Saturday, December 31, 2016

170101 Don’t Give the Devil a Break

Ephesians 4:25-32 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil. 28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. 29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
We begin the New Year by going back to Ephesians picking up where we left off before Christmas. The verses just before those we are focusing on today tell us that our lives were radically changed when we came to know Christ. We have put off the “old man” and instead have put on the “new man”. For this New Year we should let that truth come alive by the way we speak and act.
When Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden they had a unique, personal, relationship to the living God. They were naked, without shame and unafraid. They walked and talked with God in the cool of the day. However, sin came into the world through their rebellion against the one rule that God had given them.
When we were born, we were born sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, as a result of their rebellion, the image of God was corrupted in them. Their moral purity was lost. Their sinful character no longer reflected God’s holiness. The human race is still in God’s image but that image is distorted. From the time of the Fall until the birth of Christ there was no one who perfectly reflected the image God. When we become Christians certain changes began to happen in our lives. One big change is…
We have put away lying. Let’s look at Colossians 3:8-10. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.
To say that we have put away lying is not to say that we cannot lie. In fact it is very easy to fall back into our old habits. One of those old habits is distorting the truth. We have put off the “old man” with all of his sinful attitudes.
Lying is wrapped up in a whole basket full of negative characteristics. We’ll talk about them more later on.
Since we have put our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ…
We are more than friends. It is important to recognize that we are not just a club. Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 12:26-27. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. 27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
This characteristic is largely missing in the Christian church today. In many congregations there is no personal contact with the other members of the body. We should support and encourage one another because we have been brought into a unified body without regard to race or economic condition. When one of us suffers to some degree we all suffer. It’s easier to identify with, “if one member is honored”, then we can rejoice together. The church of Jesus Christ is his body on earth. Each of us, if we have repented and placed our faith in Jesus, are members of the body.
I know that it is difficult to let down the emotional walls that surround us but we need very much to put aside our differences and share in the common grace that God is given all of us.
One thing that must happen is…
Anger must not rule our lives. Let’s look at James 1:19-20. Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
We were given two ears and one mouth. The implication is that we should listen at least twice as much as we speak! We should be quick to listen. When we respond we should engage the brain before we speak. We must make every effort to control anger. Anger is not a characteristic of God’s but it is very much a characteristic of the human race. In the gospel records there is only one reference to Jesus being angry. Jesus was in a synagogue where he saw a man with a withered hand and it was a Sabbath. He knew that this was an opportunity for the synagogue rulers to condemn him for breaking the Sabbath rules. When he saw how hard their hearts were he looked at them with anger and grief (Mark 1:1-6). That is the kind of anger that Paul speaks of when he says that we are to “Be angry and do not sin”. We certainly must not let anger carry over through the night into the next day. I’ll come back to this in a few minutes.
Honest labor should characterize us. Let’s look at 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12. And to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, 12 so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.
Paul is commending the church at Thessalonica because they take seriously that God has taught them to love one another. Part of that love for each other is living a life at peace within the body. A peace that reflects itself in minding one’s own business and working with one’s hands to provide for the needs of others. The outside world should always see the church as a group of people who help one another at the same time avoiding dependency.
Not only should we quietly labor in love but…
Our words should always build up not tear down. Let’s look at Colossians 4:5-6. Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.
We are to speak in such a way that we encourage and strengthen the faith of others. We should build one another up and avoid words that hurt others. When we speak we should always be gracious. Earlier in the Colossian letter Paul had said, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:16-17)
Jesus used the reference to salt in our makeup. He said, “Salt is good, but if salt has lost its saltiness, how are you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another.” (Mark 9:50) I take this to mean that we are to not be bland or tasteless but rather we are to be spicy, salty in our speech. We live in a world that seems to want everyone to be meek and mild-mannered. We are surrounded with an ungodly culture and need to speak up. We are to speak the truth — well seasoned — in love, filled with grace. We are to be wise in our words. We need to give the outsiders the truth in such a way that they will seek to be followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.
As we live our lives on this earth…
We should not grieve the Holy Spirit. Let’s look at an Old Testament example. The nation of Israel had been brought out of Egypt under the hand of God in a movement called the Exodus. Because of their rebellious nature they spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness. Isaiah saw it rightly as recorded in Isaiah 63:10. But they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit; therefore he turned to be their enemy, and himself fought against them.
When they rebelled they grieved the Holy Spirit. “Grieved” is a love word. When people are rebellious or offensive they can cause us to be angry but not grieved, unless we love them! When we observe someone we love living in rebellion against God we are grieved and God is also. That generation who died in the wilderness did so because of their rebellion and God’s turning against them in becoming their enemy. When we grieve God we are in danger of having him turn against us. We need to be careful in our attitude and actions. When we rebel against God he will not — cannot — bless us. He has to allow us to suffer the consequences of our bad behavior.
One of the greatest problems in our human society today is the problem of anger. We tend to think of anger as a psychological problem. We need to recognize it as a sin problem that will lead to serious negative consequences.
We must control our “anger issues”! Let’s look at Proverbs 14:29-30. Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.30 A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot.
The person of great understanding is characterized as slow to anger. That simply means that he or she is showing a godly characteristic. Throughout the Old Testament God is spoken of as being slow to anger.
Anger is one quality of life that opens the door to the enemy. Our anger becomes a way for Satan to get in and wreck havoc. Wrongful anger can give opportunity for the demons to exercise negative influence in our lives. Ungodly anger stirs up all kinds of emotions that are contrary to God’s plan for us.
If we’re going to follow in the footsteps of Jesus…
Kindness should characterize our life. Look at his words in Luke 6:35-36. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
Our Father is, without a doubt, kind in his treatment of all men. He is merciful and we are also to be merciful. God’s kindness toward the ungrateful and evil serves a purpose. In the letter to the Romans we are told that God’s kindness is meant to lead us to repentance not to cause us to rest in a false sense of security (Romans 2:4). Since we have been redeemed by repenting of our sin, and turning in faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ, God intends that we should continue to grow in grace and our relationship to him. When we are born again we receive a new nature that causes us to be more like God — to be renewed. Our character becomes more and more like God’s character. As we shed our “old man”, becoming more and more like Christ, changes in our character become obvious. One characteristic is…
Being forgiven allows us to forgive. Unforgiveness is an area that Satan rules. Let’s look at Colossians 3:13-15. Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.
Our Lord Jesus says, “If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15). Unforgiveness is not pleasing to God nor is it helpful to us! Many times we hold back forgiveness while waiting on the other person to change. I praise God that he does not forgive in that manner. If God chose to wait until we acted forgivable we would have no hope in this world or the world to come. We would be cut off from God. No, I’m not saying that we lose our salvation. I’m saying that God will distance himself from us until we forgive others.
Many times we suffer needlessly because we have pushed God out of control of our lives. God will withhold his blessings on us until we are willing to allow our characters to be shaped like his.
We need to have God’s character in our life. In order to see some aspects of his character I quote from Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology p 166, “God rejoices (Isaiah 62:5). He is grieved (Psalms 78:40; Ephesians 4:30). His wrath burns hot against his enemies (Exodus 32:10). He pities his children (Psalms 103:13). He loves with everlasting love (Isaiah 54:8; Psalms 103:17). He is a God whose passions we are to imitate for all eternity as we like our Creator hate sin and delight in righteousness.”
When we come to God in repentance and faith we need to put aside everything that allows Satan into our lives. We need to be saved from ourselves! Our goal should be to be like Jesus! Is he your Lord and Savior? Today can be the day!
All scriptures quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society

Saturday, December 24, 2016

161225 The Most Amazing Miracle

John 1:9-13 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 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.
We are told very little about the circumstances that surrounded Mary’s introduction to the idea that she would bring a manchild into the world. Luke, in his gospel, tells Mary’s story. What he tells us is very minimal. She was a virgin under contract to be married to a man named Joseph. An angel came to her and told her that she was one of God’s favorites. Since she was a favorite she was going to have the privilege of having a child before she was formally married and that child would be the one the prophets told about! He would be the Son of God!
Both Matthew and Luke give a version of Jesus’ birth. Mark begins with John the Baptist, Jesus’ baptism, and the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. I can imagine John, as the last remaining apostle, sitting down to write with perhaps the other Gospels in front of him. Obviously, the birth of Jesus was covered quite adequately but there seemed to him to be some things worth recording that had been left out of the synoptic Gospels.
John’s Gospel does not mention the birth of Christ, instead he looked into the far distant past when the Father, Son and Holy Spirit dwelt together in perfect unity. In John’s Gospel…
Jesus is introduced as The Word of God. Let’s look at John 1:1-2. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.
At least seven times the term “Word of God” is used to represent Jesus Christ. The use of the term by John speaks of Jesus’ personal wisdom and power in connection to God the Father. The term also speaks of Christ as God’s agent in the creation and in ruling the universe. The Greek word translated here is “logos” a term that Greek philosophers used to speak of the design, reason or plan for all things. Since John was writing to the Gentiles this word “logos” would help them to understand who Jesus was when he was on earth.
A part of John’s description was…
Jesus was the true light. Let’s look at Colossians 1:13-14. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
The opposite of “dark” is “light”. When a person is born again their citizenship is changed from the domain of darkness ruled over by Satan to the kingdom of the Christ! The very life of Jesus, the Son of God, is light. And as such he was the true light that was capable of overcoming the darkness. 700 years before, Isaiah had spoke of the time when the “preserved of Israel” would be made “as a light for the nations” (Isaiah 49:6). In his first little letter John pronounced that “the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining” (1 John 2:8).
Philip P. Bliss, in 1875, wrote a hymn that begins:
 The whole world was lost in the darkness of sin, The Light of the world is Jesus! Like sunshine at noonday, His glory shone in; The Light of the world is Jesus!
Come to the light, ’tis shining for thee; Sweetly the light has dawned upon me; Once I was blind, but now I can see: The Light of the world is Jesus!
Bliss had it right when he wrote this hymn. Jesus was not just the light of the world he was, and is, the true light that can give light to everyone.
In John chapter 3, beginning with verse 16, we have an expansion on this concept. Possibly the most quoted verse of the Bible is, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) Jesus continues in that chapter with, “the light has come into the world and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” (John 3:19) So we can see that John understood the concept of light representing Immanuel — God with us! And just as clearly we see that the darkness is evil.
Not only was he “Light” we must remember…
Jesus made the world and is the owner. Let’s look back to John 1:3. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
When Jesus came into the world he was simply coming to his own creation. As the second person in the Trinity, Jesus had often visited the earth in human form. This time he was coming not just to speak to someone as he did with Abram, Jacob and so many more, he came this time to redeem the world. The apostle Paul, and the writer of Hebrews, joined with John in proclaiming that the world was made by Jesus, the Son of God! (Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2)
Jesus, as creator, came to his own property and as a result…
Jesus came to his own people. Let’s look at John 1:11. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.
Throughout, the Gospels are very consistent teaching that Jesus is the owner who came to his own people. Jesus told a parable of tenants who rejected their master. In that story, (by the way, I believe that the parables were all true instances) the master planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants. He sent his servants to receive the rent and his tenants rejected them, even killing some of them. Last of all he sent his son saying that they will respect the son. But when the tenants saw the son coming they said that they should kill him so they could own the vineyard. When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard this parable they understood that it was about them. (Matthew 21: 33-40). When Jesus came to earth he came to his own property. The vineyard that had been built by his Father was held by tenants who refused to give him honor. He came to his own property and…
His people did not receive him. Let’s look at John 3:32-34. He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. 33 Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. 34 For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure.
“No one receives his testimony” is a pretty strong statement. A little later Jesus would say, “I have come in my Father’s name, and you did not receive me.” (John 5:43)
It must’ve been a heartbreaking experience for Jesus to be rejected by his own people. Towards the end of Jesus’ ministry he approached the city of Jerusalem and said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37)
Throughout Jesus’ life on earth he was rejected again and again by the people who should’ve welcomed him with open arms. This must have been very painful to him. God the Father had chosen Abraham and his descendants to be his agents in the world. Repeatedly they had refused to obey him and show their love for him and now he had sent his son into the world and his people did not receive him. However…
Those who did receive him are the children of God. Let’s go to John 1:12. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,
It is necessary that there be a personal response to Christ. All who receive him, by believing in his name receive the right, from him, to become the children of God. For those in a lukewarm church Jesus issues an invitation calling for a personal response: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20). Five verses from the end of the book there is an invitation from the Holy Spirit and from the church to come to Christ: “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price” (Revelation 22:17).
What does it mean to come to Christ? We must come to him trusting him to save us from our sin. We can’t continue to cling to our sin but willingly renounce it in genuine repentance. Coming to Christ signifies a coming away from the world and its sin. The Bible speaks of repentance to God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance and faith are the two sides of the same coin. When we do one — “repentance” — God implants in us the ability to do the other — “faith”! Have you turned away from the way of the world? Have you placed your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ?
Knowing about Jesus simply makes us more guilty. Knowing about his life, death, and resurrection is not enough. Simply knowing the facts doesn’t solve our problem. The demons believe and tremble in fear! (James 2:19) The demons know the facts very accurately because they have seen it all as it unfolds. Their knowledge does not restore them in their relationship to God. So knowing about Jesus is not enough. Nicodemus, the man who came to Jesus one night, recognized that Jesus was a teacher come from God but Nicodemus still had to have saving faith. He had to put his trust in Christ for salvation. (John 3:1-15) When Paul was confronted by King Agrippa he called on the King to put what he believed to be true into action and he refused. As a result Agrippa condemned himself. (Acts 26:27). It is essential that we turn away from our sin and turn to Jesus in faith in order to be born again. We can hardly imagine the price Jesus paid to cover our sins. In the distant eternity past the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit existed in perfect unity. They were, and are, complete in themselves. With the creation of man, and the universe around us, God entered into a new relationship. When man rebelled against God’s one rule it became necessary for God to provide a sacrifice that covered mankind’s sin. In order to do that Jesus left the glory of heaven for the gloom of earth and took on human flesh. In order to pay the price Jesus was made like his brothers (Hebrews 2:17) yet without sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). As a result it is possible for us to have God’s righteousness instead of our sin. Praise God for that however…
Jesus remains human. Look at 1 Timothy 2:5. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,
At first glance this seems to be a simple straightforward statement. “There is one mediator”. But when we think about exactly what is said here we see that Jesus is referred to as “the man Christ Jesus”! He is designated as a man even though he is God. As we study the Scriptures we become convinced that Jesus Christ was fully God and fully man in one person, and he will be so forever!
After Jesus’ ascension into heaven he is always seen as a man. He appeared to Stephen when he was martyred, he appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus. In each of these, and probably several more instances, Jesus is a glorified man. He is different from us because he lives in a resurrection body. In the resurrection, at the end of time, (if not at our death) we also will receive our resurrection bodies. Jesus lives forever as the God/man. I constantly wrestle with the concept of Jesus being limited in time and space as we are. I have no doubt that his eternal humanity is that which is presented in the Bible. Think about it!
The most amazing miracle is not the birth of Christ. Neither is the most amazing miracle the death of Christ on the cross for us. The most amazing miracle falls somewhere between those two significant events. The most amazing miracle is that Jesus, who was eternally one with the Father, became flesh while at the same time retaining his divine nature. And as such he could come between God and ourselves and bring us back to God. We needed to have someone who would be able to be tempted and yet not sin so that he could pay the price for our sin. Have you accepted Jesus as your Lord? Today can be the day.
All scriptures quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society