Saturday, November 21, 2020

201122 God Working on Our Behalf

God called Abram to become the father of a family which would be as numerous as the stars in the sky. He did not choose to enlighten Abram’s understanding or ours. In the same manner, when he called us to follow him he didn’t give an explanation as to why we are called, nor is he required to. I am grateful that we can find in the Bible the basic information we need. How do we get to be children of God? John at the beginning of his gospel tells us that when Jesus came into the world he was rejected by his own people. People who are not born physically instead they are born spiritually by the will of God. Paul gives us a more comprehensive explanation. Let’s look at, Romans 8:28-30, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”

At the beginning of the chapter, Paul gives comforting assurance to those who are in Christ Jesus who do not suffer condemnation. For these God makes all things work together for good. There are three facts that we must accept in order to understand what God is up to on our behalf.

First, Paul speaks of all things not just good things.

Our relationship to God is reflected in the traditional marriage ceremony. Each spouse is asked to promise to love and cherish, to honor and sustain, in sickness as in health, in poverty as in wealth, in the bad that may darken your days, in the good that may light your ways, and to be true to your mate in all things until death alone shall part you. In sickness as in health — in poverty as in wealth — in the bad and the good so long as you both shall live.

Second, it is only those who love God, or will love God, that all things work together for good. And, third, they love God because he first loved them.

The Holy Spirit impressed Paul to include the words, “for those who are called according to his purpose.”

A good paraphrase of this verse would be: “We know that to those who love God and do so because of God’s work in them, as determined by his sovereign, elective purpose, all things work together for good.” (William Hendrickson, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans.) This approach maintains human responsibility while God keeps the glory.

God’s love for us encourages us to return that love to him and to share with other people. We love God because he loved us first. He loves us for his purposes and we may never know why. We should rejoice that he allows us to love him. There are times when we are baffled by events because we can’t see what God sees. A good illustration is the story of Joseph. He was sold into slavery by his brothers and spent some time in prison even though he was unjustly charged. He was in the right place at the right time. As a consequence he became the Prime Minister of Egypt. In that position he was able to provide for his large family during seven years of famine. After his father, Jacob, died his brothers came to him in fear that he was going to punish them for his years as a slave. His reply probably was confusing to them. Here’s what Joseph answered them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Genesis 50:19-20).

We see two wills at work here. Joseph’s brothers acted out evil and God brought good out of it. It wasn’t just a matter of God taking advantage of the situation. In fact, it was God setting up the situation all along. Joseph explained to his brothers that God meant it for good. God allowed the evil circumstances in order to carry out his plan.

Let’s look at the story of Joni Erickson Tada. She was a normal young girl who grew up in a very active family. When she was 17 years old she dove into a creek and became a quadriplegic. She had to struggle through long periods of depression and pain. Occupational therapy gave her some handles and gave an outlet to her suffering. She learned to paint by holding a brush between her teeth. She has written books, hosted inspirational radio and television programs. One time she said “God permits what He hates to achieve what He loves.”

No one can ever truly love God unless that person is effectively called by God. Those people who are effectively called according to God’s purpose are called to be saints. Meaning they are set apart to God. They are those whose hearts and minds were so thoroughly influenced by the Holy Spirit that they became aware of their sinfulness and began to understand their need of Christ. As a result, they embrace him as their Lord and Savior.

 In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians he wrote, “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:” (1 Corinthians 1:2).

In his letter to the Philippians Paul wrote, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13). We can see over and over again that the business of our salvation is in God’s hand. Yet, we are to work out our salvation. At first glance this sounds like we are to earn our salvation in some way. That is definitely not what is meant here. Have you ever seen bread being made from scratch? A key ingredient might be yeast or some other rising agent. It is very important that the rising agent be spread throughout the loaf. In order for that to happen the baker must “work it out”! We need to work our salvation so that it will be spread throughout our lives. It is after all, God who works in us. The day-to-day difficulties in our lives are simply the rising agent being kneaded out, or spread out, through our lives.

Let’s move ahead with Romans 8:29. Now we come in contact with what is called “The Golden Chain” or, “The Salvation Chain”!  The chain of salvation that Paul has presented to us is not just those things that are happening around us each day. He is presenting us with something that happens in our lives from the deep recesses of the past into the glorious future he has prepared for us. It’s important to recognize that every link in this chain is an act of God. We are not being presented with steps to take to gain salvation. We are being presented with a process that God has done for us. Look at what the chain really represents! Who did what to give us salvation? 

“Whom he foreknew”

“he also predestined”

“he also called”

“he also justified”

“he also glorified”

Let’s look at each of the five links in the chain.

Foreknew:

The popular approach to foreknowledge goes like this. God created all things and looks ahead throughout history and discovers all of those people who will place their faith in him. With that knowledge, he chooses or elects them.

That’s not it. That concept cannot be found anywhere in Scripture. According to Scripture even faith is God’s gift. No one can work it up and as a result please God!

Let’s look at Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

In order to understand the opening statement we need to remind ourselves of chapter 2 verse one, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins…” Now we look at chapter 1 verse 3, and following. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved,

We have been blessed by God the father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Remember, “we were dead”! Dead people are helpless and hopeless. We cannot raise ourselves from the spiritual death we are born in. When Paul talks about election in his letter to the Ephesians there is nothing said about any type of foreknowledge of our choosing to believe in order to be saved. Instead the foreknowledge mentioned in Romans 8:29 refers to divinely active delight. Something that is done in his own ruling pleasure. God has set his love on certain individuals and it was before any were born that he did so.

Let’s look at Scripture. Speaking of Abraham God said, “For I have chosen (known) him so that he may direct his children and his household after him” (Genesis 18:19). God said to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, Before you were born I set you apart” (Jeremiah 1:5). These are just examples of what can be found throughout Scripture.

In order for spiritually dead people to make any decision they have to be given spiritual life. They can’t work it out on their own. It is God’s work on our behalf that gives us salvation. Also, God’s word repeatedly affirms that God knows the people who are his before the foundation of the world!

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers”. (Romans 8:29). God the Father knew before the creation of the universe who would be his children and who would refuse. This is a very difficult concept. Many times people are offended about the idea that God might choose to send someone to hell. After all, the Bible teaches that he is a God of love, doesn’t it?. I hope you will listen carefully when I say God does not send people to hell. In fact, the Bible teaches that hell was created for the devil and his angels. Everyone is born separated from God. That is part of our inheritance, our forefathers.

Paul wrote to the Ephesians “we who first hoped in Christ have been destined and appointed to live for the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:12). Just before this Paul had written that God chose us in Christ and to the Thessalonians Paul says that they believed the gospel when he preached it and that was evidence to him they had been chosen. God has predestined those who are chosen to be conformed to the image of the Son.

And since they are known by God and predestined to be shaped like the Son. Further evidence they are children of God is that God called and they responded. Having been born in sin and separated from God we need very much to have the charges against us removed.

That’s what this word “justified” is all about. The Bible uses the verb justify as a legal declaration by God that we have been declared righteous. Part of the work Jesus did on the cross was designed to solve that problem. 2 Corinthians 5:21 gives us a great amount of hope! “For our sake he (God the Father) made him (Jesus) to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

We have no righteousness of our own. Isaiah 64:6 tells us, We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” The best we can do measures up to dirty clothes at dress-up party.

The final link in the chain of salvation “those whom he justified, he also glorified.”

 All of the verbs in this chain are the same tense. Every link has already happened in God’s viewpoint. Obviously God has, in the past, foreknown us. He has predestined us. He has called us and justified us. Most commentators have difficulty with God having glorified us. After all, they would question, Glorification has to do with our receiving a Glorified body like our Lord Jesus’ body. Tey are sure that can only happen at the end.

Well, Jesus said “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one. John 17:20-22. Note that Jesus did not say, “I will give them the glory you gave me.  He said, “The glory that you have given me I have given to them.” Being glorified does not have to await the end. Paul assured the Ephesians 2:4-7, But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

We were dead in trespasses and sin but now, based on our faith in Jesus Christ, we are raised up with him and we are seated with him in the heavenly places. These are some of the most encouraging passages of Scripture I know.

 

All scripture quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2016. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

201115 Reaching the World (8)

For the past couple of months I have been trying to lead us to see the Missionary Mandate given to Abram when he was called from his homeland to a promised land he would know when he saw it! Our God is under no obligation to explain to us his choices and other decisions. We would have a more peaceful life if we would just listen to God speak through his word the Bible and obey. Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness. In our study we began with Genesis 12:1-3 and progressed through the Bible to Acts 16. The key to the events in Acts 16 is actually found in Acts 15:37-40; 16:6-9.

Let’s review that before going on. Paul and Barnabas had separated from one another over a personnel matter. It was Paul’s intention to return to the churches they had established in their first missionary journey. Barnabas wanted to take along a young man who had left them on their first trip. Paul would not agree.  Barnabas took that young man, John Mark, and sailed away to Cyprus. Paul chose Silas and they set out on foot to touch base with the churches.

Humanly speaking, this looks like a failure to follow the Holy Spirit. I believe that is not the case. I regret we do not have a record of what Barnabas and John Mark did. If Luke had not joined with Paul we would not have a record of what Paul and Silas did. We need to remember that this book, the Bible, was written for our instruction. It holds the record of events that God wants us to have. It is not a history book but if it touches on history what it records is true. In fact, anything the Bible touches on is true. Our problem? Sometimes is we just want to know too much. We want to know what we are not qualified to know.

I do not believe God is offended by our desire to know more but I do know that he may ignore us when we ask for more information. The psalmist stated the case:

“Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.” (Psalm 139:6). We are simply foot soldiers in God’s Army. As such, we only received the information we need to fulfill our mission.

Just like an enlisted soldier, a Christian believer can know when they’re in the right spot because people are attacking them. The hotter the fire the closer we are to being in the right spot. So long as we do not begin the battle on our own.

When we look at the saga of Paul and Barnabas we need to recognize that, no matter what they thought at the time, they did the will of God! Instead of one team going back around the old route now two teams were on the field. We like to think that Paul really knew what he was doing all the time. I doubt that and believe the second missionary journey is a good illustration. Folks, God is not offended when we don’t get it just right the first time. More likely, we fall into the category of bringing God grief rather than offense or anger. Matthew recalled the words of the Lord Jesus as he worked with the disciples. In Matthew 8:26 the disciples woke him from a sound sleep because of a storm that appeared to be destroying the boat. They had just recently seen a large number of miracles and now they expected to be killed by storm! Jesus said, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Or, when Peter walked on the water coming to Jesus and suddenly began to sink, Jesus said, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Then again, the disciples had twice seen thousands fed from only a few loaves and fish. Jesus called them “little faith” people. Can you see the divine frustration in these events? Jesus is not discouraged by their lack of faith only disappointed.

Back to Paul and Barnabas! Had they been really clear in their thinking; had they focused on God’s will rather than their human understanding. They would’ve realized God intended they separate and each of them take a disciple to mentor. Let’s look at Paul’s experience in Acts 16:6-10, And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. 7 And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. 8 So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

Paul’s plan differed from God’s. I know that’s true because I’ve been there several times. We can make all the plans we wish but if God is not on board we will have a difficult time getting to where God intended us to be. I remember, a number of times that I heard Pastor Jack Taylor say, “I just want to be in on what God is up to”. Count me in that category. Luke’s record tells us that Paul wanted to go into the province of Asia. He was sufficiently sensitive to catch the command from God not to go. Asia, like every other part of the Roman Empire, needed the gospel preached. But at just that time God wanted a preacher in Macedonia. Having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to go into Asia, they attempted going to Bithynia. Again, the Spirit refused passage. Finally, God sent Paul a dream of a man from Macedonia who asked Paul to come to Macedonia and help them.

The consequence of Paul’s obedience brought them to Philippi and a prayer meeting by the river! Had they stayed in Asia they would not be there when God wanted them there. They were simply placed, by God, where they needed to be when they needed to be there. At that prayer meeting they met Lydia who gave her heart and her household to Jesus. Later, they would not have met the jailer if they had stayed in Asia. Meeting the jailer resulted in Paul and Silas being beaten and placed in stocks for the night. In our world today that would’ve simply resulted in Paul and Silas calling for a lawyer. Today, if things don’t go your way Sue! All of the things Paul and Silas wanted to do in Asia were good things. They just were not God’s things for them to do at that time. Paul and Silas paid the price of obedience to God. That price included being harassed on the street, being arrested, being beaten and put in jail.

Paul might have thought back to the words of Ananias. Paul, then named Saul, had been blinded on the road to Damascus. He had spent three days fasting and praying. Then, the Lord Jesus instructed Ananias to go to Saul and pray for healing. This event is recorded in Acts 9:4-16. Without reading all of it I will just remind you of what Paul may have been thinking. The Lord Jesus had told Ananias “I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

If Paul and Silas had just stayed in Asia preaching the Good News of salvation they would not have suffered as they did that night. Neither would they have rejoiced as they witnessed to the jailer and baptized him and his household. The joy came along with the suffering. The two are inseparable.

I remember a college professor talking to a class made up of preachers. “If you’re looking for a soft spot feel on top of your head.”

All of this, and what’s more, happened to fulfill those few words given to Abraham. In Genesis 12:3b we find this promise, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” No explanation was given to Abraham. Just a promise that he would be blessed and his descendants would be blessed so long as they obeyed him. Only in Jesus could the blessing be complete. So, Paul and Silas were taking the blessings to the world. The blessing of good news made available by the death of Jesus Christ on the cross.

After suffering at Philippi the little band of brothers hit the road Luke’s record tells us, “they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2 And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.”(Acts 17 1-3). Some of the folk in the synagogue joined with Paul and Silas. Also, there was a large number of Greeks who joined with them. Just as they were beginning to get a fellowship of believers together their Jewish opponents organized a riot. Rather than stand and fight the new believers sent Paul and Silas on their way.

 

After 21 days, plus or minus, Paul and Silas were able to leave a church behind. That church would be there when they came back, or wrote a letter. In fact, Paul wrote two letters to that church. So far as we know they are the earliest letters written by Paul. Moving on from Thessalonica they came to a place called Berea. Luke, no longer with them, continued to document the journey. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. 12 Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men. (Acts 17:11-12). Rather than riot the Berean Jews listened to the word on the Sabbath and spent the week searching the Scriptures to be sure what they heard was true. There is a real need today that type. We need to search the Scriptures and find Jesus throughout the Bible.

Rabble-rousers from out of town came to Berea and broke up the Bible study. It was important that Paul be able to continue his ministry so he was packed up and sent away. His students, Silas and Timothy stayed around to strengthen the new church. Now, Paul found himself in the philosophical headquarters of Rome’s Greek provinces, Athens! He looked around himself and found that there were thousands of idols. I’m sure he was praying that God would show him the right way to witness there. I have friends who I have heard say Paul’s preaching in Athens was wrong. In looking at these idols Paul found one that was inscribed, “To the unknown god”. Paul based his sermon on that idol. Let’s look at Luke’s account (Acts 17:22-31)

“So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28 for

                   “ ‘In him we live and move and have our being’;

as even some of your own poets have said,

                   “ ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’

29 Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

Some people think that Paul was a failure in Athens because he seemed to mix their philosophical thinking with the gospel. Let’s look at his report.If you read on you will see thatsome men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.” (Acts 17:34). I wouldn’t call any meeting that resulted in an invitation to come back and explain yourself better as well as having a beginning study group or even a church a failure.

Paul moved on from Athens to Corinth where he met some other believers. Aquila and Priscilla were very important to because they had come from Rome. It was always Paul’s intention to preach in Rome.

While he was in court the team came back together. Paul, Silas and Timothy made up his team. Paul worked with his hands making tents. The profits from his business went toward supporting his team and the expenses of ministry.

I believe Paul was beginning to be discouraged. My experience has been that God always sends a “pick me up” of one kind or another anytime I get discouraged. For me it’s usually in the form of a note, letter, phone call or a visit at my home. Luke reports an event like that when “the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, 10 for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” 11 And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.” This is the longest residency Paul experienced up to that time. Later he would spend over two years in Ephesus strengthening the church.

The Book of Acts allows us to look into the way the church developed over the first generation after Christ.

Missionaries went out they were approved by the churches. They were chosen by the Holy Spirit. Wherever they went they preached the gospel and trained the new converts. Most of the churches were established in very short time when they were established by a missionary. We have every reason to believe that many churches springing up out of the ground of evangelism. For example, when a person came to faith in Jesus they simply shared their experience with their family and friends. Prayer was an important part of all new church plants. The gospel is very important. Generally speaking people are not converted by good example. They are converted by a spoken witness.

The need for the good news of salvation is universal. John 3:1-21 tells the story of Nicodemus. He was a spiritual leader but he was not saved! He showed his respect for Jesus by going to visit him and complemented him on his ministry. Jesus’ answered him “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

During the following conversation Jesus said God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. This is possibly the best known verse in the Bible.

 

The  Good News

Romans 3:23, All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

 

Romans 6:23, The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

Romans 5:8 God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

 

Romans 10:9-10, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.

 

Matthew 10:32-33, Jesus said, So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.

 

 

All scripture quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2016. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Saturday, November 7, 2020

201108 Reaching the World (7)

 We have seen in the last few weeks that God gave a commission, or a mandate, to Abram while he still lived in Ur of the Chaldeans. At that time the only apparent contact with God was through the spoken word. God told Abram, “If you will trust me and obey me I will bless you and make your name great” (Genesis 12:1-2). And along with the personal blessing there was a general blessing covering the entire earth. We find the general blessing in Genesis 12:3 “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

This promise, that all the families of the earth shall be blessed, was the goal of a divine plan. It would be about 2000 years before that promise would begin to be completely fulfilled. God not only chose a man, he chose a people as well. Taking the promise forward from Abram through Isaac, his son, and Jacob his grandson God began to prepare for his promise to be completely fulfilled. God, through Joseph, brought Jacob and his extended family from Canaan to Egypt where they would live 400 years.

God had a plan before he created the universe. I wish I could tell you exactly what that plan is. This massive universe is made up of a countless number of stars many of them with planets circling them. Some of those planets seem to be made of the kind of stuff humans need to live. The distances are so great there is little reason to hope that mankind will be able to travel beyond our galaxy. Or, for that matter beyond our solar system. I don’t know why God created such a massive structure as the universe. One thing I am sure of, we are not involved in some unbelievably large science experiment. It is enough to know that God has a plan for the people of earth, and its immediate vicinity (Matthew 24:31; Deuteronomy 30:4). Habakkuk and Isaiah, two Old Testament prophets, both spoke of the time when the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. (Habakkuk 2:14; Isaiah 11:9).

It is enough that we understand that God has the will and the resources to accomplish His plan.  When God intervened in the life of Abram he gave him a promise with a condition. “I will make of you a great nation! I will bless you and make your name great.” (Genesis 12:1-3). This promise was repeated on the condition that Abram obey God. In Genesis 22:18, God said. “In your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” Abram was 75 years old when God’s first recorded interaction with him occurred. He was 99 years old in a later encounter. God seems to enjoy using people that would not expect to be usable. Beginning with the promise to one man we see the unfolding of his plan throughout the Bible. The promise to make a great nation out of Abraham’s offspring requires time to fulfill. The lineage of Abraham got off to a slow start. Abraham, with Sarah his wife, produced Isaac and Isaac, with Rachel, produced the twins Esau and Jacob. Jacob fathered 12 sons but even with that productivity it was going to take a long time to make a nation as numerous as the stars in the sky. So God sent Joseph into Egypt as a slave so that he might become Prime Minister of Egypt. From that position Joseph was able to settle Israel in the best part of the land. In a sense they were “parked” until the iniquity of the Amorites would be complete (Genesis 15:16). During their time in Egypt the Israelites grew to be more than 600,000 men, plus women and children. When the nations occupying the land of Canaan became sufficiently evil God raised up a Pharaoh who did not know Joseph. That King made slaves of the descendants of Jacob. After a period of time as slaves the people were willing to go with Moses. God would not take the land of Canaan away from good people in order to settle Jacob’s descendants in it but he would take it away from ungodly people. The suffering of Israel and the iniquity of the Amorites dovetailed in time.

We must remember that nothing, absolutely nothing, happens without God’s attention. He is never taken by surprise because he knows the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:8-10).

The completion of the Missionary Mandate given to Abraham in Genesis is witnessed to in Revelation.

In Revelation 5:9 we find this praise song, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation,”

As the vision given to John expanded he saw a great multitude! this is found in Revelation 7:9-10, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Now, how do we get from the initial mandate to the multitude in heaven?

First, we must recognize the fact that there have always been followers of the true God. Even during the days of Abraham there were other followers of Yahweh. When Lot was taken captive, along with many people of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham went out to rescue him. After the successful rescue, as Abraham’s fighting force was returning home, they were met by a very special person. Melchizedek was identified as the king of Salem. Just as Jesus would be known as the Prince of Peace. Abraham was a priest of God Most High.  

Later, Moses met the priest of Midian, while he was waiting in the wilderness for the right time to lead the people out of Egypt.

There are repeated instances that indicate the family of Abraham wasn’t the only family on earth that worshiped God. There is no indication that these people were aware of God’s missionary plan. Instead, there was a strong indication that God’s people did not want to share him with anybody. After the 12 tribes became a single nation they still did not attempt to evangelize any of their neighbors. The opportunity to do so seems to have come with the kingdom under Solomon. Solomon built the magnificent temple and ruled in peace over a large territory reaching from the borders of Egypt to the Euphrates River. Solomon had influence all over the world but he did nothing to bless the nations spiritually.

That failure could very easily be an explanation of why the Jewish nation did not survive. In order to get the attention of the people God allowed them to be led away into captivity. They were given plenty of opportunities to bless the surrounding nations. The problem was they did not worship God faithfully and thereby bless each other. They were so neglectful that more than once they actually lost the Bible! When God allowed them to be taken into captivity they learned to despise the gods of their captors. When they were allowed to return to the land they were determined to be faithful to God.

During the years they were without a temple they set up a synagogue system. The synagogues were pretty much operated by a religious party called the Pharisees.

Alongside the Missionary Mandate there was the promise of the Messiah! Moses promised the people that in the future there would be a prophet like him. Deuteronomy 18:15 records the words of Moses, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers — it is to him you shall listen”.

This promised Prophet would be remembered and about 1500 years later people would ask John the Baptist if he was that prophet! They were living in expectation of the Messiah.

Finally! The fullness of time came! Paul explained to the Galatians this way: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

The first hint of the coming of the prophet Moses had spoken of occurred at the Temple. Zechariah, one of the older priests, went into the Temple to carry out the rituals of the day. He was confronted by the angel Gabriel who told him that his wife would have a son and they would name him John. His wife, Elizabeth, was barren and they had given up any hope of having a son. The angel told him that his prayer had been heard. I believe that comment came from the beginning of his life with Elizabeth. When they married they wanted children and they prayed for a child. Well, God gave them much more than a son. God gave them the prophet that would announce the coming Messiah. John would introduce the Promised One that mankind had ignorantly been waiting for. Not just a prophet but the Son of God. Ordinarily kings are born in palaces. This King was born in a stable and raised in a carpenter’s home. His name was Jesus and he was a living example of the Missionary Mandate in the flesh.

Let’s look through the reported earthly life of Jesus and see how he led by example.

When John introduced him to the world he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Not the sin of Israel alone but the SIN OF THE WORLD! On one occasion, early in his ministry, Jesus traveled from Judea to Galilee. The story is told in John chapter 4. This is not an unusual trip many Jews made the journey but not by the route Jesus took. John tells us, “he had to pass through Samaria” (John 4:4). The Jews of that time had no dealings with Samaritans and would never “have to” pass through Samaria. The people there were considered unclean spiritual heretics. When Jesus arrived at the well near Sychar he sent his disciples away to buy lunch. He needed to be alone because a woman of Samaria was on her way to the well and it would have been uncomfortable for her if there was an audience. Jesus turned the situation into a witnessing opportunity. He told her that he could give her living water. She not only received that spiritual water. She immediately went back to her village and brought her neighbors to Jesus. By the way, everyone who meets Jesus should make it their goal to tell others — family, friends and enemies — about the man they have met.

The Missionary Mandate calls for all the families of the earth to be blessed. One day Jesus came to his adopted hometown of Capernaum. (Luke 7:1-10) A Roman Centurion met him and asked him to heal his servant. If anyone was liked less than the Samaritans they would be the Romans. Rome ruled over its empire with an iron fist and they did not expect to be loved for it. But the Mandate called for all the families of the earth to be blessed. That included the Samaritans and the Romans! So the centurion gave Jesus an opportunity to reach across the walls of prejudice. He healed the servant.

A little later Jesus and his disciples sailed across the lake of Galilee. (Luke 8:28-39) There they met a man who had demons. When Jesus asked the name of the demons he was told, “Legion” for many demons had entered him. A Roman Legion consisted of 5000-6000 troops. When he cast the demons out of the man they went into a herd of pigs nearby. They immediately rushed into the lake and drowned. Again, the Mandate called for all families to be blessed. This man lived in a territory that ate pork and they certainly were not Jews.

One day Jesus was traveling to the district of Tyre and Sidon. There he met a woman, who was not a Jew. Her request to Jesus was a teaching opportunity.

She asked Jesus to heal her daughter who was oppressed by a demon. In our world the exchange he had with her seems strange, even cruel. His reply to her was, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” She continued to plead with Jesus. His reply to her was, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” In other words, healing was represented by bread. Her answer was what he was looking for. She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters table.”  Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.  (Matthew 15:21-28). Throughout the New Testament Gospels Jesus never passed up an opportunity to fulfill the Missionary Mandate. After his crucifixion as he came to the end of his earthly ministry he spoke the words. These words: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8). Or, as recorded by Matthew, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20).

The missionary mandate was never intended to be carried out in our strength or our ability. The promise was the Holy Spirit will enable us to share the gospel. Jesus has all authority to call and equip disciples to carry the message to all the world. The disciple’s response proves that God does not have to have special people to be as witnesses. I have been critical the disciples. They were told to “go” and instead they stayed. The witness to all the world was carried out by men and women called and equipped by God.

Paul was one of the strongest opponents of the Christian Way. But he became the greatest proponent. He planted churches all over the Roman world. Even when he was jailed for preaching the gospel he turned that an opportunity to witness. Among his early converts was the jailer in Philippi. Later, you will write a letter to the Philippians from prison in which he made this statement. “All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.” (Philippians 4:22).

 

All scripture quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2016. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

201025 Reaching the World (6)

We have seen in the last few weeks that God gave a commission, or a mandate, to Abram while the still lived in Ur of the Chaldeans. At that time the only apparent contact with God was through the spoken word. God told Abram, “If you will trust me and obey me I will bless you and make your name great” (Genesis 12:1-2). And along with the personal blessing there was a general blessing covering the entire earth. We find the general blessing in Genesis 12:3 “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

This promise that all the families of the earth shall be blessed was part of a divine plan. It would be 2000 years before that promise would begin to be completely fulfilled. God not only chose a man, he chose a people as well. Taking the promise forward from Abram through Isaac, his son, and Jacob his grandson God began to prepare for his promise to be completely fulfilled. God, through Joseph, brought Jacob and his extended family from Canaan to Egypt where they would live 400 years. In a sense they were “parked” until the iniquity of the Amorites would be complete (Genesis 15:16). God would not take the land away from godly people but he would take it away from ungodly people.

Joseph, the son of Jacob, had saved Egypt, and the surrounding areas, from a disastrous famine and through that act established a place for his chosen people to live. The result had been that the sons of Jacob were given the best agricultural land in Egypt. Toward the end of the 400 year period God raised up a pharaoh who did not know Joseph.

Had God sent in Moses while they were enjoying the best part of the land the people of Jacob would have refused to go anywhere. So, this new pharaoh, sent by God, made slaves of these people who were occupying the best of the land. This was an arrangement by God’s purpose to prepare his people to follow Moses when he came to call them out of slavery.

Let’s take a side trip to look at Moses. He was born during the time when the Pharaoh of Egypt was having all the baby boys born to Hebrew mothers killed at birth. In order to escape this cruel fate Moses was put in a basket and floated into the bath area of the daughter of Pharaoh. When the Egyptian princess saw this baby she took pity on him. Knowing that he was a Hebrew, she still decided to take care of him. Moses’ sister had been assigned to watch and see what happened to Moses. So, she boldly went to the Egyptian princess and asked if she wanted a nurse for the baby. Then she introduced Moses’ mother as the prospective nurse. You see, God used the household of Pharaoh to protect the man he had chosen to lead Israel out of Egypt and into Canaan. It’s a wonderful story. The most wonderful part is that it is true! You can read the account in the first two chapters of Exodus.

Throughout the Old Testament there are glimpses of the Missionary Mandate at work blessing all the earth. Early on we find Abraham rescuing his nephew Lot. On the way home from that rescue Abraham was met by a man identified as Melchizedek the king of Salem. The title King of Salem means King of Peace. He brought out bread and wine for Abraham. He was priest of God Most High! And he was a contemporary of Abram.

When Moses escaped from Egypt he was taken into the household of a man identified as the priest of Midian. Moses married one of his daughters and fathered two sons during the 40 years he was in Midian.

Time will not allow us to look at all those Gentiles who were blessed by God’s people. Or those who blessed God’s chosen people. We know that Abraham was used by God to provide a lineage that would be a blessing to everyone.

Specifically, that blessing would come through Mary’s Son, Jesus the Christ. Paul explained it to the Galatians this way, (Galatians 3:7-9). Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

A little further down in the letter Paul wrote Galatians 3:16, Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.

Last week we came to the first Jerusalem conference. Found in Acts 15 this conference settled the issues for Gentile believers. There was a group of Jewish believers who were convinced that any Gentile who came into the church had to first conform to the Jewish customs. Paul and Barnabas argued in favor of the Gentiles being received based on their faith. Peter recounted the story of his encounter with Cornelius the Roman centurion. He observed that the Gentiles were accepted by God and they could not refuse them. James, Jesus’ half-brother, quoted Scripture showing that God always planned to bring the Gentiles to himself.

After they settled these issues a letter was written listing four conditions that would prove they had left their pagan lifestyle behind. Those conditions are found in Acts 15:29, “that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.” Each of the four practices mentioned in this verse took place regularly in Gentile culture and pagan worship and were condemned by the Jews as unclean.

Now, officially the Missionary Mandate could be pursued. All people everywhere could be invited into the church by grace alone through faith alone.

When the letter was read to the church in Antioch there was great rejoicing.

We have already granted the fact that the apostles, who were the first to receive Jesus’ instructions, did not go out to all the world. Instead they stayed in Jerusalem and the other believers went to Samaria and the end of the earth. These traveling missionaries only did so under the fist of persecution.

After the Jerusalem conference Paul and Barnabas settled into ministry.

The churches that Paul and Barnabas had established needed to be encouraged. Paul suggested they go back to those cities and see how they are doing. Barnabas believed they should take John Mark with them. Paul, on the other hand, believed that John had failed the “stick to it” test. We do not know why John Mark left them on the first missionary journey. This disagreement resulted in a split between Paul and Barnabas.

Barnabas took Mark and traveled to Cyprus beginning a new missionary fellowship. We do not have a written record of their trip. I am sure their trip resulted in effective ministry. Later Paul would write, more than once, to commend John Mark even referring to him as “very useful to me for ministry” (2 Timothy 4:12).

We do not have a record of the thousands who left Jerusalem after Pentecost and then again after the persecution following Stephen’s martyrdom. There must have been many believers who carried the gospel to the farther reaches of the empire. Imagine with me one possible scenario.

It was to be the trip of a lifetime. Money had been put aside for years. Now it was time to use it. The middle aged business man had dreamed of the day he would arrive in Jerusalem. He and a group of his friends had often parted from one another at the end of a Passover celebration with the words, “Next year in Jerusalem”. Now it was time to go and rejoice. When they arrived in the city they found a lot of discussion on the streets concerning a man called “Jesus”. It seemed the rulers were determined to be rid of him. All week long the focus came back again and again to the same person. Jesus had come into the city riding on a donkey. Later in the week he was arrested and put through a severe trial. Pilate, the Roman governor, had put him before the crowds and even called him their king! This is hardly the Passover these travelers from the far reaches of the Empire had expected. Many ended their trip and returned to their homes without a clear understanding what they had seen. Some of them decided to stay until Pentecost. After all, they probably would never again be able to visit Jerusalem.

Their time was filled with sightseeing and travel about the region just as it would be today. Finally, the feast of Pentecost was there! The day arrived and the crowds from all over the Empire gathered in the temple district. There seem to be a lot of confusion and so our friend pushed himself through the crowd to see what it was all about. Even though he came from a region that spoke a non-Hebrew language he was hearing his language coming from some who were gathered there. All around him groups were gathering to hear their own language being spoken as well. While they were trying to determine what was happening, a man stood on the platform and began to speak. He explained that these people were simply fulfilling the prophecies of Joel. The Spirit would be poured out on the people and prophecies would be fulfilled. And everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. This was good news and it needed to be shared. At the end of the day our friend had gone to a nearby mikvah and had been baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. He was one of 3000 saved that day.

He stayed a few days longer so he could hear the words these people were speaking. His life had been changed he couldn’t wait to get back to his friends and family and tell them about a man named Jesus who was called the Christ! A man who had been crucified, died, and raised back to life on the third day! He had heard the witness of many people about this man and now he had given his life to this Jesus. We do not have a record of such a trip but I am sure it happened hundreds of times.

Since we do have Luke’s record let’s follow his account for a while. In the absence of Barnabas Paul enlisted a new partner. Silas had been one of the leaders of the church in Jerusalem. After the Jerusalem conference he was one of those chosen to carry the decision back to Antioch. Luke identifies him as a prophet. When Barnabas separated from Paul, Silas was a good choice as Paul’s companion. Since Barnabas and Mark had left by boat for Cyprus Paul and Silas set out afoot. They traveled through Syria and Cilicia strengthening the churches. Along the way, they picked up Timothy. Timothy’s mother was a Jew and his father a Greek. When Paul decided to take him along it was decided to circumcise him since he was a Jew. Even today a person is identified as a Jew by being born of a Jewish mother. Obviously, the conflict between Jew and Gentile would continue to plague the church.

Paul had in mind that they would spend their time with the churches in what is today the western coast of Turkey. God had a different opinion. Acts 16:6-10, And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. 9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

Remember, the Mandate given to the apostles so many years before had included carrying the gospel to the end of the earth. I believe we would have a great deal more patience if we paid attention to the kind of things happening here. There is a time and place for everything. Paul was full of the Holy Spirit and felt compelled to preach the gospel everywhere he went. He had a plan and it was going to work. He intended to go into the province of Asia. Ephesus is one of the cities of Asia and I’m sure Paul had in mind strengthening the church there. I do not know how the Holy Spirit blocked the trip. Each choice they made was blocked by God. Finally, Paul received a vision of a Macedonian man. Now they had something to work with!

No doubt they were to go on to Macedonia. They did not sit around talking about it. They immediately set out. Luke appears to have joined the fellowship at this point. For the first time in Acts we see the pronoun “we” rather than “they” or “he” thus indicating that Luke was traveling with them. Following the direction of the Spirit they came to Philippi. They looked over the city and on the Sabbath day went down to the riverside to join with a prayer group. That was where they needed to be when they needed to be there. We need to imitate the example set by these men. They already knew what they were to do but they had to wait on God to know when they were to do it and how they were to do it. God’s will done God’s way will never fail. It may not follow our planned timetable or even our methods. However, if it’s God’s way it’s the right way.

It happened on that day that a lady from quite a distance away was at the prayer meeting. Maybe this would be her only visit. It may have been the reason God urged them on to Philippi when they wanted to stay in Asia and preach the gospel. Luke tells us that the Lord opened her heart to hear what Paul had to say. After she was baptized, and her household as well, she insisted on the missionaries coming to her house to stay.

Paul and Silas kept up the ministry of prayer. One day as they were going to the place of prayer they were met by a demon possessed slave girl who was a fortuneteller. She followed Paul as he traveled down the road. She was shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” (Acts 16:16).

She did this day after day. Now many people might think that any advertising is better than none. Obviously she would be gathering a crowd. There are people and programs real Christians do not want to be identified with. This was one of them and Paul, after many days, turned on her and spoke to the demon. “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” (Acts 16:17-18). Immediately she was freed from the demon that had possessed her. That seems to be a good thing but it closed down the fortunetelling business. Her owners looked up Paul and Silas and had them arrested.

They were brought to the jail and beaten with rods. They were turned over to the jailer who put them in stocks and they waited for morning.

Meanwhile, Paul and Silas bided their time by praying aloud and singing hymns of faith. About midnight there was a great earthquake. In fact a strange earthquake because not only was the building damaged but the chains on the prisoners were unfastened. The jailer assumed the worst. He naturally thought that the prisoners would all be gone. It seems that the prisoners were probably waiting to see what would happen next! The jailer sought Paul and Silas and determined that no one had escaped he said to them, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30). Paul and Silas answered, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” (Acts 16:31).

The jailer was a changed man. He had surrendered his life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. He cared for their wounds and listened to their words. He and his household were baptized and joined together in a meal and fellowship with the missionaries.

When daylight came I am sure that everyone in the area already knew what had happened because the people who had arrested them and caused them to be beaten sent the police to let Paul and Silas go.

The jailer reported this to the missionaries. Now the tables were turned. Let’s look at Luke’s account found in Acts 16:37-40, But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out.” 38 The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens. 39 So they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city. 40 So they went out of the prison and visited Lydia. And when they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them and departed.”

There comes a time when it’s necessary to use civil authority. In the Roman Empire it was a good thing to be a Roman citizen if you’re going to be charged with a crime in court.

If God chooses we will pick up the story of the Missionary Mandate in a couple of weeks.

 

Let’s finish up today with another walk down the Roman road.

All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory — Romans 3:23

The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord — Romans 6:23.

God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. — Romans 5:8.

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead you will be saved. – Romans 10:9.

We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. — 2 Corinthians 5:20.

Sin always has evil consequences. Just as Adam and Eve were promised a wonderful world of knowledge by disobeying God. Satan promises good things for us. The Bible says there is pleasure in sin for a season.

But seasons always come to an end.

Have you trusted Jesus for your salvation? Today could be your day.

All scriptures quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.