Expositional commentary on Scripture using an inductive exegetical methodology intent upon confronting the lives of Christians with the dogmatic Truths of God's inspired Words opposing Calvinism and Arminianism, Biblical commentary, doctrine of grace enablement, understanding holiness and wisdom and selfishness, in-depth Bible studies, adult Bible Study books and Sunday School materials Dr. Lance T. Ketchum Line Upon Line: 2007

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas: Christ Equals God in Flesh

“18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. 19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily. 20 But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. 21 And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. 22 Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, 23 Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. 24 Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: 25 And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS” (Matthew 1:18-25).

This is the time of year when Christians regularly read the various gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus. In Luke 2:10, when the angel said “behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people,” the words “good tidings” are translated from the Greek word euaggelizo (yoo-ang-ghel-id'-zo). Twenty-three times in the N. T. that word is translated “preach” and twenty-two times it is translated “preach the gospel.” It is the word from which we get the word evangelize. It means to proclaim glad tidings regarding the instruction to people concerning the things that pertain to salvation offered in the Person of Jesus Christ. The angelic announcement to the shepherds of Bethlehem sets the stage for the pattern for all Christians. The Shepherds immediately began to communicate the angelic message.

“17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. 18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds” (Luke 2:17-18).

The words “they made known abroad” are from the Greek word diagnorizo (dee-ag-no-rid'-zo), which is the derivative of the Greek word graptos (grap-tos') meaning written and gnorizo (gno-rid'-zo), which means to make known. Therefore, we can conclude these were educated men (probably priests watching over sacrificial lambs) who recorded the angelic message on parchment and sent it to be read in the synagogues wherever a synagogue existed. Any celebration of the birth of Jesus demands that we too communicate the “glad tidings” of the birth of the Savior Who is Christ the Lord.

Matthew 1:18 says, “Now the birth of Jesus was on this wise.” The details of Jesus’ birth are significant to the “gospel.” It is important that we carefully consider the details of the birth of Jesus lest we begin to take these truths for granted. We hear these truths so often that they become mundane to us and no longer have the impact on us the way they should. As Luke 2:18 says, “And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.” The word “wondered” is from the Greek word thaumazo (thou-mad'-zo) meaning to marvel at something in amazement. That is the impact the message of the birth of Jesus should always have on each of us whenever we hear it.

In order for us to maintain the wonder and amazement that should surround the story of the birth of Jesus, we need to take our focus away from nativity scene, beyond Mary and Joseph and, beyond the wise men with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The story of the birth of Jesus will not continue to amaze us unless we look beyond the human events to see the spiritual realty of Who Jesus is and what He sacrificed in order to be born as this little baby in the manger of Bethlehem.

Matthew 1:23 tells us that the parents of Jesus were instructed to “call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.”

The first thing we need to remember and consider about the birth of Jesus is that He is God in human flesh. Apart from that reality, the birth of Jesus is little more than the birth of another great prophet of God. Jesus is much more than that. Jesus is God in human flesh intent to die to pay the sin penalty for all mankind. That truth should amaze us.

“5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. 9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: 10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; 11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:5-11).

There are some amazing truths regarding the incarnation. In Philippians 2:6, the word “form” is translated from the Greek word morphe (mor-fay'), which means the external appearance by which a person or thing strikes the vision. When the eternal Son of God, Creator of Heaven and Earth, stepped out of the glories of Heaven, He stepped into the curse of fallen mankind. That should amaze us.

He stepped out of the “form” He had as God and stepped into the “form” of humankind. According to Philippians 2:7, He took the “form” of humankind the same way each of us began by conception and birth. Deity was united in humanity. That should amaze us.

Also, Philippians 2:7 tells us that the eternal Son of God choose to be born as a “servant.” Although he was the King of Heaven, He was born a carpenter’s son with the intent to be the servant model of what all Christians are to be. When we think of that fact, we should stand with our mouths open in utter amazement.

The birth of Jesus as one of humankind eternally united the Godhead with mankind. That incomprehensible and unfathomable truth should completely amaze us.

We do not comprehend the utter amazement of this truth because we do not understand the enormous difference between Who God is and who we are. It is the natural tendency for us to create God in our image.

When we think of God, we tend toward anthropomorphisms; the attributing of human shape or characteristics to God. When we think of God as wise, we tend to think of Him as a white haired, old men who has accumulated years of eternal wisdom. Of course, that is totally inconsistent with Scripture. That would mean God has evolved into Who He is. God has always been and always will be the same.

“For I am the LORD, I change not. . .” (Malachi 3:6a).

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17).

Who and What God is, is far beyond the human imagination. There is nothing to compare Him to or with because He is unique. Therefore, the sacrifice involved in the uniting of God in humanity is almost impossible to illustrate.

Years ago, our family was vacationing around the Gulf of Mexico. We were driving along the coast of Texas heading for Louisiana. We stopped one night just before dusk to walk along the beach and pick up seashells. We had parked our car and had walked a considerable distance from it when the Sun started to go down. As the Sun began to set, swarms of mosquitoes came out of the grass and began to attack us.

The mosquitoes covered us. As we ran back to the car, they filled our ears. When we breathed, they went up our noses and into our mouths. They bit through our cloths. When we opened the car doors to escape them, they filled the car. All we could think about was to slap them and kill them. We killed mosquitoes for the next hundred miles.

Compared to God, we are less then mosquitoes. Psalms 8:4 says, “What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?” When those mosquitoes began to swarm and bite, I never once thought about whether or not they had eternal souls (they do not). I never once thought about becoming a mosquito so I could better identify with their trials, temptations and problems. I certainly never thought about becoming a mosquito (even if that were possible) so that I might die for the mosquitoes so they would not be condemned.

Human beings have such a sense of self-importance. Compared to God, we are less then what mosquitoes are compared to us. Yet, God loves each one of us so much He was willing to be born as one of us to take our death sentence for sin upon Himself and die in our place so that we might be saved from an eternal Hell and that we might be glorified and live with Him eternally. (Now read Philippians 2:9-11 again focusing on the word “should.”)

“9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: 10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; 11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”

Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Jehoshua. It means Jehovah is our Savior.

“And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

The Son of God stepped out of His glory as God to become a man in order to save us. The moment He was conceived in the womb of Mary, He was condemned to die on the Cross of Calvary. He knew that before He ever stepped out of His glory. Yet, He did not selfishly cling to His glory as God. Because He loves us, He became a man to take our death sentence upon Himself and to pay our “wages of sin.” Every time we say or hear the Name Jesus, we should think of all of this and we SHOULD bow our knee to Him; we SHOULD confess that He is LORD before men.

The Name Jesus immediately connects the manger to the Cross.

“16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. 18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:16-19).

According to John 3:19, men would rather hide in the darkness of sin then come into the “light” of God’s glory and truth because in that “light” they will see themselves for what they really are; mosquitoes at enmity with God deserving utter destruction. God loves us. He has shown us this reality through His incarnation, life, death and resurrection. What an insult it is to God for people to misrepresent Who Jesus is and reject His free gift of salvation. It is an insult to God’s love when we allow the celebration of His birth to be replaced with Santa Claus, Christmas trees and blue light specials.

About 2,000 years ago, the Son of God stepped out of His exalted, eternal glory to become a man in order to be our Saviour. He was born to die a criminal’s death on a cruel Cross, on a lonely hill outside of the city of Jerusalem. The eternal Son of God became a man to open the door for all men to become children of God.

“2 Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. 3 And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure” (I John 3:2-3).

“11 He came unto his own, and his own received him not. 12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (John 1:11-12).

His Name is Jesus. To “believe on His Name” means to believe, trust and rely on every fundamental truth that His Name represents. Jesus is the incarnate Son of God eternally united with humanity. He has completely paid the penalty for every sin you have ever committed or ever will commit. Turn from your sin, your religious rituals and your attempts at self righteousness and turn to the living God incarnate in human flesh, dead, buried, risen and coming again.

“How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation” (Hebrews 2:3a).

“See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven” (Hebrews 12:25).

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Spirit of Christmas

“1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, 2 Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. 3 When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. 5 And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, 6 And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel. 7 Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also. 9 When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. 11 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way” (Matthew 2:1-12).

The baby Jesus was born into a hostile and wicked world. The historical backdrop for the birth of the Saviour was a particularly wicked time in Israel’s history. The King of Judea was Herod the Great (47-4 BC). He was a Gentile (Edomite or Idumaien) appointed to power by Rome. He began his political career as the governor of Galilee at the age of 25. He was appointed King of Judea because of his success in collecting taxes for Rome.

At the time of the birth of Christ, Herod the Great was in the declining years of his reign (14-4 BC). He had his two favorite sons (Alexander and Aristobulus) put into prison because he believed they were involved in plots to overthrow him. They were put to death by strangling after a trial (300 people considered to be their friends were executed as well). The last years of Herod’s life were lived in constant turmoil with his own sons in their attempts to overthrow him. It was into that historical turmoil of Herod’s life that Jesus was born.

Shortly before Herod’s death (4 BC), the Magi came to Judea searching for the new born King of the Jews. These “wise men from the east” carry further historical significance to Herod’s slaughter of the innocents (Matthew 2:16). The Magi were originally a hereditary priesthood who offered animal sacrifices to an un-named god. Although occultist in their practices of divination and such, they were essentially monotheistic and many of their beliefs and their religious practices paralleled those of the Jews. By the time these men appear on the pages of sacred history, the Magi had evolved into a powerful group. They held leading positions in a constitutional council known as the Megistanes whose duties included the election (or deposition) of a monarch. Therefore, they were considered to be divinely appointed king-makers.

Their coming in search of this new born King of the Jews must have struck fear into the heart of the corrupt, wicked and vile King Herod the Great who lived in constant fear of being overthrown. They would have come with all the pomp of their position, traveling with a large armed force to protect them. Had Herod tried to take them on, he would have risked war with Parthia. Instead he took his usual avenue. He just decided to eradicate the opposition by having all the children under two born in Bethlehem slaughtered.

Apparently two years has gone by since Herod’s initial contact with the Magi (Matthew 2:16). That is why he had all the children 2 years old and under, according to the time” he had talked with the Magi. In Herod’s corrupt, arrogant heart lay the pride of power. He would do anything to protect that position of power, even to the extent of having his own sons killed. From Matthew 2:1-12 we see two extreme examples.

* We see Herod the Taker.
* We see God the Giver.

We are all Takers by nature. It is part of our fallen natures. From the degree of our corruption in this area of our character will flow the degree of our selfish demands. The idea that it is “more blessed to give then receive” (Acts 20:35) is foolishness to the corrupted mind of a Taker. The spirit of Christmas is giving, but that seems to degenerate more each year into a season of getting and taking.

Let’s focus on God’s example, the example of giving. Christmas is the time of the year we celebrate the birth of the Saviour. We cannot separate the word Saviour from the love of God and the giving of God out of that love.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

We cannot separate the word Saviour from the love of God and the provision of the free gift of salvation to “whosoever will.”

“8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

The spirit of Christmas is the spirit of extreme self sacrifice (love and giving). The spirit of Christmas is the desire to be a blessing to someone and being others-minded. The Magi brought their “treasures” to baby Jesus and gave Him “gifts” (Matthew 2:11). Before they gave, these powerful men (who caused kings to tremble) humbled themselves (“fell down”) and “worshipped Him.” They gave gifts as expression of their worship. They understood this little baby, lying in the feeding trough was God’s gift to the world, a Saviour.

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).

The shepherds were told they would find their Christmas gift all wrapped up in “swaddling clothes” and lying in a manger.

“And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12).

What a remarkable place to find the greatest gift ever given to anyone. The eternal Son of God was not only born into a hostile world intent on His death. He was born in humility and poverty. The God Who owns the cattle on a thousand hills gave of the abundance of His love was born in humility and died in humility to give us salvation and to teach us a way of life, giving of ourselves. Once we understand this, every believer should sing at the top of our lungs from the roof tops with the chorus of “heavenly host” to the glory of God.

“13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:13-14).

If we really understood the magnificence of the gift of God in Christ Jesus our song services would be filled with joy and rejoicing. We would shout out “glory to God in the highest” from the bottom of our hearts overflowing with gratitude. The songs of praise would burst forth from our hearts through our mouths directed to the glory of God.

Often we sing words put to music with little praise from our hearts and even less comprehension of the wonders of God’s grace in Christ Jesus. If we really understood our dilemma without God’s gift of a Saviour, we would better understand the wonders of that gift.

“6 For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. 8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8).

“While we were yet sinners,” prideful, hostile, God hating, takers of whatever we wanted without any consideration of the consequences, “Christ died for us.” The little baby boy, born in a manger, was born to die for us, to be our Saviour and to be God’s gift of salvation. In that gift are many gifts.

& In God’s gift of salvation, the sin penalty (death) is fully paid.
& In God’s gift of salvation, the believer is restored to a position of righteousness before God.
& In God’s gift of salvation, the believer is “born again” of the Spirit of God, removed from the condemned family of Adam and becomes a child of God.
& In God’s gift of salvation, He promises resurrection and glorification to all believers.

The key words here are gift and believe. Salvation is free to anyone willing to put their faith in what Jesus Christ accomplished in His death and resurrection and acknowledge His Lordship (Romans 10:9-10).

“24 Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. 25 Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: 26 And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this” (John 11:24-26)?

“Believest thou this?” God gave from His heart the most precious of gifts. He gave His only begotten Son. He gave because He loved us. He gave His best. He gave Himself. You can be saved if you will trust in the finished, substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus Christ. “Believest thou this?”

Monday, December 17, 2007

Christmas: From The Darkness into the Light!

“16 Bind up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples. 17 And I will wait upon the LORD, that hideth his face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for him. 18 Behold, I and the children whom the LORD hath given me are for signs and for wonders in Israel from the LORD of hosts, which dwelleth in mount Zion. 19 And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? for the living to the dead? 20 To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them. 21 And they shall pass through it, hardly bestead and hungry: and it shall come to pass, that when they shall be hungry, they shall fret themselves, and curse their king and their God, and look upward. 22 And they shall look unto the earth; and behold trouble and darkness, dimness of anguish; and they shall be driven to darkness. 1 Nevertheless the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation, when at the first he lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, and afterward did more grievously afflict her by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, in Galilee of the nations. 2 The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. 3 Thou hast multiplied the nation, and not increased the joy: they joy before thee according to the joy in harvest, and as men rejoice when they divide the spoil. 4 For thou hast broken the yoke of his burden, and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, as in the day of Midian. 5 For every battle of the warrior is with confused noise, and garments rolled in blood; but this shall be with burning and fuel of fire. 6 For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this” (Isaiah 8:16-9:7).

So many people suffer under the false notion that somehow the world would be so much better if Jesus had not been crucified. Perhaps that is why so many professing Christians are so enamored with the baby Jesus in the manger. The manger scene is intended to depict the humility to which God was willing to stoop to become the Saviour of “whosoever will.” He could never become our Saviour if He did not die a sinner’s death. The majority of the OT prophecies regarding the birth of Messiah involve details of His death. He was born to die on Calvary.

Out of the darkness of God’s pending judgment upon the backslidden nation of Israel comes the glorious light of God’s promise of the birth of Messiah. Within this backslidden, chosen people of God there was a remnant of “disciples” (8:16). The word “disciples” in Isaiah 8:16 is from the Hebrew word limmuwd (lim-mood') referring to a group of people who were instructed in the things of God (meaning they were living translations of God’s truth).

The Theological Workbook of the Old Testament (R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Moody Press) says the word “has the idea of training as well as educating.” The idea is that through education these people became servants of the Lord who used their tongues to proclaim God’s Word regardless of what it might cost them personally and whose ears were opened, ready to hear God’s message. The promise of Messiah as the ultimate suffering Servant is always at the forefront of the mind of the “learned” or the “disciple.”

“4 The Lord GOD hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary: he wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as the learned. 5 The Lord GOD hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back. 6 I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting” (Isaiah 50:4-6).

Obviously, the “learned,” the true “disciples” of the Lord, were not ignorant of the fact that Messiah would come as a suffering servant. Isaiah spoke of this more than any other prophet of God. The “disciples” of the Lord who lived at the time of Isaiah were fully instructed regarding the coming of Messiah as the suffering Servant of YAHWEH.

“1 Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed? 2 For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. 3 He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. 5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. 8 He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. 9 And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. 10 Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. 11 He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:1-12).

Isaiah was not the first to reveal the suffering Servant of YAHWEH. David wrote of it in Psalm 22.

“1 My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring? 2 O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent. 3 But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel. 4 Our fathers trusted in thee: they trusted, and thou didst deliver them. 5 They cried unto thee, and were delivered: they trusted in thee, and were not confounded. 6 But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people. 7 All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, 8 He trusted on the LORD that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him. 9 But thou art he that took me out of the womb: thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother’s breasts. 10 I was cast upon thee from the womb: thou art my God from my mother’s belly. 11 Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help. 12 Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round. 13 They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravening and a roaring lion. 14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels. 15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death. 16 For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet. 17 I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me. 18 They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture” (Psalm 22:1-18).

The message of the suffering Servant of YAHWEH looks forward in time to the first advent of Messiah in Jesus Christ. Both the first and second advents of Jesus Christ happen in times of history when the people of God are living in the greatest darkness. The darkness in the world is not due to the wickedness of the world, but the wickedness, apathy and carelessness of professing believers.

In the first advent, the Cross of Jesus Christ was a place where this darkness was the most evident. Jesus came to those people who had been looking for His coming for thousands of years and they rejected Him.

“11 He came unto his own, and his own received him not. 12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: 13 Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (John 1:11-14).

Jesus came to these people who had almost memorized the Law of God, but yet the darkness still overwhelmed their souls because the Truths of God’s Word never got beyond their dead externalism to bring light and life into them. Out of the darkness that encompassed the Crucifixion we hear the thundering voice of Jesus probably using the last few ounces of strength left in His body:

“45 Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour. 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me” (Matthew 27:45-46)?

We wonder at these words. Why would Jesus ask such a question as this? Surely He must have known why God had forsaken Him? Oh friends, this question is not for Him. It was a reminder to Israel of David’s words in Psalm 22. It was a reminder to Israel of the holiness of God for that was the Psalmist’s answer to the question in Psalm 22.

“1 My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring? 2 O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent. 3 But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel” (Psalm 22:1-3).

Why does God not hear the cries and pleas of the forsaken? He does not hear because God is holy and because the forsaken are the forsaken because of sin, because of apathy, because of worldliness and because of carelessness. The world is in darkness because all these things exist in the lives of professing believers. God has already heard and answered the plea of the forsaken.

“1 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, 2 Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; 3 Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:1-3).

“27 What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops. 28 And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:27-28).

The Cross of Jesus Christ was both a place of utter, stifling darkness and glorious, blinding light. For those lost in the darkness of sin and ignorance, the darkness must have been overwhelming. To the “disciples” of Jesus who understood the many Scripture references to the suffering Servant of YAHWEH, the light of that truth must have shown so brightly that they could do nothing more but to stand in awe as they looked upon their dying Saviour.

“2 The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined . . . 6 For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:2 & 6).

Like the remnant of Israel at Christ’s first advent, we may be a people who walk in the darkness of a God hating, truth rejecting world, but we do not have to be a part of that darkness. We can be contributors to the light rather than contributors to the darkness if we will cast off our apathy, worldliness and carelessness and give our lives to be servants of YAHWEH.

“In him was life; and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4).

“Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12).

If your life is filled with the darkness of despair and hopelessness, perhaps your need is “the life” that is “light of men.” You can have that “life” by simple faith in Jesus Christ. Turn away from your worldly pursuits and selfish motives in life. Come to the Light. It is shining in the darkness for you to find your way home. The Light of the world is Jesus!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Christmas: Blessed Mary

26 And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, 27 To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. 28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. 29 And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. 30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. 31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. 32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: 33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. 34 Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? 35 And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. 36 And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. 37 For with God nothing shall be impossible. 38 And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her” (Luke 1:26-38).

“Blessed art thou among women” is God’s statement about Mary the mother of Jesus. Because of all the false beliefs taught about Mary, many pulpits have become silent about her. The word “blessed” is not intended to bring worship to Mary. It simply relates the high favor of God upon her life in that she was chosen to be the mother of the Messiah (not the Mother of God). Although she should not be worshipped, she must have been a remarkable young lady.

Obviously, her family was a godly one. Her older cousin Elisabeth was chosen to give birth to the first prophet in 400 years (Luke 1:36, John the Baptist, who was the forerunner of Christ). Why did the Lord choose Mary? Was she some kind of super-saint who lived a life of sinless perfection? No, she was just a fine young lady who loved the Lord with great commitment and dedication. We know that is true from the text we have just read (1:38). She is a tremendous example of what God can do with any young lady completely dedicated to DOING the will of God.

According to Luke 1:26, Mary lived in the village of Nazareth and was engaged to be married to a carpenter by the name of Joseph. Nazareth was an unremarkable city in the history of Israel. The Scriptures (and much of history) were silent about Nazareth. Even after Jesus began His ministry, the city of Nazareth was the hardest and most of its citizens rejected Jesus as their Messiah.

16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read. 17 And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, 18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, 19 To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. . . 28 And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, 29 And rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong. 30 But he passing through the midst of them went his way,” (Luke 4:16-19 and 28-30).

The fact that she was not yet fully married, tells us she was probably a very young girl between 13 and 15 years old. Although she was a Teenager, by today’s standards, her daily routine would have involved all the things of an adult woman in that her culture viewed her as an adult at that age. She would have spent her days carrying water, cooking, cleaning and taking care of a household and small children. She would have worked from sunup to sundown.

Like any other young lady about to be married, she probably thought about her pending marriage and her future with her new husband. She thought about living in her own home and having her own family. In the middle of all these plans, an angel of God appears (1:26-28).

Mary’s life was going to have a major interruption. That is always what happens to a life when God calls a person to His service. Her plans were going to have to take the sidelines for a while. Her life was going to change drastically. That is often the case when God calls someone to be used for special ministries (like pastors or missionaries). Although she had plans for her life, God had other plans (since God does not force His will on anyone, He would give her the choice, 1:38).

Mary would become the one woman (out of the thousands of thousands of women before her) who would actually bear the Messiah (Luke 1:30-33). Did that make Mary the Mother of God? No, God is eternal and without beginning or end. Mary was one of God’s created beings. She cannot be the mother of her own Creator.

She is called the mother of Jesus in the Bible. Never is she called the Mother of God. She would be the means through which the eternal Son of God would step out of the glory of eternity and into time and humanity of a fallen Creation. The genetic humanity of Jesus came through Mary (the sin nature is passed seminally through man, Romans 5:12). Jesus has a beginning in history at His conception. Before that He eternally existed as the Son of God. Jesus is His Name in His union with mankind through birth.

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:1-3).

“And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was” (John 17:5).

15 Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: 16 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: 17 And he is before all things, and by him all things consist” (Colossians 1:15-17).

There are some people who teach that Mary (like Jesus) was immaculately conceived and (also like Jesus) was born without a sin nature. If Mary was immaculately conceived that would mean she would be God’s daughter, with no earthly father. Scripture tells us this was not so. This is due to a misunderstanding of two verses of Scripture; Matthew 1:16 and Luke 3:23.

“And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ” (Matthew 1:16).

“And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli,” (Luke 3:23).

In Matthew 1:16, the father of Joseph is listed as “Jacob.” In Luke 3:23, Joseph’s father is listed as “Heli.” Did Joseph have two fathers? No, the genealogy of the gospel of Luke is Mary’s. As was the custom, Joseph is stated as the head of the household. Joseph became the son of Heli by marrying Mary. Heli was Mary’s father.

If Mary was immaculately conceived and sinless, she would not have needed a Savior. Yet she acknowledges her need of a Saviour.

“And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour” (Luke 1:47).

Was Mary a perpetual virgin as some people teach? No, the Bible does not teach that. In fact, it teaches that she was not.

24 Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: 25 And knew her not till {assumes a later time when he did} she had brought forth her firstborn son{assumes a second-born}: and he called his name JESUS” (Matthew 1:24-25).

Jesus had (half) brothers and (half) sisters.

2 Now the Jews’ feast of tabernacles was at hand. 3 His brethren therefore said unto him, Depart hence, and go into Judaea, that thy disciples also may see the works that thou doest. 4 For there is no man that doeth any thing in secret, and he himself seeketh to be known openly. If thou do these things, shew thyself to the world. 5 For neither did his brethren believe in him” (John 7:2-5).

The Greek word used for “brethren” is adelphos (ad-el-fos’). The meaning is from the same womb. Although this word can be used for brethren nationally or brothers and sisters in Christ, the statement of John 7:5 clearly states these “brethren” were unbelievers. Matthew 12:46-50 also gives addition clarification to the meaning.

46 While he yet talked to the people, behold, his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him. 47 Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee. 48 But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? 49 And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! 50 For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Matthew 12:46-50).

Jesus had four half brothers and at least two half sisters.

1 And he went out from thence, and came into his own country; and his disciples follow him. 2 And when the sabbath day was come, he began to teach in the synagogue: and many hearing him were astonished, saying, From whence hath this man these things? and what wisdom is this which is given unto him, that even such mighty works are wrought by his hands? 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him” (Mark 6:1-3).

Is Mary another Mediator between man and God as some people teach? No, Jesus is the only Mediator between God and man. Yet, Roman Catholicism contrary to the clear testimony of Scripture, teaches the Mediatrix and Coredemptrix of Mary

“For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (I Timothy 2:5).

No where in Scripture is anyone told to pray to Mary. In fact, we are not even told to pray to Jesus. We are told to pray to the Father through the Son (our Mediator).

“After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name” (Matthew 6:9).

“For through him {Jesus, our Mediator and High Priest} we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father” (Ephesians 2:18).

Just because of all these false beliefs about Mary exist, that does not mean she ought to be an embarrassment to Bible believing churches. She is a remarkable example of dedication and discipleship. The mother of Jesus gave up the life she had planned for herself to be the servant of God.

After hearing this announcement by the angel Gabriel and understanding the ramifications of this pregnancy, she still consented to God’s will for her life. That means she consented to the will of God knowing that she would face the possibility of losing her espoused husband and the life she had planned. That means she consented knowing that she might face public humility, shame, ridicule and possibly death by stoning for being pregnant before she got married.

Yet in face of all that she says, “be it unto me according to thy word.” God would give the world Jesus through the virgin Mary to one day die on the Cross to pay the death penalty for the sins of mankind. That is God’s supreme example of giving to mankind.

Mary is the example of the sacrificial presentation of our bodies as a ‘living sacrifice.” Mary gave herself to the Lord’s will so all that did happen could happen. That is a supreme example of mankind’s giving to God. That is the kind of giving that should be the testimony of every Christian’s life. Have you given your life to Jesus in that way?

Can you honestly say with Mary, “be it unto me according to thy word.” That is a decision and one God wants every Christian to make. Have you consented to God’s will being done in your life? Give your life to the Lord this Christmas.

Just tell him, “Lord, whatever You want me to do, I will do it. If You want me to be a preacher, I will try to be the best one I can be. If You want me to serve You in some foreign land as a missionary, I will. If You want me to serve You in my local church, I will serve You with all my body, mind and will. I will try to be the best Sunday School teacher, soul winner, King’s Kids leader, deacon, piano player that I can be. Lord, I will no more give you second best. Here is my life Lord. I give it to you to use twenty-four hours a day.

When you give your life to the Lord, there are no areas of that life that do not belong to Him. Your life, and every moment of it, is a living sacrifice dedicated to doing the will of God. That is what Paul pleads with every Christian to do.

1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:1-2).

These verses are not for a special elitist group of spiritual super-saints. This is God’s expectation of ALL believers. Is your life a living sacrifice to serve the Living God? That kind of life is defined as “service” (Romans 12:1). That is defined as separation from the world and unto God (Romans 12:2). It may cost you your plans for the future, but it will bring you into God’s plan for the future.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Holiness: Purifying A People Zealous Of Good Works

“1 But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine: 2 That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience. 3 The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; 4 That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, 5 To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed. 6 Young men likewise exhort to be sober minded. 7 In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine shewing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity, 8 Sound speech, that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you. 9 Exhort servants to be obedient unto their own masters, and to please them well in all things; not answering again; 10 Not purloining, but shewing all good fidelity; that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things. 11 For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, 12 Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; 13 Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; 14 Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. 15 These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee” (Titus 2:1-15).

“1 Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints? 2 Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? 3 Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life” (I Corinthians 6:1-3)?

As I have said, holiness does not happen by accident. Holiness is rare in God’s people these days. We have become so worldly and so tolerant of sin. Christ did not die just to save our souls (“redeem us from all iniquity,” Titus 2:14). He also died to “purify unto Himself a peculiar people.” The word “purify” is from the Greek word katharizo (kath-ar-id'-zo), which means to free a person from the defilement of sins and spiritual failures. The word is in the Subjunctive Mood. The Subjunctive Mood is the mood of possibility and potentiality. In other words, Jesus has done everything necessary to open the door for every believer to live with the hope of a life pure from sin. At least each believer should be zealously pursuing that goal.

According to I Corinthians 6:1-3, every local church is to be a model of what the Millennial Kingdom of Christ on Earth will be like. Christ is the “head of the Church.” He is our Prophet, High Priest and King. During the Kingdom Age, the Church Age Saints will rule with Christ. They will be His Judges throughout the nations of the world. They will make judgments according to God’s Word in all matters great and small. Therefore, it should be a small thing to judge in these matters within the church body.

“26 And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: 27 And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father” (Revelations 2:26-27).

God’s means of communicating His absolute will to mankind is through a commodity called Truth. That Truth is inscripturalized in the 39 books of the Old Testament and the 27 books of the New Testament. These books are the encapsulation of the revealed will of God. It is important that Christians constantly remind themselves that Truth originates with God, not in the minds of men. Truth, like God, is immutable. It never changes. It commands with absolute, unbending and Divine authority. A fundamentalist Christian understands and owns this reality.

However, much of what calls itself Christianity does not think about Truth this way. For them, Truth is not an issue of black and white. For them Truth is known only in the ambiguity of a thousands shades of gray. Those who see Truth in black and white are labeled as narrow, legalistic and unbending.

For that kind of quasi-Christianity, the commands of God are accepted or rejected based upon the degree of the intrusiveness of those commands upon that person’s life style. For them, Christianity is not a faith relationship lived out in a love\obedience motivation to the absolute commands of God. Instead, Christianity is one of many multiple-choice issues determined by the differing everyday situations of a person’s life. In most cases, what is right or wrong is determined by what works for that person in that particular situation of life (situation ethics). This is not Christianity. This is a religion called Pragmatism.

God’s instruction in Titus 2:1-15 is directed to all Christians within a local body of believers. They are to act as antibodies in resisting the infection of the body with this type of thinking, beliefs or actions. Every mature believer within a local body of believers is expected to confront any thinking, beliefs or actions that are contrary to the absolutes of God’s revealed Truth (His Word). Failure to do so will result in the destruction of a local church when it becomes infected and corrupted by wrong thinking, false beliefs and sinful, worldly practices.

In being an antibody to this kind of infection, every believer fulfils Titus 2:7-8, “7 In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine shewing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity, 8 Sound speech, that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you.”

“Shewing” is from the Greek word parecho (par-ekh'-o), which means making the practice of one’s life the exhibition of the things listed: “uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity” and “sound speech.” Every Christian is to grow to the place where he becomes the living model of these virtues. That is exactly what the Greek word (tupos, too'-pos) translated “pattern” means in Titus 2:7. It refers to an example. In the technical sense, it refers to a pattern in conformity to which a thing must be made.

This modeling concept is not just an exhibition like a polished statue of virtuous piety put on a pedestal to be viewed by all who happen to pass by. The model Christ puts before us is a working model. This working model reaches out and confronts professing believers passing by with the absolutes of God‘s Word. Whenever it views an inconsistency with the absolute Truths of God’s Word in the life of a believer, it reaches out and lovingly works to remove that inconsistency from that believer’s life. This is the model of a local church as it confronts any hypocrisy in the practice of the faith of its constituency. Every member of every local church is to be encouraged through admonishment, reproof and rebuke to become a working model of Biblical Christianity.

“1 I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; 2 Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; 4 And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. 5 But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry” (II Timothy 4:1-5).

Any person who refuses to accept admonishment to change through confrontation or who is antagonistic (“contrary part,” Titus 2:8) towards the person trying to help him become the model he is supposed to be, that person is to be publicly shamed (Titus 2:8) for the purpose of repentance.

Today’s so called enlightened Christian wants to remove the shame of sin. Today’s enlightened Christian wants to ignore the reproach on the Name of Christ that comes from wrong thinking and false beliefs that result in sinful practices. They are willing to sacrifice God’s holy Name to protect the ego and self esteem of a backslidden, carnal, hardhearted person because they are afraid he might leave the church.

God says the mature believer is to model “good works,” uncorrupted doctrine, to be serious and sincere about his Christianity and to communicate God’s will through “sound speech” so that the one living contrary to Truth “may be ashamed” (Titus 2:8). Paul taught this responsibility on other occasions. For instance, at Thessalonica there were Christians who stopped working and earning a living because someone had forged a letter from Paul stating the rapture had already taken place (I Thessalonians 2:2). Paul instruction was to be enforced by the Church (individual members).

“6 Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us. 7 For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you; 8 Neither did we eat any man’s bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you: 9 Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us. 10 For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. 11 For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies. 12 Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread. 13 But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing. 14 And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. 15 Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother” (II Thessalonians 3:6-15).

The word “disorderly” in II Thessalonians 3:6 is from the Greek word ataktos (at-ak'-toce). It was often used of solders who marched out of step or who could not stay in their ranks. If you have ever marched in a band or in the military, you know that all it takes is one person to throw off the cadence of the whole group. Even if that person does not throw the rest of the group off, he still makes the whole look out of harmony. The intent here refers to a professing Christian who lives in such a way that he lowers the standard of righteousness for others (what is right). No member of a local church is to be allowed to think, believe or act in such a way that might lower God’s standard of righteousness and lead others to follow that pattern.

The first command of God to mature believers in a local church to correct inconsistencies in thinking, beliefs or practice was that mature believers were to “withdraw. . . from every brother that walketh disorderly” (II Thessalonians 3:6). The word “withdraw” is from the Greek word stello (stel'-lo), which means to abstain from familiarities with that person. It means to stop socializing with this person. It does not mean to break off communication with this person. However, any communication now must be directed to this person’s wrong thinking, false belief or sinful practices.

The second command of God regarding a professing Christian who continues to live “disorderly” is to “have no company with him, that he may be ashamed” (II Thessalonians 3:14). This is almost a restatement of what is said in verse 6. The words “company with” are from the Greek word sunanamignumi (soon-an-am-ig'-noo-mee). It can refer to a business partnership or any personal relationship that involves people in close fellowship.

God says if you really want to help this person get back on track, your communication with him will be one of constant admonition (v 15). The word “admonish” is from the Greek word noutheteo (noo-thet-eh'-o). It means to confront a person with the corrections and warnings of God’s Word.

Notice that keeping company is to stop and then confrontation begins. Confrontation is not supposed to be something we do while we are keeping company with this person. Therefore, we should not go to a ballgame with someone living “disorderly” with the intent we will try to confront him about his inconsistencies. This is not something we do while we continue keeping company with this person. This is something we communicate to the person directly after breaking fellowship with him. The relationship changes.

In other words, we might say something like this, “I cannot continue to have fellowship with you until you begin to do what is right. I love you. We have been great friends and I continue to be your friend. However, I cannot continue to be an endorsement of your sinful practices before others by continuing to keep company with you. Because I love you as a brother in Christ, every time I see you I will remind you of what you are supposed to do and I will call you to repentance.” I believe that statement communicates what II Thessalonians 3:15 says, “Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.”

This truth is communicated consistently throughout the New Testament. Therefore, we must conclude that God wants mature believers to be proactive in dealing with believers who refuse to live the way God wants us all to live. In other words, we do not just wait for God to bring about circumstances to change this person’s life. We become a proactive partner with God in bringing about the needed change in this person’s life through constant and consistent admonition to repent. This is not a multiple-choice issue. It is black and white. God defines exactly what believers are to do regarding other believers that refuse to do what is right.

“17 Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. 18 For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple” (Romans 16:17-18).

“9 I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: 10 Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world. 11 But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat. 12 For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? 13 But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person” (I Corinthians 5:9-13).

There are always some Christians who think they are wiser than God. They will think God’s instruction regarding separating from an unruly brother or sister is unkind or radical. They will continue to socialize with the carnal person thinking they will be an influence upon their lives. They will not be. In fact, the opposite is almost always true. We end up doing great harm to the person we are trying to help and we damage our testimony for Christ.

We need to trust God. When we trust Him, we believe that He knows what we need to do to produce the results He wants. This is God’s pattern for how a local church is supposed to work. We would be wise to learn to do things God’s way.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Thanksgiving: Taste and See That the Lord Is Good!

Taste and See That the Lord Is Good!

We are told in the introduction to Psalm 34 that it was written in response to the circumstances surrounding the time that David fled from king Saul fearing for his life. David’s flight took him to a place where no one would have suspected he would go. He went to the Philistine city of Gath, which had been the hometown of the giant Goliath and who had been slain by David about a year previously (I Samuel 17:31-51).

The reference to “when he changed his behaviour before Abimelech” refers to the instance in I Samuel 21:10-15 when David pretended to be a madman before the Abimelech of the Philistines (king Achish; Abimelech is probably the Philistine title for their king. It comes from the Hebrew word Abiymelek (ab-ee-mel'-ek) meaning my father is king. David was given the presence of mind to pretend to be a madman. The Philistines believed madmen were possessed by spirits (gods to them). Therefore, they would never think of harming someone they thought was “mad.”

David was in a difficult position. His own king Saul was trying to kill him (I Samuel 21:10) and so in fled in fear of his life from Saul. In David’s flight of fear from Saul, he ends up in an equally dangerous situation before king Achish. David was in between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Yet God delivered him. It is out of the scenario of that deliverance that we have this Psalm of praise and thanksgiving to the Lord. It is David’s Hallelujah Chorus.

1 <<A Psalm of David, when he changed his behaviour before Abimelech; who drove him away, and he departed.>> I will bless the LORD at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth. 2 My soul shall make her boast in the LORD: the humble shall hear thereof, and be glad. 3 O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together. 4 I sought the LORD, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears. 5 They looked unto him, and were lightened: and their faces were not ashamed. 6 This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles. 7 The angel of the LORD encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them. 8 O taste and see that the LORD is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him” (Psalm 34:1-8).

David knew he lived his life in the “valley of the shadow of death.” We all live our lives in the “valley of the shadow of death.” David knew that it was by the grace of God that he had escaped death’s grip once more. This Psalm is a sigh that releases both David’s fear and praise in the same breath. The words of this Psalm flow from a heart that has just been touched by the hand of God.

The construction of this Psalm shows us that God intends it to be used in the instruction of children. We know that because it is one of nine Alphabetical Psalms (the Hebrew alphabet has 22 letters in it). Each of the twenty-two (22) verses in this Psalm begins with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet (these are not apparent in our English translations). Therefore, Psalm 34 is a Psalm of foundational truths.

This is a Psalm intended to instruct children (and baby Christians) in the matters of thanksgiving, praise and worship. The wise Christian will spend much time in Psalm 34 learning its instructions. The uniqueness of this Psalm is that it is intended to provide instruction in these matters as viewed from the perspective of the human experience bathed in the grace of God. Therefore, it is intended to teach that thanksgiving, praise and worship should be taught to our children through the vehicle of the everyday experiences of our lives and their lives. In David’s case, this event with king Saul and king Achish could have gone by without any acknowledgment that God’s grace was the source of David’s deliverance. Sadly, that is what often happens in the events of human history.

Each verse of this Psalm teaches a unique truth all by itself. As a child memorized a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, he also memorized the verse beginning with that letter. As he learned a letter of the alphabet, he learned a concept of truth that transported his thinking beyond the mundane of the mere education of facts to the Throne room of God.

In this, we find a God ordained philosophy of education that is critically lacking in our modern day philosophies of education. This involves the educator in connecting every thought and absolute to the Author of absolutes in God Himself. Creating this connecting link between truth and its Author is the central responsibility of the educator. Regardless of how much knowledge is taught to a child, if that knowledge does not result in the generation of thanksgiving, praise and worship in the one being educated and flowing to the Author of all truth, education has failed. Therefore, any system of education that fails to integrate facts (absolute truths) with the Creator and Author of those truths is an unscriptural method of education.

The responsibility to connect all truth to the Originator of those truths falls on the shoulders of parents. Although we may decide to put our children in the hands of another person to be educated, that does not abrogate our responsibilities to God in any way. In the critical responsibility of raising our children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4), we had better insure that the person educating our children holds to this God ordain philosophy of education.

This God ordained philosophy of education is what defines our parental responsibilities. This God ordained philosophy of education is also what defines our success or failure as parents. Regardless of what other successes we may achieve in this life, if we have failed to raise children to bring thanksgiving, praise and worship to God for every truth that exists in this world and then serve Him in holiness, we have failed as parents (educators of our children).

This God ordained philosophy of education should also be the ultimate goal of the church in its philosophy of education. This should be the ultimate goal of the home in its philosophy of education. It should also be the ultimate goal of the Christian School in its philosophy of education. It is also the reason why the education of your child in government schools is immediately doomed to failure. It is doomed to failure because in God’s philosophy of education, the educator weaves facts and faith together like a basket weaver. The faith factor cannot be added at some later point. It must be included at the same moment the fact is. They must be woven together.

We also must see that the factual aspect of education plays only a small part compared to the conceptual aspect of education. The conceptual aspect of education fixes our attention on the Creator. The alphabetical letter was important only in its use to communicate truth. The facts of education must centrally be seen as a vehicle to direct our attention to the Author of all truth. Historical or scientific truth does not exist in a vacuum. The central purpose of creation is to direct our attention back to the Creator in that the creation is nothing more than a reflection of His power and glory.

19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. 20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:19-20).

That is the concept communicated to us in the words “taste and see that the LORD is good” in Psalm 34:8. It was David’s experience of God’s grace in the everyday struggle of his life that prompts him make this statement. All though it communicates a truth apart from the story of David’s predicament, its spiritual richness lies in the fact it is a real life testimony. It is the testimony of someone who did “taste and see that the LORD is good.”

We can talk about God and giving thanks, praise and worship to Him all day long, but a mere intellectual theology will never generate worship. Thanksgiving, praise and worship must come from the heart, not the head. That will only happen when a believer comes to know God experientially. Thanksgiving, praise and worship are not practices that can be worked up. They must flow from a heart that has seen God work and that knows it was God working. That seldom happens to Rocking Chair Christians.

That is what David is saying in Psalm 34:2, “My soul shall make her boast in the LORD.” The words “shall make her boast” are from the Hebrew word halal (haw-lal'), which literally means to shine. Get the verbal picture that David is weaving in with the facts of his story in the process of education. He is saying, “My soul shines on YAHWEH (the Self-existing One).” Every Hebrew child who learned the Hebrew letter Beth from this Psalm, also learned that his soul should shine on God.

Shining on God is the meaning of bringing God glory. That is the central function of all of God’s creation. We are to be a living testimony to His existence, to His power and to His glory. That was the living testimony of David’s life (soul). Our lives are to make God known as to Who and What He really is. We are to reflect the image of God in all that we say or do.

David says, “The humble shall hear thereof, and be glad.” The word “hear” is from the Hebrew word shama` (shaw-mah'). It means to hear with the intent of obeying. The “humble” are the poor, weak and needy. They shall hear the testimony of God’s power and begin to live a life of faith as well. They shall begin to weave their own basket of life out of the facts and faith of those who have already walked through “the valley of the shadow of death” under the Shepherd’s protection and care (Psalm 23).

In Psalm 34:3, David calls all believers to “magnify the LORD with me.” The word “magnify” is from the Hebrew word gadal (gaw-dal'). It means to grow to greatness. However, the greatness is not for personal fame or glory. The motivation for working to excel to greatness is to increase a person’s influence. Increasing influence is like increasing the wattage in your glory to God bulb. That is why this greatness (influence) is directed to “the LORD.”

To “exalt” the “Name” of God is to lift up His Name. When a person returns thanksgiving, praise and worship to God for every success in his life, he lifts up the Name of God like a victor’s banner in a parade. Although the whole army marched in that parade and received the glory of men for their victory, the banner bore the emblem of their king to whom their victory brought honor and glory. The king was their commander and chief. He paid their wages and provided their weapons. He gave them the leadership and direction to win over their enemies. David is saying, “To God be the glory.” He is saying, “Come and worship the LORD with me; join in my jubilation and share in my rejoicing. We have a great God.”

David says, “I sought the LORD, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears.” David is offering a testimony to God’s grace and power. He is setting a twofold example for us. First, here is what the Lord did for me. He is great. He is wonderful. He is able. Secondly, since He did this for a sinner like me, He will do it for a sinner like you if you will seek Him.

Notice that David’s deliverance was not just a matter of asking. Yes, answered prayer comes only to those who ask, however, God is not a Gum Ball Machine God. You just do not put your quarter in and get what you want. The word “sought” is from the Hebrew word darash (daw-rash'). It was a word that meant to seek deity in prayer and worship. David did not just pray to God because He was in trouble. David sought the Lord’s communion before He sought the Lord’s communication in answered prayer.

Most people really cheapen God’s grace when they use Him as a fire escape from the consequences of their own disobedience and sin. They expect God’s deliverance without even giving a thought to repentance, confession and seeking forgiveness.

David’s encouragement is to “taste and see that the LORD is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in Him.” When was the last time you stood up in the midst of God’s people and called them to join you in thanksgiving, praise and worship to the God of your salvation? When was the last time you spontaneously stood before a congregation and gave a testimony to what God did in your life that week, or that day or for anything for that matter? When was it? Is it because God hasn’t been doing anything in your life? Or, is it because you haven’t been doing anything with the life God gave you? If it is one of those two things, either way, it reveals a serious problem with YOU!