Saturday, February 13, 2021

210214 Walk by Faith

Paul has come to recognize the possibility that the Lord Jesus Christ’s second coming may not happen during his lifetime. This should not be an overwhelming disappointment instead we should be encouraged by the fact that God has prepared us a building in heaven to be occupied when our earthly tent finally gives up. The Holy Spirit has been given as a guarantee.

The Greek word translated In the English Standard Version as “guarantee” only appears three times in the New Testament. Apparently the most common use would be, “money which in purchases is given as a pledge or down payment that the full amount will be paid.” Paul certainly did not mean to indicate that the Spirit is a deposit to be returned which would indicate one could lose their salvation. It may help us to know that in modern Greek the word, “arrabon”, can mean “engagement ring”.

So how can the Spirit be God’s pledge of the Christian’s inheritance? I believe it would be through his empowering of the Christian’s daily spiritual development and growth. We can be encouraged by 2 Corinthians 4:16, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” And, Ephesians 3:16 “that according to the riches of his glory He may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being.”

The presence of the Holy Spirit gives us a guarantee that God will do, in us, whatever he has promised.  He is ever present to guide, guard and protect his people. In Philippians 1:6 we are told, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

Add to that Philippians 4:19, “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” One of our greatest needs is the assurance of salvation. We need protection from our enemies both physical and spiritual. After all while Satan is roaming the earth looking for someone to devour.

(1 Peter 5:8) We should not be fearful. The eyes of the Lord are constantly seeking people whose hearts are wholly his so he can show his strength on their behalf. (2 Chronicles 16:9)  I am so grateful to God that the completion of our salvation does not depend on us but instead depends on God himself. Nothing could be more sure. God, through his word, assures us that he will meet all our needs including the need to know. We can rest in him as we journey through this life. Jesus promised, (Matthew 18:20), “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” And, (Matthew 28:20) “behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

When I was about 15 years old I had a Harley Davidson motorcycle. One day I was doing one of my favorite things, sitting at the counter in the drugstore, I heard my motorcycle start up. We never locked anything in this days. I ran to the door and saw my machine going away with two men on it. They were local toughs! I went to the payphone and called home. My Dad was there and he told me that he would come immediately. When he arrived he asked me if the two guys had a car, I pointed it out and he went to it and raised the hood. Dad did something to the car and put the hood down and we waited. The hoodlums arrived and Dad asked them if they had asked permission to ride my motorcycle. They answered, “No”. My Dad pointed to me and told them to give me five bucks. Now my Dad was over six feet tall and very much a man. After a short hesitation the money was forthcoming. As they handed me the money Dad handed them the rotor out of their distributor. Then he told them they had best not take my motorcycle again without permission.

We have a heavenly Father that cares for us in a similar manner. When we face difficulty in the day-to-day events we should quickly go to the payphone called “prayer” and he will come to our aid. He will stop the hurt and fix the problems. The Lord Jesus has promised and he always keeps his word. He may not fix the problem exactly the way we want, or expect, but He will not abandon us.

When we face danger we need to take the advice Joshua was given when he faced the problem of taking over the leadership of Israel after Moses died. God said to him, “Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. 6 Be strong and courageous,” (Joshua 1:5-6).

Paul gives us assurance, 2 Corinthians 5:6-10, So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

We have many reasons to be of good courage. Even though we certainly face hardships that cause us to groan while awaiting our heavenly body we have the Holy Spirit as our guarantee. 2 Corinthians 1:21-22, And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, 22 and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.

Our Father guarantees our salvation. I feel really sad that so many believers are not confident that God will take them through to heaven. Paul definitely suffered physically and was constantly under attack spiritually. All of that opposition was used by God to strengthen his faith. He reminds us that even though we are under attack we live by faith not by sight. The pattern of a faith-walk is to be courageous, informed and faithful. We should desire to be at home with the Lord. Our day-to-day activity should focus on pleasing the Lord.

When we live by faith the Lord Jesus Christ becomes our defense attorney. We must appear before the judgement seat. There, the Lord will evaluate believers’ lives in order to give eternal rewards. Our punishment has been carried by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Therefore, for believers, judgement is not to determine who will be saved or lost but what rewards will we receive.

But we must guard against misunderstanding here: Even though there will be degrees of reward in heaven, the joy of each person will be full and complete for eternity. If we ask how this can be when there are different degrees of reward, it simply shows that our perception of happiness is based on the assumption that happiness depends on what we possess or the status or power that we have. Our true happiness consists in delighting in God and rejoicing in the status and recognition that he has given us. The foolishness of thinking that only those who have been highly rewarded and given great status will be fully happy in heaven is seen when we realize that no matter how great a reward we receive, there will always be those with greater rewards, or who have higher status and authority, including the apostles, the heavenly creatures, and Jesus Christ and God himself. Therefore if highest status is essential for people to be fully happy, no one but God would be fully happy in heaven, which is certainly an incorrect idea.

Instead we each have a reward container. It will be filled at the judgement. Some will have a cup, others a jar – say a pint, quart or gallon, some will have a storage tank (50 gallon or 100 gallon). 

It would be morally and spiritually beneficial for us to have a greater consciousness of this clear New Testament teaching on degrees of heavenly reward. Rather than making us competitive with one another, it should cause us to help and encourage one another that we all may increase our heavenly reward, for God has an infinite capacity to bring blessing to us all, and we are all members of one another. We would more eagerly heed the admonition of the author of Hebrews, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:24–25). Moreover, in our own lives a heartfelt seeking of future heavenly reward would motivate us to work wholeheartedly for the Lord at whatever task he calls us to, whether great or small, paid or unpaid. It would also make us long for his approval rather than for wealth or success. It would motivate us to work at building up the church on the one foundation, Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:10–15). According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

The Christian life is a struggle, but it is not without equipping and training. I want to share with you a quote from Erasmus Sarcerius, a German Theologian who lived during the 16th century, “The spirit and the flesh are opposed to one another like two powerful lords who are always waging war with each other. One of them orders us to do spiritual things, the other carnal ones. One of them tells us what is good, the other what is bad, and so on. “Flesh” means anything in the heart that does not live according to the Holy Spirit. The flesh is that part of a person that does not do what God wants but differs from him. The flesh is also our complete human nature, with both its higher and its lower senses. The spirit is whatever lives in our heart by the Holy Spirit. The spirit is that part of us that does what God wants and that is born again by the Holy Spirit so that it can do good works that are alive and spiritual. When the flesh desires what is contrary to the spirit, it rebounds on the spirit with its own impure desires and outwardly evil deeds, because it is the flesh that tempts the spirit to have such wicked thoughts and do such evil things. When the spirit desires what is contrary to the flesh, it rebounds against the flesh with its own pure desires and outwardly good deeds, because it is the spirit that provokes the flesh to have good thoughts and to do good deeds, and it is the spirit’s job not to give in to the temptations of the flesh.”

 

Paul encourages us with these words Galatians 5:16-26, But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

Do not struggle against the flesh that is a lost cause! Instead, live by the Spirit’s direction and you will not be comfortable when the flesh lifts its ugly head. You will find a commitment to Christ Jesus is not only possible but live by the Spirit and you will grow in grace and the knowledge of the Lord Jesus! Today could your day to begin a restful walk in the power of Jesus. If you feel the call to come to Jesus he will not turn you away. He is the good shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep who hears his voice.

 

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

 

Saturday, January 30, 2021

210131 An Eternal Home

 This passage I have chosen as the central message today represents a change in the Apostles’ thinking with regard to the second coming of Christ. 

Possibly an extreme crisis that had recently happened to him made him more aware of the weakness of his human body. He refers to this in 2 Corinthians 1:8-10 For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 10 He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.

We will look at the evidence in what was probably the first letter that Paul had written to any church. 1 Thessalonians Paul clearly stated: “We who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Thessalonians 5:15). No question, he spoke of being alive at the coming of the Lord. About five years later we find Paul writing about folding our earthly tent which is our body. Let’s look at what he had to say:

 2 Corinthians 5:1-5 “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.”

This passage begins with confidence, “We know”, not, “We think” or “We believe” but “We Know” that if our earthly tent – our body -- die “we have” a building in heaven. Not “we might have” but “we have”! Take note, our future home is not an upgrade on the present “tent” we live in. Our future home is “a building from God”!

It is certainly appropriate that our new – eternal -- bodies will no longer be weak and temporary because we will live in them forever. John saw our future bodies and spoke of them in his first little letter. 1 John 3:2, Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”

Our heavenly dwelling will be patterned after the present dwelling of Jesus. It will be, or it is, radically different from our present body.

Paul wrote about the difference between our present body and our future body in detail in 1 Corinthians 15:35-49.  There, the Apostle asks the question, “what kind of body” will the dead have? Then he uses the difference between seeds that are planted and when they return they are raised in glory. The seed is alone when it goes into the ground and it dies only to be restored to a new, powerful life. After the death to life event there are many seeds. According to IowaCorn.org there is about 800 kernels on the average ear of corn. So we can see the seed and stalk comparison is encouraging. This tent we live in is like the single kernel and our future body will be much more complicated – raised in power. “So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.” (15:42-44) The future body that we live in is everything we need.

In one sense we already possess, or own, that future body. In Ephesians 2:4-7, We find: 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— 6 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.

The biggest problem, in dealing with this scripture and these ideas, is we do not “feel” as if we have been raised up and seated with him in the heavenlies. Wordsworth, English poet of the late 16th and early 17th century, hit the nail on the head when he wrote the poem that begins with the passage:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—“

We are in bondage to the world and its customs. We will never consistently feel like we are living in heaven. We really need to get our feeler on board with the truth of God’s Word. Bill Gillham in Lifetime Guarantee put it this way, “You are actually seated in heaven, according to God’s Word, experiencing God’s rest (above your circumstances). You are secure, loved, and treasured:”

We are not aliens to heaven we are citizens there. Paul wrote in, Philippiians 3:20-21, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”

The process of transformation from dead in sin to dead to sin is called sanctification. Back to 2 Corinthians 5, the confidence we need to live by is “we have a building”

And that building is from God who, as the writer of Hebrews assures us, is the founder of our salvation. The architect and builder of our lives is God the Father in union with God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Together the Trinity planned a process through which mankind would be eternally saved.

If you can visualize a table that has all the ages, from beginning to end, existing forever. We only see a part of what is happening now and remember some of those things that happened in the past with no hope of seeing the future. God, on the other hand, sees it all.

 

God spoke through the Prophet Isaiah in chapter 46 verses 8-10, “Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, 10 declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,”

Back to 2 Corinthians 5. Paul referred to our tent being a burden that causes us to groan longing to put on our heavenly dwelling. I will be honest, I am not eager to die. I am not afraid to die. The Bible tells us that Jesus became human at the right time and was born of Mary. He lived a sinless life. Again, at the right time, He took our sins into His body, nailed it to the cross, took it to the grave and left it there.

We should let the eyewitnesses speak.

Peter told it this way, He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”

Paul wrote a more complete statement of faith: (Corinthians 15:3-8) For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 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. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

John recorded in (John 1:10-14), 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. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John added, (John 20:30-31) Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

 

 

 

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

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.