Saturday, January 9, 2021

210110 What did Mary Know?

 From the time of Jesus’ birth until he was 12 years old nothing indicates to us that he was anything other than an obedient son. At the age of 12 he went along with Joseph and Mary to Jerusalem for Passover. He had been so trustworthy, up until then, that Mary and Joseph could leave Jerusalem expecting him to be in the group that was traveling together. When they discovered he was not with the group they returned to Jerusalem only to find him asking questions and giving answers to the teachers in the temple. Luke tells us, “And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” 49 And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50 And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. 51 And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.” Luke 2:48-51.

During the preceding 12 years Mary and Joseph did not fully understand who they were dealing with. If they had, he said, they would have known he would have been in his Father’s house.

Jesus continued to live in the family home in Nazareth for another 18 years. At the end of that time he began his ministry.  What did Mary know? She knew what had happened and, she knew that he was an obedient son. She knew what Gabriel had told her about her son. He would be named Jesus. He would be great and would be called the Son of the Most High. He would receive the throne of his father, David. And even more amazing, of his kingdom there would never be in end.

Mary visited with Elizabeth, who had conceived the child that would become John the Baptist. Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, told Mary that the baby in her womb was her Lord.

I am not sure we can say that Mary understood a lot of what was happening. We do know that she testified that she treasured these things in her heart.

After Jesus began his ministry his family was invited to a wedding at the little town of Cana in Galilee. While they were there a problem occurred. The wine ran out! I assume that Mary felt some kind of responsibility for the couple getting married and wanted to be sure they were well cared for. What did Mary know? When we look at what happened next begin to answer that question. John recorded the event for us. John 2:1-5 On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. 3 When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

What did Mary know? She knew that her son could solve any supply problem they might have. He did not disappoint her. He had the servants fill six large stone water jars, over 100 gallons, and when they drew out what the jars contained it was the best wine. I do not know from the text whether Mary expected water to be turned to wine or did she just simply believe her son could solve the problem, whatever it was? We are not told the answer to that question but we can see from the story that Mary had faith in the ability of her son.

These jars were the ones from which servants would draw water that was then poured over the hands of those who came to eat. This wasn’t simply about washing their hands before dinner; this was a religious ceremony. And what does Jesus do? He replaces the ceremonial water with wine. Symbolically, he replaces the old religion of rituals with the new wine of a joyful relationship.

You might be confused by what Jesus said when speaking to his mother (v. 4). What does ‘My time has not yet come’ mean? In one sense we know the answer, because we know what the climax of the Gospel is: the death and resurrection of Jesus. Here, Jesus was pointing out that what he came to do could be put into the category of ‘Now, but not yet’. The miracle of the abundant wine was fulfilling prophecies made to describe the wonders of God’s kingdom, but it was only a partial fulfilment. The new wine eventually ran out. But that real, actual, substantial kingdom where Jesus will perfectly reign was still to come.

After the wedding Jesus and his disciples, along with his mother and his brothers, went to Capernaum. Occasionally, the gospel writers tell us that Mary and his brothers were present while he was teaching. However, that did not mean they believed in him as the Messiah or a prophet.

Actually when Jesus began his ministry his family tried to stop him. Mark told the story. Mark 3:21, And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.”

That event led to Jesus redefining family in a way that is hard for us to accept. As we look further in Mark’s account (vv31-35) we find: And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. 32 And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” 33 And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”

Mary had known all of his life that Jesus was different. As his public ministry continued he openly asserted that his “family” were those who do the will of God. In order for him to remain obedient to God’s plan for his life he would have to give up customary relationships.  Jesus certainly loved his mother. He had been subject to her for most of 30 years. After his arrest he will show how much he loved her.

He was different! That is a major understatement! At the same time he lived such a “normal” human life that the people who knew him best, the neighbors, those who he had worked alongside of for 30 years saw him as the carpenter. He had patched up their houses and likely made furniture and pretty much anything made of wood. All the while Mary, his mother, treasured all of these events in her heart. 

His brothers had major difficulty with all that they saw what he did and what he taught. They even challenged him to go expose himself to danger by going to Jerusalem, “If you do these things, show yourself to the world.”

John remembered that event and it is recorded in John 7:1-5 After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He would not go about in Judea, because the Jews were seeking to kill him. 2 Now the Jews’ Feast of Booths was at hand. 3 So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. 4 For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” 5 For not even his brothers believed in him.

It must have been very painful to Mary. She would have many memories to reflect on. One thing she knew -- there would be pain in her life. Simeon was waiting at the Temple when Jesus was presented to the Lord.

Luke 2:34,35, And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”                                                              

Mary had a good many events to treasure and store in her heart. The fulfilled promises from God through Gabriel would begin to make clear what she had been told. She, along with others, would stand at a distance to see him nailed to the cross. Simeon had told her, “And a sword will pierce through your own soul also”. Now 30 years later outside the city where he was presented to the Lord he was crucified. As his human life was coming to an end the crowds fell away. We do not know when Mary arrived in Jerusalem. Was she in the crowds who proclaimed him   All four gospels list women who were looking on as he was being crucified. We are not told that they watched as he was so cruelly beaten. She may have been present when Jesus came out of Pilate’s judgement hall. She may have watched as the crowed demanded that Pilate crucify Jesus while releasing a notorious prisoner, a man called Barabbas.

Jesus was weakened by the scourging to the point the Romans made one of the onlookers, Simon of Cyrene, take the cross to the place of execution.

The followers of Jesus feared for their lives. At first they stood at a distance. Then they moved closer as time passed. Finally John the disciple and at least three of the women, all named Mary, stood by the cross.

For those who have not gotten over Jesus’ rejection of his mother John recorded the event. Seeing his mother and John, the disciple whom he loved, standing nearby he said to his mother, “Woman, behold your son.” then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” Mary saw all of these things as they unfolded.

There is no mention of any of the other disciples. Peter intended to be there but had denied he knew Jesus three times before the trial. I believe he was too ashamed to be present. The next time we see Peter he was hiding in an upper room while some women went to the tomb on the third day after he was crucified. What Mary saw was the unfolding of the gospel. We are dependent on the written truth.

Paul wrote out the gospel. In his letter to the Romans he presented the gospel.

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” The gospel revealed the righteousness of God. And not our righteousness. In fact our righteousness is like dirty clothes at a party. In his 2nd letter to the Corinthians chapter 5 verses 20 and 21 Paul wrote: “we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Our righteousness will not meet our needs. The baby Jesus, that his mother spent 33 years watching, and learning from, God’s righteousness was revealed to Mary and though out history. Again we go to Paul for words of hope and salvation. 1 Corinthians 15:1-7 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

Have you put your faith in him so that his righteousness could be revealed in you? I pray that you will be sure you have come to know him. Mary was his human mother and it was necessary for her to understand that her son was, and is, her only hope of salvation. We do not have any good things to do in order to be saved – Neither did she! My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50 And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; 52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55 as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

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

Saturday, January 2, 2021

210103 Mary Did You Know?

In 1991 Buddy Greene and Mark Lowery combined their talents and came up with a very popular song. It’s called, “Mary Did You Know?”

Let’s let Mark tell the story, “In 1984, Jerry Falwell, the pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, VA, called and asked me to write the program for their next Living Christmas Tree. As I wrote the ‘speaking parts’ I began to think about Mary. I have always been fascinated with the concept that God came to earth.

In a conversation with my mother, I remember she said, ‘If anyone on earth knew for sure that Jesus was virgin born - Mary knew!’ That was a profound statement that stuck with me. One thing they couldn’t take from Mary was that she knew her Child was not ordinary.

At the cross on Mount Calvary, while Jesus was dying, her silence was a great testimony to the fact of who he was and is. He said to them, ‘When you have seen me, you have seen the Father.’ Of course, for this they nailed him to a cross, and his mother never said a word.

As my mind went back to the manger scene, I began to think about the power, authority and majesty she cradled in her arms. Those little lips were the same lips that had spoken worlds into existence. All of those things were contained in the young child lying quietly on her bosom. Even now, he was the very one who had given life to his mother, Mary.

I began writing a list of questions I would like to ask Mary if I could sit down with her - questions such as, ‘Mary, do you know who is in your arms?’

‘Did you know the one who holds creation together, and the one who holds you together is lying helpless in the manger?’

‘Did you know that your baby boy will walk on water, give sight to a blind man and calm a storm at sea with his hand?’”

Lowry carried his lyrics with him for the next seven years. In 1991, he asked his good friend, Buddy Greene, to write suitable music for his poem.

Greene said, “Mark handed me his lyrics, and I held on to them for about two weeks. One day I pulled them out and looked at them. They seemed to suggest a minor key approach to writing an accompaniment. I completed the musical setting in about 30 minutes. I called Mark at his home in Georgia and on the phone played and sang the song to him. He was ecstatic! He said, ‘That’s it!’

Two weeks later, we met in Mark’s hotel room in Nashville where we recorded the song on a small portable machine. It was then taken to Michael English who was preparing to make an album. He was the first person to record “Mary, Did You Know?”

We must not leave the Biblical account behind. In the next few weeks I would like to present what we believe Mary might have known. We need to think on what was clearly known about her baby boy and also what might have been.

Her first introduction to the baby happened while she was engaged to be married but before she was married. Luke gives such details that only Mary would have known. It is my opinion that the gospel writer must have interviewed Mary. Luke 1:26-39, In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

Some preachers and teachers believe Mary may have been as young as 12 or 13 years of age. Usually these teachers also believe Joseph was 15 to 17 years of age. However, the Bible teaches that men were not able to go to war before age 20. I realize marriage is not warfare, at least it should not be. At the same time, I believe 20 would be an appropriate age for Joseph at the time of Jesus’ birth.

In the culture of the first century there does not appear to have been an adolescent gap between childhood and adulthood. The way people were brought up was simply go to bed one night as a child and wake up in the morning an adult!  We do know that there was no such ceremony as bar mitzvah at the time of Jesus’ birth. The first record of such an event was during the 15th century!

Some people hold that Joseph was an older man because he is not mentioned after the trip to Jerusalem for Passover when Jesus was 12. The Bible is silent on the subject and therefore we must also be careful. I suspect that those who hold to an older Joseph want to support the teaching of Mary’s perpetual virginity. Since the Bible does not mention Joseph again, he probably died before Jesus’ ministry began. That allows for 30 years of marriage. During those years there was plenty of time for Mary to conceive other children. After all Jesus was introduced as her “firstborn son” (Luke 2:7). That certainly implies there were others. Matthew remembered and recorded: While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. (Matthew 12:46). Mark, in his gospel recorded the words of the people in Nazareth, “Is not this the carpenter, son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” (6:3). Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, (1:19) referred to James as the Lord’s brother!

Now let’s go back to the original question! “Mary Did You Know?”

First of all, she knew that this child conceived in her definitely came from God. She is one of the few people on earth who ever met an archangel! Luke assures us that it was Gabriel who was sent from God to the little town of Nazareth to a young woman named Mary. The angel began his time with Mary greeting her, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”

Remember she is a virgin committed to marry a man named Joseph. Remember also, we do not know for sure her age or Joseph’s age. As such she was not expected to be totally comfortable in the presence of one of the highest angels. She should not be concerned about her fear because almost every time an angel presents itself to anyone that person is first described as being afraid, or at least troubled by the contact. So Mary knew she was confronting one of God’s highest and mightiest angels.

Second, she must know that the Lord is with her because the angel said he was! I am not sure she had that concept pinned down very tight. Imagine her position — one day she is simply the engaged daughter of a family in a small town, off the beaten tracks. She had little to do other than prepare for her wedding day or week as it was at that time. Now she was in the presence of angelic authority. I am sure she needed to know that God himself had sent the message!

So throughout her life she knew that the Lord was with her.

The angel assured her that she had found favor with God. I am not as sure as many are that she was surprised by this statement. She might not have been a reader in synagogue for two reasons: first, she was probably too young. Second, she was a woman. She was highly favored by God so I believe she had a fellowship with the God of Israel

Next, she knew that the child that would be conceived in her womb was the son of the most high, the heir to David’s throne! She knew that he would have a name that had deep meaning. “Jesus” is a variation on the name “Joshua”! The meaning of the name Jesus would not be a surprise to her. She would know that it meant “the Lord is salvation”!

When the same angel appeared to Zechariah, a mature priest, he was troubled and fear fell upon him. Anyone who says they are comfortable around angels never met one. Certainly they have never met an archangel. Those are not little cherubs with chubby cheeks and tiny wings they are powerful warriors that live in the presence of God himself.

From what Gabriel said Mary would have known that the child would be the heir of David the King. From that throne this child would rule over the House of Jacob forever. His reign would be such that he would rule forever — his kingdom would never end. I am impressed by Mary’s question. She did not ask how the heir of David would be in her. Instead, Mary immediately questioned, “How will this be, since I’m a virgin?” She did not want to get into the complications of the spiritual side of Jesus. She wanted to know how she could be involved.

Gabriel had an answer, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of The Most High will overshadow you.” Nothing is impossible to God.

From this exchange Mary knew that the most High God would place a baby in her. She would have known that the child came from God and not a man. The human part of Jesus came from Mary and therefore she must have been of the House of David! Jesus certainly did not inherit anything from Joseph. Joseph really impresses me as being a man who would take care of a baby that he was not the physical father of. We don’t know how soon Mary produced more children that would have been Joseph’s.

In this exchange Mary’s final words were, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

If Mary had any doubts her visit to Zachariah and Elizabeth would have helped settle them. Let’s read Luke’s account, “In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, 40 and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” (Luke 1:39-45).

We are told by Elizabeth that Mary believed what she had been told. This was an affirmation of Mary’s faith as well as the faith of Zechariah and Elizabeth. They believed what they had been told and confirmed for Mary what she had been told.

We have little evidence as to what the next 12 years. Luke 2:40 tells us that upon the return to Nazareth, “And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. and the favor of God was upon him”.

When Jesus was 12 years old you went with his parents — as they were called – when the celebrations were over and the family left with their friends to go back to Nazareth Jesus stayed behind. They traveled at least a full day before they realized he was not with them. Because of this I believe he was very trustworthy. They searched for him along the way and throughout the city. Their search ended when they got to the Temple they found that was where he had been the whole time. During those 12 years Mary and Joseph did not fully understand who they were dealing with. If they had, he said, they would have known he would have been in his Father’s house.

Jesus continued to live in the home in Nazareth for another 18 years. At that time he began his ministry.

Luke 2:50-51 tells us that, “And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart. 51 Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.”

When I was first impressed to present this sermon I wasn’t sure I would find enough material for more than one. Next week I will take up the same subject.

Mary was a Godly woman but, like all of us, she needed a savior. Her baby would take the sin of all who come to him in faith and died as our substitute. By God’s grace, through faith, we have the hope of salvation. Have you come to him for salvation? Today could be your day of salvation.

 

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

Sunday, December 13, 2020

201213 Why Jesus Came

More and more we are exposed to “Christmas” every day in every imaginable way. Well before Thanksgiving sale flyers come out and the Christmas music is posted on the radio, TV, and social media. It is almost as though there were a conspiracy to cause people to have negative thoughts about the subject. Hallmark has dozens if not hundreds of “Christmas” movies. I am amazed at how many otherwise good movies can be written about the celebration called “Christmas” without mention of Christ. How many songs can be made about “Christmas” without Christ being mentioned? Did Jesus come to make people feel better? Did he come into the world to improve the economy from “Black Friday” to the New Year’s sales? By the way, “Black Friday” is supposed to be the sale near the end of the year that moves the ledger sheets of businesses into the black. Without that sale most business ledger sheets will be in the red. As much as I enjoy some of the music and much of the “Hallmark Style” I am saddened by the abuse and misuse of what should be a witness of God’s love.

A part of Jesus’ story occurred in Jericho. Jesus was passing through town when he saw a man in a tree. Jesus invited himself to the man’s home for a meal! The man, who was named Zacchaeus, not only took Jesus in but he invited his friends. The problem is his friends were not welcome guests. They were tax collectors and people associated with tax collectors. During the meal Zacchaeus repented and changed his lifestyle. When he did this, Jesus announced, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”  Luke 19:9-10.

So we have a statement from the lips of Jesus, Himself, that tells us his purpose in coming into the world. He came to seek the lost. He came to save the lost. To seek and to save should be our motive for ministry. Several hundred years before Jesus’ birth we have the words of God the Father, himself,f in the book of Ezekiel. Ezekiel 34:11-12; 16, “For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. 12 As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.” And, “I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.

The promise of Yahweh was, “I will find my sheep and I will bring them in. I will not just bring them in but I will also bind up the injured, strengthen the weak and destroy those who manipulate my people.

I submit to you that Jesus understood the mandate His Father proclaimed. And it didn’t just involve seeking and saving it included healing and strength. Jesus used the exact same word picture as his Father. He was a shepherd with sheep. Find Jesus words in John 10:7-10, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

Jesus is the good Shepherd and he not only seeks the straying sheep He rescues them and He guards against the enemies — He gives his sheep abundant life! In order to provide abundant life Jesus had to pay an extremely high price.

First, he came into human society through the womb of his mother. He could have come the way the people seemed to expect! He could’ve been mounted on a fantastic warhorse leading an uncounted number of angels. That was certainly not God’s plan! Instead of the magnificent warrior coming out of heaven’s glory into the darkness of earth. He was conceived inside his mother and he developed a body just as the rest of us have. When he was born he cried! How do I know he cried? All normal babies cry and he was certainly a normal baby. He passed through all the stages of development the rest of us have.

Jesus had to learn to sit up, crawl and then to walk. He progressed from walking to climbing and Mary and Joseph just had to deal with it. He began his life living off his mother’s milk and then he slowly added solid foods. He was strangely normal! At the age of 12 he confronted the professors at the primary theology school in Jerusalem. He amazed them by the answers he gave to their questions. More than that, he questioned them and they did not know the answers. From birth to age 12 Jesus built a fairly normal life. Then he came to Jerusalem for Passover his life changed. When he saw the temple he understood what that building was. It was his Father’s house. When their tour group left Jerusalem Jesus was not with them. After an entire day’s travel he was missed. This tells me that he was very trustworthy. Mary and Joseph had no doubt Jesus was with them. When they found out he was not there they turned around and went back to Jerusalem. For three days they searched for him.

 When Mary and Joseph finally found him he asked them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49) He consciously called the temple “my Father’s house” thus proving that at the age of 12 He knew who he was. Following that event Jesus went into what must’ve been one of the hardest periods of his life. That period started at the age of 12 continued for 18 years. During that time he never revealed his true identity. As far as we know he did not come back until he was 30 years old. We are told that Mary treasured all these things in her heart and that Jesus increased in wisdom and favor with God and man. Nothing was revealed to the people of Nazareth.

We know that because of the way his family and neighbors treated him during his ministry. For example Luke tells us that he visited Nazareth near the beginning of his ministry. This was his hometown where the people knew him best, or at least longest. We find the account in Luke chapter 4.

Jesus had gone to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. Then he went into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After defeating the devil Jesus made his way back to Galilee. Along the way he taught in the synagogues. Everyone who heard him teach was singing his praises. He came to Nazareth and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue took the scroll of Isaiah and read, (v 18-19) “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Following that reading he said to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” At first his neighbors were pleased at his words. Then he began to expand the sermon. He took Old Testament examples to say that God picked out Gentiles to bless and be blessed. Clearly, the people of Nazareth heard from Jesus mouth his reason for coming into the world. To proclaim good news to the poor. To set the captives free. To make the blind see. To free the oppressed! His neighbors were highly offended and really went wild over his interpretation of Isaiah’s words. They were no longer rejoicing! They drove him out of the synagogue with the intention of throwing him off the cliff to his death. Somehow, the mob lost control of the situation and he walked through the middle of the crowd and went away.

When John the Baptist was arrested and imprisoned he began to question whether or not Jesus was truly the Messiah. So from his prison cell he sent some of his own disciples to ask Jesus if he was the one or should they look for another? Again, Luke gives us the answer to the question, “Why did Jesus come?” The answer is found in Luke chapter 7 verses 22-23. Jesus replied, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. 23 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

The people may have been expecting a Messiah on a white horse leading an army to throw out the Romans.

What they got was a healer of the blind and lame. A messiah who cleansed the leper and made the deaf hear. He raised the dead and, most importantly, preached the gospel to the poor.

When the messiah was born the event occurred in a stable not a king’s palace. A little later Jesus became the host of a picnic near Bethsaida. There he fed 5000 men, not counting women and children, using five loaves of bread and two fish. (Luke 9:10-17). That may have been more in line with what they had expected.

Mark 6:35-44 gives the same account with an explanation. Jesus wasn’t just feeding the 5000. He was teaching his men to trust God. Let’s look at what followed that abundant picnic. Mark 6:45-50, Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. 47 And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. 48 And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, 49 but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, 50 for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

Having fed the 5000 Jesus made his disciples get in the boat and leave. Then he went up on the hillside to pray. We don’t often get insight into exactly what Jesus prayed for. But in this case I can guess. I am sure he was thankful for the huge picnic basket. While Jesus was praying the disciples were rowing their boat against an increasingly strong headwind. Jesus was praying up a storm.

After the boys were sufficiently frustrated, sometime between three and six in the morning, Jesus walked down to the lake and walked on the water almost passing his disciples by. Mark 6:51-52 tells us that he joined them in the boat and the wind died they were amazed because “they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.”

A side note on this incident. It doesn’t tell the story of Peter walking out to Jesus on the water and sinking. We assume that Peter is the source of Mark’s gospel. Likely he just didn’t see any reason to include the fact that he got all wet through lack of faith. Jesus was born in a manger, raised in the carpenter’s home, and spent three years in ministry. His life was abundant. Abundantly confusing at best.

John had said, in the very beginning of his gospel, (vv10-11) He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. Even though the world had been made by him it became the platform of rejection. Looking at the original language (Greek) he came to his own property and his own people did not accept him.

There is so much to tell and so little time in which to tell it.

Let’s ask the author of Hebrews why Jesus came to earth? The answer is found in Hebrews 2:14-18. Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. 16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

 

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

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.