Revelation 12, Jesus Defeats Satan

  I.      Introduction

History and prophecy.  God uses both throughout time to display to all creation that He alone is in control.  There is prophecy that tells what God will do, then, when God fulfills His promise, the prophecy becomes history.  And then there is new prophecy.  Some prophecies have already come true; others are yet to come.

Open your bibles to Revelation 12 and this morning we’re going to study both prophecy and history and examine the battle between good and evil, God and Satan, throughout time, beginning thousands of years ago and is ongoing today and is still yet to come.

Ever heard that statement, “Jesus never says He is God?”  While technically accurate, if you’re a student of the bible you know it isn’t true.  Jesus used word specifically to indicate to the Pharisees that Jesus was Lord, and the Pharisees turned him over to Pilate to be crucified for it.  Also, the entire book of Revelation points to the deity of Jesus and His Kingdom and millennial reign.  Revelation doesn’t even try to justify the deity of Jesus with words like, “Jesus is God because…”  No Revelation just states it as fact.

II.      Christmas and Easter, Revelation 12:1-5

Today’s study is intense with symbolism, verse 1 begins with “a great sign appeared in heaven.”  But just because it’s symbolic doesn’t mean it’s hidden from us, or cloaked in mystery.  The passages of Revelation open up to us if we examine the scriptures carefully and try to understand each verse separately, then put them all together to understand the story that is being told.

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And Revelation is meant to be understood, it is “revealed” so we can understand our place in this world and the parallels in the heavenly realm.  The Greek word for Revelation is Apokalupsis which means to reveal that which was before unknown.  To reveal the things that have been, that are, and are to come.

There is a system to understanding the symbology Revelation.  First, search the immediate verses.  Throughout Revelation, 26 times the interpretation is given in the immediate verses.  If that doesn’t provide the interpretation, then search the Old Testament for the same symbol.  There are 404 verses in Revelation, and 278 of them are explained in the Old Testament.  Most of the symbology refers to Psalms, Isaiah, Ezekiel and Daniel.  In particular, the visions of Daniel are represented.

The first 5 verses of Revelation 12 are a history lesson from the perspective of heaven.  It’s a story that needs earthly translation, as God says, “His ways are above our ways.”  Let’s read verses 1-5 –

A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.  She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth.  Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads.  Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born.  She gave birth to a son, a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.” And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne.

Ok, there’s some symbolism here, but it’s relatively easy to figure out.  There are three characters in this symbolic story so far, let’s see if we can figure out who they are –

  • Verse 1: A woman.
  • Verse 3: A dragon.
  • Verse 5: A son.

Let’s take them in reverse order.  The son is a male child who will rule the nations with an iron scepter.  Let’s take a peek at the Old Testament where this phrase is used in Psalm 2.  Psalm 2 laments that the nations conspire against the Lord and the kings and rulers of the band together against the Lord.  The Lord responds by saying in Psalm 2:5-9,

He rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying,
“I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain.”
I will proclaim the Lord’s decree:
He said to me, “You are my son; today I have become your father.
Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance,
the ends of the earth your possession.
You will rule them with an iron scepter,
you will dash them to pieces like pottery.”

Our male child is the Messiah, savior of His people, ruler of nations.  And when Revelation 12:5 says the male child was “caught up unto God,” it’s reminiscent of Acts 1:9, when Jesus ascended into heaven in sight of His apostles.

The second character in our story is a dragon.  And the dragon is the devil because I can skip down to verse 9 where it says the great dragon was called the devil.  I could figure that one out on my own, didn’t need any bible study guides at all.

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The third character in the story is the woman, and she’s a little harder to figure out.  For years some scholars posited that she was the early Christian church, but that can’t be right.  The woman gives birth to the male child, and the Christian church didn’t give birth to Jesus.  Quite the opposite – Jesus through His sacrifice opened God’s grace to the gentiles and the Christian church was born.

Since the surrounding verses don’t positively identify the woman, let’s see if we can find our clues in the Old Testament.  The woman is described as having the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.  Let’s go all the way back to Genesis 37, where Joseph had a dream.  Joseph was the son of Jacob who God renamed Israel, Joseph was Israel’s favorite, and Jacob’s brothers would eventually drop him in a deep well and leave him.  But just before that, Joseph had a dream he told to his family.  Joseph said, “Listen, I had a dream, and in this dream the sun and the moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.”  His father Israel rebuked him, saying, “What is this dream you had?  Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?”  In this dream, we understand that the sun is Joseph’s father Israel, the moon is Israel’s wife Leah (Rachel had already died by this time), and the 11 stars are Joseph’s brothers who became eleven tribes of Israel, which Joseph becoming the twelfth tribe.

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The woman in Revelation 12, then must be Israel.  The twelve stars are the tribes of Israel, and the woman brought forth Jesus, who brought forth His church.  And then we realize Revelation 12:1-5 is the Christmas story as told from the heavenly perspective.

Let’s look at the exact same story from the earthly perspective, told in Matthew 2 and is already very familiar to you.  Jesus is born in Bethlehem.  The Magi from the East, commonly referred to the Three Wise Kings, stop at King Herod’s and discuss the birth of the new King of the Jews.  Herod is so disturbed by this, that his rule may be overthrown, that he orders every male child under the age of two in Bethlehem to be killed.  The angel of the Lord appears to Joseph and tells him to take Mary and the baby to Egypt.

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Jesus was born, this is the Christmas message.  Matthew 2 tells the story from the perspective of the earthly realm, Revelation 12:1-5 tells the same story from the spiritual realm perspective, as Satan tries to prevent the birth of our Savior.  Revelation 12:1-5 tells us a history lesson about Satan’s failed strategy to prevent the birth of the Messiah..

Verse 4, the angelic realm’s perspective of the devil trying to destroy the Messiah before He was born, we have to realize that this isn’t the only time Satan tried to destroy the Messiah.  Throughout the Old Testament, the devil tried many times to prevent the arrival of the Messiah.  Satan is trying a preemptive attack, trying to prevent the arrival of the Messiah and prevent God’s prophecies, because the devil knows he loses the spiritual warfare and Jesus will conquer death.  Satan is a fallen angel that believes he can take the place of God, and he used Herod’s insecurities to kill every baby in Bethlehem, but Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt and escaped.  Before that, the devil tried for millennia to prevent the birth of Jesus.

Before Herod (Matthew 2), Cain killed Abel.  Satan believed since God had accepted Abel’s sacrifice, then the Messianic line would certainly come through Abel (Genesis 4, 1 John 3:2).  God’s plan, though, was through the lineage of Abel’s  younger brother Seth.  Then, in Exodus 1, Pharaoh tried to drown all the Jewish babies.  In 2 Chronicles 22, Athaliah tries to destroy all the royal offspring of the house of Judah, but the priest hid Joash in the temple and the Messianic line is preserved.  In the book of Esther, Haman tried to exterminate all the Jews.

Satan is called the prince of this world, and he doesn’t want to give it up.  It’s all he has.  He even tried to tempt Jesus in Matthew 4:5-7 by offering Him the kingdoms of this world.  Jesus didn’t disagree that Satan was the prince of this world.

But the history is past, God is in control, and the Messiah, our Savior is brought into this world.  The devil loses.  How wicked, how dangerous the devil then becomes.  Now the devil needs a new strategy; to destroy Israel.

III.      War in Heaven, Revelation 12:6-12

God promised Abraham in Genesis 12:3 that in him, all the nations of the world will be blessed.  Israel is the only nation that God started directly and has a covenant with God.  God will bless Israel, and Israel will bless the world, that’s God’s plan.  Israel has already blessed us.  Israel has provided scripture – all the authors of the bible with the possible exception of Luke were Jewish.  It says in Romans 3:2 that the Jews were entrusted with the very words of God.  The Jews gave us a Savior.  Did you know Jesus wasn’t Baptist?  No, He was a Jew.  And it says in Isaiah 2:2-3 that the Kingdom in the future would be headquartered in Jerusalem.

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So just like Revelation 12:1-5 is Satan’s past failed strategy, Revelation 12:6-17 is Satan’s present and future strategy, also failed.  Satan is trying to do a preemptive strike to destroy the nation of Israel to prevent the coming of the kingdom.

Satan knows that the kingdom is coming to the earth through Israel.  He is trying to destroy Israel like he once tried to destroy the messiah.  Verse 6 is set in the future to the 2nd half of the Tribulation.  It says,

The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.

To understand the symbology, the woman is Israel, as we’ve studied.  The wilderness most scholars believe to be the city of Petra, in the wilderness, to be taken care of my God.  And 1,260 days means… 1, 260 days.

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The study of eschatology is the theology of the end times for mankind and the word.  We’re not going to get into the various comparisons, other than to note that not all scholars agree on how the future unfolds.  In the eschatology of a pre-Tribulation worldview, first comes the Rapture where believers meet Jesus in the air according to the 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17. Then begins seven years of Tribulation as God pours out His wrath, and Jesus comes to establish 1000 years of the millennial kingdom on earth.

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At the midpoint of the seven years of Tribulation, there is a blasphemous desecration of the temple in Jerusalem, and Jesus tells the Jews in Matthew 24:15 that they are to flee to the mountains.  And this is where we find ourselves in Revelation 12:6 as the woman flees to the desert for 1260 days, which is 3 and 1/2 years.  We are looking at these verses that describe the spiritual war from the angelic realm.

Revelation 12:7-12,

Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back.  But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven.  The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
“Now have come the salvation and the power
and the kingdom of our God,
and the authority of his Messiah.
For the accuser of our brothers and sisters,
who accuses them before our God day and night,
has been hurled down.
They triumphed over him
by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
as to shrink from death.
Therefore rejoice, you heavens
and you who dwell in them!
But woe to the earth and the sea,
because the devil has gone down to you!
He is filled with fury,
because he knows that his time is short.”

Satan is furious.  Christ is coming, the Lion of Judah, and bringing the Kingdom of God.  Up to this point, Satan believes he can still thwart God.  Satan has access to God’s throne room – remember in Job 1 where God and Satan have a discussion about Job’s future?  Satan is in God’s throne room, not to worship as other heavenly beings do, but to accuse.  In fact, this verse says Satan accuses us before our God day and night.  We should be careful we ourselves do not become accusers.  The side doing the accusations has an ally that we should want nothing to do with.

But now, halfway through the Tribulation, Satan is thrown down from heaven, permanently.

IV.      War on Earth, Revelation 12:13-17

Then we look at verse 13, and Satan is losing the war.  He has already failed in the past when he was unable to prevent the coming of the Messiah, then he loses access to the heavenly throne room as he is thrown down, and here in the future, furious, Satan pursues Israel in earnest because he knows he only has 3 1/2 years to prevent God’s kingdom on earth.  And just like God rescued the Messianic line from Satan’s plans, now God rescues the woman Israel.

Verse 13-17,

When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child.  The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the wilderness, where she would be taken care of for a time, times and half a time, out of the serpent’s reach.  Then from his mouth the serpent spewed water like a river, to overtake the woman and sweep her away with the torrent.  But the earth helped the woman by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that the dragon had spewed out of his mouth.  Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus.

The most difficult part of Revelation 12 for me to figure out was “time, times, and half a time.”  Sounds like a math problem, and I’m an engineer, I should be able to figure this out.  It’s just a weird way of saying 3 1/2 years or 1260 days.  “Time” is “1 year,” “times” is “2 years” and then add “half a time” for a total of 3 1/2 years.

Satan’s final efforts to destroy Israel will also fail.  Notice Israel is given “the two wings of a great eagle.”  This symbology comes from Exodus 19:4, when God protected Israel from Pharaoh.  God tells Moses to say to the people of Israel, “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.”  The image of being carried on eagles’ wings shows God’s protection during persecution, carried safely out of harm’s way.  This is God’s divine protection.

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Also, a favorite verse is Isaiah 40:31, “But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

Some scholars have tried to interpret the eagles’ wings as being protected by the USA who has the bald eagle as our emblem.  I’d like to say we will continue to protect Israel, but sadly, that’s not to be the case.  The USA, too, will one day persecute Israel.  Indeed, just in the last month the USA struck a deal with Iran so that Iran will have nuclear technology.  Iran then chants, “Death to America” and pledges to wipe Israel off of the map with nuclear weapon technology provided by the USA.

Wiping Israel off the map, though, would actually be an improvement, though, because the official world map from Iran doesn’t even show Israel.  I guess that means they will put Israel on the map first, then wipe Israel off.  Psalm 83:4 sounds exactly like something the leader or Iran might say.

“Come,” they say, “let us destroy them as a nation,
so that Israel’s name is remembered no more.”

Here is a map of the Middle East showing the Muslim countries, with Israel at the center.  They say there will be peace in the Middle East if Israel just gives up a little more territory.  Here’s what Benjamin Netanyahu says about the Middle East peace process:

“If the Arabs put down their weapons today, there would be no more ‎violence. If the Jews put ‎down their weapons ‎today, there would be no ‎more Israel.”

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Satan been trying throughout the ages to destroy Israel.  Perhaps he thought for a while he succeeded – the Romans destroyed the temple in Jerusalem in 70AD and the Jewish diaspora were scattered throughout the earth.  Even without a country, the Jewish people and culture survived, so Hitler and his Nazis destroyed 6 million of them in World War II.  And still Satan was unsuccessful, and when the United Nations reestablished Israel as a nation in 1948 after nearly 1900 years without a country, Satan realized his plan was failing again.

One cannot underestimate how furious Satan is.  Look at some of the words used to describe Satan’s emotions:  Verse 12, “filled with fury,” verse 13, “persecuted.”  Verse 15, “sweep away,” Verse 17 “war” and “enraged.”    God’s divine protection is in place, though.  In fact, the word for “persecuted” in verse 13 is the exact same Greek word that is used on Jesus’ sermon on the mount when He says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted.”

Satan knows scripture, and he knows how badly things end for him.  But he believes he can replace God, and there is no end of his deceptions and lies in order to thwart God’s will.  1 Peter 8 says that your enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  And if you think the deceptions and lies and accusations he uses against Christians are tormenting, it pales when measured against Satan’s fury against Israel.

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See, God’s plan is to bless Israel, and Israel will bless the nations.  Satan’s plan is not.  I believe antisemitism, and hatred of the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, is driven by Satan himself.  The desire to wipe out Israel is our earthly demonstration of the war in heaven and is rooted in the angelic conflict of good versus evil.

Jerusalem will be at the center of the Kingdom of God and of His Christ according to Zechariah 14:17 and several other verses.  Satan hates this.  Once the kingdom comes, his kingdom of this world is permanently ended, he is permanently bound and thrown into the lake of fire.

  V.      Conclusion

Be ever careful and vigilant to stay on the side of good.  Nobody is immune from Satan’s lies and deceits.  We have a God of love and forgiveness and grace, and all hatred is against His will, but antisemitism is especially evil and comes from the devil.  Satan has an evil plan for this hatred of Israel.

This battle in heaven with the battle on earth that mirrors it is widely perceived as a struggle between good and evil.  There are wars and famine and death in this world that may seem evil is winning, but it’s not.  Sata is dangerous, but Satan also is defeated.  The battle isn’t even close.  Jesus wins overwhelmingly.

To God be the glory.

The Seven Churches of Revelation

  I.      Introduction

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In the last days of the Apostle John’s life, his faith in Jesus Christ led to his persecution.  John had been living in Ephesus, but Rome exiled John to a small Greek island in the Aegean Sea called Patmos.  I suppose the Romans thought to take a spiritual leader and move him out of the way so he wouldn’t spread any more dangerous ideas about this new disruptive Christianity, but exiling John to Patmos didn’t have the intended effect.  John spent his time in worship and prayer, and it was here on Patmos that John was given a powerful revelation from Jesus about the spiritual health of the churches and a vision of the end-times to come.

The seven churches are

  • Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-7) – the church that had forsaken its first love.
  • Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11) – the church that would suffer persecution.
  • Pergamum (Revelation 2:12-17) – the church that needed to repent.
  • Thyatira (Revelation 2:18-29) – the church with a false prophetess.
  • Sardis (Revelation 3:1-6) – the church that had fallen asleep.
  • Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7-13) – the church that had endured patiently.
  • Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22) – the church with the lukewarm faith.

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All seven churches are located a Roman mail route in Asia Minor; the remains of each of these churches still exist today in what is now modern-day Turkey.

The seven churches described in Revelation 2-3 are seven churches that existed during the time John the apostle was writing Revelation. Though they were literal churches in that time, there is also spiritual significance for churches and believers today.  So while the letters themselves are written to the churches, we can use the message to gain understanding of how both the churches and we as individuals relate to Jesus.

Each letter from Jesus to the churches follows a pattern.  First, Jesus describes Himself, His Authority and His Power.  Then He offers encouragement to the church, and a warning about their practices or their behavior.  And to those who are victorious in Christ, a command and a promise.

  • Jesus is…
  • Praise
  • Fault
  • Warning / Promise

Let’s turn to Revelation 2 and begin.

            II.      To the Church in Ephesus, Revelation 2:1-7

To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:

This is Jesus speaking to John, telling John to write down precisely the words of Jesus.  Like much of what we’re going to study, there are several possible meanings in each verse.  The Greek word is “angelos,” and usually means “spiritual messenger.”  The “angel” of the church could refer to a guardian angel of each church, but some might wonder why Jesus would have John write a letter to an angel.  A more earthly view is that the “angelos” was a human messenger that visited John, an elder or a pastor entrusted with the letter to share with the church.  I think the rest of verse 2 clarifies it somewhat.  Jesus describes himself as –

These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands.

This is why Revelation seems so difficult to me.  I like my scripture to be more literal.  When Jesus says, “forgive one another” or “love one another,” I get that. And it’s easy teach, too.  “Forgive one another, love one another, walk among the lampstands.”

Sometimes the symbolism in Revelation is hard, but for today’s symbolism, I found a simple trick to understanding it.  At the end of the previous chapter, Revelation 1… can somebody read out loud the very last verse of Revelation 1?

The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

Ah, that makes it easy to understand.  So this means Jesus walks among the churches and He holds the pastors of the churches in his hand.  Got it.

Now Jesus tells the Church of Ephesus what He likes and what He doesn’t like –

I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false.  You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.

Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.  Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.  But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

Ephesus was a large seaport for its day, one of the largest cities with 400,000 people.  In John’s day, Jesus is pleased with what He sees.  The Ephesians work hard, they discern false teachers and wicked people, they are persecuted yet remain faithful.  All very good things for the church and for you and me.

But there is a balance between truth and love, and both must be present in the will of the Lord.  Ephesus triumphs in truth, but has forgotten that the purpose of the gospel, the good news, is love.  Jesus is love, a sacrifice for we who do not deserve God’s gift of salvation but were given it anyway.  If our Christian faith is marked by legalist, condemnation, accusations, then we are no better than Pharisees.

And this love is something we do, it’s not an emotional, “I love you, now go on about your business.”  Love is hospitality, love is helping those who need it, particularly the widows and orphans, the poor, sick, and needy.  Jesus’ love was to do for us what we could not do for ourselves: die for our sins and be saved.  This was a mark of the early Christian churches; pagan and secular cultures did not care for the poor.  When the Christians showed love, they were advertising the love of God in them.

But the Ephesians had forgotten their first love, and Jesus says that if they do not repent of their unloving nature, then He will remove their lampstand.  I heard a term recently called “The Ephesus Syndrome” where Christians and churches become totally preoccupied with fine points of doctrinal theology, pre-trib vs mid-trib, and find they have drifted away from makes surrounding to Christ all the worthwhile – a fervent love for the God who created us, and a love for one another.

About 4 years ago I was blessed to take a trip to Israel and some of the destinations on Paul’s journey.  The city is amazing; the amphitheater where Paul taught could hold 25,000 people.  The city library was enormous.  But there is no active Christian church there today, no weekly congregation, no worship services on the Sabbath.  Their lampstand has been removed.

For those who remember that our number one commandment is love God with all our heart, our soul, our mind, our strength, and also to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, Jesus gives this promise –

Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.

The tree of life was there in the Garden of Eden, and will be planted again many times over in the New Jerusalem of Revelation 22.   Jesus was victorious over death, and those who love the Lord share in that victory and live forever.

III.      To the Church in Smyrna, Revelation 2:8-11

I think we have to move along more quickly.  There are seven churches, and if I spent only 4 minutes a church, we’ll use up our half hour.  So our second church is Smyrna, and following our pattern, Jesus tells us who he is,

To the angel of the church in Smyrna write:

These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.

Jesus is the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last.  The entire purpose of the Old Testament is to give us insight into who God is and point to a Messiah.  The New Testament give us the Good News that we are saved from the death of our sins, and Revelation will tell us our future, our lives forever with the One who loves us so much he was crucified for us, who died and now lives.

The praise to Smyrna:

I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich!  I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.  Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days.  Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.

The people of Smyrna lived in a culture of Jews, non-Jews, pagans, and the early church.  The word “Satan” literally means “the accuser,” so the synagogue of Satan was full of Jews accusing the early Christians of all kinds of wickedness.  As a result, they were persecuted and imprisoned, suffering as Jesus did to demonstrate His love for us.

And the fault Jesus finds?  None.  Only in the churches of Smyrna and Philadelphia does Jesus find nothing to condemn.  For those that hold to the end, willing to demonstrate the love of Jesus even under persecution, imprisonment, and death, Jesus praises them as victors.

IV.      To the Church in Pergamum, Revelation 2:12-17

Church number three, the Church in Pergamum.  Jesus announced himself as –

To the angel of the church in Pergamum write:

These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword.

This echoes the words in Hebrews 4:12,

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

And the beginning of the book of John 1:1,

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Jesus is the Word, and if you let the Word into your heart, read the scripture and pray for wisdom, the Word will show you what is unworthy and must be surgically removed, cut out of your life.  Jesus calls us to repentance from our sins.  We will always struggle without our own sins, but I discovered it is impossible to sin while calling on the name of Jesus.  Can’t do them both at the same time.  If I’m am doing or saying something I ought not to be doing or saying, I am also trying hard not to think of Jesus.  And if I am thinking of Jesus, I find it impossible to willfully sin.

And the more we imbue ourselves with the Word, the more righteously we wish to live, and the more shortcomings we find in ourselves, and the more we give thanks that we don’t have to fail in our sins.  Jesus has already saved us, and we start that process by reading His Word, the two-edged sword the shows us what is truly in our hearts.

Now the praise for Pergamum –

I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.

Pergamum was the seat of Roman power in the region.  Paganism was the culture, temples built to worship prostitution, idolatry of self.  The very seat of evil.  Yet the little church in Pergamum was faithful, despite being surrounded by wickedness.

So how do we live when we are surrounded by wickedness?  When living in a culture that celebrates sin?  A culture that celebrates homosexuality, that celebrates selfishness and pride?  There were two stories in the news this week that revolted me.  One was an app called Ashley something, I didn’t bother to go look it up again.  It’s an app for adulterers.  Married men who want to have sex with married women other than their own.  The app promised confidentiality so you could have your affair without all that bother of your spouse finding out.  I was appalled there was an app for that.  But some hacker broke into their database and copied all the names off the credit cards used.  The users might be confidential, but they still had to use a credit card with their name on it.  Busted.

The other story was the Planned Parenthood selling baby parts for profit, and discussing how to preserve the parts in a “less crunchy” way so they could make more money.  Again, I was appalled.  They also claim that abortions aren’t killing babies, they’re just a clump of cells to which I ask, then where did these little hearts and brains and arms and legs come from?  In the Old Testament, the evil Ammonites worshipped Molech, a protecting father figure.  To bring about Molech’s protection, a statue of Molech was made of bronze and their outstretched arms were heated red-hot.  Living children were then placed in Molech’s arms and died there.  The way some in our culture worship Planned Parenthood, Molech is alive and well in our country.

Like Pergamum, we are surrounded by evil, but we are called to be in this world, but not of this world.  Jesus praised Pergamum for remaining faithful.

But Jesus had something against Pergamum –

Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality.  Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.  Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.

Some in Pergamum tried to remain faithful *and* blend into the culture.  They welcomed teachings of Balaam alongside teachings of Jesus.  The Nicolaitans were also mentioned in the Church of Ephesus earlier, but we don’t know much about them except Jesus hated their teachings.  They enticed the Israelites into sexual immorality, and I cannot help but see the parallels with those liberal churches in our country performing same-sex marriages.  Jesus is not pleased and fights against this evil with the sword of truth, the word of life, the Holy Scripture.

And the promise,

Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.

The “secret manna” is God’s truth, hidden in scripture.  For those who believe, it’s spiritual nourishment, and for those who don’t, it’s nonsense.  And the white stone is a ticket of admission to God’s Kingdome, personally engraved, and represents a new, intimate relationship.  Jesus has a special name for you and me if we are victorious, a nickname that Jesus gives us known only by us.

  V.      To the Church in Thyatira, Revelation 2:18-26

Church number 4, the Church in Thyatira.  Who does Jesus say that He is?

To the angel of the church in Thyatira write:

These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.

Jesus sees all and nothing is hidden from His sight, a blazing fire that compels us to repent of our hidden things.  The burnished bronze feet may be a reference to the city of Thyatira which was known for its trade guilds, particularly trade in smelting copper and bronze.  The coins minted at the time showed the local Roman ruler, Apollo Tyrimnaeus, the patron deity of the bronze trade, and on the other side, the Roman Emperor who was also known at the time as the ‘son of god.’  The imagery here shows that whatever our boasts of our own importance, Jesus stands on and above everything.

Jesus’s praise for Thyatira,

I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.

Jesus recognized them for their love and faith and service and perseverance, all good things.  But His complaints are more focused –

Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols.  I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling.  So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways.  I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.

Like Pergamum allowing the teachings of Balaam, Thyatira is faulted for allowing “Jezebel” to live among them, a reference to 1st and 2nd Kings and the story of Ahab and Jezebel.  Jezebel introduced the worship of Baal into Israel.  Immoral sex was a temptation into a pagan worship that corrupted the pure faith of the Israelites. Allowing a freedom of sexual immorality into the church teachings corrupts the purity of the faith, and Jesus is not pleased.  The church has no business condoning any sort of pagan practice or sexual immorality.

For those that remain faithful,

Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets, ‘I will not impose any other burden on you, except to hold on to what you have until I come.’

To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations – that one ‘will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery’ – just as I have received authority from my Father.  I will also give that one the morning star.  Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

One day, every knee will bow to the authority of Jesus, and those who place their faith and trust in the Lord will share in that day, and Jesus will give the morning star to them.  Jesus is the morning star, showing how loving and how intimate our relationship with Jesus will be as He gives Himself to us in love.

VI.      To the Church in Sardis, Revelation 3:1-6

Jesus says this about Himself –

To the angel of the church in Sardis write:

These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.

The seven stars we already mentioned, these are the leaders and pastors of the seven churches.  The seven spirits are mentioned four times in the book of Revelation, and refer back to Isaiah 11:1-3 where each of the spirits are named in a prophecy about the ancestry of Jesus,

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;

    from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—

    the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,

    the Spirit of counsel and of might,

    the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—

and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.

Jesus has praise for the church of Sardis, but their lack of enthusiasm shows.  The church will die without a love for the will of Jesus –

I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.  Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God.  Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.

To the church of Sardis, this was a powerful message.  Six hundred years before Jesus, Sardis was considered unconquerable.  It sat on a high hill and was impenetrable.  And the people became lazy about their security.

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But King Cyrus of the Persians did it.  Cyrus sent an advance scout at night who climbed the high walls and opened the gate.  By the morning, the Persians had conquered the city.

The same thing can happen to us if we let our enthusiasm wane.  The seven spirits keep the church alive – the Spirit of the Lord, wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge and fear.  We must be ever vigilant that we continually focused on the will of God so that we do not become complacent and lazy.  If we become lazy about our faith, sin will find a way in.  We must be ever vigilant against the evil one, and keep our eyes focused on Jesus.

The promise from Jesus is that all is not lost

Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy.  The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels.  Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Those who walk with Jesus are considered worthy before the Lord and will walk with Jesus.  Our names will not be blotted out of the book of life.  After Moses came down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments, and found out that while he was gone, Aaron had made a golden calf for the people to worship, God says in Exodus 32:32-33 that those that sinned will be blotted out of the Lord’s book of life.  And in these days when John was writing Revelation, it was common for Greek cities to maintain a list of all the citizens.  But when a citizen was condemned to death, cities didn’t want their reputation to be tarnished.  Cities never executed their own citizens.  First, the city would blot the name of the offender from the list of citizens, *then* they would execute him.

Sin separates us from God.  Jesus saves us from eternal separation and makes sure our names remain in the book of life, never to be blotted out.  And Jesus will acknowledge us – personally, by name, in front of God the Father.

VII.      To the Church in Philadelphia, Revelation 3:7-11

Church number six is Philadephia.  About Himself, Jesus says,

To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:

These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.

The imagery of the key of David comes from Isaiah 22:22.  All authority has been given to Jesus, and his royal key can open any heart, a message for us when we spread the good news that it is not us, never has been us, that brings salvation to another.  Jesus alone holds that key.  It is our responsibility to share what Jesus has done for us, and Jesus will unlock the hearts of those who hear Him knock.

I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.  I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you.  Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.

I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.  The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name.  Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Jesus has only praise for the Church of Philadelphia.  They teach truth, they practice love, they endure patiently.  The synagogue of Satan isn’t intended to be anti-Jewish; this message is written to the Jews that have accepted Christ as their long awaited messiah.  Those that accuse will one day realize that the very messiah they have been waiting for has come and loved those who place their faith in Him.

Those that are victorious in Jesus will wear a crown of victory and become a pillar in the temple of God.  Not of stone and marble, but of Jesus and His faithful followers.  Today, we have the Holy Spirit living inside, and our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, but eventually we will be pillars of the temple of God.  And His promise of intimacy with Jesus is given again to us, that he will write His name upon us, signifying that we belong to Him forever.

VIII.      To the Church in Laodicea, Revelation 3:14-22

Last church, church number 7.  I wasn’t sure we’d get through all seven churches today.  Two or three churches would have been plenty for us, would it not?  But there’s actually a purpose to going through all seven – the number seven is God’s perfect number – seven stars, seven lampstands, seven spirits, seven churches.  I didn’t want to stop at half-perfect.

About Himself, Jesus says –

These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.

Jesus is faithful, completely trustworthy, reliable, dependable.  He sees all and rules all, and we can trust His promises.  It’s not that Jesus is the best, but that Jesus is the only.  There is no other place to put our trust other than in the Son of God.  He will never leave us, abandon us, mislead us.  He is the Amen, the faithful and true witness.

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.  You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.  I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

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.

While Jesus had only praise for two of the churches, for Laodicea He has nothing good to say about them.  There is no redeeming feature.  This is a worldly church.  The people dressed fine, every family was perfect with 2.3 children, and all of the people were above average.  They believed they were rich and had everything they needed.

While the city of Laodicea was rich, one thing they were missing was a good supply of water.  They were located on a Roman aqueduct system near the river Lycus which is not a big river. Sometimes it dries up completely in the summer.  But to the southeast of Laodicea is the town of Colosse with a excellent supply of water.  Ice-cold, flowing down from Mount Cadmus, it was fast-flowing and plentiful, excellent to drink.  But by the time it flowed to Laodicea 6 miles away, it had warmed by the sun and lost it’s refreshing taste.

Slide29

To the north of Laodicea was the town of Hieropolis.  It has hot springs that are still operational today.  The water comes out of the ground, hot and bubbling, full of minerals.  That water today is channeled into hotel bathing pools.  Aqueducts brought this water to Laodicea, but it had cooled, no longer suitable for bathing.  Worse, the concentration of minerals and chemicals made it unsafe to drink.

The word ‘lukewarm’ is translated from the Greek ‘chliaros’ and means “tepid, nauseating, unusable or barren.”

There’s a saying that if Satan isn’t bothering you, then maybe he’s happy with the way you live.  Jesus is telling the church that He wants them to be on fire for Him, or get out of the way.  Instead, the church is full of smug, self-righteous apathetic lukewarm people.

The single greatest cause of Atheism today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and deny Him by their lifestyle.

This is utterly disgusting to our Lord. He’d rather one be an atheist than a so-called Christian who doesn’t care.  Such people the Lord will vomit out of His mouth.

The rich clothes the Laodiceans wore?  Filthy rags.  The money they had?  Worthless.  They strutted around in their fine clothes and said to the world, “look how fabulous we are.”  And Jesus tells them that their worldly wealth was worthless, and instead of being dressed like royalty, they were really wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.  The only thing we can wear that has eternal value is Jesus.

Jesus longs for us to want him, to persevere on His behalf, to be His hands and feet, delivering the love that He first gave to us.  He will fellowship with us and be our friend if we just open the door to His love.

To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne.  Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

To those who are faithful to our Lord, He offers more than we can imagine.  C.S. Lewis opened a sermon once with these words,

If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

The Lord desires our love in action.  In return, he invites us not just to a place somewhere in heaven, but right next to Him on His throne.  Such glory I cannot fathom, to see all of creation sitting next to Jesus on the throne.

IX.      Conclusion

The messages to the seven churches of Revelation 2-3 show us that the Church was destined to face trials throughout the centuries before Jesus Christ would return. Yet God promised to reward His Church and individual members if they would remain faithful to Him.

These rewards include eating from the tree of life (Revelation 2:7), being given the crown of life (verse 10), being given a new name (verse 17), being given power over the nations (verse 26), having one’s name written in the Book of Life (Revelation 3:5), becoming a pillar in God’s temple (verse 12) and sitting with Christ on His throne (verse 21). This encouragement from God reminds us that serving Him is well worth the effort.  And Jesus alone has the authority and the power to give us new life.

Let’s not settle for anything less.

To God be the glory.

Is This of God?

  I.      Introduction

Slide1

We’ve been discussing heresies and false doctrines in the church during our study of 1 John, and today we’re going to tackle false prophets and the antichrist. Let’s open up to 1 John 4 and read verses 1-6 to get an overhead view before we begin.

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

 

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.

II.      Do Not Believe Every Spirit, 1 John 4:1-2

This is my 9th year of teaching the bible at Second, and I’ve learned a great deal during this period. The biggest thing I’ve learned is probably that I know a lot less than I thought I knew. Every lesson has life lessons for me that I didn’t know the year before. The preparation for each lesson, if they are to be meaningful, seem to include some common traits. I have to pray for God’s message to be clear, I pray for God to use me as He wills. Then I read and meditate on the scripture.   I create an outline to be organized, I come up with examples and stories that illustrate the point. Then I begin reading commentaries.Slide2

For the most part, I stick to those commentaries with excellent reputations – Warren Wiersby, Matthew Henry, John Piper, but if I feel the need to branch out from there, sometimes I go a’googling. The sheer amount of false teaching on the internet is overwhelming. For every site that says “beware these false prophets” is another site that says, “no, beware *those* false prophets.”

I wanted to give some examples of false prophets for today’s lesson, but I found that a difficult thing to do. For one thing, we are all sinners. That includes you, me, false teachers and good teachers. We just studied that a couple of weeks ago in 1 John 1:8-10 –

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

Slide6

I originally wanted to give some examples of false teachers, but that turned out to be harder than I thought. I can find plenty of examples of biblical error – prosperity gospel, name it and claim it, prediction of the end time, being saved through works, even people who themselves claimed to be God – but false doctrine isn’t the same thing as being a false teacher or even a false church. The truth is truth, and a falsehood is false, but actually proclaiming somebody as a false teacher rather than just saying something false seems rife with dangers of being judgmental.

Besides, I don’t think that’s actually the purpose of 1 John 4, for me to identify false teachers for you. I think the purpose of 1 John 4 is to train you to identify false teaching on your own.

If we are all sinners, then being a sinner doesn’t make one into a false teacher. If it were so, then all teachers would be false teachers. Just as saying something in error doesn’t make you false teacher. If I stand here and tell you that some angels have 6 legs like an insect, that’s not true. Angels may have four wings (Ezekiel 1:6) or maybe six wings (Isaiah 6:2), but not six legs, don’t be ridiculous.

Slide7

So if saying something false or being a sinner doesn’t make one a false teacher, what if the teacher says it very very earnestly? What if I was very sincere that angels had six legs? No, saying something earnestly doesn’t make it true. What if I also sent food and clothing to the Philippines, would that make what I said true?  What if I read it on the internet?

Let’s go back to our scripture and see if we get a better clue as to how to recognize a false prophet. 1 John verse 1 says,

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God

Test the spirits. What John is asking us to do is use discernment to see if the person we’re listening to is being driven by the Holy Spirit or if he’s being driven by something else (and we’ll get to that in a moment).

What do I mean by discernment? It’s one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit; each and every one of us have at least one gift, given freely by the Holy Spirit for the purpose of building up the church. Some of us have more than one.

Slide10

The Greek word for the gift of discernment is “diakrisis” and means being able to distinguish, discern, judge or appraise a person, statement, situation, or environment. In the New Testament it describes the ability to distinguish between spirits as in 1 Corinthians 12:10, and to discern good and evil as in Hebrews 5:14. For some it comes easily as a gift, and for all of us, it is a sign of spiritual maturity. As we study and learn and practice and serve, our ability to discern what is of God and what is not should improve. When we hear somebody trying to teach us spiritual truth, in order to discern if it is spiritual truth, we should test it in 3 ways –

  • Test with Truth.  The Book of Truth, by definition, leads to truth.  In Acts 17, the Apostle Paul arrived in Thessalonica and began to teach in the Jewish synagogue, explaining that Jesus is the Messiah and why He had to suffer and die and rise from the dead.  Some of the Thessalonian Jews were jealous, formed a mob and started a riot, chasing Paul out of the city.  Paul then went to Berea and began to teach the same message in the synagogue, but (Acts 17:11), “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”  God says it’s noble to seek the truth.  Whether it’s our pastor, whether it’s me, and probably especially if it’s Chris, question our teaching.  Open your bible and read for yourself if what we say is true.  A teacher that is being led by the Holy Spirit will welcome an opportunity to build each other up and correct any errors.  It’s ok.  We encourage you to read the truth for yourself.
  • Test with Love.  Just testing to see if it’s true is not enough.  It must also pass the test of love.  1 Corinthians 13 says that if we speak the truth without love, we are only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  Truth without love is just noise.  The Old Testament in many places demonstrates the truth of God’s wrath which is meaningless without His message of love and mercy in Christ Jesus.  And it is not love to encourage people to be comfortable in their sin.  Truth must be spoken in love; love must be spoken in truth.
  • Test that it leads to Jesus.  Any test of spiritual truth must lead to Jesus.  Fellowship?  Must lead to Jesus.  Tithing?  Must lead to Jesus.  Service?  Must lead to Jesus.

1 John 4:2 goes on to say,

This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God.

“Every spirit that acknowledges Jesus Christ.” Some translations use “testify Jesus Christ” or “confess Jesus Christ.” In other words, the Holy Spirit testifies that God is in your life when you confess Jesus is Lord. When you genuinely confess Jesus Christ, believers can know that you have the Holy Spirit.

But I think you see the problem here. Is that all it takes? What if I ask Andy Atheist from off the street and into the sanctuary and offer him $500 to say, “Jesus Christ is Lord.” Do you think he will do it? I think so. Words, then, are not enough, but that’s what it seems 1 John 4 is saying. “Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.”

John Piper tells a story of meeting with the African chaplain of the Banso Baptist Hospital in Cameroon. The chaplain was asked if he was making any spiritual impact on the patients, and he said that the Christians were very open to his help. Most of the Muslims and the followers of the tribal religions would simply agree with him as quickly as they could in order to get him to leave them alone. So do such confessions prove that the person is of God, or that the spirit with which they speak is the Spirit of God?

The key to understanding this verse is probably the word “confess”. John also uses the same word in 1 John 1:9,

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins.

What does the word “confess” mean here? Does it mean just mouthing the words? “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I did it, so what?” That’s a confession. But mere words cannot be enough, because in Matthew 7:21, Jesus says,

Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven

Jesus is essentially saying confession is not enough. The key to understanding this, then, must be to understand what John means by the word “confess.” Both times, John uses the word “homologeō” which itself comes from two separate Greek words, “homou” (this is the easy word) meaning “together as one, at the same place and time.” And the other word you may be familiar with, “logos.” It’s used 331 times in 316 verses in the King James version. That means some verses use “logos” two or even three times per verse throughout the New Testament. It means the Word, something said, something thought, reasoning and motive, a decision, an intent. When Jesus spoke, it was called “logos.”

Slide19

Matthew 24:35, Jesus says,

Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words (logos) shall not pass away.

So when John says, “confess” Jesus Christ, he is saying “homologeō” Jesus Christ.” It’s more than just saying “confess” or “acknowledge.” It is saying a decision to be together, as one, at the same time, in the same place, with the Word of God, in thought and action and deed.

1 John 4:2 can then be shown this way:

This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that (homologeō) that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.

When you’re listening to a teacher or a pastor and you are trying to decide if his teaching is false, it is fair to examine his life. The teaching must be taught in truth, must be taught in love, and must point to Jesus. The teacher’s words, thoughts, actions, deeds, his lifestyle must acknowledge that Jesus Christ is fully man, fully God, and died to save your sins and mine.

So when I listen to a teacher, I’m listening to hear if he or she teaches the whole truth. “Name it and claim it” or the prosperity gospel takes certain scripture and packages it nicely with a ribbon or bow on top so that if you give money to their ministry you will reap riches, but ignores other biblical truths about the purpose of pain and suffering. If I examine their lifestyle and see they are buying multi-million dollar jets to fly around the world while their congregation is living on food stamps, they are not homologeō in their words, actions and deeds. And if I hear preachers preaching that people are going to hell for their beliefs but do not mention the love of Jesus that can save them from their sins, their message is missing the good news of the bible. And if their message is about hope and love and peace but do not give credit to our Lord and Savior, it is an incomplete message and is not from the very Lord they are ignoring.

III.      Who Is the Antichrist? 1 John 4:3

So if the message is not from the Holy Spirit and we discern that the message is not of truth, not of love, and does not point to Jesus, and the teacher is not homologeō with Jesus Christ, where is the message coming from?

1 John 4:3,

but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

The spirit of the antichrist.

Every teaching that is not homologeō with the Word of God is from the spirit of the antichrist. In the spiritual conflict between Jesus and Satan, compromise and neutrality is not possible. There are only two eternal destinations, there is no third, and every soul is bound for one or the other.

There may be some confusion about who the antichrist is in this passage. How can the antichrist be coming and already here? In the Book of Revelation, the apostle John refers to the Antichrist by the title “the false prophet.” The Antichrist, with a capital “A”, is the ultimate manifestation of false prophecy and the many “false prophets” are but precursors to the ultimate Antichrist. John confirmed this is 1 John 2:18 when he said, “Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour.” The Antichrist is not here yet – at least I hope not – but the spirit of the antichrist, those who oppose Christ Jesus, have been with us for thousands of years.

The spirits of the antichrist are alive and well in America. Jesus says in Mark 10:8 that “At the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” And in Romans 8, we know that God eventually gives sinful people over to their shameful lusts and unnatural sexual relations. And as I’m studying this and writing this, breaking news pops up on my computer that the US Supreme Court legalizes gay marriage in all 50 states. The spirits of the antichrist are alive and well and legalizing sin that separates us from God our Father.

Our laws and our institutions must necessarily be based upon and embody the teachings of The Redeemer of mankind. It’s impossible that it should be otherwise; and in this sense and to this extent our civilization and our institutions are emphatically Christian… This is a religious people. This is historically true. From the discovery of this continent to the present hour, there is a single voice making this affirmation… we find everywhere a clear recognition of the same truth… These, and many other matters which might be noticed, add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass of organic utterances that this is a Christian nation. Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States, The United States Supreme Court, 143 U.S. 457, 12 S.Ct. 511, 36 L.Ed. 226 (1892)

I would say that the spirits of the antichrists have been at work for a long time and have been quite successful.

We are all on the front line of spiritual warfare, determining what is good versus what is evil. Scripture tells us that God loves the sinner who repents and that God hates sin, and we are to do the same. Too often Christians are too meek, content to let the world run roughshod over us and our faith.

IV.      The One Who Is In You, 1 John 4:4-6

Fortunately, we do not have to fight this battle on our own. In fact, if we try to fight this battle on our own, we have already lost. The spirit of the antichrists are clever and they are numerous. And we are losing the battle daily. We are like children facing giants.

If you told me a child, a mere boy of 12, could turn away the Philistine army and save Israel from annihilation, I would tell you that you are crazy. But David was armed with more than just a stone. David said to Goliath,

You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.

If we attempt to battle evil under our own might, we will lose. But our Lord is a mighty warrior. 1 John 4:3 says

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.

We are not in the battle alone. The Holy Spirit lives in all of those who trust in Jesus Christ, and Jesus has conquered death itself. The battles we may lose mean little. Our Lord has already won the war for us.

We need to keep in mind who we are battling. Our battle is not against our rulers, our nation, the Supreme Court. Our battle is not with coworkers that malign us, and it’s not with neighbors who mock us. Our battle is with the spirits of the antichrist. Ephesians 6:10-12 says

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the whole 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.

We are mighty warriors for the Holy Spirit, clothed in the Armor of God and wielding the Sword of Truth. We may not win every spiritual battle, as this week’s Supreme Court ruling shows. But the spiritual war is already won.

Our challenge is to identify what messages are coming from the Holy Spirit and which are coming from the spirit of antichrists. We need to be well versed in the Sword of Truth and be good Bereans and study the Scriptures for Truth.

Don’t let the spirit of the antichrists throw scripture at us to silence us, telling us not to judge. That’s not what scripture means. We are to use righteous judgement with careful discernment to beware of evildoers and false prophets and to beware of judging hypocritical, self-righteous judgement and against judging someone when we ourselves are sinning worse.

It is our charge, our duty, to understand the Truth coming from the Holy Spirit and to recognize falsehoods coming from the evil one. We do this, not through our own power, but to be like little children and allow the power of the Holy Spirit do convict us of good and evil. If we are homologeō with the Holy Spirit, one together with Him in heart, mind, and spirit, then we can indeed do all things through Christ who strengthens us.

  V.      Conclusion

I want to wrap up this study of 1 John 4:1-6 with these words from 2 Timothy 4:1-8. We all have expiration dates, and we all want to live a life well-lived. There is nothing is this world worth fighting for except the love of Jesus Christ and the love of our neighbor. Everything else is just shiny trinkets to distract us from the spiritual battles of this earthy realm.

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage — with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

 

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

Rely on the Holy Spirit of Truth, and fight the good fight. Test the spirits to see if they lead to truth, love, and Jesus. Be homologeō, one together in purpose and faith that Jesus Christ died for us and was raised to sit at the right hand of the Father to pay for your sins and mine. For by his sacrifice, he lives in us, and the one who lives in us is greater than the one who is in the world.

To God be the glory.

What is Faith?

             I.      Introduction

We’ve just spent the last two months studying Hebrews with just a few weeks left to go, but our study of Hebrews has a purpose.  Hebrews, as you may recall, was written to the new Christians in trying circumstances and persecutions.  The first 6 chapters of Hebrews sought to reassure the new Christians that Jesus is a superior person, the source of all good news, that He alone is the son of God, He is higher than angels, and He is our perfect Savior.

Then Hebrews 7-10 explained that, not just a superior person, but Christ is a Superior priesthood.  He alone is the Lamb of God, able to take away the sins of the world.  He alone is a perfect, unblemished sacrifice, perfectly acceptable to God.  And He alone led to the tearing of the veil that separated us from the Holy of Holies, and that we are now able to approach God without fear, knowing that our salvation is secure in Him.

The next four weeks will complete our study of Hebrews and wraps up everything we’ve studied.  Since Jesus is a superior person who identifies with us, and since Jesus is fully God and blameless, and since God provided this perfect sacrifice to us so that we may have eternal salvation… so what?  What are we supposed to do with all this information?  So Jesus is great, I get that.  But what does it mean for me?

The answer is that, since God first loved us, since God has provided a perfect sacrifice, we can live our lives as a demonstration of God’s glory and power and love.  We begin our Christian lives on faith in this love.  But what is faith?

          II.      What Faith is Not

We all place our faith in something.  In fact, we place our faith in a great many things, often without realizing we are doing it.  When we go to a doctor, we have faith that they know what they’re doing.  When we put our key into the car ignition, we have faith that the car will start and we can drive to our destination.

We can have faith in ourselves and in our own abilities.  There are lots of self-help books out there.  I went to Amazon and made a list of Self-help books.  I found 13,149 books on how to find happiness, 51,511 books on motivation, and 75,093 books on personal transformation.  There were 351,562 books in total.

Self-Help
Abuse (5,646)
Anger Management (841)
Anxieties & Phobias (1,883)
Communication & Social Skills (140)
Creativity (5,301)
Death & Grief (16,156)
Dreams (4,928)
Eating Disorders (2,739)
Emotions (857)
Handwriting Analysis (710)
Happiness (13,149)
Hypnosis (2,066)
Inner Child (554)
Journal Writing (216)
Memory Improvement (1,894)
Mid-Life (729)
Motivational (51,511)
New Age (955)
Personal Transformation (75,093)
Relationships (72,510)
Self-Esteem (13,639)
Sex (19,569)
Spiritual (19,191)
Stress Management (11,539)
Success (27,513)
Time Management (2,233)
Total (351,562)

I’m thinking that relying on ourselves might possibly not be working as well as we like.  We may find we come up short and we need some more help.

We can also have faith in others.  But can people let us down?  We can be disappointed in others.  They may not be there when we need them, maybe say or do something hurtful to us.  People can let us down sometimes.

We may even have faith in faith itself.  Perhaps if just believe strongly enough, something good will happen.  Just going to church will make be a better person and win favors with God.  That’s probably my 2nd biggest criticism of a “Name it and Claim it” church, a great deal of it is based on wishful thinking.  (My 1st biggest criticism is against the arrogance that if we just have enough faith, we can tell God what to do).  Don’t get me wrong – positive thinking is very helpful.  The bible tells us to “capture every thought” (2 Cor 10:5) and “focus on what is pure and lovely” (Philippians 4:8).  It’s just that positive thinking on its own has no power to give us what we need most.

And what we need most is Jesus.  The good news about the superiority and sufficiency of Christ Jesus.

       III.      Does Faith Replace Reason?

Now, when you read stories about faith in the news or in secular books, faith doesn’t always get the respect it deserves.  Secular humanist and atheists put a great deal of faith in themselves because frankly, they don’t want to put faith in a being that holds them accountable for their beliefs.  Some may imply that faith is the opposite of reason.  If you can test it and verify it, it’s reason.  If you have no proof, but want to believe it anyway, that’s faith.  Pop culture would have us believe that faith is a blind leap in the dark.  They might say, “If you have all this evidence, why do you need faith?”

If we open up the dictionary, one definition of faith is a “questioning belief that does not require proof or evidence.”  But that couldn’t be further from the truth.  Faith without reason is stupid.  If I have faith that I can walk off the edge of a building and just float away, does that faith make any sense?  Faith must be built on things that are true for faith to mean anything.  In 1 Corinthians 15:17, Paul says “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.”  In other words, Paul pins all of our faith on a single historical event:  Christ is raised from the dead.  If that is not true, then it doesn’t matter what you believe.  Jesus just died and there is no resurrection to save us.

But we have ample evidence that Jesus lived, died, and was raised from the dead.  Three days after the crucifixion and burial, the tomb was empty.  Jesus made dozens of appearances over the next 40 days, corroborated by hundreds of witnesses.  The two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Doubting Thomas touch His wounds, appearing to Saul of Tarsus.  And just before Paul says, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins,” he lists James and 500 people that saw Jesus at a single appearance, most of whom were still alive when Paul wrote it.  And then Jesus ascended into heaven in view of the apostles.

We have a number of consistent accounts, we have people like Thomas that demanded evidence, and the gospels were written while the people who witnessed these things were still alive.  The evidence was so strong that Jesus was raised from the dead and was who He claimed to be that the apostles died proclaiming the divinity of Jesus.  Why would they die for a lie?  But knowing Jesus is Lord, the apostles could not say otherwise.  They knew who He was.

No, our biblical faith is based on reason.  Not instead of reason, not in spite of reason, but built on reason.

          IV.      Dead Faith

Knowing what we know, it should spur us to put our faith into practice.  If we do not, our faith is dead.  Dead faith is when we do nothing with the revelation we have.  Like going to the medicine cabinet for some pain medicine.  We can look at the bottle and read the instructions that says it will relieve our pain.  We know who the doctor was that wrote the prescription, we know the pharmacist that filled the prescription.  I believe the person who prescribed it, and I trust the person who fulfilled it, and I believe the medicine will work.  I believe everything about this medicine.  But then we put the medicine back on the shelf and the pain goes on.  That’s dead faith, useless faith.

No, we must do something with the faith.  James 2:14-19 says,

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?  Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”  Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.  You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.”

Our faith demands action, or our faith is a dead, useless faith.  The path to salvation leads to Jesus, and we are saved.  Knowing that, can we let those we love perish?  What kind of useless faith is that?

             V.      Little Faith

Maybe we’re afraid of putting of faith in action.  Afraid to do something publically because of how others perceive us.  After all, we just come to church, sing our songs, and get a bible lesson.  Surely that is enough?  We’re not church elders or pastors or staff.  It’s those people that have an abundance of faith.  It’s enough that I’m here, right?

I haven’t been a Christian long.  I spent much of my life as a heathen, went through an agnostic phase where it didn’t matter to me if Christianity were true.  Even when I discovered my path in life was leading to destruction, I tried to get by with small corrections.  I called myself a Christian and would say that Jesus is the Son of God, but I lacked conviction.  I was 35 years old before I finally understood that Christ died for me personally and I called Christ my Lord and Savior.

I guess it’s been longer than I thought.  That’s coming up on 20 years ago.  I came to church regularly and attended church functions and went to bible study, but it still felt like I was missing something.

I remember taking a Spiritual Gift test one day at a bible study.  You know the spiritual gifts; they include exhortation, giving, hospitality, mercy, teaching, evangelism, discernment, and so on.  Romans 12:4-6 says we all have different gifts according to the grace given to us.  But each of us has something, given to us by God, for us to use for the glory of God.  The test was a series of questions to help me identify what my gifts were.  I suppose if I had the gift of discernment, I could have figured it out myself.  But I didn’t; my talents leaned toward administration and teaching.  If you disagree with me, I’m open to other suggestions, let me know after class, ok?

Anyway, I didn’t do anything with this knowledge.  I wasn’t smart enough, or experienced enough, or devout enough, or pious enough.  I didn’t have enough faith.  I needed just to keep coming to church and bible studies until my faith increased enough to do something worthwhile with it.

And I remember having this discussion with a bible teacher who told me that God didn’t ask me to do something with tools I didn’t have.  Today is the day that the Lord hath made, not yesterday or tomorrow.  The Lord has equipped me for today.  So take the skills and gifts that I have today and do something with them besides sit in a pew.  I was given a chance to substitute teach and I’ve been doing it ever since.  And a lesson I learned from that is that, no matter where I am in life, God has equipped me for today.   I only had a little faith, but that was enough.

Doesn’t Jesus admonish us the same?  I used to read the story of Jesus in the boat during the storm and think Jesus was criticizing His disciples.  They were frightened, Jesus was asleep in the boat, so they woke Him up and begged Jesus to save them.  Jesus said, “Why are you afraid, o ye of little faith?”  I thought Jesus meant they were ill-equipped, they didn’t believe enough, they didn’t trust enough.  They were like me and needed to sit in the pews for a few years longer.

But these men of little faith went a long, long way.  They were given the task of evangelizing the world.  It doesn’t take much faith.  In fact, it takes very, very little faith.  With faith the size of a mustard seed, we can move a mountain.  You and I have enough faith, right now, to be equipped for what God has in store for us today.

          VI.      What Can Faith Do?

What can our little faith do?  God will do amazing things with our faith.  Let’s turn back to Hebrews 11 because I forgot that’s what we were studying today.  This is what faith can do –

  • By faith, we can gain understanding of the universe that God created;
  • By faith, Abel was able to make offering pleasing to the Lord and be called righteous;
  • By faith, Enoch experienced eternal life;
  • By faith, Noah saved his family and became heir to righteousness after the flood;
  • By faith, Abraham and Sarah had descendants as numerous as stars in the sky;
  • The rest of Hebrews 11 is often called “The Hall of Faith,” faithful and righteous people who put their faith in action. Isaac, Jacob, Esau, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Samson, David and Samuel and the list goes on and on.

A little faith is enough.  A little faith is more than enough.  The first verse of Hebrews 11 shows the power of faith, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”  Faith gives us confidence and assurance of our eternal life.

       VII.      Conclusion

Forsaking

All

I

Take

Him.

FAITH.

Faith is taking God at His word.  His entire word.  Full confidence that every word is true.  That we take this assurance and confidence and put it into action to demonstrate our faith to a fallen world and show the power of Jesus in us.

I commend you all for your little faith and I am happy to be a man of little faith, too.  God can use my little faith to move mountains.  My little faith, my trust in Jesus, is sufficient.  And day by day, I grow my faith by putting it into action, and doing something with the good news that we have been given.

Augustine, approximately 400 years after Christ, said,

“Faith is to believe what we do not see; and the reward of this faith is to see what we believe.”

To God be the glory.

Don’t Walk Away

             I.      Introduction

Hope doesn’t come easily.

This world is troubled.  Dr. Young has been speaking on the problem of evil this month, and evil has been a problem ever since the fall of Adam to the beheadings in Syria.  And it permeates our lives, confronts us on the television, on the internet, in the news and even in marketing and advertisements.

And from a worldly perspective, it’s not getting better.  When our hope is based on circumstances, those same circumstances can be depressing.  When tragedy hits close to home, we are faced with a choice:  run from God because we feel that somehow He has let us down, or run toward God as the only source of peace and comfort in a troubled world.

I don’t know what you’re going through, or what you’ve been through.  We will all go through trials – loss of a job, or loss of a home, or loss of a loved one.  I do know that you’ve been through fire – we all have – and they can be difficult things to talk about.  But you’re here, and that’s good.  The fact that you’re here speaks volumes about your faith and your hope.  If we trust in our own abilities during difficult circumstances it often leads to disappointment, but hope in our Lord Jesus Christ will never disappoint.

Today’s lesson is on Hebrews 6, and since we’ve recently mentioned the “once saved, always saved” as a tenet of our faith, at first glance, today’s verses look to give us trouble with “once saved, always saved.”  Let’s look at Hebrews 6:4-8.

It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit,  who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance.  To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.  Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God.  But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.

Is this a contradiction to “Once Saved, Always Saved?”  I don’t believe so, and I’ll tell you why, but first let us lay a foundation so that we may fully understand this.

          II.      Infallibility of Scripture

Let’s talk first about the law of non-contradiction and the infallibility of scripture.  It’s important to understand that faith and reason go together.  Faith in unreasonable things is nonsense.  Reason, without faith, leads to futility.  Faith and reason together lead to truth.

First, the Law of Non-Contradiction.  This law simply states that something cannot be both true and false at the same time.  If I tell you “A is B” and then later say, “A is not B,” then something is wrong.  Both statements cannot be correct at the same time.

If you meet with some friends of yours, a married couple, and you say, Is it true that you are pregnant?”  And she says “Yes!” and he says, “No!” you know something is not true.  Maybe he doesn’t know.  But one thing *you* know is that they both cannot be right.  Numbers 23:19,

God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?

And God exists, or He doesn’t.  Can both statements be true?  God is eternal, or He isn’t.  Can both statements be true?  Reason and faith go together to either accept or reject God, God cannot both be true and untrue at the same time.

God himself is a perfect demonstration of the Law of Non-Contradiction.  God is His Word.  If He says something, it is true.  So, is the bible true?  What does the bible say about itself?

2 Timothy 3:16

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness

Some bibles use “inspired” here, but “God-breathed” is more accurate.  The Greek scripture uses two words meaning “God” and “breathed” so I’m going to translate that as “God-breathed.”

And 2 Peter 1:20-21

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things.  For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

What the bible says about itself is that the Holy Spirit himself wrote the bible through men.  If God is truth, and God is His Word, and the Word is the bible… there is no wiggle room.  The bible is true, or the bible is not.  It cannot be both true and untrue.

What does Jesus say about scripture?

John 10:34 discusses a very different topic, but it’s interesting what Jesus says –

Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law […] and Scripture cannot be set aside…

Jesus says “It is written” and quoted scripture to make a point, and he even confirmed many events that seem supernatural.  He confirmed Adam and Eve were created by God, he confirmed the flood of Noah, he verified the destruction of Sodom, he quoted and referred to a dozen Old Testament prophets and kings.  He even confirmed Jonah was swallowed by a big fish.  And in Matthew 4:4, when answering the devil,

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

“Every word.”  Jesus says one cannot set aside scripture, picking up the best parts and disregarding the rest.  We can either accept the bible as the wholly, inerrant Word of God, or not.  Excluding verses because they are uncomfortable, or we don’t understand them, makes no sense.  The word is true, or it is not true.  It cannot be both.  And every word of the bible is important.

Divine inspiration means you can trust God’s Word over everything else. It means there are no contradictions. It means Scripture contains the objective revelation of God and is the basis of authority. Even though human authors wrote the words, the Bible originated as an action of God.

       III.      Once Saved Always Saved

So where do we get “Once saved, always saved” from?  Let’s start with 1 John 5:13

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may *know* that you have eternal life.

John doesn’t say “think” we have eternal life.  John says so that we may *know* we have eternal life.  It’s not arrogance to say that I know I will go to heaven.  It’s confidence, not in my ability, but in Christ’s sacrifice.  Once a person places their trust in Jesus, God immediately and irrevocably grants that person eternal life and salvation and a guaranteed place in Heaven that can never be lost, regardless of what they do or what they don’t do. It’s not based on you or me, it never was. It’s entirely based on what Jesus did.

How about John 5:24, where Jesus says,

I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.

Jesus uses certain Greek tenses of verbs here to make His point.  When He says, “has” eternal life, Jesus uses the present tense.  Then He switches to future tense, “will not be condemned”.  Jesus says believers have it already!  And if that wasn’t clear enough, Jesus says the believer “has crossed over from death to life.”  Jesus switches present tense to perfect tense, and is saying that the believer has already crossed, always will be crossed over from death to life.  We are new creations already, we don’t become new creations after we die.  We *have already* crossed over, we *have* eternal life, and *will not be* condemned.  Past, present and future.

1 Peter 1:3-5,

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

John 3:36,

Whoever believes in the Son *has* eternal life.

John 6:47,

I tell you the truth, he who believes *has* everlasting life.

It’s an irrevocable contract Jesus makes with us when we confess Him as our Lord, written here in the Good Book for us to read the fine print anytime we wish. What does Jesus promise to do for us as our Lord?  Well, here’s the fine print of the contract.

Hebrews 10:17, God says, “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” You and I can’t forget, as hard as we try, but God will remember no more. Poof, it’s as if they never happened. With the blood covering from Jesus, we become pure in God’s sight.

Philippians 4, our names are inscribed in the Book of Life. Again, not *will be* inscribed. They *are* inscribed.

Romans 8:1, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Now. No condemnation. Freedom.

Micah 7:19, “You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” Deeper than the Titanic, our sins are buried in the sea.

1 Corinthians 6:19, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” The Holy Spirit lives in us, takes up residence, and gives our conscience a kick-start.

Galatians 4:6, “So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” We become adopted by God, we are His children, His heirs. We are no longer slave to sin and the death that comes with it.

Romans 8:31-33, God has chosen us, we are God’s elect, and if God is for us, who can be against us?

Ephesians 1:13-14, “Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession.” Marked, sealed, identified, stamped. Seems like every translation I read used a different word here. Signed, sealed, delivered, I’m yours. We are indelibly branded, permanently stamped, and guaranteed our inheritance.

John 10:27-28, Jesus says, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” Jesus becomes our shepherd, we becomes His sheep, He gives us eternal life, we will never perish, and no one can change that.

Any loopholes left in this contract? Romans 8:38, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Looks like an absolutely iron clad contract to me, how about you?

This salvation we already have. This eternal life we already have. Heaven is a destination where we go when our mortal chores are through, but our place there is already guaranteed. Peter says praise be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that our inheritance awaits us and to rejoice. Rejoice! Again I say, rejoice! I rejoice because I know if I could do something to lose my salvation, I’d have done it already. I’ve messed up so many times and if I was given a second chance, I’d just lose it again. Sometimes I can go for 6 or 8 hours in a row without sinning, but then I wake up and have to get out of bed. This is great news, knowing we’re eternally saved. In order for us to lose our salvation,

somebody would have to find some sort of loophole in the contract that isn’t up or down, present or future, angel or demon, and convince Christ not to love us anymore,

change us from Christ’s sheep into a toad,

remove the brand He sealed onto us,

snatch us right out of the hand of Jesus even though He chose us,

cancel God’s adoption papers and write us out of the will,

evict the Holy Spirit out of His home in our heart and tell him to find someplace else to live,

dive to the very bottom of the ocean and dredge our sins back up,

remind God of all the things He’s promised to remember no more,

and make God into a liar for putting all these promises down in writing.

Ya know, I just don’t see any of that happening.

We can *know* we are saved.  Jesus wants us to be confident.  Doubt is washed away, knowing our eternal destination.  Our hope is secure.

         IV.      Don’t Walk Away (Hebrews 6:4-8)

What was our bible verse today?  Oh yes, Hebrews 6:4-8.

It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit,  who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance.  To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.  Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God.  But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.

Now we know what it does not say due to the Law of Non-Contradiction.  Our salvation is secure.  We must remember that this letter was written to Hebrews, former Jews, now Christians, whose faith was being tested.  Some wanted to return to their Jewish traditions and hope the Romans would leave them alone.  Their hope based on circumstance, not salvation.

It is possible for churches to consist of both true believers and also those who pretend to be believers.  Christians are generally nice people to be around, who can blame them?  But when times get tough, abandoning Christ is a sign of unbelief.  Christians will live with assurance of their salvation and a holy reverence for God.

I think some light is shed on this passage on the Greek words for “falling away.”  The Greek work “apostosia” isn’t used, but “parapipto” is which literally means “to fall alongside.”

I think the writer may have been using a hypothetical case, sort of like this:

“Let’s suppose you do not go on to maturity.  Does this mean that you will go back into condemnation, that you will lose your salvation?  Impossible!  If you could lose your salvation, it would be impossible to get it back again, and this would disgrace Jesus Christ.  He would have to be crucified for you again, and this could never happen.”

If you look at the pervious verses of Hebrews, the author uses “we” and “us”, but this verse switches to “those”.  This supports the author’s may have been using a hypothetical example.

I notice the last verse says, “In the end it will be burned.”  It reminds me of 1 Corinthians 3,

By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care.  For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.  If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light.  It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work.  If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward.  If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.

I love that part, the builder will receive a reward.  What is this reward?  I have no idea, but if Jesus is handing out rewards in Heaven, I’m going to stand in line.

            V.      Conclusion

I think when we fall away, we miss out on God’s perfect plan for us.  We can choose to be disobedient.  Surely the Israelites did, over and over.  But I think when we do that, we walk off the paved road and into the thorns and brambles.  Last week, Theresa mentioned that in Deuteronomy, God had blessings he was going to provide to Joshua, but because of disobedience, they would now have to work for what God was going to provide for free.  The way we practice our faith is like that.  We may have eternal life, but if we rebel, we will struggle.  And God wins that struggle every time, doesn’t He?

So what does “fall away” mean here?  I think it speaks to the heart.   I think instead of falling away, we should be striving to fall forward.  When in trouble, pray.  When in doubt, seek His glory in the creation around you.  Learn how to doubt our doubts.  When saddened, yearn for peace.  God asks us to depend on Him when we are troubled, not run from Him.  The choice to run away from God or run toward God is up to us.  Running away multiplies the problems, running toward God gives us hope.  Trust in the salvation we already have.

To God be the glory.

Pay Attention, Don’t Drift Away

             I.      Introduction

The book of Hebrews might have been written by Paul – that seem to be the consensus of the experts – but there are certain verses and phrases that only appear in Hebrews, so it’s hard to be sure. In any event, the author is writing to Jewish converts to Christianity who are undergoing hardships like crucifixion, being fed to lions, things like that. Sort of puts our complaints in perspective, I think. “I spilled coffee on my slacks! Why do bad things always happen to me? Doesn’t God love me?”

So the author tells these Jews basic truths to encourage them. Last week in Hebrews 1, as Chris taught, they were reminded that Jesus was the messiah they had waited for and who Jesus was. Now, in the beginning of Hebrews 2, these converted Jews – let’s call the “Christians” – are reminded to pay attention to what they have learned and why.

We only have 4 verses today to study, how long could this possibly take? Let’s look at them.

We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

II.      Listen & Pay Attention (Hebrews 2:1)

What happens when we do not pay attention? In our car? At work? With children? Unexpected things – mostly bad things – happen. Few people unexpectedly win the lotto when they’re distracted. They’re more likely to get into a fender bender with the car in front of them.

It’s hard to consistently pay attention. Distractions easily take away our focus. I struggle with this in my nightly prayers, “Lord please bless Joe and his wife through their struggles, even if he is a University of Texas grad. Texas A&M is such a better school. The football team is great, lean years are behind them, unlike SMU who had that NCAA “death penalty” assessed back in… 1984? 1986? I can’t remember. I think I had already graduated, but when I heard about SMU was I in College Station? Or Oklahoma? I moved there in 2005… sorry, I mean 1985. Man, time flies. I’m definitely getting older. I think it’s starting to show. I wonder whether stretching exercise for flexibility is more important than strength training when you get older… I’m sorry, Lord. Where was I?”

Paying attention takes practice, like Patrick’s syncopation skills. Instead, like a bright shiny trinket dangled in front of us, the world distracts us from importance.

So where were we? Which book are we in again? Oh yes, Hebrew 2, verse 1.

“We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” That word in the middle is “therefore,” and you’ve probably heard the phrase that “whenever we see a therefore, we should ask what it is there for.” Therefore refers to all of chapter one which told us how God speaks to us and who Jesus is. God spoke to us first through the prophets, and in these last days – the church age – God has spoken to us through His Son, His Son who is the Incarnate God, Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us, the Son of God, Heir of all things, the Creator of all things, our hope and bread of life, our cornerstone, the Faithful and True, the Great Shepherd, the Horn of Salvation, the King of Ages, the Prince of Peace, and far superior to the angels – “therefore.”

Names of Jesus

No wonder the author of Hebrews tell us to pay attention. God himself dwelt among us to bring us this message, and He suffered and died for it. Is there anything else in your life that you can say is honestly more important than that?

The world around us distracts us. We get busy with “stuff” that’s “important.” Our kids, our jobs, our smartphones. Ooh, squirrel! But is there anything more important that God’s Word? A handbook for life, a reason for living, a prescription for salvation? If we could only learn to pay attention to what God is saying to us. Matthews 6:33 says “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you.” All the things that are important in life – not necessarily what we think is important – will be given to us if we just seek God and pay attention.

How hard is it to pay attention with distractions? Let me show you a very short video. I may have to show it twice, and you’ll understand once you see it. Watch this and pay close attention.

God wants us to continually focus on Him, to pay attention, or we’ll drift away. What does the verse mean by “drift away?”   The actual word for “drift away” is the Greek “pararrhueo” and it’s a passive verb. It means we don’t have to do anything for this to happen, it just happens. It means it slips away from us, it slips my mind. We’re floating down the river in a boat. Up ahead is a dock where want to stop our boat and anchor ourselves so we don’t drift down the river. We’re focused on it. And if we don’t focus on what we’re doing, we’re going to drift right past.

We drift away because we weren’t paying attention. The dock is our anchor, as Jesus is our anchor that holds us fast to him so we do not drift away to destruction.

Verse 2, the message spoken by angels was binding. The word of God is binding upon us. It is the Word of God that explains what salvation is, how to obtain it. The bible is not just a guidebook; it is the Word of God that explains how you will spend eternity. It’s binding, it’s unalterable. Like it or not, this is the way it is. There aren’t any special rules like collecting all that money if you land on “Free Parking” in the game of Monopoly. God has made the rules and given us the rulebook, and this is how our lives are played.

       III.      The Peril of Neglect (Hebrews 2:2-3a)

Also verse 2, every violation and disobedience received its just punishment. Living under the Law, we discovered we cannot live righteous lives.   Did you know that there, technically are 2 ways to get into heaven? One is to accept Jesus as our own personal savior. The other is to be perfect, to do perfect, to think perfect, without sin. But Romans 3:23:

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God

And Psalm 14:3,

All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.

And we have seen sin punished throughout the Old Testament history to one degree or another. God hates sin, and a holy God will eventually destroy all sin. Sin cannot coexist with the light.

Who can live up to the perfection of our Holy and Mighty God? Our efforts at obtaining our own salvation – and we all want to do it, because we’re full of the sin of pride – will always come up short. Way short. Being “good enough” isn’t good enough. Do we strive for a heaven that is “good enough?” We long for that perfect peace and joy and beauty, not a cheap imitation that is “good enough.”

When I taught the 3rd graders long ago – there’s a ministry worthy of people far more skilled than I – I used the example of a chocolate milkshake.

chocolate milkshakeA perfect chocolate milkshake that we really, really wanted. Your mouth is watering as you watch this milkshake being made. First, the vanilla ice cream, two scoops. A cup of milk. A tablespoon of vanilla, then a huge bottle of Hershey’s chocolate syrup just squeezed into the blender. A handful of chocolate chips tossed in. And just before the blender starts up, we cannot help but toss in a bug. Some yucky insect. What’s wrong with this milkshake? Isn’t it “good enough?” Compared to all that good stuff, it’s a tiny little bug. That one tiny little bug, though, makes the entire milkshake unacceptable. Our lives, even if do our best to live a perfect life, will fall short of perfection, and God will not tolerate imperfection in Heaven.

But there is one. Jesus, as a man, lived a sinless, perfect life. Jesus, as a sacrifice, tasted death. Jesus, as the son of God, could atone for all of our sins. Jesus is a perfect sacrifice acceptable to God, a just punishment for our violations and disobedience. The bible is unalterable and with consequences for our actions and inactions.

We can never forget that this is the only viable way to salvation. Jesus has paid the debt for our sin. We can either accept that gift, or we can pay for the sin ourselves. But the wages for that sin is death. It’s the only choice. Romans 6:22-23:

 But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We may have the idea that believer “under grace” can escape the chastening and discipline of God that was so evident “under law” in the Old Testament. But Luke 12:48 says

From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.

I think this applies to believers, even more so. As believers, we have been given much. Rather than rely on grace, shouldn’t we try to live lives pleasing to God? God doesn’t punish believers, but He does discipline His children. And so far this morning we’ve been studying how we should pay attention and has given us warning signs so that we do not drift away.

Here’s a couple of typical warning signs. What perils will we face if we do not pay attention to these signs?

Warning sign 2

Warning sign 1

Warning sign 3

Warning sign 4

Warning sign 5

Warning sign 6

There are perils ahead if we don’t pay attention to the signs. We certainly do not want to drift away. If we’re not paying attention, we drift down the river and end up where we do not want to be.   What are these perils? In the OT, people were punished for violating scripture. God is unchanging, his love never fails. He still loves us, and He still hates sin.

Our salvation is still secure if we truly believe in Him. Tim said last week that true believers cannot lose their salvation, and he’s absolutely right, but we believers can drift away from the plan God has for us and the blessings that go with it.

Robert Robinson (small)Let me tell you a story about Robert Robinson, a young teenager who lived in London from 1735 to 1790. He was a delinquent teen, but at the age 17 he took his gang to an open air revival service where George Whitfield was preaching. They had planned to laugh at the poor deluded Methodists. God had a different calling for Robert, though, and two and a half years later, Robert Robinson gave his life to Christ. He felt the call to preach, was appointed by John Wesley to pastor the Calvinist Methodist Chapel in Norfolk England, writing powerful sermons and hymns, and at the age of 23 wrote this powerful hymn:

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing, Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;

Streams of mercy, never ceasing, Call for songs of loudest praise.

Teach me some melodious sonnet, Sung by flaming tongues above.

Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it, Mount of Thy redeeming love.

It’s a beautiful hymn, and 250 years later we still praise our Lord with these words. But these words were a spiritual, prophetic autobiography. Robert Robinson did not stay in the fold of Christianity, eventually dismissed by the church and he returned to his sinful ways, eventually turning his back on Christianity. In his later years, while taking a stagecoach ride, and in a decidedly non-Christian condition, a female passenger offered to share a poem with him, that it might help him as it had helped her, and she began to read “Come Thou Fount” to him, and when she got to the third stanza,

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love;

Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, Seal it for Thy courts above.

Robert Robinson broke down and cried and said, ‘Madam, I am the poor unhappy man who wrote that hymn many years ago, and I would give a thousand worlds, if I had them, to enjoy the feelings I had then.’ Robert Robinson drifted away, alone and unhappy, versus the joy of seeking God’s blessing’s daily.

How do we protect ourselves from this neglect?

  1. Fellowship with believers, come to church and worship.  This is the easiest way to pay attention – somebody else reads the scripture to us.
  2. Pray to the Lord that He will help us understand.  1 Corinthians 2 says that one must have the Holy Spirit to understand God’s Word.  Only believers that honestly try to grow nearer to the Lord can understand; the word is unintelligible to those who are not saved.  James says pray for wisdom so that you may understand.
  3. Remember what was said.  Take notes.  Write in your bible. Memorize a verse.
  4. Look over our notes later.  In particular, read the scripture to see if what we heard it’s true.  When Paul preached to the Bereans, he said the Bereans were noble for checking the scripture to see if what Paul said was true.  As a believer with the Holy Spirit in us, we are responsible for understanding what we’ve heard.  Don’t believe a lie, seek the truth.
  5. Ask God to help us put it into practice.  Do something with what we’ve heard.  This takes work.  The works do not save us, we cannot earn salvation.  But works helps us become holy and sanctified, it helps us cast off worldly sorrows and seek heavenly joy.

Does it seem like there’s not enough time in the day to do all of this? If we do not make time, we may drift away. We may be guilty of looking for God only on Sunday and then sparing hardly a thought for Him all week. But if we put him first, we learn to ask for things that please God, and He is pleased to give it to us. So studying the bible or having “quiet time” or re-reading your Sunday notes isn’t a duty or an obligation; don’t let anybody tell you that you *have* to do these things. But it *is* a path toward more joy and blessings. When we focus on the world and the pleasure it offers, we allow ourselves to be satisfied with so little. When we focus on God and His desires, then we are satisfied by much. God is a fount of overflowing blessings, far more than the world can offer.

          IV.      Truth Verified (Hebrews 2:3b-4)

For each of us individually, this is an important message. Verse 3b-4,

This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

This message is so important that he sent prophets like Daniel and Ezekiel and Isaiah and Jeremiah and Habakkuk and Joel and Obadiah and Jonah and so on and so on. This message is so important that God sent plagues to Egypt and divided the Red Sea and sent manna from heaven and protected his people from lions and fiery furnaces and sent a star of Bethlehem to lead the wise men. There are 123 miracles in the bible. And then, like an exclamation point, the point of the entire bible pointing from man’s fall to his redemption, God sent his only son to die for us so that we may live. That’s how much God loves us, and how important He feels about this message.

Focus on God, keep our eyes on Jesus. Remember when Peter was able to walk on water when he kept his eyes on Jesus? But when he looked away, he lost focus, he started to sink. He drifted away. Jesus, who is the Word, came to speak to us directly, and even though Hebrews 1 says Jesus is higher than the angels and sits at the right hand of the father, He was not ashamed to become man and live among us. Glorious sweet Jesus, highly exalted and holy, is not ashamed to call us brothers and sister. We should not be ashamed to call him Lord and listen to what He says.

Hebrews pleads for us to hear and read and study Scripture to stay as close to God as possible and to continue in as straight a line as possible. Peter puts it this way:

Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. (2 Peter 1:10)

             V.      Conclusion

So this is what happens: We don’t pay attention to what God is telling us. We get complacent. What we’re doing is “good enough.” Then, a little less is “good enough.” Then doing nothing at all is “good enough.” We miss the mark. That’s what sin is – it’s an archery term for “missing the mark,” missing the target. We don’t have to consciously commit a sin. We can simply neglect our spiritual growth.

Neglect is a subtle destroyer. You don’t have to go on a wild spending binge to destroy your finances; you can destroy your finances just by not paying attention. Forget to pay bills, forget where you left that credit card. Leave your wallet at a restaurant. Destroy the lives of your children just by ignoring them, leaving them to fend for themselves, neglect to give them wisdom and guidance.

You can lose your relationship with Christ if you neglect Him. Like losing touch with a friend because you never think of calling or writing. Stop reading your bible, stop praying, stop attending church, stop serving others or never start in the first place. Casual Christians become Christian Casualties. There are a lot of Christians believe that all you have to do is go to church every week, or at least at Christmas and Easter, and you get to go to heaven. There are a lot of Christians who believe that going to church is preparation for accepting Christ in their lives and the day they accept Christ is the pinnacle of their faith. The joy they felt that day they accepted Christ, why, how could it get any better than that? But the day you accept Christ is not the peak, it’s the beginning. It’s the day you begin a wonderful, lifelong journey into spiritual maturity. How do we grow? We pay attention. God calls us to prayer, to study, to serve, to share, and to love. We grow in Christ and this sanctification, this purification is a wonderful gift.

As a final thought this week, I want you to remember that your salvation requires active participation from you, to seek, to pray, to learn, to serve. The author of Hebrew was writing to believers who were struggling with their faith. What the author is saying is that is not enough to believe but we have to find a way to put our faith into practice if we want to grow.

Verse 1-3, read again emphasize “we”. We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. This applies to all Christians. This is not meant for non-believers who reject Christ, but for those who neglect Christ. This is for those who have accepted Christ, but don’t anchor themselves to Christ and then drift away.

The admonition from Hebrews hasn’t lost its power over the centuries. We are responsible for the truths we know. The Gospel is salvation to all those who hear and confess that Christ is Lord. We cannot take that lightly, for without this gift of salvation, we have God’s righteous wrath to destroy all that is evil, including our own sin. And none of us are exempt. All have sinned, and the punishment for sin is death. Instead, we have been given a free gift, one undeserved. And when we are in conversations are work or with neighbors or strangers, we cannot shy away from sharing this good news. It is not love to let another die. Share what we know about God’s plan for redemption.

As a parting thought, I want to leave you with those words from the modern prophets Simon and Garfunkle.

God only knows, God makes his plan

The information’s unavailable to the mortal man

We’re working our jobs, collect our pay

Believe we’re gliding down the highway, when in fact we’re slip sliding away

 

Slip sliding away, slip sliding away

You know the nearer your destination, the more you slip sliding away.

Let us pay attention this week to what God is saying so that we do not drift away. To God be the glory.

The Second Coming of Christ

             I.      Introduction

My first thought, when I was asked to teach from 2 Peter, was, “Whoa…. There are *two* Peters?”

Today we’ll study 2 Peter 3; this letter from the Apostle Peter was addressed to persecuted Christians.  During the first few years after the death of Jesus, Christians were considered a sect of the Jewish religion and led by James, the brother of Jesus.  But when the Jews stoned James to death in 62 AD, that cemented hostilities between the Christians and the Jews. The Romans withdrew official protection from the Christians two years later, and then Nero blamed the great fire of Rome on the Christians and outright persecution began.  Peter writes his letter to the church in 95AD to reassure Christians about our eternal life and how we should live while we wait.

The persecution that Peter mentions in 2 Peter 3 is probably better translated as “sufferings,” the letter was probably written to churches outside of Rome who weren’t fed to lions as they were doing in Rome.  Instead, Peter is writing to the surrounding churches as far away as Corinth.  While some persecutions of Christians existed, probably due to governors sympathetic to Nero, it was more likely these Christians were subjected to antinomianism, the belief that grace is so sufficient, that morality is of no use.  As Paul says in Romans 5, , “Where sin increased, graced increased all the more.”  We are saved, dudes, and there’s nothing we can do to lose it, so let’s party.  But this is Christian anarchy.

Even today, this very liberal view of Christianity is very widespread.  “If God loves me and I cannot lose my salvation, then why not party?  God will forgive me.”  But this is like an engaged woman saying, “He loves me and he’s going to marry me, no matter what I do.  Why not play the field a while longer?”  It shows a one-sided love.  It shows God’s love for us, but it also shows we don’t truly love God back.

Of course antinomianism is not true Christianity – Paul addresses this in Romans 6, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?  By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?”  Antinomianism is a false teaching, and it is likely the Roman immorality and paganism was embraced by these false Christian, perhaps to better fit in with the Roman culture, who then either taunted or lured Christians away from their life of purity.  And it is in this setting that Peter writes to the church about our hope in Jesus forever.

          II.      Resist and Rest, 2 Peter 3:1-7

So let’s open to 2 Peter 3 and look at the first 7 verses –

Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you.  I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking.  I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles.

 

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.

Ok, in verse 3 we are warned that in the last days, scoffers will come.  And what will the scoffers be doing?  They will be scoffing.  I am certain I have never called anybody a scoffer, it just sounds funny.  Robitussen Scoff Medicine.  I’d use ridiculing, making fun of… I guess my vocabulary is more limited.  You can scoff at me if you wish.

These scoffers are essentially saying that Jesus isn’t coming.  There’s no evidence.  The world today is the same as it was yesterday and will be the same tomorrow.  God doesn’t change the world, it’s been this way ever since He created it.  The second coming of Jesus can’t be possible because that would be a big change in the way God treats the world.

Peter responds that the scoffers are deliberately misleading.  God has intervened in the history of the world and made major changes.  The first major change was creation itself.  What was the world before God created it?  It was nothing, a void.  Then God spoke, and the universe was created.

Since then, God made another change at the time of Noah.  He flooded the earth to remove the unrighteousness.  Destroyed every living creature except those rescued in the ark.  Afterward, you may recall, God put a rainbow in the sky as a promise to Noah that He would never again destroy the world by water.   But He will destroy it by fire.  In Psalm 50:3, David said,

Our God comes

    and will not be silent;

a fire devours before him,

    and around him a tempest rages.

He summons the heavens above,

    and the earth, that he may judge his people:

“Gather to me this consecrated people,

    who made a covenant with me by sacrifice.”

And the heavens proclaim his righteousness,

    for he is a God of justice.

So not only are the scoffers wrong, but they know they’re wrong.  God has indeed judged the world before, and He will judge the world again.  And to the true Christians listening to Peter, don’t believe the scoffers.  Resist the call of the scoffers to party like it’s 1999, and rest instead on truth.

And what is the truth?  The truth is that Jesus will come again.  Peter’s writings are an introduction to eschatology, which is the study of the end of time, a study of the end of the world.  Christian eschatology is the study of the destiny of humankind as revealed by the bible, including death and the afterlife, Heaven and Hell, the Second Coming of Jesus, the Resurrection of the Dead, the Rapture, the Tribulation, Millennialism, the end of the world, the Last Judgment, and the New Heaven and New Earth of the World to Come.

The word eschatology comes from two unpronounceable Greek words eschatos (ἔσχατος) which means “last,” and logy (λογία), which means “the study of.”  They’re even harder to write down.  It’s like Greek to me.

Before the resurrection of Jesus, there were two main Jewish viewpoints on what happens to people after death.  The Sadducees recognized only the Torah, which are the first five books of the Old Testament.  According to the historian Josephus, the Sadducees believed that the soul is not immortal; there is no afterlife, and there are no rewards or penalties after death.  One just ceased to be.

This was a major point of contention with the Pharisees, who accepted not only the Torah, but also the Oral Law which eventually became the Mishna and the Talmud.  The Pharisees accepted, for instance, the Book of Daniel, and in Daniel 12:2 it says, “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.”

Even today, not all Christians have the same beliefs in the afterlife.  Seventh Day Adventists teach that upon death, the soul sleeps and is reawakened at the Resurrection.  Catholics teach that one enters into heaven either immediately or through a purification known as Purgatory, or immediately into Hell.  Most Protestants believe that Christ removed all obstacles and there is nothing we can add or take away, Christ paid for all of our sins and we enter directly into the presence of God after death.  Regardless, Peter emphasizes that there will indeed come a day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.  Even though scoffers may ridicule them and party like there’s no tomorrow, Christians can be confident in Jesus’ return.  And today, Christians are still surrounded by the ungodly, by partiers, by pagans and New Age type beliefs.  When is this day of judgment going to come?  What is God waiting for?

       III.      Be Aware and Behave, 2 Peter 3:8-13

I’m glad you asked that, because Peter addresses that in the next few verses.  In 2 Peter 3:8-13,

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.  The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

 

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief.  The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.

 

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?  You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat.  But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

We like the idea that God judges the guilty, as long as it’s other people he’s judging.  We’re less enthused about God judging us, and we know we’re not innocent people.  Thankfully, we have a Savior.  Since we’re saved, we should have no fear of the Day of the Lord.  So what is God waiting on?  We’re surrounded ungodly everywhere we turn.

The answer is found in God’s unfailing love.  God’s love begins with the very first definition of love found in 1 Corinthians 13:4.  Love is patient, love is kind.  God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son.  God made man in His image.  And God withholds the Judgment of the Day of the Lord so that no one will perish.

Remember Abraham trying to bargain with God not to destroy Sodom?  The Lord said that their sin was so severe that He was going to destroy Sodom.  Abraham said, “Will you kill the righteous with the wicked?”  God said to Abraham, “If I can find 50 righteous people in the entire city of Sodom, I will spare them.”

Abraham started dealing.  “How about forty-five?  Thirty’s a good number.  Twenty is even better.  How do you feel about only ten righteous people?”  But when Abraham arrived in Sodom, all he found was wickedness.  He couldn’t find even 10 righteous people.  It was only then that God destroyed Sodom.

And how about the story of Noah and the Flood?  God saved Noah and his righteous family, then sent a flood to wash the world of its wickedness.  Afterward, Noah plants a vineyard, gets drunk, and passes out naked.  And he was the righteous one.  Can you even imagine the wickedness that was washed away?

Eventually, God’s perfect love and patience will eventually be overcome by His perfect justice.  He cannot let evil prevail.  And on that day, we won’t have any warning.  The Day of the Lord will come like a thief.

Peter uses the phrase “Day of the Lord” which was an Old Testament phrase for the final judgment.  Isaiah used it, Isaiah 13:9 –

See, the day of the Lord is coming

    —a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger—

to make the land desolate

    and destroy the sinners within it.

And in Joel 2,

Blow the trumpet in Zion;

    sound the alarm on my holy hill.

Let all who live in the land tremble,

    for the day of the Lord is coming.

And then again in Zephaniah 1:14  and Malachi 4:5.  But Amos 5:18-24 seems especially apropos, directed at the so-called religious who were not living righteously –

Woe to you who long

    for the day of the Lord!

Why do you long for the day of the Lord?

    That day will be darkness, not light.

It will be as though a man fled from a lion

    only to meet a bear,

as though he entered his house

    and rested his hand on the wall

    only to have a snake bite him.

Will not the day of the Lord be darkness, not light—

    pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness?

I hate, I despise your religious festivals;

    your assemblies are a stench to me.

Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,

    I will not accept them.

Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,

    I will have no regard for them.

Away with the noise of your songs!

    I will not listen to the music of your harps.

But let justice roll on like a river,

    righteousness like a never-failing stream!

So for the non-righteous Jews, for the antinomians who abused their freedom in Christ, the Day of the Lord is the day God’s righteous anger punishes evil.

When will this happen?  Only God knows when this will be.  God created the universe, and one day He will bring it to an appropriate end.  Jesus told us this day would come (Matthew 24:14), that we should watch for the signs (Matthew 24:29-30), and the timing will be according to God (Matthew 24:36).  It’s been 2000 years since Jesus, and that seems like a long time, but God doesn’t exist in time the way we do.  God is outside of time, and “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day .”

We’re aware this day is coming.  The Rapture, the Great Tribulation, the Book of Revelation describes it in great detail.  So what do we do in the meantime?   We live with the expectancy that this day could come at any time.  Peter tells us to live holy and godly lives.  Why is that important?

I think first of all, living a holy life enables the Holy Spirit to work within us.  We’re here, each and every one of us, for a purpose that only we can fulfill.  When we live in the Spirit, we’re attuned to God’s direction; it’s easier to obey because it’s easier to listen.  We find it easier to understand that it’s not happiness that God wants from us, but righteousness.  But when we seek first His righteousness, then all these things, including happiness, will be given unto us.  Living a holy life demonstrates the Spirit lives within us.

And when the Spirit lives within us, then we demonstrate to others the spirit lives within us.  We demonstrate that righteous living brings godly blessings; we exhibit the fruits of the Spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  And we do this to draw others to Christ, because God does not want anyone to perish, but for everyone to come to repentance.

         IV.      Work and Watch Out, 2 Peter 3:14-18

While waiting for the Day of the Lord, we must work at being a pure people, guarding against erroneous ideas.  In the last part of 2 Peter 3, he says,

So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.  Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him.  He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters.  His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.

 

Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position.  But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.

These scoffers and false teachers will be with us to the end of the age.  Our best defense is a good offense.  And the best offense against false teaching and antinomianism is to continually seek God’s will.  When we read the bible, we read first-hand how God treats his people, how God expresses His love for us, and what thoughts, words, and actions please Him.

Is it possible to live a spotless, blameless life?  Of course not, but that’s not what Peter says.  He says, “make every effort.”  Of course we’re going to make mistakes, we’ll take the blame for something.  We won’t be spotless, we’ll get spots.  But that’s ok.  It’s because we are fallible that we also know we need a Savior.  We’re not perfect; that’s too high of a bar for us.  But if we make every effort, we can be at peace because we know the Lord is pleased at our righteousness.

Sometimes we stumble here – somehow thinking this obedience is required to earn our salvation.  That is absolutely false – we cannot earn our salvation.  If we think we must somehow earn our salvation, we start to travel down the road of legalism.

No, we obey the Lord because it pleases Him.  It’s our love returned to God.  In 1 John 2, the author says,

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous;  and He Himself is the satisfaction for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.

 

By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.  The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him;  but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.

The reason we read the bible?  To grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.   Because we cannot keep His word if we do not know His word.  Because we cannot resist false teaching unless we know what the truth is.  We must be on our guard, because our enemy prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Christ will come again, and when He does, we want to be safe and secure in His arms.

            V.      Conclusion

What have we learned today?  We’ve learned that there are big words like antinomianism we’ve never heard of before.  And we’ve learned that Greek is a really hard language.

But we’ve also learned that we can have faith that Jesus will come again.  He’s prepared a place for us, and someday He will take us there.  We learned that the secular world around us will make fun of us, scoff at us for these beliefs, but they do not know the Lord.  Our Lord is full of perfect love and patience, but there will come a day where the Lord’s perfect justice will rule, and the unrighteous will be destroyed by fire.  We don’t know when that will be, a day or a thousand years, but we know that day is coming.  And while we wait, we are to strengthen ourselves with knowledge of His Word and obeying the Lord’s will, not out of fear or obligation, but because we love the one who first loved us.

And then we will spend an eternity in the presence of the One who loves us.  That’s something good to hope for.

To God be the glory.  Amen.