The Shepherd’s Message (Part 2)

Amos 1:1-2

The words of Amos, who was one of the sheep breeders from Tekoa—what he saw regarding Israel in the days of King Uzziah of Judah and Jeroboam son of Jehoash, king of Israel, two years before the earthquake. He said: The Lord roars from Zion and makes his voice heard from Jerusalem; the pastures of the shepherds mourn, and the summit of Carmel withers (CSB).

Next, let’s think about the tone of the prophecy (1:2). Amos speaks as one through whom the Lord was speaking. He is God’s spokesman. “This is what the Lord says.” Amos declares the authority for the message. He speaks the words of God. This is different from the current style of many pastors and Bible teachers, who specialize in cute stories, make fantastic predictions, or speak about political issues from either a conservative or liberal point of view. The voice of the Lord is disregarded, downplayed, and even disputed. We need men like Amos who will boldly declare God’s words to people.

The manner in which God speaks is startling. The Lord roars (cf. Amos 3:9). People want a “feel-good” kind of message in worship services. They want to be pleased, not contradicted. They desire comfort and dislike becoming upset. They like politicians that tell them, “We can fix this to your liking.” They hate preachers of truth that tell them, “Our case is desperate! We need the living God to act for us. Let’s return to the Lord.” This is a warning before judgment, like a lion would give when he is about to strike (cf. Isaiah 5:29). It is very natural for a shepherd like Amos to use this illustration to warn of serious danger. The true God is roaring today. We need ears to hear his roar.

The Lord speaks from Zion, the place of the temple, where God chose to reveal himself (Exodus 25:21-22; Numbers 7:89; cf. 1 Kings 8). The Lord speaks from the place of his choosing. That place was Jerusalem, not Samaria, in Amos’ day. That would have been an unpopular message to the people of the northern kingdom of Israel. Jerusalem is the place of revelation by God. Samaria or Babylon or Athens were places of human opinions, religion, and philosophy. God speaks from the Zion or Jerusalem that is above, not from the political centers or academic institutions that are below. Please ask yourself: “Do I depend more on the wisdom of human ‘experts’ than on the Word of God?”

The reaction that God’s roaring word causes in his creation. God has power over the universe he has made. God acts in history. Even the most remote places (represented by Carmel—the mountains) can’t escape when the Lord extends his hand. The fertile pastures also would be dried up. This judgment would hit hard, producing hunger and poverty.

See how dependent the creature is upon God. He can make our pastures dry up! But even if all others are thirsty, God can satisfy our thirst. On the last and most important day of the festival, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. The one who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, will have streams of living water flow from deep within him.” He said this about the Spirit. Those who believed in Jesus were going to receive the Spirit, for the Spirit had not yet been given because Jesus had not yet been glorified (John 7:37-39 CSB).

Grace and peace,

Showdown on Carmel (Part Two)

1 Kings 18:25-40

Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come near to me.” And all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been thrown down. Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord came, saying, “Israel shall be your name,” and with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord (1 Kings 18:30-32a ESV).

Elijah led the return to the worship of the true and living God. This was a much bigger and better goal than simply proving that he was the Lord’s prophet. It is too easy for humans to have desires for personal vindication. At this moment, he was spiritually on course. Elijah was motivated by the desire to see God exalted.

Elijah prepared the means of worship. We need to remember the time in which Elijah lived. It was the time of the law or old covenant. Israel was the people of God, if they obeyed the Lord (Exodus 19:1-6; etc.) Worship and fellowship with the Almighty, Holy God was only possible through the offering of an animal sacrifice presented in the proper way. As God’s prophet (cf. similar acts by Samuel), Elijah could do this on special occasions, though only the priests could minister at the altar in Jerusalem. The Lord graciously called his people back into covenant fellowship with the enemies of God and his people watching. Churches do not hesitate to have new covenant practices (baptism and the Lord’s Supper) on display before unbelievers. In fact, such times have often been the occasion for unbelievers to turn to the Lord Jesus and be saved.

Elijah did everything very openly so that no one could accuse him of trickery. He called the people near. Truth does not fear investigation. He thoroughly doused the altar, wood and sacrifice with water. (Certainly, the people would have come with much water to drink.) It seems like Elijah was trying to make it “harder” for the Lord. There was no possibility of a spark on that altar.

He acted to show the people that the Lord was still their God (18:30-31). It was kind of a covenant renewal service. Remember what Moses did when the law covenant was given. And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. He rose early the next morning and set up an altar and twelve pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel at the base of the mountain (Exodus 24:4 CSB). The people had broken the covenant by following other gods, but God is rich in mercy. He welcomes back those who return to him in faith. Elijah proclaimed by this action that there was hope for the people. They still could rightly be called Israel. God had named the people, and so they could rebuild an altar in his name. Worship could be restored.

Too often when we read the Scriptures, we can skip over what is important. We need to slow down, reread, and think. Notice how the writer described Israel: to whom the word of the Lord came. Having the word of the living God was preeminent among Israel’s privileges. What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, the Jews have been entrusted with the very words of God (Romans 3:1-2 NIV). In the Holy Writings given to the Jews, we have the words of the God who speaks! A core problem of Israel in Elijah’s time was their failure to hear and to obey God’s word. For three years there had been no rain, in fulfillment of a covenant threat (Deuteronomy 28:22-24). But the writer reminds us that God’s people have his word and can and ought to return to the Lord.

What of us? Do we value God’s word? Do we read it daily? To we by faith listen to its message? May God give us grace to treasure God’s word in our hearts!

Grace and peace, David

How and What We Tell Others (Part One)

2 Corinthians 4:1-6

Therefore, since we have this ministry because we were shown mercy, we do not give up. Instead, we have renounced secret and shameful things, not acting deceitfully or distorting the word of God, but commending ourselves before God to everyone’s conscience by an open display of the truth (CSB).

I write this post on the five hundredth anniversary of a great work of God in salvation that began about 1517 and spread across Europe and eventually to its pioneer villages in North America. It is called the Reformation, and it should remind us that God can do unexpected and remarkable things through people and events that seem most unlikely.

My concern in this post is not to talk about that time, but about God’s message in our time, the twenty-first century. The same God still works through the same good news that changed all history in the first century and the sixteenth century. All around the world in our century, the Lord is saving people. In this text, we hear one of Christ’s first spokesmen, a man called Paul, talk about what and how new covenant ministers preach and what God is able to do through that message. Let’s think about what is written for our benefit.

The glory of a gospel or new covenant ministry prompts perseverance and openness (4:1-2). Those who tell others the good news of Jesus Christ must face temptations to disabling discouragement. If anyone had an opportunity to give up, it was Paul (cf. 2 Corinthians 6:4-10; 11:23-29). However, Paul did not give in to discouragement. He explains this to his readers. The word “lose heart” can be translated “not despair”. It carries the idea of behaving badly by getting into such a condition. Despair is the spirit of our age, and people try desperately to escape it by pleasure of some sort. But gradually there is no pleasure that can overcome the damp, freezing chill of hopelessness. The Christian is to have no part with this attitude.

Believers in Christ have sufficient resources to overcome this temptation. The apostle mentions two: the character of new covenant ministry, which is surpassing, enduring, and transforming glory, and the mercy of God. You see, if we would not give up, we must remember what God is doing. He has placed us in a ministry that leads to glory. God’s eternal mercy is for us (cf. Psalm 23:6). Whatever happens, we must view our situation through gospel eyes. “Everything is going to be all right” when we are in forever-glory with the Lord Christ.

Those who tell others the good news must serve according to gospel principles. This influences our mode of ministry in three ways.

  • We renounce secret and shameful ways. The gospel has no room for ways that are underhanded and disgraceful, because the gospel’s very character is openness.
  • We do not use deception nor distort God’s word. Our walk (“use”) or way of life is not unscrupulous, cunning, or sly. We do not stoop to anything to accomplish our goals. Nor do we distort God’s Word. The great cry of our age is “tell people what they want to hear.” Christ’s faithful people will not do that. As unpleasant as it may be for speaker or listener, we must tell people what the Lord has said.
  • We set forth the truth to every conscience. The conscience refers to that faculty of the inner person that recognizes right and wrong moral norms and either accuses or excuses the person because of that norm. Certainly, a person can have wrong moral norms; such as supposing that it is all right to have sexual intercourse outside of marriage or assuming that “the one with the most toys wins”. But that is precisely the reason Paul aimed the truth at the conscience. It takes the truth that is in Jesus to produce godly norms in a human conscience.

The point is that the Reformation, like other awakenings and revival, points to the transformation of all, including those who tell others the good news of salvation by grace. We can thank God that the Reformers told people the true way to be right with God. Sadly, sometimes they did not tell the truth in a loving manner. Let us learn from them and tell the truth, but may we speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15 NIV).

Grace and peace, David

The Attributes of God (Part Ten)

I will proclaim the name of the Lord. Oh, praise the greatness of our God! He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he (Deuteronomy 32:3-4 NIV).

God is trustworthy. God is truthful or incapable of deceiving (Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18). Whatever God says must be accurate and true, and so his word is truth (Psalm 12:6; Isaiah 45:19; John 17:17), just as he is truth (Psalm 31:5; Isaiah 65:16; John 7:28; 8:26; 14:6, 17; 17:3; 1 John 5:20; Revelation 3:7) and his ways are true (Revelation 15:3).

God’s veracity or trustworthiness is “an attribute of his nature, which, like his power, exists, and makes him what he is, even though there be no outward relation to it. By virtue of it, he is the source of all truth, not moral only, but even mathematical” (Boyce, Abstract of Theology, pp. 98-99). In other words, truth exists in the universe, because the Creator is the God who is true in all his actions and revelations. In this way, God’s truthfulness becomes the foundation of human confidence in knowledge, “whether by intuition, observation or reason” (Boyce, p. 99). For this reason, we have a foundation for human rationality.

“The truth of God is a great pillar for our faith. Were not he a God of truth, how could we believe in him? Our faith were fancy; but he is truth itself, and not a word which he has spoken shall fall to the ground” (Watson, A Body of Divinity, p. 101). Since God is true, his words “are the index of reality: they show us things as they really are, and as they will be for us in the future according to whether we heed God’s words to us or not” (Packer, p. 102). Therefore, we are wise when we seek the true God to guide and teach us (Psalm 43:3; 86:11).

Closely related to God’s trustworthiness is his faithfulness. God is dependable and can be trusted to perform what he has promised. God is faithful in his character (Exodus 34:6; Deuteronomy 7:9; Psalm 36:5; 86:15; 146:6; Isaiah 49:7; 1 Corinthians 1:9; 1 Thessalonians 5:23; 2 Timothy 2:13; Hebrews 10:23), actions (Psalm 33:4; 91:4; 138:8; Lamentations 3:22-23; 1 Corinthians 10:13; 2 Thessalonians 3:3), and words (2 Samuel 7:28; 2 Chronicles 6:15; 2 Corinthians 1:18-20).

“In all His relations with His people God is faithful. He may be safely relied upon. No one ever yet really trusted Him in vain. We find this precious truth expressed almost everywhere in the Scriptures, for His people need to know that faithfulness is an essential part of the Divine character. This is the basis of our confidence in Him. But it is one thing to accept the faithfulness of God as a Divine truth, it is quite another to act upon it. God has given us many ‘exceeding great and precious promises,’ but are we really counting on His fulfillment of them? Are we actually expecting Him to do for us all that He has said?” (Pink, Attributes of God, p. 60)

God’s faithfulness demands certain responses on our part. We should praise God for his faithfulness (Psalm 92:1-2; Isaiah 25:1), commit ourselves to his care (1 Peter 4:19), and seek forgiveness from his grace (1 John 1:9).

Grace and peace, David

The Holy Spirit (Part Eighteen)

2 Peter 1:20-21

Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (ESV).

One of the great questions of humanity involves the study of knowledge. “How do I know?” and “How do I know that I know?” There are only a few basic answers to that question, such as “mankind can’t know,” or “mankind can know through some mystical process,” or mankind has all the ability to know,” or “mankind can only know truly through revelation.” All the first three answers are defective or insufficient for many reasons, which are outside of our theme in this article. What remains is the Biblical position that we can know because God has spoken. This brings us to the place of the Holy Spirit in God revealing himself to mankind.

Revelation has two parts: general and special. General revelation is God revealing himself in creation (Psalm 19:1-6). Special revelation is God revealing himself by speaking to mankind. God chose some of that special revelation to be permanently recorded in written form to speak with God’s authority. The Lord does this so that we might know his person, his will, and his saving activity. This written record God calls the Scriptures, and we often call it the Bible, the Book.

Our focus in this article is the activity of the Holy Spirit of God in giving us the written message. As we begin, it is wise to state that we will encounter mystery here. The Spirit does not answer all our questions in the Bible. In it he gives us true truth, though not exhaustive truth, for a good reason (John 21:25). But though we cannot know fully, we have all we need to know. Consider an example.

The games of the great chess grandmasters have been preserved for people to enjoy and study. If you have some understanding of chess, you can replay them and grasp to some degree how they achieved victory. But sometimes it is a marvel how they could discern the possibilities in a position and bring out its potential sometimes through a sequence of many moves. Watch the movie, Searching for Bobby Fischer, if you want to see some of this. In a similar way, when we come to the Holy Spirit and the Holy Scriptures, we can learn what he has done, but he has not made known the full process of how the Scriptures were written. We will have to stop where the Scriptures stop. Be content that the Spirit knows, even though you do not.

The Scriptures are a joint product of the Holy Spirit and people. We see this divine-human interaction in many areas of Biblical teaching.

  • Christ has two natures (one divine and one human) in his one person. Both are clearly attested in the Scriptures, though the exact nature of their interaction is beyond our understanding.
  • God’s sovereignty interacts with human responsibility in salvation. God clearly chooses people to salvation, yet everyone who is saved repents and believes.
  • The mission of evangelism is another divine-human interaction. Our task is to tell others the good news, but unless the Holy Spirit regenerates, all our evangelistic efforts fail.
  • As we shall see, the whole area of growth in grace involves divine-human interaction.

Each of these divine-human interactions varies in different ways. But the product of the Scriptures is closer in kind to the relationship between Christ’s two natures than the others, all of which involve human sin.

The apostolic teaching is that “men spoke from God” or “holy men of God spoke”, as the NKJV reads following the textual variant. In either case, we are clearly taught that the Scriptures came through human instrumentality: “men spoke”. We see this same assertion made in other places: David (Luke 20:42; Ac 2:34), Isaiah (John 12:39), Joel (Ac 2:16), and “the word of the prophets” with Amos in mind (Acts 15:15). Compare also Matthew 13:14; 15:7; 22:43; Mark 12:36. Yet as these men spoke, God spoke through them (Matthew 2:17; 3:3; 13:35; 21:4; Acts 4:25). We can also see this in the differences of style among the various human writers. Ezekiel does not sound the same as Moses, nor does Paul sound like John. Yet in all, we read the same consistent teaching, sense the same heart of the master author, and are presented with the same zeal for God’s glory in the face of Christ. All this occurred in about forty human writers over the space of 1600 years! The observable facts of Scripture attest to this divine-human interaction.

This should lead us to worship the Lord. “Who are you, Almighty God, that you can work in human hearts in such a magnificent way?”

Grace and peace, David

Christ’s Good Confession Before Pilate (Part Two)

John 18:33-38a

Today, which is Good Friday, we will continue our look at Christ’s first trial before Pilate. The Roman governor asked Jesus two more questions.  He pressed Jesus for more information. “What is it you have done?”

Jesus denied that he was leading a rebellion. He appealed to the events of the arrest to prove that he was not a political rival to Caesar. Anyone who plotted a revolt would have soldiers who would protect him. But no such thing happened. We learn an important principle. Christ’s kingdom is not advanced, promoted or defended by human ways or wisdom. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:4 NIV). For this reason, we must do God’s work in God’s way; that is, by faith relying on God’s power.

Jesus explained his kingdom. It was not of earthly origin. Jesus constantly talked about the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God. Seeing this is so, you cannot become a part of Christ’s kingdom by worldly means—not by birth, not by compulsion, not by joining an organization, and not by going through some ritual (like baptism, communion, confirmation, or the altar call.) Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God (John 1:12-13 NIV). Thus, his kingdom does not refer to a place, but to a kingship or a rule. To know what this kind of a rule means, study Romans 14:17-18.

Then in a somewhat ironic way, Pilate continues, “You are a king, then!”

Jesus claimed to be a king. In its strict literal sense, the Greek reads, “You are saying that I am a king.” However, the phrase “you are saying” is equivalent here to “yes”. See Matthew 26:63-63 and Mark 14:61-62. Though Pilate might mock or scorn his claim, Jesus firmly asserts that he is a king. In this way he gave a good confession before Pilate (1 Timothy 6:13). At this point the early church took up his banner, and today so must we. “Jesus is Lord” is our good confession (Romans 10:9). Sinners are content if he is presented as a rich uncle, a super psychologist or a great healer. But no sinner wants Jesus Christ as his or her Lord and Leader. No one can truly say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3).

Jesus claimed to testify to the truth.

  • Only Jesus could have made this statement. He is the one who both was born and who came.
  • Jesus knew that his Father sent him to proclaim the truth to a world lost in error. cf. John 8:44; 1 John 3:8
  • Jesus presented himself as the truth. Cf. John 14:6
  • Pilate responded by asking what is truth? In doing so, he showed that he was not of Christ’s kingdom. How sad! He had the truth before him, but could not see it!

What about you? Are you of the truth? Do you listen to Christ’s voice? Is Jesus Christ your Lord? What evidence can be found in your life? What are you doing to extend Christ’s kingship? You ask, “How can I do that?” Witness. Follow Jesus in making a good confession for his name’s sake. Stand for Christian values. Live in such a way, and speak in such a way that others know that Christ is your King.

Grace and peace, David

Christ’s Good Confession Before Pilate (Part One)

John 18:33-38a

It is good for Christians to remember the events of Palm Sunday through Resurrection Sunday. Our faith is not like other religions that are based on the philosophic speculations of people or the performance of (magic) rituals. Christianity is rooted in history; that is, in what the living God did in Jesus Christ in the space/time world in which we live. We follow the Lord Jesus Christ who lived among people, who was arrested and tried by people, who suffered and died for people at the cruel hands of wicked people, and who rose again the third day and was seen by people. And today many people have their lives deeply changed by Jesus Christ!

The Four Gospels devote a major portion of their content to the events of the Passion Week. Some have called them passion narratives with extended introductions. The early church grasped the importance of the history that occurred and set down these events in its creeds. For example, read the Old Roman Symbol, the Apostles Creed, and the Nicene Creed.

Our text presents the first part of our Lord’s trial before Pilate, the Roman governor. Here we see two striking figures. Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory and the Ruler of the kings of the earth stands trial before Pilate, the representative of the world’s only superpower of that time. Let us peer into this interview. Pilate used three lines of examination, summarized in three statements. We will look at the first of these in this article: “Are you the king of the Jews?”

We need to know the background to this question.

  • Behind the scenes, the gospel writers tell us that the Jewish religious leaders wanted to kill Jesus. But they had a problem. They did not have the authority to execute anyone. Therefore, they needed to invent a charge that would cause the Roman government to execute Jesus. Politics hasn’t changed much, has it? If things aren’t going one’s way, then sin boldly to gain your wicked ends. The idea of fact or fiction is meaningless to the postmodernist person. What matters is that you tell a story to persuade others in order to reach your goal. Manipulation, deceit, disrespect and abuse are applauded rather than condemned.
  • Therefore, they told lies about Jesus to Pilate, along with his claim to be the Messiah, a king. It seems they hoped that Pilate would act swiftly to suppress any rival to Caesar – if he valued his own life.

How Christ handled the question.

  • Jesus sought the meaning of the question. Did Pilate mean king in the Roman sense? Was Pilate asking if he was a political revolutionary? Did he mean king in another sense? Was Pilate asking if he was the Messiah, the ruler of God’s people? Consider the example of Christ in avoiding an unclear or complicated question. Sometimes it is not best to answer quickly. Draw out a person’s meaning.
  • Pilate responded that this was a Jewish matter. He had not sought Jesus’ arrest. The Jewish religious leaders had handed Jesus over to him. What is going on?

Pilate wanted to know why this happened, for usually the Jewish religious leaders were eager to follow anyone who stood for the Jewish people against the power of Rome. Therefore, Pilate asked another question. We may expect people to ask many questions when we share the good news of Jesus Christ. People need time to understand the meaning and the truth of the ultimate significance of Christ’s death and resurrection. Rely on the Holy Spirit to lead them to ask the right question. Then rely on the Spirit to direct you to the Scriptures for the correct answers.

Grace and peace, David

Our Conduct in Church

1 Timothy 3:14-15

I am writing these things to you now, even though I hope to be with you soon, so that if I am delayed, you will know how people must conduct themselves in the household of God. This is the church of the living God, which is the pillar and foundation of the truth (NLT).

The Bible is God’s word; it is God’s voice to us, to people. It speaks about God and mankind. God delivered it to us in human language and in human circumstances. These circumstances provided opportunities to talk to his people through all generations. In this letter, the Spirit spoke concerning our conduct in the church. As always, church in the New Testament does not mean “in a building” but “in our relationships with God and his people”, since “church” means “assembly” or “gathering” or “congregation”.

The great purpose, then, is to present proper conduct with God and his people. First Timothy is not about church government or rules for church order. It concerns how you and I are to share life together and with God. What makes this letter so volatile in the contemporary church is the obsession of many with themselves and their opinions rather than believing submission to what the Spirit plainly said through the apostle. The same self-obsession leads many to ignore the family values of life together in the church. (Read especially chapter five.) This letter deserves fresh, multiple readings of its text, putting aside study Bibles, commentaries, and church manuals, until we have listened together to the text, and have attained a submissive attitude toward its teaching.

As we listen humbly, we will hear teaching about what the church is. As has often been said in various forms, we must know what we are in Christ before we can practice life in Christ. In our text, we discover three ideas about the church.

  • We are the household of God. We are God’s family. He is the Father, we his children. He is the leader and sets the values, ideas, aims, mission, attitudes, and kindred spirit of his family. He tells us how we are to treat each other (5:1-2). Matters like faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness have a high priority in God’s household (6:11; cf. 1:4-5). The Father wants all to sense that such gospel-formed attitudes and actions are to be felt and experienced by all.
  • We are the assembly of the living God. He is life itself, and we are alive in Christ with him. The church is a gathering of life, of spiritually alive people with the living God. The church is organic by nature, not institutional. It is people sharing life, not trying to lead a successful religious business. Life is valued more than profit or loss. Since we live in this fallen world and still sin, God and we know that this life will be messy and challenging, but it remains life shared with the living God.
  • We guard the word; we are the pillar and foundation of the truth. We firmly hold to its teachings, passing them from person to person, and from generation to generation. Truth matters because we know it is the way of salvation to all the people groups of the earth (2:4). We also proclaim the truth to others. We use it to evangelize or “fish for people” (Mark 1:15). To put it this way, we know our mission and how to accomplish it with the help of the Holy Spirit.

This weekend as you meet with God’s people, seek to imbibe and to spread these values. Listen to your Father’s voice, follow the Father’s Son, and worship by the Father’s Spirit. Enjoy the reality that you are in the assembly of the living God! Share his love with others in his family.

Grace and peace, David

He Will Be Great

dscn0446Luke 1:29-33

But she was deeply troubled by this statement, wondering what kind of greeting this could be. Then the angel told her: Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Now listen: You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will call His name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end (HCSB).

Mary was afraid. She was afraid because of the sudden appearance of one of God’s angels to her and greatly troubled at his message. We easily picture Mary confident and serene after the birth of Jesus. It is difficult for us to see Mary, the very young woman, in an unexpected meeting with a mighty angel from the spiritual realm that we humans cannot presently see. If we think about why she was troubled by his greeting, we might be more perplexed, since it was a greeting of joy and hope. Perhaps, it was because Mary was a very humble person, not looking or longing for greatness. In an instant, God had boldly entered her life, and it would never be the same. That would bring a modest young woman many troubled thoughts.

Observe how Gabriel spoke to calm her. He repeated the truth that God had shown favor to her. This was good news, not something to trouble her. Many a pastor has experienced how tender hearts are troubled about things that ought to make them rejoice. We seem to have a way of imagining difficulties for ourselves. A calm repetition of the truth is the best remedy. We need time to process God’s words to us.

Gabriel moved on with the message God had sent him to deliver. Now listen. He directed Mary to pay attention to God’s word to her. God’s people are to be self-controlled, in charge of our hearts, ready to listen to what the Lord tells us. When you open your Bible, whether privately, with your family, or in public worship, are you prepared to listen? Banish lesser thoughts, rise above your troubles, and listen. To listen is one of the hardest things to do in our time, because we have heard much advertising and stories presented in high-tech bright, flashing array. It is very difficult to listen attentively to God’s word. Mary needed to listen, and so do we.

What did Mary need to hear?

  • She needed to listen to her part in the story of God’s glory. She, though a virgin, would conceive and give birth to a son. Mary grasped that part of the message right away, as her follow-up question shows (Luke 1:34). To have God with her would not mean that she would become a mighty leader, but a mother. God would have to enable that outcome. She would also name her son, but she must give him the name that God had chosen: Jesus, the Lord is salvation.
  • She needed to hear the identity of her son. He would not simply be “the son of Mary”, though that would be true. He would also be the Son of the Most High. It took Jesus three years of careful teaching to explain this to the apostles; therefore, it is very unlikely that Mary grasped its significance right away. Here is the mystery of the incarnate Christ. He is truly God and truly human at the same time. Let us worship when we cannot understand.
  • She needed to listen to the destiny of her Son. And the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end. Jesus was destined to sit on David’s throne. A prophecy made to David over a thousand years before Mary was about to happen. The promised King of God’s people was about to arrive. A reading of the Four Gospels will show that Jesus talked about the kingdom, which was God’s kingdom and his kingdom, throughout his earthly ministry. He would receive the throne by a grant from the Sovereign Lord himself. God’s word had not failed, though the people had been kingless for nearly six hundred years.

Today, we look for the second coming of the King. This Christmas, as you look at lights, sing songs, open presents, and enjoy your family and friends, remember to fix your thoughts on King Jesus. We are celebrating the birthday of the King, and we must bow in worship before him.

Grace and peace, David

The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (Part Five)

IMG_26382 Peter 1:20-21

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. 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 (NIV).

The content of the Scriptures does not originate with mankind— “for prophecy never had its origin in the will of man”. The apostle clearly teaches that the prophets did not concoct the Scriptures out of their own choices. They did not have some kind of superior insight from their human nature into the human predicament. They did not invent cleverly devised tales. In many passages you can easily observe the artless words of an eyewitness to an event or those stating what they had been told by God. There is no effort to “clean up the text”. And the heroic acts of the people of God are present right alongside of their miserable failures. Think of David, Samson, Asa, and Peter, too! In addition, often the prophets wrote things that were beyond their knowledge, like Isaiah’s prediction of Cyrus. At other times they wrote what they did not even like: Jeremiah (Jeremiah 15:10; 20:7-18), Jonah (Jonah 1:3; 4:1), and Habakkuk (Habakkuk 1:2-4).

This phrase puts at least two necessary limits and clarifications on our thoughts about the Scriptures. “The Biblical writers do not conceive of the Scriptures as a human product breathed into by the Divine Spirit, and thus heightened in its qualities or endowed with new qualities; but as a Divine product produced through the instrumentality of men.” [Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, p. 153] So though we might call it a joint product, both parties are not contributing to the written product in the same way. Also, the apostles and prophets were not responding to cultural situations out of their own wills. Yet many argue contrary to this text in cases when the Word of God comes into direct conflict with one of the darling ideas of a godless and wicked culture, such as many kinds of sexual immorality.

It is easy to list many objections that unbelieving people have against ideas and values that the Bible presents. They suppose the Biblical writers were anti-human because they prohibited sinful practices that are spiritually and often physically destructive, yet which unbelievers are fond of, such as drunkenness.  The inspired writers did not speak from their own desires, but communicated God’s desires, which seek the peace, joy and unity of his people.

In the face of this statement, we must all submit to God’s authority and bow before it. See 2 Timothy 3:16. This is not a popular position to take in these lawless days, but it is God’s path. Let God be true, and every man a liar (Romans 3:4). The Spirit of truth (John 15:26) acted in the giving of the Bible to provide an accurate presentation of the human condition. Like medical doctors who give their patients correct though unwelcome diagnoses, the Spirit tells us the truth about ourselves. Unlike medical doctors in many situations, the Holy Spirit knows the exact remedy for us. In the Scriptures, he proclaims the only way for people to be right with God. Sadly, the truth is unwelcome, much more unwelcome than the medical doctor that tells you to lose twenty pounds. But better than medical doctors, the Spirit of God can cause us to love the message of salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ. Holy Spirit, cause many to love the truth and to be saved!

Grace and peace, David