Deliverance for the Future

 

  • Introduction

Let’s start with our key scripture for today, Exodus 12:13 –

The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live; and when I see the blood I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.

In today’s scripture, the Lord will do something so miraculous, so memorable, that the people of Israel could not help but pass it along to their children and their children’s children.  God did something so amazing we remember it today.

In many ways, our memories define us.  I crunched some numbers – that’s what I do, I’m an engineer – and I discovered it’s my birthday today.  I am exactly 21,275 days old today.  Thank you, thank you.  If you forgot to being me a present, you can leave cash in the offering plate over there at the end of class.

But how many days do I remember?  I’ve had so many good, blessed days, but they all blur together.  But momentous changes in my life, those I remember.  First day at my first engineering job in 1982.  Getting on my knee to ask my wife to marry me.  The day I asked for a divorce and confessed to God that I was a failure without Him.  Giving my life to Christ in Singapore in 1998.  Getting on me knee to ask my wife to forgive and to re-marry me.

Memories.  Light the corners of my mind.  Misty watercolor memories of the way we were.  Scattered pictures of the smiles we left behind.  Smiles we gave to one another for the way we were.

Stop it.  Now I’m going to have that stuck in my head.

Now in Exodus 12, the Israelites are preparing for a life-changing day, a generation-changing day.  There would be simultaneous rejoicing and devastation, feasting and mourning, joy and sorrow, and forgiveness and judgment.

Israel needed divine intervention to free them from the trap of slavery that they could not free themselves from.  Have you ever found yourself trapped by something?  A struggle that you cannot free yourself from?  I remember Baby Jessica in October 1987, trapped 22’ underground in that abandoned water well in Midland, Texas.  The nation was glued to their televisions for three days as rescue workers and mining experts worked to save her.  I remember more recently in June 2018 those boys in Thailand trapped in a cave for 18 days when the monsoon rains came and flooded the entrance.  These are physical traps, but traps can be emotional, they can be financial, they can be spiritual.

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So, with so many traps keeping us in bondage, it’s no wonder we need deliverance just like the Israelites.  But God delivers us from life’s traps.  It’s a theme repeated throughout history, God delivers His people, and He still delivers you and me.  And 3500 years ago, the Israelites were trapped, in slavery, unable to free themselves from their bondage, and in need of a savior.

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God has been delivering to the Egyptians one plague after another.  The word “plague” comes from a Latin word that meant to strike, to give a mighty blow or a wound.  The blows were mighty indeed – so far there had been 9 plagues the Lord sent against Pharaoh to free His people, and each time Pharaoh promised to free the Israelites but then hardened his heart.  Those plagues were frogs, gnats, darkness, um, halitosis, I think.  Really bad movies. I forget the whole list.  Actually, there was a purpose for each plague, each plague sending a message to the Egyptians that Jehovah God was more powerful than every god the Egyptians had.

In our Scripture today, we arrive at the life-changing day: the Passover.  Passover was the day that the Israelites were freed from bondage to the Egyptians.  It would serve as an Independence Day for the Israelites, changing the course of their history.  In fact, this day was so monumental that God ordered that the Passover would start their calendar year.  It was symbolic of the fresh start and fresh life that God was granting to the people of Israel (Exodus 12:1-2).

The Passover was the last of the Ten Plagues that God sent to the Egyptians. The purpose of the plagues was to display God’s authority.  The tenth plague was by far the deadliest and most devastating. God would sweep over the land of Egypt, visiting every home and taking the life of every firstborn male—unless the house was covered by the blood of an innocent lamb.

Now, God sends the 10th and final plague.  Let’s see how He prepares His people.

  • Exodus 12:1-5, New Beginning

Exodus 12:1-5 –

The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year.  Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household.  If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat.  The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats.”

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God is creating a new beginning for His people to commemorate His deliverance.  This new beginning is the first month of the first year of a brand new calendar.  To remember this occasion, the head of each household will select a year-old, unblemished and perfect lamb to sacrifice on the tenth day of the month and slaughter it on the fourteenth day. The purpose of the lamb was to serve as a substitute. Instead of their first-born son passing away, the lamb would die in his place.

This was not the first time a lamb was sacrificed as a substitute for God’s people.  In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were literally covered by the sacrifice of an animal. It stood in their place and covered their nakedness. And on Mount Moriah, God provided a lamb as a substitute just as Abraham was about to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice.

However, God made it clear that not just any male lamb would do. He provided specific qualifications for this substitute: the lamb was to be one year old.  It was to be free from blemish or defect. These details are important.  The age of the lamb mattered because, at one year, a lamb is at the peak of its life in strength and energy.  And the perfection of the lamb mattered because it was a representation of the quality of its life.  We will see later in Deuteronomy 17:1 that a blemished animal was an abomination to God. In order to offer a perfect substitute, the Israelites were expected to find a perfect sacrifice.

Impending judgment hung over the head of all those residing in Egypt that evening. Death was on the doorstep of every house in Egypt. As the sun rolled beneath the horizon, all were in danger.  But God had provided His people a way to spare themselves and their households from the fate that all deserved. The Israelites had the opportunity to take God at His word and exercise their faith in Him.  They could find a substitute that would stand in the impending death in place of their firstborn sons.  Behind the cover of a young, perfect lamb, they would be shielded from the wrath of God and instead receive the mercy of God.

Just like you and me today.  When we are behind the cover of the lamb, we are shielded from the wrath of God and instead receive mercy.  How did Jesus meet this criteria?  I’m glad you asked.  1 Peter 1:18-19 says –

knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.

And John the Baptist proclaimed in John 1:29b the beginning of Jesus’ ministry with these words –

“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

Let’s not overlook the significance of the blood covering.  Leviticus 17:11 says,

“For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.” 

Blood is life.  I don’t think it’s any coincidence that our advanced society still requires blood donations and haven’t developed artificial blood.  They’ve developed some stuff that can help refill the circulatory system in case of blood loss, but they haven’t developed red blood cells to carry oxygen, white blood cells for fighting diseases, plasma with proteins, platelets to stop blood loss, and so on.  Blood is life.

And 1 John 1 :7 says,

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” 

Slide12.JPGIt is the blood of Jesus that saves us and gives us eternal life.  For the Israelites, it was only the covering of blood over the door that would save them and deliver them from their bondage.  For us, it is only the covering of the blood of Jesus that saves us from our sins and delivers us from our eternal punishment.

The sacrifice of the innocent to pay for the sins of the guilty.  The lamb was innocent of any wrongdoing.  Just as Jesus was innocent of any wrongdoing.  It is we who do wrong.  Romans 3:23 says that all of us, you and me, have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  And Romans 6:23 says that the punishment for our sins is death, but God’s gift to us is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.  This concept of atonement begins here in Exodus 12, continues through Isaiah 53:5 that says that our redeemer was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.  And all the way through the New Testament, 1 Peter 2:24, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness, by his wounds we have been healed.”

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Any other method of trying to provide for our own deliverance will fail.  We do not have the ability to save ourselves any more than the Israelites could save themselves from Pharaoh.  If we try, we will find we are sinners and must pay for our sins with eternal death.  Jesus, the son of God, paid that price on our behalf that we may live in Him.

And when we accept this sacrifice, we become new creations.  God delivers us from our eternal punishment, and we become adopted children of God.  2 Corinthians 5:17 –

” Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”

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God delivers us.

  • Exodus 12:6-11, Urgent Attitude

Once we have accepted Jesus, our lives take on a certain urgency.  Exodus 12:6-11 –

Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the people of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight.  Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs.  That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast.  Do not eat the meat raw or cooked in water, but roast it over the fire—head, legs and inner parts.  Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it.  This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand.  Eat it in haste; it is the LORD’s Passover.

Like the instructions regarding the sacrificial animal and its blood, God gave the Israelites detailed instructions about the meal that would follow the Passover.  They were to eat unleavened bread.  This bread did not contain yeast, and they were not permitted time for the bread to rise. God wanted them to eat the meal with a belt on their waists and shoes on their feet so that they could leave in a hurry. It was a reminder to the people of Israel that they were to be ready to follow God. They could be called to make their exodus out of Egypt at any moment.

The symbolism of the yeast was also symbolic of what the people were to leave behind, to leave out of their lives.  To the Israelites, it represented the old traps of life, the bondage to Egypt.  To us, it represent sin.  God tells His people to make bread without yeast, unleavened bread, and later in Exodus 12:19 God says that whoever eats anything with yeast in it during this Passover will be cut off from Israel.  These are not baking instructions.  Jesus says in Matthew 16:11-12,

“How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread?  But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 

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And 1 Corinthians 5:6-8,

“Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough?  Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.  Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” 

So it’s definitely not a baking recipe, it’s a warning that a little sin will spread throughout the whole body.  We cannot underestimate the significance of sin in our lives and how offensive sin is to a most Holy God.  The smallest amount of sin in our lives will cause us to fry in the presence of Jehovah unless we are covered by the sacrificial, Passover blood.

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This dinner was true farm-to-table.  The Israelites roasted their lamb, made fresh bread, and accompanied the meal with bitter herbs that were also symbolic.  The bitter herbs were a reminder to them of their bitter enslavement in Egypt.  The herbs were also symbolic of the bitterness of sin.   In The Doctrine of Repentance, Puritan pastor and theologian Thomas Watson, said, “Till sin be bitter, Christ will not be sweet.”

This highly symbolic Passover meal would endure for generations. Every year, when the Israelites would eat this meal, the smells and tastes would bring them back to the night that changed the history of their nation. They would recall the sacrificial lamb. They would be reminded of the bitterness of sin and slavery. They would remember the attitude of hastiness that they were to show when God called them. Ultimately, the Passover Meal would serve as a reminder of the deliverance they could experience.  It prompted them to maintain an attitude of sacrifice, a readiness to obey God, and a regard for sin as bitter.

And 1500 years later, Jesus added an extra layer of symbolism during the last Passover meal.  Jesus and His disciples gathered in the upper room, and they shared the Passover meal the night before His death.  They ate the lamb, and they ate unleavened bread.  They ate the bitter herbs. It was on that night and at that dinner that Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper.

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He took the unleavened bread, and He broke the bread as a symbol of His body that was going to be broken on the cross.  He took a cup of wine, and He explained to His friends that His blood was going to be poured out for the forgiveness of sins.  And then, with haste, Jesus got up from the table because God was calling Him to be obedient, even unto death.  He was going to become our Passover Lamb, and He would taste the bitterness of sin for all sinners.

The Passover is rich with symbols, from the lamb to the blood to the meal that followed.  Each element was carefully designated by God to represent a large truth.  But God had an even bigger plan in mind than freedom from the Egyptians when He provided instructions to the Israelites.  The Passover serves as a signpost that points toward something even greater for God’s people.

  • Exodus 12:12-13, Divine Mercy

If God’s people did as they were instructed and made their sacrifice in haste, the they were saved from the wrath of God.  Verse 12-13 –

“On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn — both men and animals — and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt.  I am the LORD.  The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.”

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And so begins the 10th plague, the death of every firstborn.  Who was judged this night?  Egyptians were pantheists, believing that everything in the world was part of a god or goddess.  And they were polytheists, worshiping many gods that were all around them.  Each god or goddess was involved in a different part of their lives.

God is very deliberate in His wrath, demonstrating his power over all of nature.  God says, “I am the Lord.”  He stands apart, holy.  All other gods are demons.  Each of the first 9 plagues demonstrated God’s sovereignty over a popular Egyptian god to demonstrate that He alone is God.  And now the 10th plague over all male firstborns including animals demonstrate that no one is god but God alone.

Death is a powerful and painful lesson.  It gets our attention like nothing else in this world.  And it’s unavoidable.  It is God’s final recourse in showing His power to liberate His people and God’s supremacy over Pharaoh’s little gods.  When Pharaoh refused, thousands perished.  When Israel believed, thousands lived.  And today, every person’s fate hinges on either believing or not believing the one true and living God in heaven.    And God used the ultimate death, His son Jesus, to save us.

Who needed mercy that night?  Everyone did.  Who received mercy that night?  Only those covered by the blood were granted divine mercy.

Romans 2:5 is addressed to those who have not accepted the blood covering of Jesus.

“But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.” 

Still today, everyone needs mercy.  But only those who accept that Jesus Christ is Lord and is true messiah receive it.  This is God’s plan to the end of time; in Revelation 7:9, there is a great multitude that no one could count from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.  In Revelation 7:14, we are told who these people are and the distinguishing mark of the believer.

“These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

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God has had a plan from the beginning to deliver us from our sins that deserve His wrath.   His judgment is perfect; that’s why we should fear Him.  But His mercy is perfect; that’s why we should love Him.  He first loved us and provided a way to deliver us from our sins that trap us in bondage.  We are free in Christ.

  • Exodus 12:14, Precious Memory

These lessons must be continually learned from one generation to the next.  Anything not carefully remembered is easily forgotten, so we must carefully prepare our lives and celebrations in a way that the next generation will also come to know the saving blood of Jesus.  Exodus 12:14 –

This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD – a lasting ordinance.

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The Passover saved the Israelites who heeded God’s instructions. It was a “mighty blow,” the tenth and final plague that delivered them from the grip of Pharaoh.  As God’s judgment swept across the land, killing the firstborn sons of the Egyptians, the Israelites were safely covered from God’s wrath by the blood of a perfect sacrifice.  The next morning, the Egyptians wailed in distress while the Israelites tasted God’s freedom and goodness.  God had displayed His authority, identified His people, and upheld them among their oppressors.

Passover serves to remind us today of the ultimate deliverance that God has in mind for all of His people. In 1st Corinthians, the Apostle Paul tells us that the Passover in Exodus is a shadow of what was to come.  And, that what was demonstrated on the cross was the substance.  1 Corinthians 5:7b,

For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.

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Jesus was in the prime of His life when He was sacrificed. He was a full-grown and vibrant man who was unblemished in that He never sinned and had no fault.  Every element of the Passover pointed to the Gospel, including God’s instruction to paint the blood of the lamb across doorposts. God would later instruct His people to identify themselves and exercise their faith by painting Jesus’ blood across their hearts.

In Messiah in the Passover, Dr. Rich Freeman describes the Passover as a signpost:

“Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He is the fulfillment of Passover. Like the first Passover lambs sacrificed to redeem Israel from slavery in Egypt, Jesus’ death on the cross redeems us from slavery to sin … And just as the first Passover was very personal and the Israelites personally applied the blood of the lambs to the doors of their houses, we too, by faith, need to personally apply the blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God, to the doors of our hearts.”

The past picture of the Passover points to the future plan of God in Jesus Christ.

  • Conclusion

Although the Passover occurred thousands of years ago, Passover still points to our ultimate deliverance through Jesus Christ.  In Exodus, the Passover lamb saved the Israelites, an event that led them on their journey to the Promised Land. Today, Jesus saves us and leads us toward the promised land of Heaven.

Are you trapped?  There is deliverance in Christ Jesus.  Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the Passover Lamb whose blood was poured out on the cross for us. We can trust in Jesus as the perfect, unblemished Lamb of God that stands in our place.

We are invited by God to escape judgment and find mercy through the blood of Jesus.  It is His desire that we flee the bitter bonds of sin.  We can experience deliverance from our past – and deliverance from all of the things that will ensnare us in the future – through the Lamb.

When we apply the blood of Jesus to our lives, we escape God’s judgment.  God will “pass over” us, and we will be spared eternal death.  Instead of receiving what we deserve, we will be given the gift of eternal life.  One day, we will arrive in Heaven, the land flowing with milk and honey, and all of God’s people will sing, “Worthy is the Lamb!” (Revelation 5:12).

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To God be the glory.

Grace on the Ark

  • Introduction

Genesis 9:11 –

Thus I establish My covenant with you: Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood; never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.

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In Genesis 6, we are told that creation was in dire need of a “reset.”  As we learned last week in Genesis 3, Adam and Eve introduced sin into this world, and since then it has spread across all of humanity.  Romans 5:12 says –

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.

We see this in Genesis 4 with the first murder, as Cain kills Abel.  Eight generations later, we see Lamech kill a man and even boast about it.  Then we get to chapter 6:1-4 and we read that the sons of God were marrying the daughters of men which some have interpreted as the intermarriage of fallen angels with humanity.  Whatever *that* was, it was a detestable thing that broke the heart of God.

Genesis 6:5-7 –

Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.  The Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.  The Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them.”

Did the Father truly regret making people in His own image? Did God make a mistake in His creation?  No, God’s pain is not sorrow over His mistake; His pain is sorrow over our mistake.  Sin is not only offensive to God because it robs Him of the glory that He is due, but it also robs us of the joy that He designed for us.  Because of this, in one fierce storm, the likes of which will never be seen again, God blotted out nearly all the life on this earth.  Nearly, but not all.  Because of His great mercy and grace, God preserved a remnant through one faithful servant, Noah.  As we study the story of the flood today, we will see that God’s grace was extravagant, even in the midst of His righteous and terrifying judgment.

  • Build an Ark, Genesis 6

Genesis 6:13-19 –

Then God said to Noah, “The end of all flesh has come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence because of them; and behold, I am about to destroy them with the earth.  Make for yourself an ark of gopher wood; you shall make the ark with rooms, and shall cover it inside and out with pitch.  This is how you shall make it: the length of the ark three hundred cubits, its breadth fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits.  You shall make a window for the ark, and finish it to a cubit from the top; and set the door of the ark in the side of it; you shall make it with lower, second, and third decks.  Behold, I, even I am bringing the flood of water upon the earth, to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life, from under heaven; everything that is on the earth shall perish.  But I will establish My covenant with you; and you shall enter the ark – you and your sons and your wife, and your sons’ wives with you.  And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female.

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Noah is introduced in Genesis as a man that found favor in God’s eyes. The Lord informed him of His plan to flood all of creation because of humanity’s sin.  However, God also tells Noah that he and his family will be spared through the construction of an enormous ark.  Noah is given a baffling instruction to build this enormous sea vessel in the middle of the desert.

I’ve received some strange requests in my life.  Usually they come from my wife as I’m driving past the grocery store.  “Can you pick up some basil, orange juice, and broccoli?”  I have no idea what she’s making for dinner.

I’ve also heard some strange requests from God in my life.  When I was earnestly seeking Him for the first time at the ripe old age of 38, God sent me to Singapore.  I’m sure there was someplace closer where I could find Him.

But Noah’s request was much stranger.  The Lord asked Noah to build a boat longer than a football field, including both end zones, and four stories tall.  Noah’s neighbors must have thought he’d lost his mind.

Noah is appointed ship-maker, captain, and zookeeper all at once.  He is told that at the appointed time, God will lead two of every kind of creature into this boat to ensure the future repopulation of the earth.  But the ark was so large that even with all those animals, there was still room to fit more people.  All the while Noah was building, Noah was also preaching for others to be saved.

  • God Offers Grace Before Judgement, Genesis 7

In 2 Peter 2:5, Peter says Noah was a “herald of righteousness.”  All the while Noah spent in construction of the ark, Noah also proclaimed God’s righteous plan to his neighbors.  Noah surely explained that God was angry and that He was going to pour out His wrath through a worldwide flood.  Noah must have pointed to the massive ark under construction as God’s visible offer of salvation.  But only the eight people in Noah’s family boarded the boat as passengers. No one believed his story.  No one repented.  No one asked to be on that boat with him before the storm.

You know, this story of Noah continues today.  Every day, people ignore a  Noah in their life and the salvation of the ark.  God sends “Noahs” all the time.  Sometimes they are friends, family members, or colleagues.  Other times they are preachers or missionaries. They all are used by God as His “heralds,” proclaiming the hellfire and brimstone to come, but they also point to an ark as a means of salvation.

What is our ark?  Where is our salvation?  Where does my help come from?  My help comes from the Lord and in the finished work of Jesus Christ. Through faith in Jesus’ substitutionary death and resurrection, we can be protected from the wrath of God that is to come.  We are offered a new life filled with hope, just like Noah.

Noah’s friends and neighbors were given plenty time to think about Noah’s message and accept his offer.  But eventually the window of opportunity closed, and the floodwaters came.  And today?  2 Peter 3 tells us the world we know will eventually end in fire when that window of opportunity closes.  When will that be?  2 Peter 3:8-9 says,

But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.  The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

Peter says Jesus has not returned yet because He is giving us additional time to get on “our ark.”  For most of us, we don’t have 1000 years.  Statistics say I have less than 40 years left.  But many ignore the messengers and the message of the salvation found in Jesus.  The story of Noah reminds us that the window of opportunity will eventually come to a close.  Genesis 7:11-16,

In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on the same day all the fountains of the great deep burst open, and the floodgates of the sky were opened.  The rain fell upon the earth for forty days and forty nights.  On the very same day Noah and Shem and Ham and Japheth, the sons of Noah, and Noah’s wife and the three wives of his sons with them, entered the ark, they and every beast after its kind, and all the cattle after their kind, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth after its kind, and every bird after its kind, all sorts of birds.  So they went into the ark to Noah, by twos of all flesh in which was the breath of life.  Those that entered, male and female of all flesh, entered as God had commanded him; and the Lord closed it behind him.

After years of construction, God fulfilled His promise.  The floodwaters came for 40 days and 40 nights.  But the water did not just come from the “top-down,” it came from the “bottom-up” as the “fountains of the great deep.  The earth began to gush with water and the earth began to accumulate water at a rate never seen before or since.  Water topped even the highest of the mountains and there was no salvation available apart from the ark.  People on the outside quickly learned that even the patience of God has a limit.

God generously gave years for people to heed Noah’s warnings, but the day came where His warnings were over.  Instead of hearing about God’s wrath, people began to witness it for themselves.  And God’s last word to them was not in the form of a sentence. It came through the form of divine action: He shut the door of the ark.

First, God shut the door to protect those who were inside.  God had promised Noah and his family salvation through the ark.  God personally sealing the door was a powerful message to Noah that God was present and in control.  Likewise, God follows through with His promise of salvation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  Paul tells us in Ephesians 1:13-14

In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.

When we step into our ark, by grace and through faith in Jesus Christ, God likewise seals us with the presence of His Holy Spirit.  God is with us in the future storms of this life and that our salvation is safe and secure. Nothing can break through and rob us of the salvation that we have accepted from Him through faith.  Our salvation is in good hands.

Secondly, God shut the door because time was up.  Jesus says in Matthew 24:38 that just days before the flood, people were eating, drinking, marrying, and celebrating.  Despite the forewarnings, they were caught completely off guard by the raging storm.  Maybe they ran to that boat in desperation when they saw the waters begin to rise.  But they could not enter the ark because God’s grace had a time limit. They now believed Noah’s warnings, but it was simply too late.  Faith is the key to opening up the door to salvation.  Hebrews 11:6a says

And without faith it is impossible to please God.

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When we die or when Christ returns (whichever comes first), there is no longer room for faith because even the ungodly will see the wrath of God firsthand.  The door to our own ark, salvation, will close.

So, God shuts the door and the rain came.  For 40 days and 40 nights, the heavens are opened and creation experienced a torrential downpour.  Finally after 40 days, God closed the heavens but water continued to rise for 150 days.  As the water finally started to peak, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat.  On that mountain, Noah’s family had to wait seven more months for the water to recede fully.  In total, they spent a little over a year on that ark together.

  • A Fresh Start, Genesis 8:15-22

Genesis 8 begins with the floodwaters receding and Noah seeing if it was safe to exit the ark.  Then in verse 15, God gives the all-clear signal –

Then God said to Noah, “Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives.  Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you—the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground—so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number on it.”

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When God created the heavens and the earth, God’s command to both the animals and then later to man and woman was to multiply and be fruitful.  We can see here that God still desires the best for us, despite our sinful nature.  He still wants us the be fruitful and multiply.  Why did God pick Noah?  Out of the vast sea of humanity that lived during that time, why Noah?  I think one of Noah’s first actions after leaving the ark demonstrated why God loved him.  Noah built an altar to the Lord in verse 20 –

Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it.  The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.

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Don’t get confused where this sacrifice came from – we remember the story from our childhood that the animals were brought aboard the ark two by two.  But if you back up to the beginning of chapter 7, you’ll see that for some animals, more than a single pair were brought on board.  For “clean” animals, those that have a split hoof or chew the cud such as cattle, deer, goats and sheep, there were actually 7 pairs of animals brought on board.

So Noah’s gratitude and admirations of God’s greatness led him to offer a sacrifice.  A sacrifice, by definition, should cost us something.  Noah too what little he had, and with only 7 of each clean animal that was worthy of sacrifice, Noah risked extinction by sacrificing some of the animals.

But costly sacrifice is pleasing to God.  It’s not the amount; large quantities don’t please God.  Remember Jesus at the temple, watching wealthy people bringing their tithes, when a widow brings two pennies, all she had, to give?  God wants our heart, our soul, our mind, our strength.  The bible also says (Romans 12:1) that we should present our bodies as a living sacrifice, that giving of our resources is a sacrifice (Philippians 4:18), and that we should give the sacrifice of praise to God (Hebrews 13:15).

God doesn’t need our sacrifices.  God isn’t greedy, God doesn’t want to just take stuff from us.  But God sacrificed Himself to us at great cost (Ephesians 5:2, Hebrews 9:26, Hebrews 10:12), and He wants us to be conformed in the image of Jesus Christ who made the ultimate sacrifice.  He wants us to learn to give sacrificially.  He wants us to learn to give away that which we cannot keep.  Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:2, we should be like Jesus in this regard:

And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.

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We have an example in David, a man after God’s own heart, who said in 2 Samuel 24:24 that he would never make offerings to God that which costs him nothing.  The burnt offerings of Noah risked what little he had after the flood, and the sacrifice pleased the Lord.

  • The Covering of Blood, Genesis 9:4-6

Then in the beginning of Genesis 9, God makes some changes to man’s relationship with nature.  In Genesis 9:1-3,

Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.  The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands.  Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.

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Up to this point in time, I presume, we were all vegetarians and lived in peace with all animals.  And animals will now live in fear of us.  It reminds me of the days in the future when animals will all live in peace again.  In Isaiah 11, one of the Messianic Prophecies, we read that when Jesus again rules, the wolf will live with the lamb in peace.

But God has a restriction; the animals may be eaten, but not the blood of the animals.  In the blood is life, and lifeblood is important to man and God.  The same restrictions are given in more detail later in Leviticus 17 and Deuteronomy 12.

The importance of blood to the Lord is shown by how often the word is used in the bible.   In the New King James version, it is used 424 times in 357 separate verses (in the New King James Version).  That blood represents life can be shown in the following passages –

      • Blood was the sign of mercy for Israel at the first Passover (Exodus 12:13)
      • Blood sealed God’s covenant with Israel (Exodus 24:8)
      • Blood sanctified the altar (Exodus 29:12)
      • Blood set aside the priests (Exodus 29:20)
      • Blood made atonement for God’s people (Exodus 30:10)
      • Blood sealed the new covenant (Matthew 26:28)
      • Blood justifies us (Romans 5:9)
      • Blood brings redemption (Ephesians 1:7)
      • Blood brings peace with God (Colossians 1:20)
      • Blood cleanses us (Hebrews 9:14 and 1 John 1:7)
      • Blood gives entrance to God’s holy place (Hebrews 10:19)
      • Blood sanctifies us (Hebrews 13:12)
      • Blood enables us to overcome Satan (Revelation 12:11)

The covering of innocent blood has been given to those who accept the ultimate sacrifice and blood atonement of Christ Jesus.

  • The Covenant, Genesis 9:8-17

After Noah’s altar and sacrifice, God creates a covenant with Noah.  Genesis 9:8-11,

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you – the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you – every living creature on earth.  I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

 God established a covenant with mankind (Noah and all of his descendants), and even with the animals.  God promised He would never again destroy all life with a flood or cover the earth with a flood to eradicate evil.  However, we are approaching what Matthew called “the Days of Noah,” Matthew 24:36-39,

“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.  For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.”

When we reach the “days of Noah,” and God’s patience reaches its perfection, then God will again destroy earth – but by fire, not by flood (2 Peter 3:3-7) –

Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires.  They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.”  But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water.  By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed.  By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

Then in Genesis 9:12-17, God provides a sign of His covenant:

And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.  Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life.  Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”

So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.”

Every time we see a rainbow, we should remember the faithfulness of God and every one of His promises.  He even says His covenant of peace with us is just as sure as His covenant with Noah and all generations.  Isaiah 54:9-10,

For this is like the waters of Noah to Me; for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah would no longer cover the earth, so have I sworn that I would not be angry with you, nor rebuke you. For the mountains shall depart and the hills be removed, but My kindness shall not depart from you, nor shall My covenant of peace be removed, says the Lord, who has mercy on you.

The other mentions of a rainbow in the Bible are set in the context of God’s enthroned glory.  Rainbows are mentioned in Ezekiel 1:28, Revelation 4:3, and Revelation 10:1.  It is amazing to see God, in His glory, setting so close to Himself a reminder of His promise to man.

What exactly, is a covenant, and why is a covenant important?  For people, we think of a covenant as a contract.  It is an agreement between two people and involves promises for both people involved in the contract.

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The concept of a covenant between God and His people is one of the central themes of the Bible.  In the biblical sense, a covenant implies much more than a contract or a simple agreement between two parties.  The word for “covenant” comes from a Hebrew word that means “to cut” or “to bind”.

It is remarkable that God is holy, omniscient, and omnipotent, but He consents to enter into covenant with man, who is feeble, sinful, and flawed.

  • Conclusion

The covenant with Noah was sealed with a rainbow, a reminder that God would never again flood the earth and destroy every living thing.  Many centuries later, the New Covenant was sealed with blood, a reminder that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son so that you and I could live.  Noah had a fresh start – the evil that surrounded him, that taunted him while he built the ark was gone.  Noah’s heart for the Lord led him to worship and praise.

But you and I have that same fresh start.  Like the evil men that surrounded Noah, we too, were once surrounded, unable to escape.  Like the flood that destroyed the evil, we are baptized into Christ and our sins are washed away. And every day is a fresh start, a new sunrise, a new beginning with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

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A rainbow is a sign of God’s forgiveness, but then again, so are we.  We are a sign of God’s forgiveness and grace.  Forgive one another as God forgives us.  Extend grace to one another as God has given us grace.  Love one another as God loves us.  Arise and greet the new day every day and approach it with confidence, knowing that we are symbols of God’s grace and mercy to this fallen world.

Accept the new beginning and the promise that is in Christ Jesus.

To God be the glory.

Jesus is the Reason

 

Introduction

Our Chronological bible study is nearly complete. When we were reading the Old Testament, we read history. When we began reading the New Testament, we began understanding everything Jesus did for us, but there’s so much packed into each week, it’s not possible to completely address everything we read this week in the book of Hebrews, one of the most complex books in the bible to understand. Today we will only cover the first 4 verses of Hebrews, although even that is a breakneck speed. One could spend many weeks just studying these verse that answer the question, “Who is Jesus? And why is He better?”

We have spent 11-1/2 months reading through the bible chronologically, understanding the purposes of God’s plan to give us free choice and also save us from ourselves.   Throughout the Old Testament, God established a sacrificial system with a temple, a high priest that acted as an intermediary, and an unblemished lamb to take the punishment of a wicked people.   All because God loves us.

And when that system turned into pharisaical rules and regulations, God intervened. It was always God’s plan at the right time to send a high priest forever, an unblemished lamb forever, and the temple of the holy spirit to dwell in man, to do for us what we could not do for ourselves. A messiah, a savior, who would change everything. And as we approach Christmas, we see these promises being fulfilled –

Isaiah 7:14 –

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

Isaiah 9:6 –

For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice, From that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.

Micah 5:2 –

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me, The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting.”

God’s people had been told there would be a Messiah and after 400 years of silence, the silence was broken. An angel spoke to Zacharias in the temple telling him that he and his wife Elizabeth would give birth to John the Baptist.   An angel spoke to Mary telling her that she would give birth to Jesus, by the Holy Spirit.   An angel spoke to Joseph telling him about Jesus. Matthew 1:20 –

But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

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The Angels broke the silence of 400 years with the announcement that Jesus was coming. And that is our anticipation this year and every year as Christmas nears – Jesus is coming!

We don’t know who wrote the book of Hebrews, but we do know they were inspired by the Holy Spirit.   Hebrews has over 40 Old Testament quotes, quotes that would have been sacred to any Jew in the first century.   The author makes the case that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, Jesus Christ is the final authority of all things in heaven and on earth, Jesus Christ is our High Priest forever, and Jesus Christ is the final sacrifice. The book of Hebrews systematically compares Jesus to the prophets of old, the priests, the sacrifices, and even the angels; and without hesitation, Jesus is superior to all.

And at Christmas time, the lyrics to this familiar song illustrate the amazing savior we have described in the book of Hebrews –

Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you.

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So let us study the awesomeness and majesty of the baby born in Bethlehem in just the first four verses of Hebrews 1:1-4 –

God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,   having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they. Chronological Bible, December 17th, p.1555

The first four verses of Hebrews connects what we have been studying now for 51 weeks. There is an acknowledgment of how God spoke in the lives and writings of the prophets in the Old Testament. The foundation had been laid in each of the Eras of the Old Testament from the days of Adam and Eve, through David and Solomon, through Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Nehemiah, and all the way through John the Baptist, a voice crying in the wilderness, preparing the way for Jesus.

These past couple of months we studied the Gospels and the Epistles, we looked at the life of Jesus. We saw the ministry of Jesus through healings, miracles, sermons, and parables.   And then we saw the establishment of the church and how Paul wanted to make sure that all, even those in the uttermost parts of the world, would know Jesus Christ.

But today, the author of Hebrews wants us to understand the fullness and authority of Jesus Christ. Creator, Prophet, Priest, and King – Jesus Christ is superior to every prophet and servant of God in all the sacred pages of the Scriptures. This is the theme throughout the book of Hebrews. Jesus may have begun His human life as a baby born in a manger in Bethlehem, yet He is the Heir of all things, the brightness of His glory, the express Image of His person, upholding all things by the word of His power; knowing He was destined to become the purification for our sins.

Let’s uncover eight truths in these first 4 verses. I tell you in advance that there are 8 so you can take notes and number them, and also when we get to around 7 we know the end approaches and we can get to lunch before the Methodists do.

Heir of All Things (v2)

So, to fully appreciate Jesus, the author of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus is the heir to all things. What is an heir?

“Heir” suggests both dignity and dominion, with the added implication of legal title.   All things will fall under His authority. Christ is the heir of all things precisely because God has only one Son and one Heir.   Christians are also called adopted children and therefore heirs of God, but only because we are clothed in Christ Jesus with whom alone God is well pleased.

When Jesus is described as the ‘Heir of all things,’ it means that everything is His. He is the ultimate authority over all things and the rightful owner of all things. You look up in the sky at night and see the moon and stars; they belong to Jesus; He is the Heir of all things. You look at the beautiful Christmas trees that are decorated with lights this time of the year; they belong to Jesus; He is the Heir of all things.   Everything belongs to Jesus; He is the Heir of all things. Because of Jesus’ obedience – even to death on a cross – Philippians 2:9-10 says

God has exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

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Jesus did not just bring us the message of His Father. Jesus *is* the message.

Through Whom Also He Made the Worlds (v2)

John begins his gospel with this truth in John 1:1 –

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.   In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. (Chronological Bible, September 24th, p.1272).

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Jesus was part of the creation process with God, the Father. Everything that was made, was made through Him. John wanted us to know that Jesus was not just the Son of God but was Creator with God.

The Greek word for worlds in Hebrew 1:2 is interesting, it’s “aiōn” which encompasses not just the material world but also the ages, the history. Jesus is the creator of all time, matter, and space.   Jesus Christ is not a created being, as Jehovah’s Witnesses and some others claim. Jesus is the Creator, the Creator of everything.

And then John tells us the truth of Christmas, John 1:14 –

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (Chronological Bible, September 24th, p.1272).

The Creator became a baby in Bethlehem as Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us in the manger.   John even mentions that “we beheld His glory” which leads us to the next truth.

Being the Brightness of His glory (v3)

the Son is “the radiance of His [God’s] glory.” The Greek word apaugasma , translated “radiance,” refers to what shines out from the source of light. Jesus Christ revealed the glory of God in a veiled way during His incarnation. Peter, James, and John saw that radiance revealed more directly on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-2).

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.

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But Jesus isn’t just the sun peaking out from behind some clouds. He is the blazing, magnificent revelation of God Himself.

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The Express Image of His Person (v3)

The Son is the exact representation of God. The Greek word for “representation” is “character”, from which we get the English word, well, “character.” Greek writers used it to describe the emperor’s picture on Roman coins. The image on the coins was precisely the image on the engraving tool, an exact duplication.

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And although no one has seen God, Jesus Christ let people know exactly what the nature of God is like. Jesus put it this way in John 14:8-9a –

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.

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Upholding All Things by the Word of His Power (v3)

The Son “upholds all things by the word of His power.” The idea is not so much that Jesus upholds the universe as a dead weight, similar to Atlas shouldering the world.

Slide22.JPGRather, Jesus carries all things forward on their appointed course.   Colossians 1:15-17 says

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

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The Word of Jesus Christ has tremendous power and authority. It is the greatest force in the universe.

By Himself Purification for Our Sins (v3)

The Son “made purification of sins” as no one else could. He did so by His own sacrifice on the Cross, and by His work as the ultimate priest. The Greek word katharismos , translated “purification,” means both removal and cleansing. The word for “sin,” hamartia , occurs in Hebrews 25 times, more than any other book except Romans.

Hebrews doesn’t say much about individual sins, and doesn’t contain any list. The fundamental sin for Hebrews is unfaithfulness or neglect toward God which is our rebellion against God.

Though we celebrate His birth at Christmas, we cannot forget why He was born. He was born to die.   He died to live again and so that we may live with Him.

Sat Down at the Right Hand of Majesty on High (v3)

Goodness, I feel we are rushing through this, and we’re barely into our second verse. But in case you’re counting, this is number 7.   Take that, Methodists.

Number seven, the Son “sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” when He returned to heaven after His ascension. Today, He is at the place of honor and authority in relation to God the Father, ruling over the church and the angelic host in heaven. The Lord Jesus completed what He came here to do; now, He rules heaven and church while we wait for His second coming.

Better Than Angels (v4)

The previous seven truths lead to this ultimate truth. Jesus is better than angels. It sounds almost anticlimactic. But it is significant because so often people will elevate angels even above Jesus.

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Angels served as messengers who would come to deliver a message from God to His people.   However, Jesus does so much more.   He is not simply a messenger that brought a message from God to His people. Jesus is the message. Jesus is not simply a message of salvation and redemption. He is salvation and redemption.

The writer of Hebrews is declaring that Jesus is “so much better” than the angels. Jesus is beyond compare. All other prophets have come and said, “Thus sayeth the LORD to you.”   But only Jesus could say, “I AM the LORD who has come to you.”

This is why Jesus is better than angels. Angels did not become flesh to understand our situations. Angels cannot empathize with us or know our weaknesses. And angels did not die for our sin. Jesus, however, did all of these things.

And I see this at every Christmas, the celebration of Santa Claus and reindeer and snowmen and Christmas ornaments.   But Santa Claus is not the reason for the season. Jesus is the reason for the season.

Jesus is better.   And this is what the whole book of Hebrews proclaims – our infinite need being met in the infinite love of God to us in Jesus Christ. Whatever else one may exalt, Jesus is better. Way better. The name of Jesus is above every name.

Philippians 2:9-11 –

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
   and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
   in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
   to the glory of God the Father.

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Conclusion

Hebrews 1 points to the full deity of Jesus Christ –

      1. Heir of all things (v.2)
      2. Through whom also He made the worlds (v.2)
      3. Being the brightness of His glory (v.3)
      4. The Express Image of His person (v.3)
      5. Upholding all things by the word of His power (v.3)
      6. By Himself Purification for our sins (v.3)
      7. Sat down at the right hand of Majesty on high (v.3)
      8. Better than the angels. (v.4)

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The original Jewish audience, faced with the temptation to abandon discipleship of Jesus for return to Judaism, received a strong reminder of His deity at the very beginning of Hebrews 1. Jesus is Creator, Prophet, Priest, and King.

Jesus is our Reason for the Season. Jesus is Better.

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To God be the glory.   Amen.

Kingdom Warfare

 

Introduction

 

I wondered when we were going to get to study this. Armor of God class? Today we are going to study the Armor of God, Ephesians 6:10-18. So let’s read our scripture first and try to imagine it being read in Tony’s encouraging voice because no doubt at the end of class we will be blessed to hear Tony say these words again. Ephesians 6:10-18 –

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.   Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.   Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

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So let’s start with the scary truth – we are in battle with evil. Our adversary, the devil, prowls around like a hungry lion, looking for someone to devour. And the truly scary part is that the devil is very successful. He is the Father of Sin and owns this world and this culture and most – not some, not a few – but most people are deluded by the beauty of evil and the pleasures of sin. Narrow is the gate which leads to life, but wide is the path that leads to destruction.   That means most will not find their way to salvation despite the evidence of God’s love being abundant in creation.

Wiersbe’s commentary of Ephesians had this quote –

“Sooner or later every believer discovers that the Christian life is a battleground, not a playground, and that he faces an enemy who is much stronger than he is – apart from the Lord.”

Slide4.JPGYour task and my task is to be Christ’s ambassador, showing His light of salvation so that all who are called may be saved. But the devil isn’t going down without a fight, and he has had thousands of years of practice and deception, so we must be prepared.

 

The Enemy

 

The first strategy in our battle is to understand the enemy. Sun Tzu was a Chinese general and philosopher who lived 2000 years ago and wrote a famous document called Art of War, and I think this is his most famous line –

是故勝兵先勝而後求戰,敗兵先戰而後求勝。

Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.

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If we are to win against our common enemy, first we must understand who our enemy is. In the book of Ephesians, Paul describes the enemy like this –

      • The Prince of the power of the air (2:2)
      • The spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience (2:2)
      • A schemer (6:11)
      • Not flesh and blood (6:12)
      • Principalities (6:12)
      • Powers (6:12)
      • Rulers of the darkness of this age (6:12)
      • Spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places (6:12)
      • Uses fiery darts (6:16)

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Notice though, who is not our enemy: people.   And that is the biggest baddest mistake of well-meaning Christians, to go to battle against people. When we make people our enemy, we are actually helping our enemy win. We can look back at the study of Jonah, who rebelled against the Lord when commanded to go to Nineveh. We all remember the fish in the story, but it’s the last two chapters that give the story of Jonah meaning. Jonah had been sent to a wicked people, and was resentful against God for not destroying them. God’s response is that the wicked people of Nineveh were God’s wayward children and he wanted Jonah to teach them about His love. That’s why John 3:16 is so powerful –

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Not for a few, not for some, not even for many. God loves the people of this world and there is no celebration in heaven greater than when a sinner turns to repentance. The enemy isn’t people, no matter what horrible accusation or insult comes out of their mouth. That’s the devil working through this world. That’s why it’s so important for us to remember to “hate the sin, love the sinner.”

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So when we go into battle against the prince of the power of the air and the rulers of the darkness of this age, what is our battle plan? First, we need to be equipped for the battle, and that begins with Paul’s description of the battle armor worn by a Roman soldier –

 

The Armor – Belt of Truth

 

Ephesians 6:14a,

Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth ((Ephesians 6:14a, Chronological Bible p. 1532)

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In the first century, a soldier would wear a belt that would hold his sword. The belt would also hold his chest plate in place and allow for him to tuck his robes above his knees so that he could engage in battle. Without a belt, the rest of the attire could not function. The belt held everything together. Paul makes a comparison between the belt of a soldier and truth.

The truth of God holds everything together. Without it, we cannot hope to prevail in battle.   If we are going to fight this spiritual battle against the devil and the forces of evil, we must have truth to win.

The devil is the enemy of truth, but he’s devious about it and twists the truth to make it sound believable. Remember his first deception in the Garden of Eden? Genesis 3:1,

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

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That wasn’t God’s command, God told Adam and Eve they could eat from any tree, except one, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The devil twists the truth.

Sometimes he even quotes the truth, daring us to misapply it. When Jesus was in the desert for 40 days and the devil tempted him, the devil quoted scripture to Jesus. But it was a misapplication, a distorted truth. Matthew 4:5-7,

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,

   and they will lift you up in their hands,

   so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

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In John’s Gospel, Jesus gives us great insight into the character of Satan. Jesus tells us that the devil does not “hold to the truth, for there is no truth in him.   When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44)

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The devil wants us to believe lies about ourselves and of this world. The devil wants us to believe lies about God. The devil whispers lies into our hearts and minds and attempts to lead us away from God. We Christians must arm themselves with the belt of truth so that we can engage in the battles against the lies of Satan.

Truth is more than feelings. Truth is even more than facts. Truth is reality from God’s point of view.   We need an objective standard of reality for the world we live in as well.   Thankfully, God has provided that objective standard in the truth of His Word. Every day you and I must engage in God’s Word of Truth so that we can differentiate between lies and reality. We must put on the Belt of Truth first to properly equip us for spiritual battle.

 

The Armor – Breastplate of Righteousness

 

Ephesians 6:14b,

having put on the breastplate of righteousness (Ephesians 6:14b, Chronological Bible p. 1532

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Soldiers would place a breastplate over their bodies to help protect their vital organs during battle. The breastplate would cover them from their collarbone to their lower abdomen, guarding their heart, lungs, and intestines. With their breastplate on, they could enter the battle with confidence knowing they were protected.

After the fall, Adam and Eve were aware of their nakedness and clothed themselves with leaves.   They attempted to protect themselves with clothing of their own making. God, however, replaced their clumsy attempt to cover themselves with clothing of His own making.

When we clothe ourselves in unrighteous, legalistic, or worldly truth, the self-righteous person is doomed to certain defeat by the enemy. But God clothes believers with the very righteousness of Jesus Christ.

The Breastplate of Righteousness represents the external righteousness of Jesus Christ placed on us. Jesus’ righteousness protects us, and it guards us against the blows of the devil for eternity. But the Breastplate of Righteousness also represents the internal righteousness of a godly life.

Our greatest protection and ally in the Christian life against the schemes of the devil is to pursue a righteous life. Satan, who is our Accuser, cannot accuse us of sins we do not commit. He cannot condemn a consecrated life. Integrity and righteousness in the Christian life protect us from the everyday assaults of the devil and helps us to engage the spiritual battle with confidence. When we live righteously, we can know that we are covered and protected. An obedient Christian is an effective Christian.

 

The Armor – Shoes of the Gospel of Peace

 

Ephesians 6:15,

and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace (Ephesians 6:15, Chronological Bible p. 1532)

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The Roman shoes were tied, ready to go, ready to fight. They had short nails that would help give the soldier traction to make sure they were not slipping in battle. Paul tells the Church at Ephesus if they want to stand firmly in battle, they need to put on the shoes of the gospel. But notice it is the gospel of peace.

I’m reminded of Peter in Matthew 14. The disciples are in a boat, buffeted by winds, when Jesus begins to walk across the water toward them, and the disciples are scared. They think He’s a ghost. Then Peter says in verse 28-31 –

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

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The peace that the gospel offers is not peaceful circumstances throughout all of life.   The peace of the gospel is, that when the storms of life come, you are still walking on His Word. Peace is not the absence of chaos. Peace is assurance in the midst of chaos.

The gospel is good news because it is the gospel of peace. It offers us true peace with God, providing reconciliation for our sins. It offers true peace with our self, transforming us into the image of Jesus.   The gospel gives us true peace with others, providing an example of sacrificial love through Jesus Christ.

The peace of God are the shoes that hold us firmly in place during spiritual battle.

 

The Armor – Shield of Faith

 

Ephesians 6:16 –

above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. (Ephesians 6:16, Chronological Bible p. 1532)

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A Roman soldier’s shield was large. It would cover their bodies from shin to shoulder. It was wooden but covered in leather so that it was fireproof. The soldier would hold it out in front of him to protect him from spears, swords, and flaming arrows. He could interlock his shield with the shield of other soldiers and form a wall that was virtually impenetrable.

Have you ever watched old black and white Western movies? There is often a scene where the Indians repeatedly ride around the circled wagons of the cowboys. Then, one Indian would dip his arrow in oil and light it. He would shoot his flaming arrow at the wagons. The flaming arrow would not be meant to kill the cowboys.   It was meant to distract the cowboys because you cannot fight fire and fight Indians at the same time.

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Satan will try to shoot arrows of distraction in our lives with the purpose of distracting us from the real battle. We are to take up the shield of faith and protect ourselves from these fiery arrows.   Satan will shoot arrows of distraction to move our attention away from the fight and toward the fire.

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The Apostle Paul instructs us to carry the shield of faith so that we can extinguish the flaming arrows of the devil. When we focus on the object of our faith instead of the distractions to our faith, we can effectively engage in spiritual warfare.

Throughout scripture, faith is always measured by action. Faith is not measured by good intentions, chills that run down our back in worship service, or feelings. Faith is accounted for by action, moving us in the direction that God has called us to go.

If you look at the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11 you will notice a pattern of faith. It goes like this: the person is named, a declaration of their faith is stated, and a display of their faith through action is explained.

  • Noah → Trusted God → Built an ark.
  • Abraham → Trusted God → Left home to another land.
  • The People of Israel → Trusted God → Went through the Red Sea on dry ground.

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When we utilize the shield of faith we can trust God, extinguish the distractions, and move in action to what God has called us to do. This is a prerequisite to winning our spiritual battles.

 

The Armor – Helmet of Salvation

 

Ephesians 6:17a,

And take the helmet of salvation (Ephesians 6:17a, Chronological Bible p. 1532)

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Soldiers marching out onto the battlefield would first place a helmet on their heads. It was absurd for anyone to engage in combat without a helmet. The Apostle Paul tells the church at Ephesus to put on the helmet of salvation. It was their salvation that served as a guard for the Ephesian church. Their salvation was their standing before God.

The spiritual battle is won on the battlefield of the mind. If Satan can infiltrate our minds and cause us to think wrongly about God, he can convince us to disobey God. He did it with Adam and Eve in the Garden. He twisted their thoughts about God and tempted them to sin. God commands us to put on the helmet of salvation to guard our minds with the reality that we have been saved by Christ.   Right thinking leads to right living.   If we protect the way we think, by filtering it through our salvation, then we will protect what we love. If we protect what we love, ultimately, we will protect what we worship.

Believers must take errant and suspicious thoughts captive and operate out of a renewed mind.   Consider 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 –

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

Or consider Romans 12:2 –

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.

But too often we fill our minds with trash – movies and television shoes that promote evil or sexual immorality. Garbage in, garbage out. We should fill our minds instead with the goodness of His love.

 

The Armor – Sword of the Spirit

 

Ephesians 6:17b,

and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; (Ephesians 6:17b, Chronological Bible p. 1532)

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This is the only offensive piece of weapon to use in spiritual warfare. Paul says to take the sword of the spirit which is the word of God. In Greek, there are three different words for “Word.”

1) Graphe – which means the writing compiled, as in a book.

2) Logos – an announcement or written narrative or treatise, the topic that is inside the book.

3) Rhema – specific statements or sentences in a book.

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Paul uses the third word Rhema for the word of God. He is urging the Ephesian church to memorize and apply specific statements from scripture to help them successfully fight their spiritual battles.

When Jesus was in the wilderness being tempted by the devil, He used rhema- specific statements from God’s Word to defeat the devil. Satan would tempt Him and Jesus would reply with scripture. And if Jesus relies on specific statements from scripture in order to defeat the devil’s temptation, how much more do we, being mere mortals, need to memorize and apply specific statements from God’s Word in spiritual warfare?

Paul knew the power that came from the scriptures. He knew that the Sword of the Spirit is Hebrews 4:12 –

…living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

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Unlike a physical sword that grows dull after it is used, the more we use the Sword of the Spirit the sharper it becomes and the deeper it pierces. When we interact with specific statements of scripture applying and memorizing them, they bring life and heal us while simultaneously defeating temptation and Satan’s schemes.

 

The Armor – Cloak of Zeal

 

There’s one more piece to the Roman’s soldier’s wardrobe. Paul doesn’t mention it, but centuries earlier, Isaiah mentions in in Isaiah 59:17 –

He put on righteousness as his breastplate,

   and the helmet of salvation on his head;

he put on the garments of vengeance

   and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak.

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Isaiah is referring to the Lord’s passion to send a savior to save sinners from His wrath, and the Lord wrapped Himself in zeal.

The Roman soldier used his cloak for many things – it was somewhat waterproof against the rain, warmth against the cold, even used for bedding at night. The comfort of his cloak made him a better soldier during the battles.

A cloak of zeal will make us better spiritual warriors. The Lord was passionate enough to save sinners that the Lord sent His only son to die for us. Can we, then, muster enough zeal to be good warriors?

As adopted children of God, we should adopt the same zeal for His Good News that Jesus did when He willingly went to the cross for us. I have always been struck by this passage in Revelation 3:14-16,

“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:

These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth.

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Jesus is telling the church that spreading the good news of salvation should fire us up, give us a passion to save others with the same passion Jesus had to save us. He didn’t save us just to be nice. He saved us to saved others. Are we so comfortable in our salvation that we will let others perish? Or will we get zealous for the Lord and spread the news that Jesus died for their sins so they could be saved from a fiery eternal death?

Jesus thinks our lackadaisicalness – that was a hard word to write, much less pronounce – he thinks our lackadaisicalness when He gave His very life is so despicable that He will spit us out of His mouth. Let us have zeal and passion for His word by adding the cloak of zeal to our spiritual armor.

 

Conclusion

 

We engage in spiritual activities every day; therefore, we need to clothe ourselves with the appropriate spiritual attire. Every day we live, we enter into a spiritual battle against the devil and the supernatural forces at work around us. We must put on the full armor of God to stand in the fight.

Remember king David as a boy when he first stood against Goliath? David, too, was well-armed, and as he stood against Goliath, David knew that victory was already his. Why? David’s weapon was the sling, and it was not the first time he had picked up a sling.   David had guarded his father’s sheep for years against lions and bears. He knew how to use the armor given to Him by God because he practiced using it.

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Every piece of armor is important, and the good news is that the battle has already been won.   Colossians 2:13-15,

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

Stand and resist the devil, and he will flee. Every morning, put on the whole armor of God and prepare for the spiritual battles of the day, wielding the spiritual armor given to us by Christ Jesus so that we may be victorious in Him and give Him all the glory.

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To God be the glory.   Amen.

Kingdom Liberty

Introduction

 

We’ve been progressing through the Chronological Bible this year. We spent a long time in the Old Testament and I feel like we just arrived in the New Testament, and there are only 6 weeks left to wrap up our one-year journey.

The Old Testament had many rules, and until this year it never struck me how much man deserved all those rules. The rules God put in place were to prevent man from self-destructing. In the Garden of Eden, there was only one rule.   Of course, we broke it. There was no need for Ten Commandments when we couldn’t follow One Commandment.

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Soon after, Cain slew Abel. Abel didn’t last very long. He was first mentioned in Genesis 4:2 and by verse 8 he was gone. He only lasted 6 verses. The sanctity of life through the ages is clear in our studies, and God said that Abel’s blood called out to Him from the ground.

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So God gave us more rules to protect us. The Ten Commandments included, “Thou shalt not murder.” And then ten commandments grew into hundreds of rules and laws as we read in the book of Leviticus.

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And then came the New Testament. And many feel that the New Testament rules on top of all the Old Testament rules are overwhelming.

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I used to think that #1 rule for Christians was to attend church every week. You know what I learned after I started going to church every week? The church meets throughout the week, too. Many churches have bible study on Wednesday nights. If you want to be a good Christian, you must go to church on Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday. Sometimes there are bible studies on Tuesdays and Thursdays.   Friday nights often have church sponsored socials, those are mandatory, and don’t forget Saturday evening service.

There never seems to be anything scheduled on Mondays, though. Weird.

And different churches have different rules, so if you want to be saved, you must follow all the rules. If you go to a Pentecostal church, you must speak in tongues. If you go to a Baptist church, no dancing or drinking is allowed. And if you go to a Catholic Church, you can drink and dance but you can’t speak in tongues. It’s complicated, being a devout Christian.

 

Paul & Peter, Gentile & Jew

 

We are in Galatians 2 and we are going to focus on verse 11 following. Paul is in Jerusalem and writing to the church of Galatia and he’s dealing with the “Judaizers”. These were former Jews who claimed now to be Christians, and these Jews wanted the gentiles that converted from Paganism to Christianity to also submit to Jewish law. After all, there are a lot of rules if you want to be a Christian. These Jews were essentially proclaiming a “Jesus Plus Moses” doctrine. Yes, believe in Christ, plus do all these things Moses taught.

I’m going to read verses 11-13 from The Living Bible. Paul is telling the Galatians about a discussion Paul had with Peter at Antioch:

But when Peter came to Antioch I had to oppose him publicly, speaking strongly against what he was doing, for it was very wrong. For when he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile Christians who don’t bother with circumcision and the many other Jewish laws. But afterwards, when some Jewish friends of James came, he wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore because he was afraid of what these Jewish legalists, who insisted that circumcision was necessary for salvation, would say; and then all the other Jewish Christians and even Barnabas became hypocrites too, following Peter’s example, though they certainly knew better.

These “Judaizers,” these “Jesus plus Moses” Jews in the Christian Church were so persuasive that the apostle Peter changed his behavior, then Barnabas, then apparently many others in the church. There are rules for being a Christian, you know. Apparently even who you eat with will determine your salvation!

Paul both confronts Peter and identifies with Pater. After all, they are both Jews by birth and for their entire lives followed Jewish Law. They heard Jesus admonish the Pharisees for all their strict rules and regulations that not even the Pharisees could follow. And both Paul and Peter know that, even if they could follow the Law perfectly – which they could not, nobody can – obedience to the Law would not save them from their sins. Here is Paul’s message to Peter in verses 14-15 –

When I saw what was happening and that they weren’t being honest about what they really believed and weren’t following the truth of the Gospel, I said to Peter in front of all the others, “Though you are a Jew by birth, you have long since discarded the Jewish laws; so why, all of a sudden, are you trying to make these Gentiles obey them? You and I are Jews by birth, not mere Gentile sinners, and yet we Jewish Christians know very well that we cannot become right with God by obeying our Jewish laws but only by faith in Jesus Christ to take away our sins.”

Paul calls Peter a hypocrite because Peter feared men more than he feared God. In the first century the Greek word for hypocrite, “hypokritḗs” was used to describe an actor’s mask. Off stage he was one person, but when he stepped on stage to be seen by others, he would put on a mask and be another person.

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The word for hypocrisy reaches back even further, though, to 400BC. Hippocrates was one of the most influential men in medical history. Doctors today who practice medicine swear in by the Hippocratic Oath.   Hippocrates is famous for practicing medicine in the ancient world under what is now known as the tree of Hippocrates in Kos, Greece.

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The tree is massive, with branches that reach far out. All around the tree there is scaffolding used to uphold its branches.   On the outside we see the structure of the tree but here is the strange thing: the tree is hollow. On the inside, there is no substance. The tree appears healthy, but underneath the surface there is nothing.

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Slide11.JPGThe Apostle Paul is telling us, that those who are hypocritical may have an outward appearance of godliness but inwardly they have hollow faith. They have the structural appearance of being healthy, but they lack the substance.

Peter presented himself as an adopted Gentile to one group and as a Law-keeping Jew to another group. If we are honest, we are all guilty of the same sort of hypocrisy. We present ourselves one way at church but can act another way at work. We sing loud praises to God in Sunday Worship, but as soon as we get in our car after Church and get in Houston traffic, what comes out of our mouth is most certainly not praising God. We read scripture about how to love one another, then we ignore or insult people than annoy us. We believe Jesus loves the whole world, but we refuse to love those who are different than us.

Then Paul tells Peter that the very Jewish Law that Peter is pretending to follow wouldn’t save him anyway. It’s not the Law that saves. Paul says in Galatians 2:16,

“And so we, too, have trusted Jesus Christ, that we might be accepted by God because of faith—and not because we have obeyed the Jewish laws. For no one will ever be saved by obeying them.”

Paul’s argument throughout the book of Galatians can be summarized by this one verse. He tells us repeatedly we are not saved by works, but by faith in Jesus Christ. Remember, there were false teachers in the church in Galatia with the view that they were justified with God because they both believed in Jesus and kept the Law. They were teaching a “Jesus Plus Moses” doctrine so that their works under the Law would give them salvation.

Paul’s emphasis is that we are not declared righteous by keeping the Law. Our level of righteousness in God’s eyes is not upheld by our good works. Instead, our righteousness in God’s eyes is upheld by Jesus’ work: Jesus’ death on the cross for us.

We do not need to uphold the dietary restrictions that the Old Testament prescribes in order to be declared righteous. We will not be deemed unclean if we wear clothes with mixed fabrics as declared in Leviticus 19:19. And even if you boiled a baby goat in its mother’s milk in the past month or so as prohibited by Exodus 23:19, you are still saved.

Remember, this letter was to the Church, to believers. It is a reminder that we cannot earn our way into God’s presence by being at every Bible Study and small group. We do not earn favor with God because we prayed today. We do not earn favor with God because we memorized three Bible verses this week.   We do not even earn favor with God by listening to Christian radio, although KJIC 90.5 Country Christian Radio comes pretty close.

In Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus says,

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’   Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

This is obviously true, because Jesus said it. “Only the one who does the will of my Father.” So is Jesus saying that works can save us? But then the rest of the verse says that even people doing the will of Jesus will be told to leave because Jesus didn’t know them.

What is the will of the Father? It is for all of His children to place their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. He doesn’t ask us to drive out demons.   He just asks us to trust in Jesus. By faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone.

Nothing we do, except for our faith, saves us, and even the faith we have has been given to us.   Two verses in Ephesians 2 makes it clear, verses 4-9,

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.

By faith alone, through Christ alone, by grace alone. It’s all about Jesus and it’s never about what we do or don’t do. God made us alive when we were dead. We have nothing to do with raising ourselves to life.

And that’s exactly what Paul is pointing out to Peter in his letter to the Galatians:

You and I are Jews by birth, not mere Gentile sinners, and yet we Jewish Christians know very well that we cannot become right with God by obeying our Jewish laws but only by faith in Jesus Christ to take away our sins.

What does it take to be saved? Faith alone, and that faith has been given to us by God’s grace. We have been freed from the bondage of performance slavery.   Jesus liberated us from believing that religious practices and rites save us. As a Pharisee and member of the straight-edge religious elite of Judaism Paul knew what it was like to struggle with trying to earn God’s approval with his behavior. He found rest in the Gospel that the only thing that makes us righteous is faith in God. Whether you are a son or daughter with good behavior or bad, nevertheless you are still a son or daughter of God.

 

Misconceptions About Salvation

 

There are many misconceptions about what it means to be saved. As Christians, we probably cause that confusion. We might have heard the phrase “Jesus Plus Nothing” but we have such a hard time practicing it. Let’s discuss a few of them.

      • Ask Jesus into your heart.

Do you have to do this to be saved? I read a testimony from an evangelist who had shared the gospel and told his student he would be saved if he invited Jesus into their heart. But later the student was mad when he found out scripture said Jesus was the only way to God. The student was a follower of eastern religions that believed there were many prophets that could point to God, and to cover his bases, he had invited Jesus into his heart along with all the other prophets. This phrase, “ask Jesus into your heart,” is confusing and incomplete.

It’s usually based on this scripture from Revelation 3:19-20 –

Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

The key to understanding scripture is location, location, location. In this verse, Jesus isn’t speaking to nonbelievers.   These are not instructions on how to be saved. Jesus is speaking to the church of Laodicea, and He is speaking to followers of Christ who already believe. He is instructing believers how to have a closer relationship with Him.

Likewise from Ephesians 3:16-17,

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.

Is this teaching that you must ask Jesus into your heart? Again, Paul is teaching believers here. Christ does indeed dwell in the hearts of believers, but it is a result *of* salvation, not a requirement *for* salvation. “Ask Jesus into your heart” is not anti-biblical, it’s just naturally what happens when you believe. It is the belief, it is the faith through God’s grace, that saves.

      • Be sorry for your sins.

Should we Christians beat ourselves up for all the bad things we did before we became Christian, and to be honest, for all the things we continue to do? Do we have to have regret to be saved? Let’s look at a couple of pieces of scripture. In 2 Corinthians 7:10, Paul says,

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.

But again, Paul is talking to believers that sin against the Lord. Such Godly sorrow leads one to turn from sin and leaves no regret. In other words, every Christian has a past. So just leave it there. There’s no reason to drag it around with you everywhere you go.

What about non-Christians? Should they feel sorry in order to be saved? This verse says “Godly sorrow.” How in the world are non-believers supposed to have Godly sorrow when they do not have the Holy Spirit inside them? No, feeling sorry for your sins doesn’t save us. If it did, this corrupted version of John 3:16 would read this way–

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever feels really bad about what they’ve done should not perish, but have everlasting life.

That certainly isn’t right. It’s whosoever *believes* in Him. I am saved by faith alone through Christ alone by grace alone.

      • Give up your sins.

This is probably one of the most difficult misconceptions to explain. We just covered a little while ago that bible studies and church attendance doesn’t save us. But what about repenting of our sins? After all, the bible is full of calls to repentance, isn’t it?

“Repentance” is indeed required for salvation. But I’ve discovered that the definition of “repentance” has been distorted through the years. Sometimes we define it as “turning away from evil and toward God.” Those are indeed things Christians should do, but are they required for salvation?

Well, let’s look at the word translated as “repent,” the Greek word is “metanoeō,” and it is defined as “to change one’s mind, to think differently, to reconsider.”

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In other words, change your mind about Jesus. Change your mind about God. That sort of repentance leads to salvation, a trust in faith through Christ that He died for our sins. The gospel of John mentions the word “believe” 85 times in order to be saved without ever mentioning the word “repent” a single time. The word “repent” does not mean “change your behavior,” though that often follows from changing one’s mind first.

So, is giving up our sins a sign we are a believer? If we are a follower of Christ and we are listening to the Holy Spirit dwelling within, repenting of sins is important for spiritual growth.   In this case, we are repenting, we are changing our mind, we are saying, “I am going to stop arguing with God.   I am going to agree with God about my sins,” and then giving up your sins and winning the spiritual battle over the flesh is what we are called to do. But that is after we are saved, not before. Jesus accepts us for who we are, where we are, in all of our filthy clothes. Thank the Lord we don’t have to clean up our act first before we are saved. Jesus cleans up our act after. Romans 5:6-8,

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

We do not have to clean up our act before accepting Christ or to be saved. We are saved through faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone.

      • Pray a prayer.

All we have to do is say the sinner’s prayer and be saved, right?       After all, Romans 10:13 says,

“Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Let me put it this way: Can you say a prayer out loud while silently not placing your faith in Jesus? You’re thinking to yourself, I’m saying this but I’m not going to do it. The prayer itself has no power.

But can you place your faith in Jesus silently, without a prayer? Of course you can. There’s nothing wrong with the prayer itself, but it can lead one to a false sense of security that if they prayed correctly, then they are saved.   It is not the prayer that saves, is it the faith behind the prayer. I am saved through faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone.

      • Give your life to Jesus.

Do you have to give your life to Jesus to be saved?       I can give you one major example of somebody who gave their life to Christ and yet was not saved:       Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Devoting your life to Jesus clearly doesn’t save you.

What does save you?   Acts 16:31,

They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

What all of these misconceptions have in common is that they are works of man. And we know that we can never be good enough, to work hard enough, to assure our place in heaven. How would we ever know it’s been enough? No, to be saved, we have to change our mind about who Jesus is, to place our faith in Christ. By faith alone, through Christ alone, by grace alone. Nothing else.

 

Christ Did It All

 

Let’s turn back to our scripture in Galatians 2 and see what Paul says to Peter next, verse 17-21,

But what if we trust Christ to save us and then find that we are wrong and that we cannot be saved without being circumcised and obeying all the other Jewish laws? Wouldn’t we need to say that faith in Christ had ruined us? God forbid that anyone should dare to think such things about our Lord.   Rather, we are sinners if we start rebuilding the old systems I have been destroying of trying to be saved by keeping Jewish laws, for it was through reading the Scripture that I came to realize that I could never find God’s favor by trying—and failing—to obey the laws. I came to realize that acceptance with God comes by believing in Christ.

I have been crucified with Christ: and I myself no longer live, but Christ lives in me. And the real life I now have within this body is a result of my trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not one of those who treats Christ’s death as meaningless. For if we could be saved by keeping Jewish laws, then there was no need for Christ to die.

What Paul is saying is that we keep trying to add things to Christ in order to be saved.   The Jews were promoting Jesus plus Moses. In effect, they were saying, Yes, Jesus came to fulfill the law, but *we* still have to fulfill the law, too.

That is not trusting in Christ. Paul says that if we could obey the law and be saved, then what was the purpose of Jesus?   What are we putting our trust in?   Our own ability to be good, or the sacrifice of God? Or maybe we’re hedging our bets. Sure, let’s trust in Christ, but to be on the safe side, let’s do all these other things, too. Circumcision, abstain from unclean animals like pork, mixing different types of fabrics in our clothes. Why don’t we obey all of those rules with a “Jesus Plus Moses” attitude?

Perhaps I should ask instead what “Jesus Plus” attitude is still prevalent today. We impose a great many rules for others – not for us, really, rules are for other people. Attending church once, twice, or even three times a week. Or attending church at Christmas and Easter.   Attending bible study. Walking the aisle when giving one’s life to Christ.

Let’s consider baptism. Is it required to be saved? Some Pentecostal churches believe that not only baptism is required, but when you come out of the water, you must speak in tongues. If you don’t speak in tongues, back into the water you go. I suppose this is repeated over and over again like some sort of loving Christian waterboarding.

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Let’s be clear about this distinction: I believe baptism is mandatory for believers. I believe it is a demonstration of our willingness to follow the Lord and it is almost always our first act of obedience… *after* we are saved. It is not a requirement *to* be saved. It is not required for salvation, it *is* required for spiritual growth. If you are Christian and haven’t been baptized, I think it’s time to put aside your resistance, call Jesus Christ your Lord and ask him to lead you to baptism.

But we are not saved by good works. We are saved for good works.

Let’s consider a light bulb. It’s wired up, and when the switch is flipped, it brings light to the room.   If we don’t flip the switch, though, is it still a light bulb? Of course it is. It’s just not a useful lightbulb. And if we have accepted Christ, the Holy Spirit gives us power, and we are asked to shine the light of Christ for others to see. We can refuse and stay dark, but we’re still saved. We’re just not useful.

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But are we saved?   Remember: By faith alone, through Christ alone, by grace alone. There is nothing we can add to that without taking it away from Christ.

 

The Simplicity of Christ

 

I know first-hand that living as a Christian has challenges. I also know those challenges have purposes ordained by God to train me in His way, to increase my faith and trust in Him, to encourage my spiritual gifts to be developed. There are a great many things I must do to grow as a man of God.

But there’s nothing that I must do to be saved. Christ did that for me, because I could not do it for myself. And my response to His sacrifice is to worship and praise a mighty God that loves me enough to die for me so that I may live.

While there are many challenges to living as a Christian, becoming a Christian is the easiest thing in the world. All we have to do is accept what has been done, and our eternal salvation is secure, firmly held in the palm of His hand, sealed by the Holy Spirit, and no one can snatch us out of His hand. It’s not that some of the work has been done for us, or most of the work has been done for us. All of the work has been done for us. We don’t have to say, “Hey, thanks for picking up dinner, let me pay for the tip.”

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There is simplicity in being in Christ. I know, because the bible says so in 2nd Corinthians 11:3,

But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.

The story of the bible is not what we do for God. It is what God has done for us.

 

Conclusion

 

It’s not “Jesus Plus Moses.” It’s not “Jesus Plus Church Attendance.” It’s not “Jesus Plus Feeling Guilty.” It’s not “Jesus Plus Anything.”

It’s just Jesus.   By faith alone, through Christ alone, by grace alone.

That is the simplicity of being in Christ.

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To God be the glory.   Amen.

Jesus, Lamb of God

 

Introduction

I think it’s easy to underestimate everything that Jesus has done for us. I’ll go further – no matter where you are in your Christian walk, you and I have already underestimated and continue to underestimate everything the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords has done, is doing, and will do for you and me.

Today we are going to study Jesus, the Lamb of God.

Old Testament

We’ve been walking through the Chronological Bible this year, and we need to recap a little about God addresses sin. The first sin, of course, was in the Garden of Eden, breaking forever the unblemished relationship between man and our God.

God promised the serpent the sin would not go unpunished, in Genesis 3:15,

And I will put enmity
   between you and the woman,
   and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
   and you will strike his heel.

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As for Adam and Eve, whom He loved, God began the sacrificial system when God slew an innocent animal and covered man’s nakedness in Genesis 3:21,

The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.

Slide3.JPGFor the next several centuries, those who walked with God understood this concept of substitutionary death. Alters were built and sacrifices made by Abel, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

But God’s sacrificial system was taken to another level while the Israelites suffered under bondage by the Egyptians. In this first Passover, 4 days prior to their exodus out of Egypt, each Israeli household was to choose a lamb without defect. The lamb was slain, roasted, and eaten on the night of departure.   The lamb’s blood was smeared on lintel and doorpost of each Hebrew home, signifying to the angel of death that death had already occurred in that home. God’s wrath would then “pass over” that home.

Slide4.JPGIn the 40 years of the wilderness, God still had a desire to be close to His people, despite their sin nature. The sacrificial system was expanded, and introduced a high priest and an altar, the holy of holies, and substitutionary sacrifices were made annually on the Day of Atonement.

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The Israelites lived their entire year in their sin, anticipating their Day of Atonement to be free of their sin, living in the light of this promise of redemption.   The sacrificial lamb saved them from their sins.

But as we learned through the books of Kings and Chronicles, the people of Israel continued to do evil in the sight of the Lord. Despite God’s instruction to observe Passover every year, this celebration lapsed. The people God loved would not cleanse themselves regularly to restore their relationship.

God began to lay out the prophecies of a messiah who would rescue them from bondage, none of them so clear as Isaiah 53 when we are told our savior would bear our griefs, carry our sorrows, be pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities.   And in Isaiah 53:7,

He was oppressed and afflicted,
   yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
   and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
   so he did not open his mouth.

God would send a savior to pay the price for our transgressions. God’s own son would pay the price for our sins. As fully man, Jesus would identify with us, be tempted like us, understand pain like us. As fully God, though, He would be able to pay for the sins of the whole world.   But prophecy also said that when the Lamb of God was sent, He would be rejected by His own people.

God’s people fell into bondage again in the hands of the Babylonians and spent years enslaved and compromising their beliefs. God became silent. He seemingly stopped intervening, instructing or interacting with His people for over 400 years. During this time, the rituals, laws and traditions took on even greater importance to the Jewish people – not because they fully understood their need for a relationship with God, but because it was the thing passed down from generation to generation. It was their defining characteristic. That rigid structure was something tangible they could control, and they used it to create systems, divisions among the people and hierarchies.

The religious texts promised that God would send a deliverer, but unlike when He sent Moses, this savior would set up a kingdom greater than any they had ever known. The scriptures foretold of a Messiah that would save the Jewish people from oppression, and they clung to their understanding of what that meant. Now under control of yet another invader, the Roman empire, the Jewish people longed for the day their king would come. They just didn’t realize their king would look very different from what they expected.

Lamb of God – New Testament

And in our Chronological study, we arrived a few weeks ago in the New Testament, and John the Baptist is baptizing with water at Bethany, and the Jewish leaders accuse John the Baptist of being the Messiah.

John replies in the book of John 1:23,

John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”

John is quoting from Isaiah 40. And just a few verses later in verse 29,

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

When John recognized Jesus, John announced Him according to prophecy that Jesus is the fulfillment of all of the Old Testament promises of redemption. John understood that Jesus came to die as a sacrificial substitute, and that Jesus will rise from the dead to demonstrate God’s acceptance of Christ’s death as payment for guilty sinners. But not all prophecy had yet been fulfilled. Isaiah 53 had spelled out exactly how our Messiah must die.

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The Jewish leaders who had become powerful and wealthy based on their legalistic interpretations of Jewish law were horrified by the notion that Jesus was the foretold Messiah. The Jewish leaders wanted a kingdom to rule over the surrounding nations as had been done to them, but Jesus preached a very different kind of life. He encouraged the people to be meek and mild.   He preached that one should love even those who did not follow the commands they had been taught to fear. The more popularity Jesus gained among the people, the more the religious leaders set out to accuse and convict Him through both a Jewish trial and a Roman one – trials meant to execute Jesus and lasted less than a day.

Jesus is King

After the betrayal by Judas, Jesus was arrested in the dark hours of a Friday morning. He was bound and taken to Caiaphas, the high priest, and the ruling members of the Sanhedrin in what was really a preliminary hearing. Matthew 26:59-66 (Chronological Bible, November 2nd, pg 1409) –

Now the chief priests, the elders, and all the council sought false testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, but found none. Even though many false witnesses came forward, they found none.

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 Remember, the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin are legalistic and use the Law to elevate themselves in positions of power. Here they are using the rules from Deuteronomy 17 about how the court system should work, particularly Deuteronomy 17:6-7a –

On the testimony of two or three witnesses a person [who blasphemes] is to be put to death, but no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness. The hands of the witnesses must be the first in putting that person to death, and then the hands of all the people.

The hands of all the people are to be involved in the death of Jesus, but the Sanhedrin are first trying to find 2 people who agree, so they march a line of false witnesses that don’t tell the same story so the Sanhedrin can’t make a case. But then, continuing in Matthew 26,

But at last two false witnesses came forward and said, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days.’ And the high priest arose and said to Him, “Do You answer nothing? What is it these men testify against You?” But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest answered and said to Him, “I put You under oath by the living God: Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God!” Jesus said to him, “It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his clothes, saying, “He has spoken blasphemy! What further need do we have of witnesses? Look, now you have heard His blasphemy! What do you think?” They answered and said, “He is deserving of death.”

Based on this brief exchange, Caiaphas (the high priest) and the Sanhedrin find Jesus guilty of blasphemy. The goal of the Sanhedrin, though, was not to bring a religious indictment. The Sanhedrin lacked the power of a death penalty under Roman law, and the Romans weren’t interested in a religious squabble.   So the goal of the Sanhedrin was to bring a political allegation that would anger the Romans.   If Jesus claimed to be king, Caesar would have Jesus executed.   So ironically, the Sanhedrin sought to prove that Jesus claimed to be king so the Romans would get rid of him.

The book of Matthew also makes the case that Jesus is king, but for a very different reason.   Matthew spends 26 chapters making a case that Jesus was the foretold Messiah and fulfilled all the prophecies of the coming kingdom of God so that the injustice of His trial and ultimately His death would be seen as fulfilling scripture for the coming messiah, and how Jesus’ actions before and after the Sanhedrin fulfilled Scripture’s promise of a final, atoning, sacrificial Lamb.

Isaiah 53:7 – He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth. Matthew 26:63 – But Jesus kept silent.

Matthew 27: 12 – …He did not answer.

Matthew 27: 14 – And He did not answer…

Jesus is Lamb

Later, that Friday morning as the run was rising, with their charges of blasphemy documented, the Sanhedrin then send Jesus to Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor. The Roman trial begins, but look how the Sanhedrin twist the charges to inflame the Romans in Luke 23:1-2 –

Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Messiah, a king.”  

So Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“You have said so,” Jesus replied.  

Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, “I find no basis for a charge against this man.”

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Pilate wants nothing to do with this. Pilate discerns that this is a religious matter and sends Jesus to Herod for interrogation. If Jesus claims to be king of the Jews, well, then Pontius will send him to the king of the Jews, Herod.

It says in Luke 23:8,

When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform a sign of some sort.

Slide15.JPGHerod was happy to receive Jesus. Maybe he thought it would be great entertainment and see if Jesus would do some tricks. But Jesus stood there silently. So Herod questions Jesus and then mocks Him and sends Him back to Pilate dressed sarcastically as a king.

Matthew 27: 11-14 –

Now Jesus stood before the governor. And the governor asked Him, saying, “Are You the King of the Jews?” Jesus said to him, “It is as you say.” And while He was being accused by the chief priests and elders, He answered nothing. Then Pilate said to Him, “Do You not hear how many things they testify against You?” But He answered him not one word, so that the governor marveled greatly. (Chronological Bible, November 3rd, p. 1411)

Pilate was amazed by Jesus’s willingness to accept the charges against Him.

Matthew 27:22-26 –

Pilate said to them, “What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said to him, “Let Him be crucified!” Then the governor said, “Why, what evil has He done?” But they cried out all the more, saying, “Let Him be crucified!” When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, “I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it.” And all the people answered and said, “His blood be on us and on our children.” Then he released Barabbas to them; and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified. (Chronological Bible, November 3rd, p. 1413)

Though they knew he was innocent, the crowd demanded the blood of Jesus, thus fulfilling scripture.   Jesus was indeed the unblemished Lamb of God. The crowd wanted Barabbas instead to be released to them. Barabbas was known for leading groups of insurrectionists against the Roman government. The crowd chose Barabbas over Jesus. The crowd chose a “messiah” of their own design. The crowd chose one who tried unsuccessfully to overthrow Rome’s power over the true Messiah with the true power to save them.

Jesus is Savior

It’s only mid-morning on Friday, mere hours after Jesus’ arrest, but with the crowd’s decision, Jesus’s trials were over. Jesus was convicted, sentenced to be crucified at Golgotha.

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The scourging of Jesus was brutal. The crucifixion of Jesus was brutal. But yet again, Jesus fulfilled the scripture. Isaiah 53, remember, we are told our savior would bear our griefs, carry our sorrows, be pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities.

By the middle of Friday afternoon, the brutal crucifixion was nearing its completion.   Jesus would die by asphyxiation, unable to lift his body on the nail through His feet so He could draw His breath.   You may remember the last words of Jesus from John 19:30, “It is finished.”

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Which if you look at the original Greek, Jesus chose a unique final word. Our English translations use “finished” like it was the end of a race, which is true, but doesn’t convey the meaning I believe Jesus intended. Jesus chose an accounting term as His last breath. The word Jesus used was “τελέω teléō. Or two verses earlier, he uses the more commonly known form of the verb Τετέλεσται tetelestai, and the full meaning is that the debt is paid and nothing left is owed.

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It is finished.   Our debt is paid. We are freed.

And Jesus didn’t go out with a last gasp, a weak goodbye. Matthew 27:50 says the final words of Jesus were cried out in a loud voice.   They were the triumphant words of victory, it is finished! Jesus had completed what He had come to do – to be our King, the sacrificial Lamb of God, our savior.

Conclusion

Jesus didn’t just die for a cause He believed in. He wasn’t just a martyr. God raised to life, overcoming death, demonstrating God’s acceptance of the sacrifice of His son. Jesus did not just die. He overcame death, hell and the grave. His earthly story ends with a miracle just as big as the one with which it began.

Matthew 28:1-6 –

Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone from the door and sat on it. His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. And the guards shook for fear of him and became like dead men. But the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. (Chronological Bible, November 4th, p. 14151416)

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Over the centuries, there has been so much controversy around the question of who put Jesus on the cross. Did the Jews put Jesus on the cross? Saying that the Jews put Jesus on the cross is wrong and has fueled terrible acts of antisemitism over the years. But it is just as incorrect to say that the Romans put Jesus on the cross or even, as some claim, that “we” put Jesus on the cross – all of us for the wrong we do and the sin that separates us from God. None of those statements are accurate. None of those groups sent Jesus to His death.

Jesus put Jesus on the cross. Jesus died for the sole purpose of raising from the dead. He died willingly and sacrificially to save a world He loves who could not save themselves.

And not just the world – distant and unknown. He died for you. And me. His death is intimate and personal. It happened a long time ago in a place you may never visit, but it is personal and it matters. It happened TO Him, but it happened FOR you.

Yes, Jesus is King. Jesus’ death fulfills the prophecies of the Hebrew Scriptures concerning Messiah.

Yes, Jesus is Lamb of God. Jesus’ death satisfies the requirements for a sacrifice for sin.

Yes, Jesus is Savior. Jesus’ death is a substitutionary sacrifice for sinners. Jesus’ resurrection declares His deity and demonstrates the Father’s acceptance of His work on the cross.

But He is not just any king. Jesus is YOUR king. He is YOUR lamb, and He is YOUR savior.

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To God be the glory.   Amen.

The Keys to Happiness

I. Introduction

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Me, I wanted to fly a jet for the US Navy. Something about being at sea, landing on that aircraft carrier. Of course, if I understand it, they use a system of green lights and red lights to tell you when it’s ok to land. And I’m red/green colorblind. That would have been even more exciting.

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Doctors, lawyers, policemen. In honor of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, Business Insider ( https://www.businessinsider.com/american-kids-youtube-star-astronauts-survey-2019-7 ) did a survey of what today’s American kids want to be when they grow up. The number one answer? Youtuber.

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They want to be famous youtubers, be their own star of their own YouTube channel and be famous. Fame will make them happy. They see football sport stars, reality television stars, viral videos and think fame will make them happy.

And before we criticize them too much, we’re all guilty of seeking happiness from something worldly. Money, people, shopping, food, social media, toys. Of course we want to be happy. But these things don’t bring happiness. Even in the bible, Solomon was the richest and most famous king that Israel ever had. Solomon had wealth, fame, wisdom, his own YouTube channel… everything except happiness.

Over the years, I can’t tell you how many times somebody that’s going through difficult times has told me, “God just wants me to be happy.”   The most extreme version I’ve encountered in my life was a friend of my wife, who, 10 years ago desperately wanted a husband. And then she started dated a married man. She said, God told her it was ok because God just wants her to be happy.

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I know that God wants good things for His children, and good things make us happy. But way too often we go to God and tell Him to give us something we want that will make us happy. But that’s not how God tells His children to approach the problem of happiness.

God knows everything. He knows, better than we know, what will make us happy. God wants us to rely on Him, not on our ideas, on how to find happiness. Just ask God and He’ll tell you and me what we need for happiness.

In fact, He already did. And surprise surprise, He wrote down His instructions in the Bible for us to find. Today we are going to study the Beatitudes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

II.  The Beatitudes

The word “beatitude” is a weird word. It’s a kind of Englishized translation of a Latin translation of a Greek word, and it’s not even found in the bible. No wonder I don’t use it in everyday conversation. Matthew, author of our Good News today, wrote in Greek, and word he used was “makarios.” It means “divinely happy and supremely blessed,” or happiness that comes from the divine. Weirdly, the English word that is derived from this is “macro”, sort of like “I summed it all up” or “I’ve got everything.”

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Then one of the earliest bible translations from the original Greek into Latin translated this word into “beatus” which means “happy” or “blessed.”

And so Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, this first portion called The Beatitudes, are literally instructions on how to be happy. And just as we mistakenly believe happiness comes from fame or fortune, the Jews that were listening had their world upside down. They believed that Makarios, divine happiness, was based on material blessing and prosperity provided by God. They were also looking for a Messiah to rescue them from Roman occupation, physical happiness. Jesus turned everything upside down, challenging the people to reconsider their idea of blessed and happy by focusing on God’s desires. Moreover, this state of being blessed isn’t anything man can earn, but the result of a declaration from God.

III. Spiritual Bankruptcy

Matthew 5:3, Jesus begins,

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,

   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

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The word poor in the original Greek is “ptochos” which means having literally nothing, totally broke. It’s a recognition that everything we have – our jobs and our house and our family and the light of the sun and the air we breathe and gravity itself are all gifts from God. The world teaches that you can do it all, have it all, and you deserve it all.   But being poor in spirit means recognizing that we bring nothing into this world and we bring nothing out except the very soul God gives us.

In Isaiah 66:1-2,

“Thus says the LORD, “Heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool. Where then is a house you could build for Me? And where is a place that I may rest? “For My hand made all these things, Thus all these things came into being,” declares the LORD. “But to this one I will look, To him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word.”

What do you think you have that God didn’t give you?

Who do you think you are that God didn’t make?

One of the keys to happiness is learning to stop depending on yourself, and realize God already did everything. Poverty of the spirit is the most important of the beatitudes.   It is how you compare yourself to God.   Do you look at God as a power that can assist you in your goals? Or do you look at God as sovereign ruler of all and how you can assist God in His goals?   To experience true happiness, recognize that God is greater than anything you are, anything you can do, or anything you can imagine.

IV. Comprehension of Sin

The second beatitude, Matthew 5:4,

Blessed are those who mourn,

   for they will be comforted.

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You’re probably thinking I’ve lost it.   The 2nd key to happiness is to be unhappy.

Well, that’s not exactly what this verse means. Certainly there is sorrow in this world, and Revelation says every tear will eventually be wiped away, but remember, the beatitudes are teaching us not to tell God what makes us happy, but to ask God what makes Him happy.

This verse, then, is about spiritual mourning. Maybe we don’t think of God as having emotions – except anger, maybe. And love, for God so loved the world. But God mourns when His people turn away from Him.

Do we mourn for the lost? Do we mourn when God’s will is ridiculed? A lesson I seem to be learning when, as I get older, is that we don’t live forever on this earth. I know, I just found out. But when people die, there’s a great deal of emotion around the loss.   But usually those emotions are for us – we’ve lost someone – or for others – they’ve lost someone.

When somebody dies without accepting Jesus as their savior, God has lost someone. God gives them what they’ve always wanted, a life without God, and God mourns. I think of the story of Jonah I taught earlier this year, especially at the end when Jonah was upset when God didn’t wipe out those terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Ninevites . And God taught Jonah that God gave them life and nurtured them and while God agreed that they were terrible, horrible, no good, very bad people, God mourned that He would never have a relationship with them.

Sin separates us from the love of God, paid for only by the shed blood of Christ. And you know God grieved when His son paid that price for us, but today Jesus is resurrected and sits at the right hand of the Father. And we, too, mourn over the sins that separate us from God, but we will be comforted that our sins are washed away so that we have fellowship with our heavenly father in a way we can barely comprehend today.

So the 2nd key to happiness is to mourn over our own sins and failures, the sinfulness of the world, and that God is not given the glory and honor due Him.

V. Humility in Outlook

Then Matthew 5:5, beatitude #3,

Blessed are the meek,

   for they will inherit the earth.

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The Greek word used by Jesus in 5:5 is “πραΰς“ or “praus” which means ‘mild, gentle, humble, kind, forgiving’. It is an attitude toward others of compassion and gentleness. Jesus used this word in Matthew 11:29 to describe himself:

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

Our daily challenge to meet this beatitude is also illustrated in Philippians 2:5 –

‘Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus, who … made himself nothing.’

That’s what we are – ‘nothing.’   Apart from God we are nothing.   We depend on him for our physical existence and for our spiritual life. To be ‘meek,’ to be gentle, is to live with an awareness that Christ lives within us. We want no glory for ourselves and we are therefore willing to be nothing in order to provide good for others.

“Meek” does not mean spineless or weak. Jesus, the Lord of Glory, was meek, and yet, He was tougher than nails. Being meek is deliberate, not passive, actively looking to be kind and good to others. Meek is Jesus, Almighty God, becoming man. Meek is Jesus, the King of kings, permitting the Roman soldiers to hammer the iron nails into his hands, and refusing to call down legions of angels because He loves us. The key to happiness is the gentleness of Christ being evident is everything we say and do.

VI. Need for Righteousness

Ready for beatitude #4? Matthew 5:6,

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

   for they will be filled.

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To be happy, we hunger and thirst for righteousness. There are two parts, a) hungering and thirsting, and b) righteousness.

It’s not enough to enjoy righteousness. It’s not enough to admire righteousness. To be happy, we hunger for it with a consuming passion. To be happy, we don’t seek happiness. We don’t seek fame or fortune or power or beauty or sexuality or anything else. We must understand the first 3 beatitudes of our spiritual bankruptcy, our sin nature, and letting the meekness of Christ live with us, and hunger for it. We should strive to know how far short we fall and hunger for His righteousness.

Too often, this hunger is misplaced.   We hunger for the righteousness of men.   We hunger to be accepted. We see society preaching at us to accept the immorality of the world in the name of loving our fellow man, and we want to be accepted, so we say yes. And this yearning for acceptance leads to destruction of lives and families because our hunger is for the wrong things.

Or we understand the need for righteousness, but it’s a passing thought. We have our busy lives. Who has time for righteousness when we’re looking for a new job or trying to find that perfect outfit to wear Friday night? And when there is no hunger for God’s righteousness, there’s no righteousness at all.

To be happy and blessed, we hunger and thirst for His righteousness. God knows what will make us happy, better than we know ourselves.   In Matthew 6:33, Jesus says,

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

To be happy, hunger for God.

VII. Empathy for Others

The next instruction for happiness is in the next beatitude, Matthew 5:7 –

Blessed are the merciful,

   for they will be shown mercy.

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This is not the same as the earlier beatitude of being meek and gentle toward others. This is a recognition that we live in a fallen world full of sin, in ourselves and in others, and to practice forgiveness.

Because we all sin and stumble in many ways. And when we sin, besides the separation from God, it can cause injury to others.

And when someone injures or insults us, of course there should be justice. They need to pay. They should be punished. But you know what? Not by us.   God promises to make everything right, and leave all vengeance to Him. Our job is to forgive.

When I hear about somebody offering forgiveness in an extraordinary way, it’s powerful. This week I heard it from a story in Dallas, you may have read about the trial. Officer Amber Guyger entered the wrong apartment and says she mistook it for her own.   Botham Jean was sitting on the sofa, watching tv and eating ice cream, when Officer Amber Guyger shot him and killed him, thinking he was a burglar. A jury disagreed and convicted her of murder.

But this next part is where I see Matthew 5:7 in action.

The victim’s brother, Brandt Jean, begged for permission to hug the defendant. He told Officer Guyger, “I forgive you. I love you as a person and I don’t wish anything bad on you.”   Afterwards, shocking many, the judge also hugged her, presented Officer Guyger with a bible, and the 3 of them prayed together.

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Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Because we all sin and stumble in many ways, and we all deserve punishment from God.   But thank our Lord Jesus Christ that He has mercy on us and that we do not bear the punishment for our own sins.   Jesus calls us to share that same forgiveness with everybody that sins against us, the same way He forgive us for our sins. In fact, He puts it this bluntly in Matthew 6:15 –

But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

So let it go. You’ll find that the forgiveness you give is the happiness you receive.

VIII. Align with Christ

Matthew 5:8 –

Blessed are the pure in heart,

   for they will see God.

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Who can claim to be pure in heart?   We all know that we are not pure, we have thoughts, attitudes, desires which are not pure. We may hide it from others, but we cannot hide it from ourselves or from God.

And ‘pure’ is an absolute term.   You cannot say a heart is ‘purer’.   Being pure means that it is not defiled, polluted or mixed with impurities.

There are so many impurities that we may think will make us happy, but they don’t. They are empty, dead ends, failures. But true joy and happiness is realizing this world has nothing to offer, and Jesus offers everything.

So, how can we make our hearts pure? It is beyond our ability. It is God who initiates, sanctifies and perfects the heart of man who put his trust in Him. It begins when we realize that we cannot do it on our own. Throughout our life, we go through the process of sanctification that will be perfected when we are glorified in Christ Jesus.

This sanctification is a difficult process. Gold has to go through the furnace to be perfected, to burn off the impurities.   1 Peter 1:6-7 –

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith, of greater worth than gold which perishes even though refined by fire, may be proven genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

So, how can we be pure in heart?   By constantly seeking an active fellowship with God through daily personal time with God in His words and prayer, allowing God to purify us though His Holy Spirit in us.   Philippians 1:6,

Be confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

IX. Identify with Others

Two more beatitudes to go.   Matthew 5:9,

Blessed are the peacemakers,

   for they will be called children of God.

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Jesus said that to be happy, be a peacemaker. This statement would have shocked the Jews in the crowd. Jews were looking for a military messiah to overthrow the Roman Empire and establish an earthly kingdom. But Jesus supports peace and encourages the peacemakers. Once again, Kingdom of Heaven defies the norm of earthly kingdom, which is established by power and wars.

What’s interesting about peace is that the foundation of peace is the love received from God. But what about our enemies who hate us? Jesus says in Luke 6:27-28 –

But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

It sounds counterintuitive, like many things from heaven, but to find happiness, don’t just find peace.   Create peace. Actively love our enemies.

The reward for peacemakers is very unique. “They will be called sons of God.” That would bring me happiness, to be called as one of God’s children.

X. Do What is Right

This last beatitude is the most contradictory of all the beatitudes. How can we be happy when we are going through insult, persecution, suffering, even death for doing what is right? Matthew 5:10 –

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,

   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

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Jesus very clearly proclaims happiness for those who are being persecuted for the sake of righteousness. Now, two different ways we can be persecuted for “righteousness” –

[1] Gospel righteousness, by which we have ceased to trust in our own performance and depend solely on the righteousness of Christ, is offensive to both the nominal believer and the unbeliever, because people do not like to think that salvation is free. Somehow it must be earned.

Every religion of man tells them they have to, and can, earn their way to heaven. But Christianity is not a religion. It is a relationship. And it is not about man trying to earn his way into heaven, but about our incredible loving God paying for our way to heaven. Gospel righteousness is therefore a threat to both human pride and human religion.

Some people think that the Christian’s assurance of salvation is actually ‘self-righteousness’ and therefore accuse believers of either hypocrisy or pride. But it is not self-righteousness that allows me to proclaim that I am saved. It is righteousness in Jesus and the trust in His promises that allow me to proclaim that I am saved because He is Lord.

[2] The practical righteousness or goodness which Christians demonstrate in their lives is threatening to the ungodly; it accuses them and exposes their ungodliness and guilt.   This persecution because of Gospel righteousness is the evident background to several of the New Testament letters, where those who trusted solely in the righteousness of Christ were persecuted by those who wanted to base their relationship to God with their own performance of law and ritual.

We find it difficult to grasp rejoicing in suffering because we have not seen the complete picture. Even among many Christians, there is a growing tendency to focus on earthly blessings.   It is not to say that we should not desire good in this life, but Jesus and His disciples always focused on future hope and glory.

There are parts of the world, where people are being persecuted for Christ. For them, following Christ means suffering, rejection and even death. They are blessed and privileged to share in suffering with Christ.

We may not go through physical persecution or suffering, but we all feel being constantly chased after by the enemy of Christ. When we pursue righteousness, we may find being constantly running or fleeing from the spiritual forces, who are after us to knock us down.

It is not in the suffering or pain, we rejoice, but it is in the hope of God’s glory to be revealed. We Christians rejoice in suffering for righteousness, because we participate in the suffering of Christ, that we bear his name, and that we will be overjoyed when Christ’ glory will be revealed in us. It is our privilege to suffer with Christ.

XI. Conclusion

So what are the keys to happiness?   Don’t tell God what will make you happy. Let God tell you what will make you happy.

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
   for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
   for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
   for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
   for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
   for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
   for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

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To God be the glory.