmed by sins, you forgave our transgressions. Blessed are those you choose and bring near to live in your courts! We are filled with the good things of your house, of your holy temple. You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds, God our Savior, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas, who formed the mountains by your power, having armed yourself with strength… (Psalm 65:3-6 NIV)

Today I am sixty-five. Now I’m halfway through the new middle age of fifty to eighty. It just seems like I turned fifty in a way, but so much has happened since then. I definitely would not want to walk through many days of that part of my journey. However, I praise God for his overflowing grace that he has shown me constantly. Truly, his mercies are new every morning and his faithfulness is great. He has been with me through the dark days, refreshing me with the light of his joy. Now, I want to remember two of those times.

A couple weeks after I turned sixty, my wife Sharon and one of our friends went away to make cards with another friend. The next day, a Saturday morning, I woke up feeling a strange pressure in my back. I had read years before that if you have pain or pressure around your heart or stomach and if it doesn’t go away when you change positions to call for help immediately. Since Sharon wasn’t there, I did, or I wouldn’t be writing this. I called around six and the ambulance arrived at six ten. By seven ten, I was on a table in the hospital having a heart catherization. As I was lying there, I remember praying, “Lord, I know you could end my life now, but I trust you for your grace.” God was merciful, and a cardiologist put three stents an artery, nicknamed “the widow maker”. Yes, it had been a close call. Later, when I told my pre-heart attack symptoms to an ICU, nurse, he said, “It’s a wonder you’re here. Men never come in with mild pressure.” I thanked the Lord repeatedly for sparing my life.

My cardiologist ordered me to start walking in a couple weeks. I figured that if God had used the man to rescue me from death that I ought to listen to him. One bright October day, I crossed the street to walk in the Ellis Preserve. It is relatively flat (everything in Pennsylvania is on a hill!) and a good place to build up my strength. I had not walked far, when I remembered an article that I had read many years previously in the Sword & Trowel magazine, edited at that time by a friend of mine. It was about a pastor with inoperable heart problems. The pastors in his area had gathered around him and prayed that the Lord would grow a new artery for his heart. And the Lord did.

I stopped and prayed, “Lord, if I need new arteries, please grow some for me.” I resumed my walk, and perhaps I prayed that prayer the next day also. I did not make it a regular prayer request. About a year later, my cardiologist had me take a stress test, “just to be sure everything is all right.” I did, and a couple days later, while I was out on a file-mile walk with Sharon, he called. The news wasn’t good. He said that I should have another heart catherization. “Maybe you need another stent or roto-rooter,” he joked.

A heart catherization takes about two and a half hours: one hour to take pictures and the remainder of the time to do the work. He was done after one hour. “Why so fast?” I asked. He replied, “Do you want the good news first or the bad news?” I answered, “You know I’m a pastor. I always give people the bad news first, so that I can finish with the good news (the gospel).” He said very professionally, “The bad news is that you need a triple bypass.” I agreed that was bad news and questioned, “Then what’s the good news?”

He said, “The good news is that hasn’t been any damage to your heart, and that your heart grew three new arteries from the right side to the left. That’s the only reason you’re talking with me right now.” God had answered my prayer. My life had been spared twice!

God does answer prayer. While we ought to ask others to pray for us and we can pray in faith repeatedly (Matthew 7:7-8), God doesn’t require that. The prayer of one person declared right with God is sufficient to present a request to Almighty God. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective (James 5:16 NIV). God is holy, wise, sovereign, all-powerful, and good. Be encouraged to present your requests to him. The Lord answers prayer! You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds, God our Savior. Amen.

Grace and peace, David

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