Jesus is the Reason

 

Introduction

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

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

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

Isaiah 7:14 –

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

Isaiah 9:6 –

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

Micah 5:2 –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heir of All Things (v2)

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

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

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

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

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

Through Whom Also He Made the Worlds (v2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Being the Brightness of His glory (v3)

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

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

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

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The Express Image of His Person (v3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Himself Purification for Our Sins (v3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Better Than Angels (v4)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Philippians 2:9-11 –

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

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Conclusion

Hebrews 1 points to the full deity of Jesus Christ –

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

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

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

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To God be the glory.   Amen.

With Submission

I. Introduction

I’m going to share a something I’ve learned about my own spiritual growth. I have a lot of spiritual shortcomings, and I hope I’m growing in Christ a little more every year. But I’ve learned a little, only a little, about our wants and desires.

When I first became a Christian, I can’t describe the excitement I felt about belonging to Jesus for the first time. But while I may have been enthusiastic, I wasn’t very knowledgeable. If fact, one of the greatest impediments I had was just understanding how much I didn’t understand.

I had wants and desires, and I thought somehow that being a Christian, signing up for God’s team, meant God was on my side. Whatever my wants and desires were, He would fight for me. The bible told me I would be able to move mountains if I just had enough faith.

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It took me years to begin to understand that becoming a Christian didn’t turn me into some sort of religious superhero, able to leap tall buildings and move mountains with my new faith.

It is true that God will fight for me. But God really wants to fight through me to accomplish His will. When I get distracted by my own desires, God patiently waits for me to align with His desires. Not my own desires.

What are my desires? Who knows what hedonism is? According to dictionary.com, “the doctrine that pleasure or happiness is the highest good; or, devotion to pleasure as a way of life.”

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What I found interesting is that when you lookup the word “hedonism” on dictionary.com, you also get advertisements. “Come to Hedonism Resorts of Jamaica! Book Today!” “Enjoy Tampa Bay’s Luxurious Adult Only Resort, Book Today!”

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Hedonism is essentially a love of the world and all the things in it. We want the latest iPhone, we want a better car, we want hot stone massages, we want the thickest, juiciest steak, we want to look young forever, we want designer clothing, jewelry, babies, marriage, we want, we want, we want.

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Was it just last month they had that lotto drawing worth $1.6 billion? With $1.6 billion, you can sure buy a lot of lotto tickets. Did anybody here daydream about what they would do with $1.6 billion? I know I did. I even enjoyed daydreaming about what I’d do with the winnings, and I didn’t have to pay a dollar to do it. I daydreamed for free.

What we’re going to study today in James 4 is that this spirit of longing has been placed there by our Creator, but the object of our longing is misdirected. Hedonism is rampant in the “keep up with the Jones'” world, but it also exists in Christians. It’s the battle of the flesh we all face, and a battle that we learn to fight as we grow in Christ. We learn that it’s not through our own strength that the successful battle is fought, but by learning to trust God and leaning on Him and relying on the Holy Spirit to fight the battle through us.

God wants us to long for Him. Longing for worldly things is the source of trouble and argument and is in opposition to the longing that God wants us to learn.

II. James 4:1-3, The Pleasures of the World

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

I read a story about an argument in an old tribal village. Two men had completely different opinions and they could not resolve their differences. They decided to see the village elder who was very wise and they believed could see through the problem. The first man visited the village elder, told his side of the story, what had happened, and why the other man was wrong. When he finished, the elder said, “You’re absolutely right.”

The next night, the second man visited the village elder and explained his side of the story. When he finished, the village elder said, “You’re absolutely right.” When the second man left, the village elder’s wife said, “What’s wrong with you? Those two men told two completely different stories, and you agreed with both of them. They both can’t be right!” And the village elder said, “You’re absolutely right.”

When did you last have an argument with a friend? What was the cause of the argument? Our relationships with each other are how we demonstrate the love of Christ within us, and Christ values our relationships highly. In fact, Christ values our relationships far more than He values our tithes and offerings. In Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus says,

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”

The first problem with hedonism and selfish desires among Christians is the strife it causes among the church body. According to James, fights break out when selfish pleasures motivate us. The NIV says “your pleasures,” King James says “your lusts,” but the Greek word is ἡδονή (hēdonē), the root word for “hedonism,” selfish pleasures. Sometimes, we don’t even realize our own hedonism, but it’s expressed through our frustration in not getting our own way. It may be related to power, prestige, position, dominance, financial gain. We just want our own way.

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This hedonistic desire is not a one-off event; hedonism describes a lifestyle of living selfishly. The result is that our prayer life suffers. Verse 3 says, “we ask with wrong motives.” The Greek word for “wrong” is usually translated “miserable, to be ill.” It implies a sickly prayer life. When hedonistic attitudes dominate our spirit, we go to God with a sickly attitude and pray for the wrong things.

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III. James 4:4-6, Our God is a Jealous God

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Our God is a jealous God. He made this clear all the way back in Exodus 20:5 when Moses brought the Ten Commandments down from Mount Sinai, one of the first words were,

“I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God.”

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There are many ways to misunderstand God’s jealousy. Oprah famously rejected orthodox Christianity when she said that God was jealous of her. She said, well, let’s just hear it from her:

But God is not jealous of Oprah. That’s a complete misunderstanding of God’s desire for us. God is jealous *for* Oprah. God is pure and holy and wants the best for us, especially encouraging us to find our heart’s desire in Him, not someplace else. There is a place for sanctified jealousy and it revolves around broken holy covenants. A wife can be jealous if her husband’s affections are not for her. Likewise, if our affections are not for God, God is jealous. There is no other worthy object for our affection other than God; the jealousy of God wants us to desire what is best, which is Him.

The scripture here in James 4 implies that God himself placed a spirit of envy within us, a deep spiritual longing.

Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely?

Part of growing up in faith is recognizing when our longing is misplaced and focused on worldly, hedonistic things, and turning from worldly things and turning to a deep spiritual longing for God. Jesus warns us in Matthew 6:19-24 not to store up treasure on earth, for where our treasure is, our heart will be also. We cannot serve two masters. James tells us that God considers our love of worldly things to be spiritual adultery, trying to love two competing things. What did it say in Exodus 20:5?

“I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God.”

God created us with the ability to love Him, and He also gives us the ability to choose whether to love Him. Our fights among ourselves and our sickly prayers are based on love of the things of this world and not the love for Him. Can we recognize that the worldly things we covet are themselves created by God? That we covet the creation instead of the Creator?

This can be a difficult thing to learn and practice. Aligning our spirit with God’s spirit takes a lifetime of practice. We will mess up, our own ego will cause us to trip. But God gives grace to us to those that humble themselves before the Lord.

James talks about “friendship with the world.” In reality, most of us have only a few close friends. To develop a friendship takes time and sacrifice for the one we wish to know better. How much time do we spend being friends with the world? Spending time on Facebook or Instagram or Spotify? And how much time do we spend being friends of God? Being a friend of God takes time, there are no shortcuts. And when we spend our precious time on worldly things, our love of selfish pleasures spurs our God to jealousy.

IV. James 4:7-10, Draw Near to God

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

There are several commands in a row – boom, boom, boom – in avoiding the attitude of hedonism.

1. Submit yourselves to God. We must recognize that God alone is worthy of honor and praise. How could we be fooled into offering praise and worship to things? We are urged not just to place our faith in the Lord, but to submit to His authority. In other words, do the Lord’s will. Learn and study, then apply.

2. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. If we submit to the Lord and resist the devil, it is an awesome combination. The devil will flee from such opposition. I have noticed that when I am tempted by sin, the best defense is a good offense. It is difficult to sin while praying. Pray. Pray without ceasing.

3. Come near to God and he will come near to you. This involves praise and worship, recognizing God as our only sovereign Lord. As we seek Him, He will make more of Himself known to us.

4. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. The wording here reflects the language of a religious ceremony and reflects the words in Psalm 24:3-4, admonishing us to have clean hands and a pure heart. Notice the words apply to both the outside and the inside. Our hands should not be involved in evil actions and compromises. Sometimes it’s easier to have a pure heart but our hands are dirty doing ungodly things. Perhaps that is why James calls us double-minded when we say one thing but do another. Remember Paul, and how he sang songs in prison because he knew he was doing the Lord’s work? And out of prison, he noted that he did not do what he wanted to do, and did do what he didn’t want to do. And then he cried, “oh what a wretched man I am!”

5. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Is James telling us that perhaps all Christians ought to be miserable? Or perhaps not. In context with the rest of the verse, James is again warning against hedonism. Materialism is fun. Who doesn’t like to shop? Who doesn’t like to have fun? James isn’t telling us to be miserable creatures, but what he is doing us is reminding us that if we are neglecting God and finding sin fun, then we ought to examine ourselves more carefully. If we find ourselves in sin, it’s not a cause for celebration. Jesus paid the price for our sin, and it’s cause for serious contemplation instead.

6. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. When we are prideful, God will cause us to stumble. And when we are humble, God will lift us up. When we believe that on our own that we are good, decent people, we take pride in ourselves. On our own, though, we are nothing. It is through grace of our Lord that we are sons and daughters, not through our own actions.

V. James 4:11-12, Do Not Judge Others

Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

James reminds us that the Word of God is for us to learn and apply to ourselves. We are not the judge of whether a brother or a sister has the proper heart for God, that role is reserved for God and God alone. If I see a brother driving a brand new Tesla, a sister wearing new diamond earrings, my initial reaction might be hedonistic – I want one of those, too. Or my response may be the opposite; “well, I certainly wouldn’t spend my money on that. He shouldn’t either.” The proper spiritual response is not to covet something worldly, but James warns against going too far in the opposite direction. Our job in the spiritual growth of others around us is to encourage them in truth and love, not to judge them and speak ill of them.

VI. James 4:13-17, Who’s In Charge of Your Life?

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.

I am particularly guilty of this, and something I’ve struggled with all my life. I go when and where I want to go, and then I attempt to drag God along behind me. My actions in and of themselves may not have been wrong, but my heart satisfied my own desires, and then I expect prayer and worship to cover my attitude. I spent most of my life living that bumper sticker, “God is my co-pilot.”

 

Slide27.JPGAnd then one day, I realized I was sitting in the wrong seat.

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We do not know the future. We do not know if God will present an opportunity to us or whether tomorrow holds a catastrophe. Our attitude, though, should be one of seeking the Lord’s will and depending on Him, not one of self-sufficiency.

A hedonistic lifestyle says that we are in charge of our own lifestyle. We make the plans, we execute the plans, we reap the rewards of our own plans. I can’t tell you how many advertisements I see on television that include the phrase, “go ahead, you deserve this.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t really want to receive what I deserve. In Christ, I receive what I don’t deserve – His grace. God wants us to live for Him first. And James is asking, who’s in charge of your life? You, or God?

We assume too much about our own future, making our plans for tomorrow and the next. James starts verse 13 with “Listen closely.” Pay attention. We do not know the future. We don’t know what will happen in a year, much less tomorrow or even later this afternoon. Verse 13 describes a hypothetical businessman who has made plans a year in the future, and even presumptuous enough to claim what he will accomplish.

What is it about human nature that leads us to assume we know more about the future than we actually do? If we knew the Rapture will come tomorrow, how would that change our action today? And yet, that is precisely the way Jesus calls us to live.

When we assume we will live forever, we become lazy about today. We will seek the Lord’s will…. Tomorrow. Not today, I’m busy. Seeking the Lord’s will is not a particular event that we can plan for. Seeking the Lord’s will is a process, a practice.

Verse 14 says that not only do we not know what will happen a year from now, but we don’t even know what will happen tomorrow.

Now, James isn’t advising us to be paranoid about the future. We are to live each day as a child of God, seeking His favor. But we will not live forever. Every year, to me, goes faster and faster. When I was a child, the week before Christmas lasted approximately 3 months, or so it seemed. Now, it seems 3 or 4 years pass in a blink. God is forever, eternal. Our lives on earth are mist. Poof. And then we are gone, and the items of hedonism we so cherish on earth are gone, just like us. Where is our eternity? And where should we be storing our treasures?

We are just a mist that appears for a little while. William Beebe was an explorer and American naturalist and a friend of Teddy Roosevelt. He wrote, “After an evening of talk we would go out on the lawn and search the heavens until we found the faint spot of light mist in the constellation Pegasus and one of us would recite: That is the Spiral Galaxy of Andromeda. It is as large as our Milky Way. It is one of a hundred million galaxies. It is 750 thousand light years away. It consists of 100 billion suns – each larger than our sun. After a moment, Col. Roosevelt would grin at me and say, “Now I think we are small enough. Let’s go to bed.”

Also, James isn’t telling us not to make plans for tomorrow or the next day or a year from now. The arrogance is making plans without God. These businessmen in James’ example made their plans without any regard to God’s desires. Embracing God is not an event, it’s a lifestyle.

So how then shall we live? James tells us to consider the Lord in everything we do. “If it is the Lord’s will, then I will do this.” In both cases, plans are made. They may even be the same plans. But one is acknowledging the sovereignty of God in our life, the other is claiming the sovereignty of us.

Why is it so hard to acknowledge we do not have control over our own future? Think back on your life when you were a teenager. Did you imagine the life you have now?

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Jeremiah 29:11-13,

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

VII. Conclusion

A hedonistic lifestyle bumps God out of His rightful place in our lives. We make his creation #1, and put God #2. Or worse, even lower. Our God is jealous for us, He wants us to desire what is best. And yet, we are so easily satisfied by pretty trinkets. C.S. Lewis once said,

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.

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When we seek pleasure for its own reward, we will find it’s an empty lifestyle. When we seek God’s will in our lives, not just once or twice but as a lifestyle, we will find that joy in the Lord surpasses anything the world can offer. Which will it be? Joy in the world, or joy in the Lord? The choice is ours.

Matthew 6:33,

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

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Let’s enjoy the day the Lord hath made, and give glory to the One who made it.

To God be the Glory. Amen.

The Day of the Lord

             I.      Introduction

Today we are going to wrap up our study of 2nd Peter, and as you may recall, Peter was considering his imminent death and wanted to leave behind words of strength and encouragement to the early church.

Those were difficult days for Christians.  During the first few years after the death of Jesus, Christians were considered a sect of the Jewish religion.  This sect was led by Paul, Peter, James, the brother of Jesus.  But in 62 AD, the Jews stoned James to death, and hostilities between the Christians and the Jews were cemented.  Then the Romans withdrew official protection from the Christians two years later.  Then came the Great Fire in Rome, and legend has it that the emperor Nero fiddled while Rome burned.  It was not a very accurate legend; we know that Nero was 35 miles away when Rome burned, and the fiddle hadn’t been invented yet, but hey, it’s a good legend and makes for some nice imagery.  Nero did however use the Great Fire for political gain, and blamed the Great Fire of Rome on Christians, and outright persecution of the Christians then began in earnest.  Peter writes his letter to the church 31 years later in 95AD after decades of persecution and being fed to lions to reassure Christians.  Peter wanted them (and us!) to know about our eternal life and how we should live while we wait.

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The persecution that Peter mentions in 2 Peter 3 is probably better translated as “sufferings.”  The letter was probably written to churches as far away as Corinth, outside of Rome, and these Christians probably were not being fed to lions.   slide3While some persecutions of Christians existed, probably due to local governors sympathetic to Nero, it was more likely these Christians were subjecting themselves to antinomianism, the belief that grace is so sufficient, that morality is of no use.  As Paul says in Romans 5:20,

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 on.  But this attitude 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 enjoy the good life?  Why not spend all my time and money on pleasure?  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.

Antinomianism is not true Christianity – Paul addresses this in Romans 6:1-2,

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 that Roman immorality and paganism was embraced by these false Christians, 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.  One day the Lord will harvest His crops in love, and the weeds will perish in the fire and the believers will dwell with the Lord forevermore.

          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.  God does make miraculous, 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.

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God made another change during 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.

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But He will one day 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 the scoffers 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.slide11

The word eschatology comes from two unpronounceable Greek words eschatos (ἔσχατος) which means “last,” and logeia (λογία), which means “the study of,” or more accurately, “a collection.”  These words are unpronounceable and even harder to write down.  It’s like Greek to me.slide12

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 if we’re honest, 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.slide16

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 Noah was the righteous one.  Can you even imagine the wickedness that was washed away?slide17

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.slide18

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.

slide19And in Joel 2:1,

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.

slide20And 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 .”slide23

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.

I’d like to conclude this message at Thanksgiving with a hymn that demonstrates both the thankfulness of the holiday season as well as an illustration of the message today from 2 Peter 3.  In 1844 A.D., Henry Alford wrote this old English hymn, “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come”.

Come, ye thankful people, come, raise the song of harvest home;
all is safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin.
God our Maker doth provide for our wants to be supplied;
come to God’s own temple, come, raise the song of harvest home.

All the world is God’s own field, fruit as praise to God we yield;
wheat and tares together sown are to joy or sorrow grown;
first the blade and then the ear, then the full corn shall appear;
Lord of harvest, grant that we wholesome grain and pure may be.

For the Lord our God shall come, and shall take the harvest home;
from the field shall in that day all offenses purge away,
giving angels charge at last in the fire the tares to cast;
but the fruitful ears to store in the garner evermore.

Even so, Lord, quickly come, bring thy final harvest home;
gather thou thy people in, free from sorrow, free from sin,
there, forever purified, in thy presence to abide;
come, with all thine angels, come, raise the glorious harvest home.

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

To God be the glory.  Amen.