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.

Growing in Godliness

  I.      Introduction

We’re starting a new book today that looks a lot like the last book we were studying.  We will study just the first few verses of 2nd Peter.

1st Peter was written to the early church, and the early church had big problems to overcome.  Many in the congregation were devout Jews, proud of their legalism and their rules of do this and don’t do that.  The other half were pagans and gentiles who didn’t believe in following rules at all.

Come to think of it, we have those same problems today in our churches.  Some people that tell us what we should and shouldn’t do.  Other churches that tell us that the bible is a good book but you shouldn’t believe everything you read.

2 Peter was written about 4 years later, and for a different purpose.  Peter knew his death was coming and he wanted to strengthen the churches before he was crucified.  Peter wanted to the church to be knowledgeable about their faith, and 2 Peter teaches us the foundations of our faith, the basics of our salvation, the basics of the scripture itself, the basics of how to recognize false teaching, and the basics of how to live while we wait for the certainty of the return of Christ.  slide2

In other words, 1 Peter was written to the church about the dangers outside the church; 2 Peter was written about the dangers inside the church.

II.      The Foundation of Our Faith, 2 Peter 1:1-2

Let’s look at just the introduction to see Peter’s purpose for this letter, in 2 Peter 1:1-2,

Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours:

Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

This is more theologically complex than a simple, “Dear Church, it’s me, Peter.”  Peter describes the very foundation of Christianity, what it means to be a Christian.

First, Peter describes himself as servant or a bondservant, but that’s a little lightweight.  The Greek word is “doulos” and means one is who is devoted to another to the disregard of one’s own interest.  In other words, Peter is not just a follower of Jesus Christ, but one who has entirely given himself to the service of Christ.

Why does Peter do this?  I think the answer is the 2nd word, “apostle” of Jesus Christ.  Peter is an ambassador of the Gospel, a personal witness to Christ’s life and ministry, and specifically sent out with a mission.  In other words, Peter saw Christ in person and heard the Great Commission.  How could Peter do anything else but obey the Son of God?  While once a fisherman by trade, now Peter is the “rock” that Jesus Christ will build His church.

He’s addressing his letter to fellow believers, but he goes a step further and says these believers have received the same kind of faith as Peter did.  Peter’s faith isn’t a different kind of faith than you and I have, it’s the same.  The same faith Peter received is the same saving faith we receive, and it links us to our eternal life with Christ.  Notice that Peter says this faith is something we receive; it is a gift.  We cannot boast in our faith, that one person’s faith is stronger than another.  Faith, like life itself, is a gift from our heavenly Father.  And that faith must be centered on our God and Savior, Christ Jesus.  Some churches teach a weak form of faith, that Jesus was a good man, and perhaps what is true for you isn’t true for me.  And that’s not true, at least it is not for me.  The righteousness we have, like our faith and our life, is a gift from God through Jesus who is both God and Savior.  Apart from Him we can do nothing.

And with this knowledge that our faith and our righteousness is a gift comes grace and peace in abundance.  It’s a gift that we don’t earn, it’s given freely to us so that none of us are lacking in ability to do the work God has placed before us.  Any righteousness we have is “through” Christ, or “in” Christ, as 2 Peter 1:1 says.  We don’t have righteousness on our own.  We fall short.

And what do we do in response?  This grace and peace is ours through knowledge.  It is one thing to say, “yeah, sure, I trust Christ.”  But when the storms of life blow in and our boat is shaken, we are tempted to swim to shore on our own power.  That is because our faith and trust is weak.  To strengthen our faith, we must also strengthen our knowledge by reading God’s word and studying like we are today but also on our own.  Then we can understand God is in full control, from parting the Red Sea, through knocking down the walls of Jericho, to sending his holy and righteous son to take the punishment for our sins, to His love for all me throughout all time, to His love today for me.  With knowledge, we have a better understanding, our faith and trust is deeper, and grace and peace grows abundantly.

III.      The Resources of Our Faith, 2 Peter 1:3-4

So let’s go on to 2 Peter 1:3-4, where Peter discussed the importance of biblical knowledge in more detail;

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.  Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

Peter tells us that this knowledge of Jesus, our study of the bible, provides not just righteousness, not just increased faith, not just grace and peace in abundance, but this knowledge is all the power we need to live the abundant life as well as be free from the corruption of this world.

Of course, we all sin.  It’s in our nature.  But let me contrast the response of 4 types of people, and you might think I’m making up these categories, but I’m not, they’re all listed in 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 –

  • The nonbeliever: this person may have a sense of right and wrong, but it’s not well-developed. He believes what the world tells him, that premarital or same-sex relations are ok, that lying and stealing are ok in the right circumstances, that truth is relative.  Non-believers can be very moral individuals, of course.  But their morals are not based on solid rock, they are based on shifting sands.  The New Testament term for “unbelievers” is “ψυχικός,” “psuchikós;” Natural, pertaining to the natural as distinguished from the spiritual.slide8
  • The baby Christian. We use this phrase for new believers who do not have a strong spiritual foundation yet.  They have professed their belief, but often still rely on the world for support.  They lack knowledge of the Lord, but the Holy Spirit continually prompts them from within to seek truth.  When times get tough, which they will, they are challenged in their faith: do they trust the world, or do they trust Jesus?  The Greek term for “infant believers” is σάρκινος or sárkinos; with propensities of the flesh unto sin; νήπιος nḗpios; an infant, child, baby without any definite limitation of age, usually referring to immaturity and lack of instruction.slide9
  • The backsliding Christian. This is an uncomfortable place to be, but it happens to all of us at some point in our lives where we have decided we have a valid excuse for not obeying those prompts by the Holy Spirit, and our disobedience grieves the Holy Spirit.  Eventually, one of two things happens; we either rededicate our obedience to the Lord and again seek His face, or the Lord gives us over to our desires and hardens our hearts.  Paul refers to these as “Carnal Believers,” σαρκικός or sarkikós; having a tendency to satisfy the flesh, implying sinfulness, sinful propensity, carnal.  These carnal Christians are disobedient or even in open rebellion.  By now, they should have matured, but they are stuck in their sin nature.  It’s hard to tell them apart from non-believers.  They are not destined for hell, but they are missing out on the abundant life.slide10
  • And finally, the mature Christian. These are πνευματικός or pneumatikós; persons who are spiritual, enlightened by the Holy Spirit.  The mature Christian, or perhaps I should say, the maturing Christian because nobody ever reaches full maturity.  Perhaps we can agree that Paul, who wrote much of the New Testament, was a mature Christian, but Paul says in his letter to the Philippians, chapter 3 verse 12,slide11

Not that I have already reached the goal or am already fully mature, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus.

Maturity is the goal and maturity is the journey.  Full maturity is the destination we never quite reach.

IV.      The Growth of Our Faith, 2 Peter 1:5-7

What is another word for this maturity?  The simple answer is “sanctification,” but then there’s a whole confusing definition on what sanctification means.  And this is important, but the English language is going to trip us up with how we are to understand God’s work in our lives.slide13

The Webster’s Dictionary defines sanctification as “to set apart for sacred use: to consecrate, to make free from sin: to purify.”  So we can understand the basic definition of sanctification as being separate, to be set apart.  In the Greek New Testament, the prefix “hag-“ is used for several words –

  • Hagiasmos: holiness, consecration, sanctification
  • Hagiosyne: holiness
  • Hagiazo: to sanctify, consecrate, treat as holy, purify
  • Hagios: set apart, holy, saint, sacred

The basic idea of the Greek prefix is to stand in awe of something or someone.  So let’s summarize it with this definition:

To be sanctified is to be made holy.

I’m going to follow a rabbit trail here, one of those enlightening observations that I think is important here.  I grew up Catholic and believed that “saints” were some long-dead super-Christians.  The apostles were saints, like St. Paul and St. Peter, and then there’s a whole mess of other super-Christians that become saints, like Saint Joseph of Arimathea is the patron saint of pallbearers, and Saint Isadore, the patron saint of farmers.  At the website Catholic Online, I found 149 patron saints listed.

But the word for saint comes from the same root prefix used for holy, sanctified, consecrated, set apart.  Romans 1:7, Paul addresses his letter to the church of Rome,

To all who are in Rome, loved by God, called as saints.

And in Colossians 1:2,

To the saints in Christ at Colossae, who are faithful brothers.

Saints are not some long-dead super-Christians.  Saints are the believers in Christ, members of the Church, our brothers and sisters.  Saints are you and me, set aside for God’s purposes.  Now, whether we walk in the manner of saints, well, that’s what the books of Ephesians and Colossians are all about.  The books of Ephesians and Colossians describe how saints ought to live, in unity, truth, love, wisdom, light, that saints ought to talk in a manner worthy of the Lord.  The behavior of the saints ought to reflect the name of the One whose name we bear.

The definitions of saint, set-apart, consecrated, holy, are all intertwined.  They all come from the same Greek prefix, and they all apply to all Christian believers.  To be sanctified is to be a saint.

So, are we sanctified?  Or are we being sanctified?  Or will we one day be sanctified? slide17

The answer is yes to all three, but the word “sanctification” is used in three different ways.  In fact, different churches use the word in different ways which cause misunderstanding among Christians when in fact we’re often saying the same thing.  If you choose to study the doctrine of sanctification, it’s important to realize how confusing it can be unless you realize all the different ways it can be used and misused.

Are we sanctified?  Absolutely, we have “Positional Sanctification.”  When we repent, we confess our belief that Jesus Christ is Lord.  At this very moment, we are redeemed.  We are cleansed by the shed blood of Jesus.  We have been forgiven of all our sins, and we are made holy before God through the righteousness of Jesus Christ.  This is a one-time event; we are saved.  Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us, and although we are sinners, we are pronounced “not guilty” as Christ has taken our punishment and we are made free.  The wrath of God for our sins has been satisfied.  We are once saved, always saved, our eternal life has begun from that moment.  Sometimes we call this “salvation,” but again, the English word doesn’t full capture the nuances of past, present and future.  I’ve usually used the word “justification” based on previous studies.

Sometimes this can be called “regeneration,” and this is also what we mean by “born again.”  I think “Positional Sanctification” is an accurate term that captures this one-time event.  Hebrews 10:10 refers to our “positional sanctification,”

And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

When we have accepted the Lord Jesus Christ and we have “Positional Sanctification,” we are set apart from the world for God’s purposes.  The Holy Spirit enters the life of the new believer, and we are made free from the penalty of sin, once and forever.  We are sanctified.slide18

Are we being sanctified?  Absolutely.  We have “Progressive Sanctification.”  We are experiencing God’s plan for our lives.  Where we still find ourselves still in the world, the Holy Spirit continues to set us apart for God’s use.  This is what we usually mean by “spiritual maturity.”  While we are already holy and set apart, we are now becoming more holy and set apart.  This is where Christians that follow Christ find out we switched sides in the battle between good and evil.  Where once we were children of the devil without realizing it, now we have decided to follow Jesus and we are on a collision course with the world, we are opposed by Satan, and even our own sinful nature continues to fight against our new spiritual nature and the presence of the Holy Spirit within us.  2 Corinthians 7:1 says it this way,

Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.

This is a confusing time for all believers, and this is when we learn to trust in Jesus more and more.  The conflict that we are engaged in makes us continually ask, “Does God know what is going on in my life?”  And as we grow in spiritual maturity, we begin to realize that the conflict we are experiencing is proof that God is at work.  We are continually asked, with higher and higher stakes, to decide if we want to place our trust in the world, or place our trust in God.  It is how God tests our faith and grows us spiritually.  When we first become a believer, we are free from the penalty of sin, but as we grow in spiritual maturity, we become free of the power of sin.  We are being sanctified.slide19

Will we be sanctified?  Absolutely.  Even though we have been sanctified, and are being sanctified, we will also be sanctified.  We have “Ultimate Sanctification,” or sometimes called “Glorification.”  This is the final stage in the salvation process, our future glorification as a believer.  We are glorified when we are transformed into the likeness of Christ and presented to the Lord as holy.  The presence of the Holy Spirit within us during spiritual maturity is the guarantee for our glorification, which includes the redemption of the body, the eternal inheritance that can never spoil, and deliverance from the future wrath of God.  We will be sanctified.  Where we once were free from the penalty of sin and then the power of sin, once we are glorified, we are free from the very presence of sin, forever and ever, amen.  1 John 3:2 says,

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.

Once a believer, once our faith in Jesus Christ is proclaimed, Steps 1 and 3 are guaranteed.  We are positionally sanctified and free of sin, and we are ultimately sanctified, glorified and dwelling in our eternal kingdom.  It’s the middle step, progressive sanctification, that is entirely voluntary.  It is our lifelong journey to become more Christ-like, recognize we cannot do it on our own, and grow our trust in the work of the Holy Spirit within us.slide20

  • We are saved, are being saved, will be saved
  • We are holy, are being made holy, will one day be holy
  • We are sanctified, are being sanctified, will be sanctified,

Slide21.JPG

So we are studying 2 Peter 1, I bet you forgot, didn’t you?  Let’s look at verses 5-7,

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.

This is a beautiful description of sanctification.  Which sanctification?  The second one, our Progressive Sanctification on the road to spiritual maturity.  It is completely voluntary, of course.  We already have the gift of salvation.    In the sanctification process, each step moves us closer to full spiritual maturity, but it is entirely up to us.  Just because the Holy Spirit shows us the path doesn’t mean we have to walk it.

But should we choose to answer the tests with our faith, we grow in spiritual maturity.

The first step is just to be good. If you are a new Christian with faith but without much knowledge of the bible, just try to be good.  Say nice things and do nice things.  It’s a great first step on the road to spiritual maturity.

But sometimes it’s not always apparent what being good is.  Let’s say I’m friends with a man who is having an affair.  Do I tell him I just want him to be happy?  Or do I tell him something else?  What would God want me to tell him?  To be good, we add to our knowledge, we study the bible to understand what it means.  With knowledge of God’s will, what it means to be good becomes more clear.

So, armed with a little knowledge, I blurt right out to my friend that I think he’s going to Hell because he’s having an affair.  And now my friend won’t return my calls.  And I realize that knowledge must still grow, and I learn that my words must both be true and kind.  In my new knowledge, I was so eager to be true that I forgot to be kind.  I learn self-control.  I apologize to my friend, I say I’m sorry, I was judgmental and rude in the way I said what I did, please forgive me.  My friend is still having an affair, but I so want him to understand the love of Jesus like I do that I persevere as his friend.  I understand that loving my neighbor means loving sinners, for we are all sinners, falling short of God’s glory.  My friend doesn’t come to Christ today, or tomorrow, but I persevere.

And I learn through this perseverance that Christ suffered in every single way, and died for me, and I understand a little of how a holy God amongst sinners must feel.  Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us.  And he’s not angry at us because of our sin, he’s among us because he wants to save us from our sin.  And I want to be more like Jesus and my life reflects the Holy Spirit living in me a little more each day.  Is my life demonstrating godliness?  Do others see me and do they see Christ in me?  I live my life of godliness among friends and family that are impacted by my life, and I am encouraged by my Christian brothers and sisters who share a mutual affection with me and pray for me and I can do the same for them and I realize that it’s not just me that has struggles, but my Christian brothers and sisters struggle, too, they are facing tests just like I am and I want to encourage them to be strong in the face of the enemy but the enemy isn’t other people but the principalities of this world and when there is persecution I realize my enemies, too, need to know the love of Christ and I realize that Christ loved me while I was still a sinner, that I understand now why I should love my enemies because my enemies, too, are made in the image of God and God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son so that no one may perish but have everlasting life, and the best way to let my enemy know the love of Jesus is to be good to him and I realize in my spiritual journey I’m starting over at the beginning learning what it means to be good.

  V.      The Benefits of Our Faith, 2 Peter 1:8-11

It’s a lifelong process.  I am being sanctified, I’m being set apart for the Lord’s use, I am being made, slowly and sometimes struggling, into the image of Christ.  And even when I think I understand, I realize that my brain is probably only about 3½ lbs and will probably never be able to fathom all the mysteries of this universe that an omnipotent, omniscient God breathed into existence, or why God would look out across the expanse of time and space to give his grace and mercy to me, but the more I get to know God, the more I want to know God and His unfathomable love for me.

2 Peter 1:8-11 tells me that my sanctification will eventually lead to my glorification, my ultimate sanctification.

For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

 

VI.      Conclusion

My life now is messy, but I have grace and peace in abundance through the knowledge God has provided.  My sanctification has a purpose.  One day, my visit to this planet will come to an end, and God will call me home.  My destination is secure, and the peace that surpasses all understanding washes over me when I think of the love that saved a wretch like me.  And though a life dedicated to growing in Christ puts me square in the middle of a spiritual conflict with the forces of evil, I know my God loves me and will never forsake me and one day I receive a welcome, not just any welcome, but a rich welcome, into an eternal kingdom with Christ Jesus.  And I hope, and I’m sure you do to, that when we arrive the words “Well done, good and faithful servant” will ring in our ears joyfully forever and ever.

To God be the glory.

Equipped to Live

   I.      Introduction

In our lifelong journey, we all want to be better than we are.

We want to be healthier.  We want to be taller.  We want to have more money.  We want to have more friends.  We want a nicer car.

And once we become Christian, we want to be a better Christian.  But I sometimes think we equate being a better Christian with being a better person.  And then we look around at all the perfect people in church and think, “I wish I could be like them, but there is so much garbage and filth in my past, I can never be as good as they are.”

Our perception of what it means to be a better Christian is flawed.  We are putting the cause before the effect, we are putting the “after” before the “before”.  Christians are not better people because we have Christ.  We are blessed because Christ has us.  And that is how we should live.

Peter is writing his letter in 1 Peter 4 to the early church, talking to those who have recently given their lives to Christ.  We have spoken before of this initial transformation of the young Christian; how they one lived as enemies of God and slaves to their own sin, but now chose to be slaves of Christ and begin their eternal lives.  Their eternal lives begin, not after death of the body, but the death of the old life.  We are “born again” into a new family.  But this can be a difficult transition; some new Christians may look back at their old lives and see their old friends partying and enjoying their old sin.  Let’s face it, sin is fun.  Satan doesn’t entice us to the dark side with healthy vegetables.slide2  He entices us with pumpkin cream cheese pancakes.Slide3.JPG

Let’s begin with the first part of our scripture today.  We are in 1 Peter 4, and we have 11 verses to cover.  There are about 35 separate topics in these 11 verses, but we’re going to focus on just 2 or 3 because, well, lunch.

II.      We Are Not Who We Were, 1 Peter 4:1-4

1 Peter 4:1-4,

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin.  As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.  For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do – living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry.  They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you.

The chapter begins with “therefore” and when you see a “therefore,” we have to ask ourselves what it is there for.  This refers back to 1 Peter 3:18 which describe the life of Christ,

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.

This was the purpose of Christ, to save lost sinners like you and me.  The death of Christ brought us forgiveness through grace in 3 ways –

  1. Christ’s death fulfilled the Old Testament Law of a sacrificial offering. We know that Jesus answered the Pharisees accusation by saying that Jesus did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.  Therefore, an unblemished lamb was sacrificed.
  2. Second, Christ died as a propitiation for our sins. I confess I heard this term for years before I finally studied it, and it’s just a big word for a simple concept.  The bible says that God is a righteous and holy God, and God will not allow sin to go unpunished.  It’s not in His holy nature to say, “well, boys will be boys, I think I’ll let that one slide.”  No, God is a holy and righteous God, and God will punish every sin.  The wrath of God is a terrifying righteous thing.  And over the centuries, man has certainly given God plenty to be angry about.  None of us are innocent; Romans 3:23 says all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  The Good News, the gospel itself, is that this wrath has already been satisfied when Jesus was put to death on the cross.  The wrath of God was satisfied when God’s own son was put to death.  That is what propitiation is – God’s wrath, satisfied.
  3. And third, Jesus was a substitution. A guilty man cannot take the punishment for anther guilty man.  Each must serve their own.  But Jesus was perfect, sinless, innocent.  He had no punishment of His own, so He is able to take our place.  And as God, Jesus can take away the sins of you and me.  Jesus can take away the sins of the world.

So this first “therefore” in 1 Peter 4 is powerful.  Jesus suffered and died to defeat sin with his body.  Therefore, we should arm ourselves, we should put on the whole armor of God, and put our sinful past behind us.  We are done with sin.  We are done with sin.

Sin might not be done with us, though.  Our old lives, our old friends, our old decisions, our old life choices want to follow us.  1 Peter 4:3-4,

For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do – living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry.  They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you.

But we are done with sin, and we have armed ourselves in the Armor of God, have we not?  Our old friends are still living that life, and our old friends are surprised when we say we are done with sin.  And when we say, “no thanks, I have a new life in Christ,” they taunt us, they heap abuse on us.  Call us names and ridicule us.

And let’s be honest – when that taunting and name-calling comes from friends, it’s hard.  But the worst part is that the words echo in our old sinful selves, and we taunt and ridicule ourselves.  “Of course I’m not good enough to hang with those perfect Christians and their perfect spouses and their perfect 3.2 children.  I’m a drunkard, carouser, idolater.  Don’t they know what I’ve done?”  We put ourselves in a self-induced purgatory, too good to be with our old sinful friends, but not good enough to be with our new perfect Christian friends.

That’s Satan’s lies.  Our God is bigger than that.  Our God is bigger than any sinful thing we have ever done.  Our God is omniscient, seeing into our black sinful hearts.  Our God is omnipotent and brought His wrath upon our sin and utterly destroying it, separating us from our sin as far as the east is from the west.  Our God saw the worst we had to offer, and yet loved us so much and decided we were worth saving.  He sent His son to die for those sins so we don’t have to live them anymore.  We are free of that past.  And I don’t mean just the past from 20 years ago, but the past all they up to this morning until the moment you walked into this class.  You are an adopted child of the God, the Creator of All.  Your past is gone, yesterday is a closed door and you don’t live there anymore.

You see, we look in the mirror and we see what we have done.  But God looks at us, and He sees what He has done.  He has done a miracle in us.

III.      Judgement Day, 1 Peter 4:5-7

Our primary motivation for living our new eternal lives is gratitude and thanksgiving for what the Lord has done for us while we were still yet sinners.  Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.  We know that Judgement Day is coming.  1 Peter 5-7,

But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.  For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit. The end of all things is near. Therefore, be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray.

God gives us a choice on how we would like to be judged.  Our old sinful lives want to be judged by sinful human standards.  If our mind is on worldly things and we desire the approval of worldly people, and turn down the free gift of salvation offered through Christ Jesus, then God gives us what we want.  We are judged according to our deeds, our words, our thoughts.

Revelation 22 is the final chapter of the bible.  The end of history.  In Revelation 22:10-11, it says,

Then he (the angel) told me (John), “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this scroll, because the time is near.  Let the one who does wrong continue to do wrong; let the vile person continue to be vile; let the one who does right continue to do right; and let the holy person continue to be holy.”

The words “let him” implies “let him make his final decision.”  The God Almighty has provided a free choice.  After the Millennium Kingdom, The Book of Life is opened, and for those who have accepted Christ and their names are listed in the Book of Life, they proceed to the Judgement Seat, or Bema Seat of Christ, described in 2 Corinthians 5:10. As Christians, we are judged for our works while in this body, and we receive rewards for those deeds.  And there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus, for Christ died to pay the price for where we fall short.

Those that do not choose this gift of life and have decided to be judged on their own efforts and works, they appear at the Great White Throne described in Revelation 20 and judged exactly as they wished.  And everyone at this judgement, without exception, falls short of the glory of God and is thrown into the Lake of Fire.

So this “let him make his final decision” is God granting us our free will forever and ever.  God will not force us to accept His will, but that choice is final.  Dinesh D’Souza gave a speech at Liberty University on Friday night, and began it with this thought:slide10

https://twitter.com/DineshDSouza/status/787270366469222400

That is why Peter tells us,

The end of all things is near. Therefore, be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray.

The end of all things is near, but as mortals, we have short attention spans.  We forget our eternal destination and focus on the world around us.  Peter himself was an example of what happens when we take our eyes off of Jesus.  When Peter saw Jesus walking on the water, Peter’s eyes were on Jesus and Jesus called him.  And Peter walked on water!  But then Peter looked at the world around him and noticed how high the waves were and how deep the sea was and started to sink.  Peter’s salvation was still secure – Jesus reached in and caught him – but would Peter have sunk if his eyes remained on Jesus?

In the middle of going to work, shopping for groceries, exercising at the gym, we look at our watch and we never think, “What time was the world supposed to end?”  The end of the world seems less important to us than picking up the dry cleaning.  But the end of all things are near, and it’s not hard to imagine the last days becoming closer.  If you forget the end is near, turn on the TV and watch the news for 5 minutes.

So we keep that in mind when we pray, remembering the urgency that comes with the end of the world.  We need to be alert and focused.  But to have effective prayers, the NIV says we must be alert and sober.  The Holman Christian Standard Bible says serious and disciplined.  The NASB says sound judgement and sober spirit.  Others says clear-minded and self-controlled, serious and watchful, earnest and disciplined.  We must be focused on what God wants, not what we want.  We clear our minds and we seek God’s will.

I confess it is a mystery to me why God answers prayers.  He alone is worthy; He alone is just.  He doesn’t need my advice when I come to Him in prayer.  But the bible is clear that our prayers move God to act and that our prayers are like a fragrant aroma to Him.  It pleases God for us to pray.

So we pray for ourselves, we pray for our loved ones, we pray for our neighbors, we pray for our enemies.  We pray out of love for one another, that nobody should face the Great White Throne of Judgement without our Advocate in Christ Jesus at our side.  We pray out of love.

IV.      We Are Not Who We Will Become, 1 Peter 4:8-11

1 Peter 4:8-10,

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.  Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.  Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.

I think it is of no surprise that the word for “love” here is “agape,” the love that loves others so much that it is willing to sacrifice for others.  We are to sacrifice for each other with no hesitation or reservation.  I don’t think the NIV captures the essence of the word “deeply” here.  The Amplified bible calls it “intense and unfailing love for one another.”  This agape love is from God working through us and has nothing to do with how we feel.  Sometimes we don’t “feel” loving.  Love anyway.  Sometimes we feel irritated.  Love anyway, because love covers a multitude of sins, both their sins and especially our own sins.

What is agape love?  1 Corinthians 13:4-7 tells us exactly what love is and what is not.  As an engineer, I’m sort of spreadsheet oriented and I’ll eventually have the entire bible categorized properly in a giant spreadsheet like it should be, but for now, here’s a spreadsheet on love that you can stick on your refrigerator:

1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Attitudes Actions
Love is Love is not Love does Love does not
Patient Jealous Rejoice with truth Brag
Kind Arrogant Bears all things Act rudely
Provoked Believes all things Seek its own
Hopes all things Keep a record of wrongs
Endures all things Rejoice in unrighteousness

slide13Love is easy, and love is complicated.  But it’s worthwhile to reflect on this list.  It’s easy to say we love someone, but harder to actually love someone in action and in attitude.

For instance, the very first words of this list is, “Love is patient, love is kind.”  I don’t know about you, but if this is a definition of love, I didn’t even make it past the first two words.  I’m not always patient.  What’s that old joke, God grant me patience, and grant it to me now?  The things in my life that are my biggest source of frustration seem to be life-long battles.  And I once thought of myself as patient, but I have a better understanding.  Not that I’ve been able to put it into practice, but at least I have a better understanding of where I fall short.

How long does patience last?  A couple of hours?  A week?  A year?  I think any number does the word “patience” an injustice.  In Genesis 18, The Lord is going to wipe Sodom from the earth, but Abraham asks God if the Lord will destroy with righteous along with the wicked.  Abraham starts by asking if 50 righteous people are found for the Lord to spare the city, and the Lord agrees.  Through a serious of humorous bargaining, Abraham then tries to make it easier on himself, so he asks if 45 people are enough.  Then 40, then 30, 20, and then 10.  And the Lord agrees.  But no righteous people were found; Lot and his family were spared, but not because of their righteousness.

Fast forward to 2 Peter 3:9,

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

When Peter says, “The end of all things is near,” and then his next letter says “The Lord is not slow about keeping His promise,” I think of 1 Corinthians 13 saying “love is patient” and John 3:16 that says, “For God so loved the world” that over 4000 years have passed since the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.  But the end of times hasn’t yet arrived.  So patience is at least 4000 years if you love someone.  To truly understand patience, we must be patient.

As for “Love is kind,” has anyone ever said an unkind word?  It’s hard to keep our tongue in check.  James 3:6 has these kind words to say about our ability to control our tongue:

The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

Now I understand why some monks take a vow of silence.  Ouch.  I have had some progress in this regard by remembering James 3:9, just 3 verses later:

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness.

The thing to remember about how we express love and to who and what attitude we have while we do it … well, that seems to sum up our purpose while we are visiting this big blue marble in preparation for our eternal kingdom.  We are to love our family; we are to love our friends.  We are to love our neighbors.  We are to love our enemies.  In short, we are to lead a life of love that demonstrates the light of Christ in us.

What comes out of our mouth reflects what is really inside our hearts.  When I read about some celebrity or sports figure apologize for something they said, I’ve been seeing this phrase being used, “That’s not who I am.”

A NYPD detective abusing an Uber driver, caught on tape.  “I let my emotions get the better of me…. That’s not who I am.”slide16

Marco Rubio when he was running for President implied that Donald Trump had a small… something.  It was insulting to a man.  But Rubio’s apology? “It’s not who I am and I shouldn’t have said that.”Slide17.JPG

Isaiah Crowell, running back for the Cleveland Browns, after a police shooting death of two black me, posted a graphic picture of a cop with his throat slit.  He apologized, donated a game check to the Dallas Fallen Officer Association and said, “That’s not who I am.”slide18

Dani Mathews, 2015 Playmate of the Year, took a picture of a heavier woman who was naked in a gym shower, with the caption, “If I can’t unsee this, then you can’t either.”  After an uproar, she apologized saying she accidentally posted the photo and … “that’s not who I am.”Slide19.JPG

I find the trend disturbing; people are essentially claiming they are innocent – “that wasn’t me.”  Like somehow if I robbed a bank at gunpoint and say, “That wasn’t me, I don’t rob banks.”Slide20.JPG

But it was them.  And as Christians, we certainly are not immune to saying ugly things.  The only reason it comes out of you is because it was in you.  The only way to keep it from being in us is to fill ourselves with the Holy Spirit so full there isn’t room for our own iniquities.  And if something ugly comes out of our mouths, then we apologize and say, “That was me.  I am sorry.  I am trying to be better but I still often fall short of the glory of God.”slide21

Our scripture verses today end with 1 Peter 4:11,

If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

When we profess to be a Christian, every word we speak represents Christ on earth, for we are Christ’s ambassador to our brothers and sisters in Christ, to our family and friends, to our neighbors, to non-believers.   Every word we say reflects our heart and reflects Christ, so we should speak slowly and choose each and every word carefully.  Once you say them, you can’t take them back.

  V.      Conclusion

Our sanctification process is to be a better Christian daily.  We look in that mirror and see what we’ve done or what we’ve said, but God sees what He has done.  We want those two visions to be the same; we want to see what God sees.  And we cannot do this on our own, for we battle daily with our sinful nature and the principalities of this world.

Some days, I hate to admit, that old sinful nature is going to get the upper hand briefly, and we are going to say or do something that hurts somebody.  It will be unloving because we didn’t fill ourselves up with goodness, and we will reflect badly on ourselves and be a poor ambassador for Christ.

Don’t beat yourself up too badly.  It will happen to all of us sooner than later.  Some sooner than others.  None of us are perfect.  And our closest family and friends?  They, too, will say or do something that is hurtful.  But our key verse that wraps all of this together for us is 1 Peter 4:8,

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.

Because of the love our family has for us, we can fail and it’s ok.  Love covers a multitude of sins.  Because of the love we have for others, they can fail and it’s ok.  Love covers a multitude of sins.

Because God so loved the world and gave his Son as a perfect sacrifice, a perfect propitiation, a perfect substitution, we can fail, and He still loves us.

Love covers a multitude of sins.

To God be the glory.

Living as Strangers

  I.      Introduction

Be in the world, not of the world.

This phrase isn’t in the bible, but it is a concept expressed by a great many verses.  In John 17:14-15, the night Jesus was betrayed, Jesus prays to the Father for all believers,

I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.  My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.

But what does this look like in our lives today?  How do we put this into practice?

II.      We Are Strangers, 1 Peter 2:11-12

I’m going to talk about my travels for a bit.  I have been blessed in a job that gave me the opportunity so see much of God’s creation.  My first overseas trip was to Florence, Italy.  I marveled at the Duomo, walked streets that were 2000 years old, the same streets ancient Romans walked in the days of Jesus.  I saw amazing examples of Renaissance art.

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But I am not Italian.  I was a visitor.

In 1997, I moved to Singapore the day before Chinese New Year.  It’s like moving to downtown Houston on Christmas Eve and wondering where all the people were.  I visited a Christian church that was 99.9% Chinese, and somehow the people in the church noticed me.  I gave my life to Christ there.  I saw a beautiful modern city with streets that were safe to walk in and explored the complicated history of the influence of the Malaysian people and British imperialism.

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But I am not Chinese.  I was a visitor.

Three years ago, I spent almost a year in Scotland.  I played golf on a links course where some of the oldest golf clubs reside.  I ate haggis, nips, and tatties, and I enjoyed it.  I saw musicians on street corners playing bagpipes.  I almost bought a kilt.  After nearly a year, I could almost understand what they were saying.

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But I am not Scottish.  I was a visitor.

If you’ve lived your whole life in Texas, then you’ve probably see the Houston Museum of Natural Science and the Butterfly Museum and perhaps you’ve made the drive up towards Brenham in the spring to see the bluebonnets like no place else in the world.  Perhaps you’ve stood on Galveston Beach and wondered how far the ocean stretched, or driven to San Antonio and marveled at the hundreds of miles of flat prairies as far as you can see.

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I consider myself a Texan.  I consider myself an American.  I consider myself an inhabitant of this big blue marble that travels around a small yellow sun.

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And yet, I am still a visitor.  This is not my home.

We should be good guests, enjoy this world, appreciate its beauty, and admire God’s handiwork.  But like good visitors, we take nothing from this trip with us.  We will eventually leave it all behind.

There’s nothing wrong, and everything right, with appreciating everything God has provided for our stay.  But if we have a limited, personal, selfish view of Christianity, we only look at the here and now.  Will being a good Christian help me in my relationships?  Will it bring me better health, a better job, success and prosperity?  Will I feel better?

But if our focus is on this world and how Christianity provides a more fulfilling life, then we do not appreciate that we are visitors.  We try to be permanent guests, we fear death instead of recognizing that our eternal life has already begun and eventually we move to a far, far better place.  1 Corinthians 15:19 says it this way:

If our hope in Christ is good for this life only and no more, then we deserve more pity than anyone else in all the world.

How then shall we live?  Our scripture today is 1 Peter 2 beginning in verse 11,

I appeal to you, my friends, as strangers and refugees in this world!  Do not give in to bodily passions, which are always at war against the soul.  Your conduct among the heathen should be so good that when they accuse you of being evildoers, they will have to recognize your good deeds and so praise God on the Day of his coming.

God has a purpose for our lives if we recognize we are visitors.  We are ambassadors of Christ.  This world offers beauty and wonder, but if we grab it and hold on to this world at all costs, we are to be pitied.  These worldly possessions are always at war against the soul which is destined for a far better destination.  We live for that day, and our behavior should be exemplary.  The pagan world will see our lives and mock us now, but God has a purpose.

If you are in a position where people mock you, don’t give up hope.  Be aware that God using you to demonstrate His love.

 

III.      Submission, Not Rebellion, 1 Peter 2:13-17

How, then, shall we live?  We lead lives of quiet submission.  We lead our lives in the freedom that Christ provides, but also in obedience to His teaching so the world sees Christ in us.  Let’s continue to 1 Peter 2:13-17 –

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.  For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people.  Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.  Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.

 

Submission.  I don’t know about you, but submission goes against my grain.  I want things my way, I want to go the way I want to go, and I don’t want anybody telling me what to do.  Peter’s admonition, though is that we should submit ourselves.

What is submission?  What does it mean to submit to another?  Peter uses the Greek word hypotassō, and it’s a military term meaning “to arrange in a military fashion under the command of a leader.”  When it’s used in a non-military way, it means “a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden.”  I think we give the word “submission” a bad rap because we think it means something worse.

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Submission is Opposite of Submission is Too much submission is
Acceptance Arrogance Wimpy
Willing Resistance Cowardly
Humble Pride Spinelessness
Respect Conceit Slavery

Submission is a voluntary action, not a surrendering or giving up, but a giving in and providing support to others.  True Christian submission is an awesome display of the power of Christ living in us.

Peter is living as a subject of the Roman Empire. The Romans at this time were not especially kind to Christians; Christians who confessed Christ as their Lord were often punished or killed for treason for not obeying the Roman Emperor. The Romans were suspicious of early Christians, suspecting them of insurrection and planning to overthrow the empire. After all, they had their own king.  So in a brutal repressive society, how do you reconcile that with the Christian teachings of freedom in Christ? Did this freedom allow rebellion?  Peter points to the Lord Jesus Christ to see how we are to live.

Let’s start with verse 13,

“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority.”

I know I rebel in a hundred little ways, I have a natural tendency toward passive aggressiveness.  But here are ten simple words that we all might want to rebel against, but what does Peter call us to do? Submit ourselves. Why?  Not for our sake, but to further the Lord’s work.

Not because those in authority can crush us, but because it is the Lord’s will (and we’ll get to more of this in a moment). To who do we submit ourselves? To every human authority.  God calls us to voluntarily and cheerfully submit to our legal authorities.  We are to obey the law and to be good citizens.  And we do this, not because the government is a huge bureaucracy that can throw us into jail, but because we are to be obedient to Christ.

While our governmental authority seems to be headed off a cliff away from God’s will, in reality, God creates governments to accomplish His will, whether that government is aware of it or not.  Government over us keeps us out of anarchy. In Romans 13:1-7, Paul tells us:

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

Peter teaches us to submit to the government because the government is teaching us right from wrong.  Submission to authority, cheerfully and willingly.  Be good subjects of the Roman Empire. That doesn’t mean we can’t use legal, peaceful means of bringing change in our government. Certainly as good Christian witnesses we should seek to change those government laws that violate God’s laws; our Christian duty is to be agents of change in this world, but we are to do it within the framework of existing governmental laws.

Are there any exceptions to this rule? Absolutely. We must be careful to set aside our personal desires and goals; those goals are subject to government.  But God’s goals supersedes those of government.  Peter was faced with this exact circumstance in Acts 4:18-20. The Jewish leaders were disturbed that Peter and John were spreading the message of Christ and ordered them to stop, but Peter chose to obey God instead of man:

Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

So we are called to follow authority and show respect, but not at the expense of following God’s will.

1 Peter 2:15,

For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.

Like it or not, a government agent is an angel of wrath, to enforce right and wrong.  When we submit to authority, Peter tells us that silence foolish people.  When we’re argumentative and rebellious, we are poor examples of Christ.

Verse 16,

Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God.

Jesus came to set His followers free, but this is not a freedom to do evil. In order to be free of sin, we voluntarily become slaves of God. Using our freedom to conceal evil actions is hypocritical.  The world only grudgingly gives respect to Christians, and quickly condemns us when our hypocrisy shows.  Expressing our freedom from sin means we obey every legal authority and not our own selfish, rebellious heart. We are to lead holy lives, set apart lives, and law abiding lives.

Verse 17,

Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.

I find these distinctions interesting.  We are to show “proper” respect to everyone, but proper respect isn’t equal respect.  The word used here is timaō and it means to estimate the value or recognize the worth of that person.  We show respect to “everyone” because after all, everyone is created in God’s image.  They have intrinsic value as people.slide19

To our brotherhood of believers, though, we show more than respect. We show love, the same kind of love Christ showed for us. The word used is agapaō, or agape love, and it means to welcome, to entertain, to be fond of, to love dearly, to be well pleased, to be content with. Christ showed agape love to us to model, and we are to show this agape love to our brothers and sisters.  Submission in the church, and submission even within this bible class leads to the purest kind of love, where we are genuinely concerned about each other and set aside our own vain attitudes.  We are not in competition with each other about who can be the best Christian. Or the worst Christian, for that matter.slide20

And to God, we show “fear.”  Not a scared kind of fear, the word used is phobeō and means to be awestruck, to treat with reverential obedience.  Our God created the heavens and the earth and if He so wished He could smite us so hard we’d be smitten.  We are thankful for the grace He shows us through Jesus that we don’t get the punishment we deserve; Jesus has already taken our place.slide21

slide22And to the king and to people in authority, we are to show honor. The word “timao” is used here again; it means to recognize the value of the person, to respect and honor.  Note that it says we are to fear the Lord but give honor to the king. Jesus made the same distinction in Matthew 22:21 when the Pharisees asked Him if it was right to pay taxes.  Jesus replied,

Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.

We give our authorities respect and obedience, but to God we give reverence and worship.

 

IV.      Extreme Submission, 1 Peter 2:18-20

Next, in verse 18, Peter addresses a particularly difficult subject, slavery.

Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.

Where’s that freedom Christ promised? Many early believers were slaves. Educated slaves, sometimes, but still slaves. They served as teachers, doctors, administrators, musicians, craftsmen. Over the centuries, Christian influence about our equal worth as God’s children eventually led to the abolition of slavery, but opposition to the slavery during the time of the Roman Empire would be seen as an insurrection and would certainly bring the wrath of Rome, crushing the early Christian movement.

Peter’s not justifying slavery here in any circumstances.  What he is saying is that, regardless of our circumstances we are to be obedient to those who have authority over us.  If a Christian is in slavery, the Christian is to submit, to obey their master.  We have an innate repulsion to this idea, that slavery is wrong and we should oppose it. And while that is true, slavery shows us an extreme example of how we are to behave as Christians. We are to submit and show respect. Not grudgingly and with an attitude, but respectfully and willingly.  We can extend this instruction to our workplace, to our bosses who are in authority over us.  We are to obey our bosses, be a good example of Christ living within us.  The natural tendency of the unsaved person is to gripe, to badmouth, to fight back.  As a spirit-filled Christian, we learn to submit and let God fight our battles for us.

Verse 19 tells us suffering in slavery or suffering in our job in obedience to Christ brings favor with God.

For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God.

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The word is “charis” and can be translated commendable, finds favor, a reward, good will, but also means grace. As a slave to God, we submit unconditionally, we love unconditionally, we obey unconditionally. How can we do otherwise?  How can we set rules for when and how God shows us grace? We can’t of course; as we learn to submit unconditionally, we learn how God’s grace is provided to us.  Jesus submitted unconditionally; through His submission, God brought salvation to all humanity.  Jesus certainly had the power to resist, to punish the men responsible, but instead Jesus submitted to authority and at the same time showed us how to forgive those who oppress us.

 

Verse 20 also gives us another reason to submit.

But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.

If we do wrong and we’re punished, well, we deserve it.  If I go out to the parking lot and spray paint a bunch of cars and get caught, will anybody respect me for the way I bravely take my punishment?  No, they will say I deserved it.  But if I am innocent and I’m punished, by freely submitting to those in authority, God will find favor in me.  If we spend all day at work surfing ESPN for the latest fantasy football stats and our boss comes in and chews us up, well, we deserved it.  But if we are innocent in these things and our boss treats us harshly, we are to endure it patiently.  We show respect because this brings glory to God.  This is a true test of our faith.  Being a good example when things are going well is easy.  God’s not impressed.  Being a good example when under stress or persecution?  God will find favor in us.

 

  V.      Our Example is Christ, 1 Peter 2:21-25

We are called to do this as Christians. Verse 21 says,

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

Christ suffered unjustly for us. When we think about our suffering, think about the suffering of Jesus.  The Romans punished Jesus, flogged Him, and crucified Him to die a slow death on the cross.  What did Jesus do to deserve it?  When our boss tells us to work late, compare that to the suffering of Jesus.  Why do we grumble over minor afflictions when Jesus submitted willingly to crucifixion?  What are the things that irritate you the most?  Coworkers?  Money?  That’s your suffering, yet compare it to the suffering of Jesus.  Who suffered more, you or Jesus?  Who complains more?  Yet verse 21 tells us to follow in His steps. Here’s how Jesus set an example for us when He suffered in verse 22:

He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.

Jesus suffered and died without a grumble, without a complaint and without a sin.  Because Jesus was innocent, He can take our blame for us.  If Jesus was a sinner, the punishment He received would be His own.  But Jesus is sinless and can offer to take our punishment for us.  Because He can do that, He is our savior.  When we suffer, when we are punished unjustly, Jesus is also our role model, our example. No deceit in our mouth, we hold our tongue and do not condemn.

Verse 23,

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.

As the son of God, Jesus could threaten to destroy His oppressors.  He could have said, “I’ll get you my pretty and your little dog, too.”  Instead, Jesus left us an example.   He committed himself to trusting God to judge. Jesus showed us that a person can be in the will of God, be loved by God, and still suffer unfairly.  Don’t fall for that “feel good” brand of Christianity that says trust in God and you will never suffer.  It’s not biblical; it doesn’t reflect the life that Jesus gave for us.  Instead, unjust suffering at work, at home, in pain or poor health, in loss of a loved one, unjust suffering gives us an opportunity to showcase the Holy Spirit within us.  No threats, no insults, no retaliation, no harsh words.  We trust God will right all wrongs at the Day of Judgment.  By the time Peter wrote this book, Peter had been preaching the gospel for 30 years and the Holy Spirit has made him into a true man of God.  Where once Peter took up a sword to defend Jesus, now Peter preaches submission to authorities.  This is how we lead as Christians; we lead by submission.

The last two verses, Peter reminds us why Jesus is our example.  It’s because Jesus is more than just an example. Jesus is the savior we all need. In verse 24, Peter reminds us what Jesus did for us and why Jesus could do what none of us can.  Jesus is more than “just a good man.”

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.

Jesus did not die as a martyr.  Jesus died as a savior.  He took the punishment for the sins we commit.  Christ was wounded so we might be healed.  Christ died so that we might live.  Our sinful lives died with the crucifixion of Christ; we are no longer slaves to sin, but willing and righteous slaves to God.  One day we will have glorified bodies, but right now, even some of God’s most favored servants suffer physically.  By the wounds of Jesus, we will be healed of this physical suffering.

And in verse 25, Peter says,

For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

Every lost sinner is ignorant, lost, foolish, wandering, in danger, and unable to help ourselves.  We have wandered into the wilderness without a Shepherd to protect us.  Before we accept Christ, we have a mistaken belief that we can save ourselves, that we are all we need, yet we spend our entire lives trying to figure out why that hole in our soul won’t fill up with toys, entertainment, knowledge, service.  It’s only when we recognize that we cannot do it on our own and accept Jesus that we truly begin to live in Him. Jesus is our good shepherd; Jesus watches over us and protects us, and nobody can snatch us out of His all-powerful, ever-loving arms.

Augustine of Hippo in 387AD said it this way –

Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.

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VI.      Conclusion

Be a good visitor to this big blue marble.  Show the love that Christ showed to you, not because you deserved it, but because you didn’t deserve it. And through our good behavior, silence the foolish talk of the world.  For we know Christ lives through us and in us and we can do all things through Christ our savior.

To God be the glory.

Persecution & Hope

  I.      Introduction

We begin today a brand new series, and I’m always overwhelmed with the amount of wisdom that is packed into each verse of the New Testament.  We have nine verses to study today, and we could easily do an entire lesson on just the first word.  Got your bibles ready?  Let’s start at 1 Peter 1 verse 1.

II.      To God’s Chosen, 1 Peter 1:1-2

Today’s lesson is actually a very good illustration of something I’ve said numerous times; standing in front of the class to teach is not a goal of mine.  I enjoy sharing what I’ve learned, but actually standing here isn’t something I crave.  But I would say 90% of what I know about the bible has come not from listening to the Word, or even reading the Word, but from preparing to teach.  We have 9 verses to study today, but let’s just read the first two, 1 Peter 1:1-2,

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood:

Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

When I first sit down to study, I read the verse once and sort of let it sink in, sometimes up to a week.  Then when I sit down to prepare, I start jotting notes down and try to arrange them in an outline that makes sense.  Here’s the notes I jotted down from the first two verses –

  • Peter the apostle. Discuss life of Christ, how Peter was selected as a fisherman, denied Christ 3 times.  In the book of Acts, he was described as “unlearned and ignorant,” yet he penned several books of the New Testament and Christ built His church upon him.
  • God’s elect, chosen through foreknowledge, free will versus God’s will, Arminianism vs Calvinism,
  • God’s exiles, sometimes translated as “temporary residents” or “aliens in a foreign land, and how believers with the Holy Spirit inside find their moral values are different from worldly values.
  • Geography, how the Christian church spread in the first century
  • Sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, not through our own works
  • Obedience in Jesus Christ.
  • Covered by His blood, saved from our own sins by His substitutionary death.
  • Grace and peace, gifts of the Holy Spirit. And in abundance, too.

These are just the topics I identified in just the first two sentences of 1 Peter 1.  My point is, when we study the bible as a class, it is worthy and provides us knowledge, but there is no possibility that 30 minutes a week is sufficient to understand all our heavenly Father wants to teach us.    If you and I want to get closer to our God, then we must spend the time to get to know him in our own individual reading and studying.  It is a privilege for us to be able to study His Word when in so much of the world bibles are difficult to find or are banned outright.

Why were these early Christians in exile?  This world persecution of Christians goes all the way back to the first century church.  While many of the apostles like Peter showed their human weaknesses while Jesus was in their midst, every apostle except John (who died of old age) was eventually martyred proclaiming the good news of the Christ.

In the USA, we believe we see persecution of Christians.  In California, Christian adoption agencies are closing because the state forces all adoption agencies to accept same-sex parents as well as provide contraception as part of their health care for adoption agency employees.  Christian businesses are closing in several states because they won’t make cakes for lesbian couples or take wedding photos for gay men.  These are most definitely challenges and persecution of Christian values.Slide3

But in Philip Yancey’s book, “Where is God When it Hurts?”, quotes Helmut Thielicke, a German minister who survived Nazism and World War II.  Helmut was asked, “What did he see as the greatest weakness among American Christians?”.  Helmut answered, “They have an inadequate view of suffering”.

So while in Houston, Christians struggle to preserve the Ten Commandment display at a Veteran’s cemetery, OpendoorUSA reports that around the world, 322 Christians are killed for their faith every month, and 214 Christian churches are destroyed.  I saw the movie this past week called “The Insanity of God” and the story of a missionary who had traveled the world, witnessed dying children in Somalia, the imprisonment of the faithful in the former Soviet Union, and the persecution of believers in China.  As he spoke to some underground Christians in China, he noted that before the Cultural Revolution of Mao Tse Tung, there were 400,000 Christians.  Today, after decades of persecution, there are 50 million.  And the underground Christians asked the missionary, “Have they heard about Jesus outside of China yet?”Slide4

Sometimes it’s hard to grasp why God allows the persecution of His people, and I can’t begin to understand all of His purpose.  But it’s unmistakable that persecution allows demonstration of His mercies.

 

III.      Saved, Now and Forever, 1 Peter 1:3-5

Have you ever heard the phrase, “Once Saved, Always Saved?”  It was a phrase that I had heard but didn’t think about it too much.  My first thoughts are, “well, it’s not in the bible” and “if you could see the way some people live, they couldn’t possibly be saved.”  And if you continue that line of thinking, eventually you get to wondering, “Am I saved?  And if I am saved, can I lose my salvation?  What do I have to do to earn eternal life?”  In 1 Peter 1, we will find rest for our souls and comfort that our inheritance in the Kingdom of Heaven is secure.  Verses 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.

Are you pretty sure you’re going to heaven?  How about, unless something goes horribly wrong, there’s a good chance you’re going to heaven?  Or do you absolutely know, without a doubt, 100% guarantee, that you’re going to heaven?  God wants you to know and be absolutely confident, because there is joy and peace in this knowledge.  Let’s look at some other scripture that backs this up.  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.

It doesn’t say we should “think” we have eternal life.  It says 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.  It’s not based on me.  It never was.  It’s entirely based on what Jesus did.

In John 5:24, Jesus says,

Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.

Jesus uses several tenses of verbs to make His point clear.  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!  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.

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 is 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.”   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 become 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?

So 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.  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, all the terms of the contract would have to be abolished.

  • 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.
  • We would have to change from Christ’s sheep into a toad.
  • We would have to remove the brand He sealed onto us.
  • Somebody would have to snatch us right out of the hand of Jesus even though He chose us.
  • God’s adoption papers would have to be cancelled and He writes us out of the will.
  • Holy Spirit would have to be evicted out of His home in our heart and told to find someplace else to live.
  • We would have to dive to the very bottom of the ocean and dredge our sins back up.
  • Somebody would have to remind God of all the things He’s promised to remember no more.
  • And somebody would have to make God into a liar for putting all these promises down in writing.

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

So what about all those difficult questions about “Once saved, always saved?”  What if I claim to be a Christian, but don’t seem to be living a Christian lifestyle?  I party and drink and do drugs and sleep around and so forth – am I still going to heaven?  And what if I say I’m a Christian and I know I’m going to heaven, does that mean I can do anything I want?  Lie cheat and steal, take candy from babies or be a serial killer?  Am I still going to heaven?  How about if I say I’m Christian, but then I curse God to His face, turn my back on Jesus and says I want nothing do with those uptight religious freaks anymore?  Am I still going to heaven?  And what about when I hurt or when I’m depressed and I just don’t feel like getting up and going to church anymore?  Am I still going to heaven?

Great questions.  I hope somebody here can answer them, these were hard and I ran out of time studying.  No seriously, they are great questions, and the answers are in this same Good Book.

Number 1.  What if somebody claims to be a Christian, but doesn’t seem to be living a Christian lifestyle?  Partying and drinking and so forth?  I think it’s important to remember that eternal salvation is granted when you confess with all your heart that Jesus Christ is Lord.  God does the rest.  If we think our actions before God are better than somebody else’s actions, we have a fundamental misunderstanding of what Jesus did for us.  Romans 3:20 says,

Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law.

No one, no matter how good we try to be, is good enough for God.  Any righteousness we have comes not from ourselves but from accepting the blood covering of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins.  Ephesians 2:8 says,

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.

It has nothing to do with what we do.  We don’t gain eternal life because of our good performance, and we don’t lose eternal life because of our bad performance.  It’s Jesus plus nothing; it’s a gift.  The church of Galatia thought the same thing, and Paul gave them a dressing down.  In Galatians 3 Paul writes,

You foolish Galatians! […] After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?

2 Timothy 2:13 Paul says,

if we are faithless, He will remain faithful.

Getting into heaven has nothing to do with our human performance and everything to do with God’s grace.  We don’t sing Amazing Human Performance in worship for a reason, we sing Amazing Grace.  So if somebody has truly accepted Jesus Christ but doesn’t seem to be living a Christian life, they still have their admission ticket to God’s Grand Afterlife Party.

Number 2.  If our salvation is secure, does that mean we can do whatever we want?  If I’m going to heaven no matter what I do, why does it matter what I do?  Why not lie, cheat and steal?  Why not cheat on my spouse?  Why not party like it’s 1999?  I’m going to heaven!  Well, there’s a serious problem with this.   You may have that invitation to God’s Grand Afterlife Party and you are guaranteed entry, but what you do in this life has everything to do with what kind of reception you’ll get when you get there.  1 Corinthians 3:11-15 says

For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his 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 man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.

The foundation is Christ, and with our mortal lives we build on that foundation.  We can build on it with long lasting stuff – obedience, servant hood, prayer, humility, or we can build on it with disobedience, arrogance, and selfishness.  The choice is up to us.  But there will come a day of Judgement where we stand before Christ, and all our earthly deeds will be exposed for what they are.   Everything bad or worthless will be burned away, and if there’s anything left, there’s a reward.  What kind of reward?  I don’t know – I’m guessing something made of chocolate.  All I know if there’s a line forming to collect a reward from the almighty God, I want to be in that line.  What if your building is all gone?  Well, you don’t get any chocolate, but you yourself will be saved.  You’re not in heaven because of the building, you’re in heaven because of the foundation.

Number 3.  What if somebody turns their back on Jesus, renounces God, becomes an atheist.  Are they still going to heaven?  Let me tell you a story about Robert Robinson, a young teen who lived in London from 1735 to 1790.  He was a delinquent teen, but at 17 took his gang to an open air revival service where George Whitfield was preaching to “laugh at the poor deluded Methodists.”  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.

Slide21Beautiful 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 and became Unitarian who does not believe Jesus was the only Son of the Father.  In his later years, while taking a stagecoach ride, and in a 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 never did return to Christianity, and died denying the deity of Christ.

So what happened?  We can’t know for sure, can we, because we can’t ever know Robert Robinson’s heart.  But we do know this – if he ever truly trusted Christ, then yes, Robert Robinson is in heaven.  Even if we are faithless, God is faithful.  In Matthew 21:18-19, Jesus tells us what happens to people like this.

Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered.

Slide23In order to produce fruit, you have to be connected to the sap of the Holy Spirit.  If you’re not connected, the best you can produce is leaves, and Jesus says if you’re not connected to the sap of the Holy Spirit, the sap of the church of a body of believers, you wither.  You become bitter and angry.  I’ve never met a person who has accepted Christ and then turned his back on him that was a joy to be around.  They’re hurtful, mean, selfish people.  But when you’re connected to the sap, you produce fruit.  So when you meet a person like this, either they never truly gave their heart to Jesus, or they did give their heart, but through circumstance, weakness, persecution, suffering, whatever, they turned their back on Jesus.  It’s not for us to determine, but the Lord knows their heart, and if they truly gave their heart, they’re in heaven.  But not in the chocolate line, they’re in the … carob line.

Number 4.  What if I just don’t feel saved?  What if I don’t feel connected to the Holy Spirit, or connected to the church.  Am I still going to heaven?  One of Satan’s tricks in our materialistic secular humanistic society is the “do what feels good” philosophy.  Feel bad about debt?  Go shopping until you feel good.  Feel bad about weight?  Eat until you feel better.  Don’t like your spouse?  Get a divorce.  And you look at our society and see what happens to us when we let our feelings determine our direction.   When our feelings are at the wheel, we don’t have any idea what direction we’re headed.

I know exactly firsthand what happens when you let feelings rule.  I have let my feelings drive me right off a cliff.  But you know what?  Christ caught me.  Now instead of trying to get happy and going in whatever direction I wanted to, I let Christ take the wheel and let Him determine the direction, and I ended up far happier than when I was trying to be happy.  Matthew 6:33,

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

Feelings aren’t supposed to be driving your around; feelings are supposed to be in the passenger seat.

So do your feelings determine whether you’re going to heaven?  Does John 3:16 read,

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

as long as he feels like it?  John 5:24 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.

How do your feelings change that?  John 10:28,

I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.

Unless, of course, they’re unhappy?

Where do feelings come into play?  Our feelings are something we do, and nothing we do will gain or lose our salvation.  I think we try to make this complicated, but it’s almost too simple to believe.  God gives us the gift of salvation, and we say “thanks.”  That’s it, and nothing we do or feel or say will change that.  No performance evaluation, no report card.  Just grace.  Our destiny is already safe, already secure, we are already eternal beings.  And when we are eternal, when we are not afraid to die, then we are not afraid to live.

IV.      Rejoice Always, 1 Peter 1:6-9

This is indeed cause for celebration.  In 1 Peter 1:6-9, Peter goes on to say,

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.  Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

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 despite the persecution of the church, those who have place their faith in Christ Jesus are already receiving the result of our faith: the salvation of our souls.  We already belong to him and nothing, not death nor life, not angels nor demons, not the present nor the future, nor any powers, not height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to change that one teeny bit.  Our destiny is safe.  Today is the day that the Lord hath made.  Let us rejoice and be glad in it.  And let nothing steal that joy, for Christ Jesus loves us so much that He gave His very life for us.  And nothing, absolutely nothing that the world, others, or even ourselves can do, can take that away from us.  We are saved, permanently, now and forever.

Once Saved, Always Saved?  It really is that simple.  Don’t complicate it with man-made judgments and opinions.  Salvation is a gift through Jesus that is eternally secure.  To receive it, all we have to do is ask.  And all we have to do to keep it is… nothing.

  V.      Conclusion

Peter tells us that through Christ Jesus we have come into an inheritance that can never spoil or fade, and that this inheritance is kept in heaven and protected by our all-powerful God.  Let us have no more doubts, no more fears.  Absolutely knowing that there’s not a thing I can do to mess this gift from the Lord brings me peace and inexpressible and glorious joy.  I have been set free.  The salvation of my soul is secure, kept in heaven for me and shielded by God’s power.

To God be the glory.