A Prayer Meeting

IMG_0522Acts 12:1-18

To the eyes of people, the church in Jerusalem was not experiencing success, and it was less than fifteen years after Christ’s resurrection and ascension. It seemed that the Lord’s great plan for the spread of his message was not working, at least it wasn’t in regard to this gathering. The early years had been very promising. That first assembly of followers of Jesus grew from one twenty to over three thousand on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 1:15; 2:41), and soon there were over five thousand men that were counted part of that congregation (Acts 4:4). In our time we would call that a megachurch.

However, the enemy struck back and persecution came. First, the attack was on the apostles (Acts 4:5-31; 5:17-42), but in answer to prayer, the apostles were freed, and the word of God spread. The number of learners of Jesus increased rapidly (Acts 6:7). Then it seemed that a complete conversion of all Jerusalem was possible. But there was another enemy, a very religious man named Saul, who led a persecution against first Stephen, one of seven leaders of the Jerusalem assembly (Acts 6:8-8:1), and next against the entire church (Acts 8:3). The result was that the entire church was scattered, except for the apostles. That local gathering had to be rebuilt (not a building but the assembly of Christ followers). This the apostles accomplished by God’s grace, though Luke does not give us much information. We only learn that after Saul’s conversion there was again a gathering of disciples (learners) that he tried to join and that grew in numbers (Acts 9:26-31). The group had problems, especially about accepting non-Jewish people from the nations as believers, but the church in Jerusalem achieved a new measure of strength and stability.

Nevertheless, the enemy of the good news stirred up another man to oppose the church. This was King Herod Agrippa I, the grandson of Herod the Great, who had tried to kill the infant Messiah Jesus. He arrested some that belonged to the Jerusalem assembly, including the apostle James, whom he executed. When he saw that James’ death pleased the non-Christians in Jerusalem, he decided to arrest Peter, in order to put him to death also.

How did the church in Jerusalem respond to this new wave of persecution? They did what the church had done after the first event of persecution (Acts 4:23-31). They prayed (12:5). They prayed earnestly. They prayed together (12:12). Far too many churches who dare to call themselves Christians have abandoned gatherings for prayer. They seem to think that that a few little words uttered alone in their comfortable homes is all that needs to be done.  And then they mistakenly assure themselves that they are practicing historic Christianity. My friends, never be misled by those who arrogantly claim that there is nothing about meeting together to pray in the New Testament. Such boasts are very wrong. Devoting ourselves to prayer when we come together is a basic description of church practice. Consider Acts 2:42 and 1 Corinthians 1:2, as well as various places in Acts (those mentioned and Acts 20:36; 21:5). The love of ease by grievously mistaken church leaders and those that follow them lies at the root of churches without gatherings for prayer. And could it also be that old unbelief is the co-conspirator with a love of ease? What do I mean?

Look at the text (12:13-15). Even when the Jerusalem church prayed for Peter, they did not expect the Lord to release him. Instead of checking out the servant girl’s message, they insulted her. When she would not abandon her message, they became falsely theological. “It must be his angel.” No, it wasn’t his angel, but it was Peter himself knocking! Thankfully, the Lord had answered their prayers, in spite of their little faith. The church succeeds according to God when it follows him in all his ways. This includes following Christ’s example of prayer.

I think that many churches in the post-Christendom west are deeply infected with unbelief regarding prayer. They have drunk deeply at the philosophical and supposedly scientific wells of anti-supernaturalism. They do not believe that prayer is necessary or can accomplish anything. For example, once Sharon and I were at a Bible conference and were in its bookstore. Sharon was looking at a book called What Happens When Women Pray? Another pastor’s wife remarked to Sharon as she held it, “Nothing.” We were both appalled at this spirit of unbelief.

Mission FifteenFive takes its name from John 15:5. Apart from the Lord Jesus Christ, we can do nothing. Relying on Christ requires prayer, and not only individual and family prayer, but prayer together as believers in the true and living God, who is able to do much more than we ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). The church in America needs to return to prayer. Put your hope in God, and we will be able to praise him. But we need to return to earnest, fervent prayer together to the Sovereign Lord of the church.

Grace and peace, David

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Life Changer

IMG_0524Micah 1:1-3

We all know of many events that change people’s lives: learning to walk and to talk, going to school, graduating from high school and college, getting a job, losing that job, finding a new job, getting married, having children, and many more. Most of these happen to most people. Once we experience a life changer, our lives are forever altered. We might assume we’re the same person, but the life changer modifies us and our view of life in various ways. When people in our culture contemplate life changing events, it is usually from a very individualistic angle. They start from themselves and work outward, perhaps including other people of significance to them in their deliberations. It is rare to think of God at such times.

Perhaps, it is even rarer to think of God as the Life Changer, to see him in all the events of our lives, including the ones we think are common and the ones that disrupt our lives. What? Would God disrupt our lives? Would he disrupt them without asking our permission? Yes, my friends, he does step into the course of our lives to alter them. This is what happened to Micah one day. We do not know much about him. His message was more important than the man that delivered it. Why can I say that? Because the message he gave was the word of the Lord.

God used the message he communicated through Micah to change him and to be his instrument to change us by the power of the Holy Spirit. Micah tells us that the word of the Lord came to him over a number of years during the reigns of three kings of the kingdom of Judah. This would make him a contemporary of the prophets Hosea and Isaiah. This information tells us his place in the story of God’s glory in Jesus Christ. He proclaimed the Lord’s message around 750 years before the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Micah would be used to tell God’s people important information about the birth of Jesus the Messiah. But for now, think of his place in God’s story and that you and I who follow Jesus also have a place in the same story, since we are in Christ. Nearly two thousand years after the resurrection, God is using his word in and through us.

The message that came to Micah was in the form of a vision (cf. Hebrews 1:1). He saw God’s message displayed before him, so that he could tell it to all who read his words. He saw what God would do (1:3-7) and how he and others would respond to what the Lord would do (1:8-16). God’s word proclaims his actions. It tells people like us how he steps into our lives in judgment and salvation. It lets us know his explanation for his actions (for example, 1:5-7; 7:18). In his vision Micah saw what concerned Samaria and Jerusalem, the capital cities of Israel and Judah. The Lord God takes notice of what happens in the leading cities of the world, like Washington and London. Cities are gatherings of people and what they do is under God’s eyes.

God expects all people to listen to his message (1:2). God’s word speaks to us with his final authority. The word communicates the person, message, and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Judge of all (John 5:21-30). Understand this clearly. God’s word is his living and active communication (Hebrews 4:12-13) that is final authority for what we believe and how we live (2 Timothy 3:16-17). In the Bible God gives a witness against people, which means that we have a problem! He tells us that he will act against anyone who does not listen to him, which means that you can complicate your problem dramatically. Yet the Lord tells us that there is a way of peace with him that is available for all who follow the Lord Jesus (5:4-5).

My friend, has the written word of God come to you with power, so that your way of life and your destiny is forever changed? Micah had his life altered by God’s word. How is the message concerning Jesus the Messiah changing you today?

Grace and peace, David

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The Sword of the Spirit (Part Two)

20150523_101132Ephesians 6:17

Next, let us think about relationship between the Spirit and the word. What are some reasons the word of God is called the “sword of the Spirit”? The Holy Spirit is the author of the word. He spoke through the human writers (2 Samuel 23:2; Mark 12:36). He guided the human writers to accomplish his intended goal (2 Pt 1:20-21). The Spirit did this so that what they wrote would be the word of God. When we engage in spiritual battle, we are to take with us the word of the Almighty Holy Spirit of God. As we strike with it, he is very able to accomplish his purpose (Isaiah 55:11).

The Holy Spirit enables people to understand the word (1 Corinthians 2:10b-14). Every human heart by nature is unable to understand the truth of the Scriptures. Yes, people can comprehend what we say, but it does not convince them, it does not change their outlook. For example, someone might say, “I just don’t get it; how can the death of Jesus save anyone?” But the Spirit is given to Christ’s followers, so that we do understand (1 Corinthians 2:12). Then we accept the word and it effectively works in us. When we take the sword of the Spirit, we must rely on Christ’s power to work through the Spirit to achieve results. Don’t just post a Bible verse; pray for spiritual application. The Holy Spirit uses the word to produce spiritual results. For this reason, we must avoid overemphasizing one truth at the expense of another. Don’t rely on the Spirit without the word of God. Don’t rely on the word of God without the Spirit.

God’s word is very useful to us in our spiritual warfare. The word of God is essential in practical sanctification or Christian growth. The classic example of this is Christ’s use of the Scripture in resisting the temptations of the evil one (Matthew 4:1-11). In every situation Jesus rightly applied the word to his way of life. He lived out the word. Every Christian needs to have a large supply of ammunition from God’s word against every temptation to violate God’s commands, whether the temptations are to commit what God forbids or temptations to fail to do what God commands. A good section to put to heart is Ephesians 4:17-6:9, or in a more concise form Colossians 3:1-4:6. Read either passage many, many times and think through them until you know them well. However, the Lord intends that his entire word has a wider use in our lives (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 4:12). The Spirit says that the word can work comprehensive changes in us, down to our thoughts and attitudes. We must see change at this inner level to realize outward change. For example, if you want to speak godly counsel, his word needs to be operating in your heart or inner person (Matthew 12:34). You must be convinced in your heart before you will truly change. This is why we must read and study and think about God’s word. In this whole study, we have been urged to put on the full armor of God. That is the goal, but if we will begin to put on one part, it might cause tremendous changes in our lives and in the churches we attend!

The word of God is essential in evangelism. The word of God is the spiritual seed used by the Holy Spirit in producing regeneration (or the new birth from above). As the Spirit works in us with the word, a change of mind and faith are given, and we turn from our rebellion against God to rely on Jesus Christ alone for salvation. Has this happened to you?

Grace and peace, David

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The Sword of the Spirit (Part One)

IMG_0105Ephesians 6:17

Since 9/11 we have been engaged in a global war on terror. Our world changed on that day, and we should always remember what happened, those who lost their lives, and the grief of their families. As we have seen too many times during the years after that horrible event, terrorists have no mercy. They are heartless and ruthless murderers. But behind them and all the other evil in this world is a more sinister, cruel and desperately wicked enemy—Satan. We are also at war spiritually with the powers of darkness, and God has provided us with spiritual armor for our protection.

The sixth piece of armor is the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Let’s think briefly about the nature of the ancient soldier’s sword. In ancient warfare, a soldier might carry two different kinds of swords. One was called the rhomphaia. It was the heavy, great sword. But the other was called the machaira, which was the short sword. The soldier in man-to-man combat used this short sword, and it is the one spoken of in this verse. So the apostle is reminding us of the close encounter we will have with our spiritual enemies. The sword is the only piece of the armor mentioned that has both an offensive and defensive purpose. In fact, among these six, the sword is the only one that can be used offensively. Let us consider the value of the sword of the Spirit to the followers of Christ.

First, learn the nature of the sword; it is “the word of God”. At the very foundation of the Christian faith is the word of God, the sixty-six books of the Old and the New Testament Scriptures. God chose to reveal himself to humanity by word communication, and he chose to record his words in written form (2 Timothy 3:16). Since it is from God who cannot lie, it is accurate, true, and without error. Some people have claimed that there are errors in the Bible, but a study of these supposed errors shows a variety of mistakes by the skeptics. Their wrong opinions are matters of a difference of worldview (for example, “miracles are impossible”), of a failure to understand the text, of a failure to understand the way the Bible presents events (for example, God doesn’t tell us everything that happened and they let their imaginations run astray), of various kinds of ignorance, of a neglect of the context, or a failure of translation or other human factors. Serious Christians have sufficiently answered their objections countless times.

We know that the Bible is God’s trustworthy word, because of the work of the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:32; 1 Thessalonians 1:5), because of the Scriptures claim to be God’s word and their subject matter agrees with the claim, and because human experience demonstrates the truth of the Bible. Consider what God says in the Bible in the following passages, and you will discover that the experience of the suppressor of truth agrees with it.

  • Do you fear God? Romans 3:18
  • Do you feel the gospel is foolish? 1 Corinthians 1:18
  • Do you want to do things your way? Isaiah 53:6
  • Do you think Christ’s Second Coming and the final judgment is a joke? 2 Peter 3:3-4
  • Would you rather go out partying or to church? 2 Timothy 3:4
  • Do you think Christians are weird for the way we live? 1 Peter 4:3-4

What does their way of life proclaim? You might say to them, “Thank you for proving to me that the Bible is true!”

The Holy Scriptures are God’s present communication to humanity (1 Peter 2:6; Matthew 21:13; 22:43). They direct our viewpoints and conduct continually. A study of Christ’s use of the Scriptures during his earthly ministry will demonstrate this point. Read and follow God’s word.

Grace and peace, David

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The Helmet of Salvation (Part Two)

IMG_4272Ephesians 6:17

The present tense of salvation is that we are now saved. We are being rescued from sin, condemnation, and death. We ought to enjoy the present blessings of salvation. I will mention two of these. The first is adoption. We all have the position of adult sons and daughters in God’s family (2 Corinthians 6:18). When God saved us, he did much more than to guarantee us an eternal home in heaven. God also provides us with an honorable place in his family, placing us as adult members. We can learn this from a careful reading of Galatians 3:26-4:7. There we see that though old covenant believers had the position of minors in God’s family, we new covenant believers are adults. So then, we ought to have a filial attitude at all times. “My Father loves and cares for me. I ought to live in such a way as to glorify my Father in heaven.” This kind of approach is absolutely essential in spiritual warfare.

Since we are adult sons and daughters, we have been given the promised Holy Spirit, who now lives within us—to help us, to assure us, and to lead us (Romans 8:14-17). This means that we must look at our struggle within the context of being Spirit-led sons and daughters of God. We are not slaves to sin or minor children under the law. We are adults in God’s family! Live like an adult sons and daughters, which means living a life of love to God, striving to conform to be like God in holiness.

A second current blessing is security. We are kept by the Lord Christ and we continue to follow him. One of the great energizing factors for any soldier is the expectation of success. An army that anticipates conquering will take the field more readily than one that expects defeat. The Lord Jesus has saved us with an eternal salvation (John 6:37-40, 47; 10:27-30; Romans 8:29-30, 35-39; Ephesians 1:13-14; Colossians 3:3-4; Hebrews 9:12, 15; 10:14; 1 Peter 1:3-5). It is certainly true that only those who continue in the faith will be saved (Matthew 24:13; Colossians 1:23; etc.). Although such verses teach the necessity of the saint’s perseverance, they do not imply that a saint may not continue. All those who truly repent and believe will continue, because God keeps them (Philippians 1:6; 1 John 5:4; Jude 1:1, 24-25). Therefore, with salvation as a helmet, we hope or confidently expect total victory. This fills us with energy to do battle—to press on after holiness (1 Jn 3:1-4).

The future tense of salvation is that we who trust in Jesus Christ will be saved. Consider two future blessings of salvation. The first is glorification. We have the prospect of sharing eternal glory with the Lord. From God’s point of view, this is so certain that he speaks of it in the past tense (Romans 8:29-30), though in the present state of things, we still wait for that time (Romans 8:18-19). Our glorification rests firmly on our union with Christ. Since he was raised from the dead, we too will be raised (1 Corinthians 15:20-23, 42-49). In answer to Christ’s prayer, we will see his glory (John 17:24). As Colossians 3:4 says, when he appears, we will appear with him in glory. At times the battle is very rough. The enemy seems to have beaten you down into the mire and the mud. But do not give up (Micah 7:8).

We will enter into our inheritance. Sharing glory with the Lord is surely enough, isn’t it? Not to God! You see, we are not only sons of God, but also heirs (Galatians 4:7; Romans 8:17). Since we are in Christ and heirs with him, we have an inheritance (Ephesians 1:14). What is it? Yes, yes, I know that it includes the new heavens and the new earth (2 Peter 3:13), but our God is a greater giver than that! He gives us all things (1 Corinthians 3:21-23). God Almighty gives us Himself (Psalm 73:25-26)! This should fill us with hope (confident expectation). But do you have this hope? You may have it today by turning from your empty way of life that leads to judgment and by trusting in Jesus Christ for eternal life (John 6:35-40).

Grace and peace, David

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The Helmet of Salvation (Part One)

20150101_151010Ephesians 6:17

Helmets. I see them constantly on my walks around Valley Forge Park. They are worn by men and women, girls and boys. Why do I see so many sporting such unfashionable headgear? Why are bicycle riders required to wear helmets? That’s right—to protect their heads. In the same way the helmet is probably the most important part of the armor. A soldier might be able to survive and continue to fight with wounds to other parts of the body, but most wounds to the head are either fatal or crippling. “The Roman soldier’s helmet… was usually made of a tough metal like bronze or iron. ‘An inside lining of felt or sponge made the weight bearable. Nothing short of an axe or hammer could pierce a heavy helmet, and in some cases a hinged vizor added frontal protection.’ Helmets were decorative as well as protective, and some had magnificent plumes or crests” (Stott).

Here Paul compares salvation to a helmet. Why is salvation in general such an important part of the armor of God? How can this helmet offer such protection? It might help if we consider the three “tenses” of salvation. Every true follower of the Lord Jesus can say, “I was saved; I am being saved; and I will be saved.

Today, we will consider four past blessings of salvation. The first is election. For reasons known only to God, he decided to save a people from the wreck and ruin of human sin. God could have justly passed by all humanity, allowing all of us to perish, as he did the angels that rebelled against him. But to magnify the fame of his name, God chose to save some from the guilt and pollution of sin. This election was of people in relation to Christ from before the creation of the world without any regard for anything they might do (Ephesians 1:3-4; 1 Thessalonians 1:4; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; Romans 8:33; 1 Corinthians 1:27-29; James 2:5). Everyone who follows Christ should gain confidence from the Bible’s teaching of election. God wanted us to be his people, and we need to hear this when the enemy or our doubts cause us to wonder about that. Before the first seraph ever cried out, “Holy, holy, holy!” God had chosen us to salvation in Christ.

The second blessing is redemption. Jesus Christ died on the cross and shed his blood as the ransom price, and so he redeemed us to carry out God’s eternal purpose. In every way the Lord Jesus Christ has the honor of saving us (Ephesians 1:7). His redemption set us free from the penalty and curse of sin, from our slavery to sin, and from bondage to the law. He has bought us and now we are his bondservants. See 1 Corinthians 6:19-20. Redemption teaches us our liberty in Christ (Galatians 5:1). When the enemy attempts to fill you with false information that you are in slavery, assert your freedom in Christ!

The third blessing speaks of the application of redemption: regeneration (the new birth from above) and effectual calling. Securely bound in the darkness of sin and dead in sin, God made us alive with Christ (Ephesians 2:5). When the Spirit of God made alive spiritually, we received the gifts of repentance (a change of mind) and faith, by which we turn from the pursuit of sin and trust in the Lord Jesus alone for salvation. A battlefield becomes filled with corpses, and the evil one may tempt you to think that you will share that fate. But do not give in to such thoughts. The great promise of salvation is that the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).

The fourth blessing is justification. Having believed, we are declared right with God ­(Romans 5:1). We have already talked about Christ as our righteousness in the article about the breastplate. Again the great goal is confidence for all followers of Jesus. We are on God’s side and fully accepted by him! He has saved us, and we have a new relationship with the living God. More on this relationship next time, God willing.

Grace and peace, David

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The Shield of Faith (Part Two)

DSCN0440 (2)Ephesians 6:16

A challenge to faith comes from the flaming arrows of the evil one. Every Christian faces an evil opponent, who is totally given over to sin and attacks without any thought of mercy. He is called Satan or the devil. We need to understand that evil or sin or rebellion against God is not something that simply happens. It is committed by persons, whether angels or humans. The spiritual forces of evil, Satan and the demons, are evil personal beings that enjoy attacking and destroying humans. They especially hate God and his people. When by grace we join God’s side, the powers of evil go to war against us. Our problem is not merely our own sin and the sins of other people. Alongside what humans may do, there are the powers of darkness—personal intelligent beings of spiritual ability that seek ways to ruin us. “We must get rid of the notion of abstract evil: there is no such thing” (Lloyd-Jones, The Christian Soldier, p. 300).

Satan and the other evil ones attack us with “flaming arrows”. What are these flaming arrows? I think we can group them into five categories:

  • Horrible thoughts, such as ideas or imaginations about what is unholy, blasphemous, skeptical or malicious – The mark of a Christian is love (John 13:34-35). Yet have you ever become angry toward someone and then suddenly felt the urge, quite contrary toward your usual goodwill toward that person, to hurt him or her? You have been hit with a flaming arrow of malice. In Bunyan’s The Holy War, he pictures the evil one attacking Mansoul with a handpicked army of doubters, with each division led by a cruel commander.
  • Pride and selfish ambition – how contrary both are to doing everything for the glory of God! Pride is never far from any of us, since sin tries to overthrow God as rule of our lives in any way possible.
  • Discontent, lust and greed – all these seek to divert us from God (cf. Matthew 6:33). They whisper that there are other ways to satisfaction apart from what the Lord has graciously given us.
  • False guilt feelings – they come to disrupt our fellowship with God. We might not have actually committed any sin, but the spiritual forces of evil like us to think that we have. This is why we must know the Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:16).
  • Doubt and despair – the aim is to reduce us to inactivity and uselessness. Expect to be tempted to doubt election, calling, justification, adoption into God’s family, God’s love, grace, mercy and kindness, the events of the gospel, and even the existence of God himself.

We must be ready for these attacks, because they will come. They might be very severe. Let us remember the enemy’s objective is to keep us from declaring God’s praises and enjoying life with him.

Faith has victory over these attacks. We read a great promise: “with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one”. What Paul says here through an illustration is stated directly by John (1 John 5:4) and by Peter (1 Peter 5:8-9). The Lord is encouraging us to be confident in him. The Spirit does not minimize the problem, but he maximizes the all-sufficient resource that we have in Christ. Christian, you will be hit hard, even very hard. But do not despair or run. Stand firm. The shield of faith is impenetrable when used properly.

How does faith act as our shield that extinguishes the flaming arrows? “The answer is that faith never points to itself, it always points to its object” (Lloyd-Jones, p. 305). The object of true faith is the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 13:14). Satan has already tried his most desperate schemes on him and has met with complete failure. The all-powerful Lord easily overmatches the adversary at every point. Here we must again stress strongly that true faith is never faith in one’s faith, which is only self-confidence by another name. Instead, it is active reliance on the Lord. How did Abraham overcome in the face of impossibilities? He had faith in God (Romans 4:18-21). He relied on the promise of God that God was his shield and his very great reward (Genesis 15:1). You and I will go forward in that same spirit of faith (Romans 8:31-39)! Lord, give us grace to take the shield of faith today and always.

Grace and peace, David

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The Lord Is Risen

IMG_3598Luke 24:36-49

No one saw the Lord Jesus rise from the dead. You will search the Bible in vain for an account of what it looked like when he broke the power of death. The Bible leaves the event itself shrouded in mystery. Yet this does not mean that the resurrection of Jesus is not a historical event, as some so-called “scholars” have claimed. Anything that really happens is historical, whether or not somebody saw it happen. You can have your lights turned on by a timer in your house; that is an event of history, even if you’re not there to see it happen. But you become a witness that they were turned on when you see them on when you arrive home. In the same way, though the Bible does not give us an eyewitness report of our Lord’s resurrection, it does record many testimonies of those who saw him after he rose from the dead. Let us look at an eyewitness report.

Jesus gave many convincing proofs that he truly has risen from the dead (Acts 1:1-2). The apostles were in great need of evidence. They were not expecting to see Christ alive. This is the uniform testimony of the Gospels. No one said, “It’s the third day; let’s go out and look at the empty tomb!” They had problems believing what their eyes saw. Granted, they were startled by his sudden appearance (24:37). However, the text emphasizes that it was more than the surprise of the event. They had doubts about what was happening (24:38; cf. Matthew 28:17; John 20:25). The disciples were not gullible; they were not grasping for the least possible evidence. What they later preached was not the product of wishful thinking. Read the apostles’ viewpoint as stated by Paul (1 Corinthians 15:17, 20).

Jesus met their need. He gave proof of his material existence (24:39). He appealed to their sensual experience – “look, touch, see”. Jesus proved that he was not a ghost or an illusion. The Lord gave proof of his humanity (24:40-43). He was “constructed” like a man. He had “flesh and bones”. He could eat like a human can. The Lord Jesus gave proof of his identity (24:39-40). He really was the same Jesus they had known (John 20:24-28). There is one empty tomb in Palestine today, because Jesus who died and was buried in that tomb has conquered death and is Lord over all. Have you trusted your life to the Lord of life, who showed himself alive with many convincing proofs?

Jesus instructed them in the Scriptures. The Lord is not content to have us live according to our own experience or our own wisdom. People are to live according to the Word of God (Deuteronomy 8:3). What was written in the Scriptures was about Christ and his saving work (24:44, 46). The Scriptures are primarily about the Lord Jesus Christ and what he did, does and will do to save his chosen people. This should ignite our hearts to study and learn the Bible. This past week, there was a discussion on sports talk radio about the need for motivation to win. When a ball team is motivated, they can win games. When Christians become motivated by Jesus Christ, watch out! God is going to do great things through them. This should also guide our interpretation of the Old Testament Scriptures. They are not law-structured or Israel-structured, but Christ-structured.

Therefore, our proclamation of the Bible’s message must be clearly and decidedly evangelical (good news saturated). If we are not proclaiming the Lord Jesus Christ and his saving work, we are not telling the Biblical message. The content of the gospel (good news) must be preached (24:46; cf. 1 Corinthians 15:1-4; Romans 1:1-4,16-17). Repentance (a change of mind) and forgiveness of sins must be preached in Christ’s name (24:47). Notice how these two actions are linked. People must have a change of mind about their sins. (Sin is rejection of God as God, refusal to love God, and rebellion against God and his ways.) Do you see sin as an offense against God? Do you agree with God that sin is wrong? Do you understand that sin ruins people? We are to take the message of Christ and salvation from sin to all nations.

Those who hear need illumination to comprehend (24:45).We are dependent on the Spirit of God for this act of grace (2 Corinthians 3:14). Christians have this (2 Corinthians 3:16). Christ has the power to work directly on the human mind (Acts 16:14). There is one empty tomb in Palestine today, because Jesus who died and was buried in that tomb has conquered death and is Lord over all. Has the Lord of life opened your heart so that you know from the Scriptures that he is risen indeed?

Jesus told them about Pentecost and the new age that was about to begin. The risen Messiah would send the Holy Spirit (24:49). The Spirit would come since Jesus would no longer be physically present with his followers (24:44; cf. John 14:25-27; 16:7). Every follower of Jesus ought to value the preciousness of the gift of the Spirit. All of us are to obey Christ’s orders (24:49). The apostles were to start with a brief period of waiting, and then go out with the message. We are to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). There is one empty tomb in Palestine today, because Jesus who died and was buried in that tomb has conquered death and is Lord over all. Has the Lord of life given you his Holy Spirit, so that you are able to be his witness? Bow before the Risen Lord, Jesus Christ; trust in him today and have eternal life! Then what should we do? Let’s go and tell others this good news. “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!”

Grace and peace, David

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An Awesome Question

IMG_0903Mark 15:34

Charles Wesley wrote the following words of a famous hymn: “’Tis mystery all! Th’ Immortal dies! Who can explore His strange design? In vain the firstborn seraph tries to sound the depths of love divine!” And to know the full wonder of the cross is beyond our human abilities also. Who can comprehend the sufferings of the Lord Jesus on the cross? Even if we cannot understand, we may at least worship. As Wesley continued: “’Tis mercy all! let earth adore, let angel minds inquire no more.” Yes, we on earth should adore, for it was for sinners like you and me that the Christ suffered, bled and died.

In this article we will consider one of the seven sayings of the Savior on the cross. Of the seven, one is a statement, another is a word of pardon, two are exclamations, and two are prayers to his Father in heaven. But the one written in our text for tonight is an awesome question, an inquiry into the holy wisdom of God: “‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ (Which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?)’” [All quotes are from the NIV.]

Let us seek to understand the question. By understanding, I mean understanding in the sense of gaining the full Biblical significance of the words. We cannot comprehend fully, for there is mystery here. God has not revealed its depths to us. We should notice how Jesus spoke these words. He “cried out in a loud voice.” Surely we should catch some of the intensity of the moment. The words reveal both extremity of his pain, and the earnestness of his spirit. In other words, these words reveal something of the “suffering of his soul” (Isaiah 53:11). It is to this we now turn.

The question itself has three parts. First, is the repeated “my God”. This is the cry of the suffering one calling on his God (Psalm 22:1). Christ Jesus retained his confidence in the Father. Even when at his lowest, he still called on the Holy One as his God. How this precisely relates to his being “forsaken” is a question not answered by the Scriptures, and thus beyond our ability to answer. There is mystery here. Second is the horrible word “forsaken.” What does this mean? Two texts shed more light on this event. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree” (Galatians 3:13). Whatever he suffered includes the stark reality of becoming “a curse for us.” He bore the curse of God that we deserved. Think for a moment about the fearful nature of eternal punishment in the Lake of Fire. The horror of this curse, we followers of Christ cannot know; and glory to God, because of the Lord Jesus, we never will! When he suffered he redeemed us from the curse of the law. This cry of anguish shows something of its meaning for the Redeemer. Surely he took up our infirmities, and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand (Isaiah 53:4,10). Think deeply on the words “stricken, smitten, afflicted, crush and cause him to suffer.” Whatever these words mean, they tell us of the turning aside of the wrath of God. In Christ’s death, God’s wrath was satisfied, and his holy righteousness honored. We should all exclaim, “Thank you, Lord Jesus!”

Third is the pronoun “Me.” Who said these words? They were said by the One in whom the Father had eternally delighted. Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations (Isaiah 42:1). In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning (John 1:1-2). 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). The One of whom the Father had always approved said these words. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5)

A poem by E.B. Browning says: Yea, once Immanuel’s orphaned cry his universe hath shaken. It went up single, echoless, “My God, I am forsaken!” It went up from the Holy’s lips amid his lost creation, that, of the lost, no son should use those words of desolation. [My emphasis]

The Holy Spirit in the Bible answers the Son’s question. With all reverence, we should know the answer of God’s word to the Son’s inquiry. First, it was the purpose of God. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross (Acts 2:23).  Two concerns are included in God’s purpose: the glory of God’s name. For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen (Rm 11:36); and the salvation of God’s people, The salvation of the righteous comes from the LORD; he is their stronghold in time of trouble (Psalm 37:39). Why was Christ forsaken? It was the purpose of God.

Why did God determine to act this way? It was because of the love of God. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 4:9-10). Both of these texts tell of his immeasurable love to guilty, ungodly rebels. Why was Christ forsaken? It was the love of God for his people.

But why did a loving Father deliver his beloved Son over to the death of the cross? Why did he not merely forgive the sins of his people by an act of will, without sending his dearly loved Son to death on Calvary? The justice of God required this event. Christ was bearing our sins. So Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him (Hebrews 9:28). He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed (1 Peter 2:24). God’s wrath against sin had to be satisfied. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished — he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus (Romans 3:25-26). Why was Christ forsaken? It was God satisfying his own justice.

Was Christ in agreement with this purpose of God? Did he die willingly for his people? Yes, the Lord Christ loved his church, his sheep. And live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God… Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Ephesians 5:2, 25). See also John 10:14-18. Why was Christ forsaken? It was because Jesus loved us and wanted to save us!

So then, since Christ was forsaken of God, let us think about the value of our salvation. We were rescued at great cost, the sacrificial death of Jesus, the Son of God. Since Christ was forsaken of God, his chosen people can be sure they will never be forsaken. Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

Grace and peace, David

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The Shield of Faith (Part One)

IMG_0457Ephesians 6:16

The fourth stanza of the hymn “How Firm a Foundation” opens with the words, “When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie, my grace, all-sufficient, shall be your supply” (Trinity Hymnal, revised edition, #94). Is this not the common experience of every follower of Christ? We have trials, and we receive grace. Has the following ever happened to you? You have just woken up in the morning after a good night’s sleep. Then suddenly, evil thoughts have come to you, perhaps even blasphemous or filthy thoughts. You were not thinking about such things. You just woke up, but there they are—horrible thoughts floating around in your mind! And then you might think, “How can I possibly be a Christian and think such things?” My brother or sister in Christ, if that has ever happened to you, do not think it something strange or unusual. A flaming arrow of the evil one has hit you. But what should we do? How can you and I counter that kind of attack? How can we live in the face of such pitiless assaults? The Holy Spirit through the apostle presents us with his way of spiritual warfare. Let us think on God’s word together.

Faith is crucial in spiritual warfare. An ancient soldier without his shield was in deadly danger. The word used for shield in this verse is not the one for the little shield that was also carried by the soldier, but for the large shield that the soldier could hide behind. When carried by many soldiers together, they could form a wall. The shield was often put together in such a way as to make it resistant to attacks by flaming arrows, which were used to wreak havoc and destruction on enemy forces, like later generations would use an artillery barrage or missile attacks.

Faith is the believer’s shield. Faith has three elements: knowledge of the good news (gospel), assent to the good news, and trust or dependence on the good news. The good news points us to the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the object of real saving faith. We do not have faith in faith, but faith in the Lord Jesus (John 3:16). Like the other parts of the armor of God, genuine faith in Christ is a gift of God (Acts 13:48; 16:14; 18:27; Ephesians 2:8-9; Philippians 1:29; 1 Timothy 1:14). Faith leads us away from self-reliance or dependence on money, things, and other people to trust in Christ alone.

Faith has a crucial place in the believer’s life. At the time of salvation, the Holy Spirit presents the ability and sufficiency of Jesus Christ as Savior and God’s promises of eternal life to all who will believe. By the gift of faith, we trust in Jesus the Lord, and entering into union with Christ, we are saved. From that moment on as we trust in the Lord, the Spirit of God strengthens our faith, enabling us to make use of Christ’s fullness as our prophet, priest and king and to participate in every grace and blessing in Christ.  We are able to draw strength for him. At the same time the Holy Spirit produces his fruit (Galatians 5:22-23) in us to develop resistance to the fiery darts. As faith unites us to the Savior, so faith receives from the Lord all that we need for our daily walk. We must actively depend on Christ to receive what we need to live for God’s glory and to enjoy the Lord. We must rely on him when we face the attacks of the spiritual forces of evil (Ephesians 6:12).

Grace and peace, David

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