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,

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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.

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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.

Acceptance

   I.      Introduction

We’re continuing in the Book of Acts, and last week, Theresa gave a great lesson that touched on Peter’s character.

I like Peter.  He’s messy.  When I study Peter, I find I’m often studying myself.  Peter’s growth isn’t clean and neat, it’s random and backsliding and lurching forward.   It’s full of mistakes.  And yet, Jesus loved Peter.

II.      Acceptance of Peter

As I was studying the life of Peter for this lesson, I found that many scholars believe that the book of Mark could have possibly been called the book of Peter.  Mark wrote the gospel, but many indications are that Peter dictated his life experiences to Mark who wrote them down.  One indication that Peter dictated the book of Mark was that Mark was a constant companion of Peter and they were very close.  1 Peter 5:12-14, Peter ends his letter like this:

Slide2This is the same Mark, and so close to Peter that Peter calls him his son.  Then, one of the most telling indications that Peter dictated the Book of Mark is from the Transfiguration of Jesus, let’s take a look quickly at Mark 9:2-4 –

Slide3

So Jesus Peter, James and John were all alone.  So where was Mark?

Some of the confusion, I think, comes from thinking that Mark is one of the twelve apostle, which he is not.  The word “apostle” implies “sending forth,” while “disciple” implies “following.”   Mark was certainly a follower of Jesus and a close friend of Peter, but Mark was not one of the apostles.

Peter was a fisherman.  Fishermen were gruff, sometimes vulgar.  They used colorful language.  They had tempers.  They smelled like old fish.  And yet, when Jesus said “follow me” in Luke 5, Peter dropped everything to follow Christ.  Jesus accepted Peter, smelly fish deodorant and all.

Slide8

Peter still made mistakes.  In Mark chapter 8, Jesus is telling his disciples that the Messiah would suffer and die for their sins, and Peter rebukes Jesus.  And Jesus turned, looked at Peter, and said, “Get the behind me, Satan!”

It’s not the only time that Jesus looked directly at Peter.  In Mark 14, Jesus tell his disciples that they will all fall away from him, like sheep they will be scattered.  And Peter, “Even if all the others fall away, I will not.”  And Jesus tells Peter that this very night, Peter will deny him 3 times.  When the rooster crows for the third time, Luke 22:61 says, “The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter.”  Can you imagine what “the look” looked like?

And yet, there’s hope for Peter.  When Jesus asks His disciples in Mark 8:29, “Who do you say I am?” Peter blurts out – Peter blurts a lot of things – “You are the Christ, the Messiah.”  After the resurrection of Jesus, Peter was the first to “raise his voice” at Pentecost, the day the church came into being.  Peter was “the rock” that Christ founded His church. 

And today, in Acts 10, we see both sides of Peter.  We see his stubbornness and we see his leadership at the same time.  He’s already founded the church and our smelly fisherman is now preaching to the church.

III.      Acceptance of Food

Let’s start with Acts 10:9-15 –

Slide9

We’re going to look at our scripture today from a couple of different viewpoints, but first I want to point out that Peter is still a mess, but he’s learning.  Peter’s initial response to his vision is basically this:

“Lord, no.”

 If the Lord asks us to do something, our response shouldn’t be “no.”  Is He Lord or is He not?  If He is Lord, then our only response should be “yes”.  But like Peter, I seem to have a hard time learning this lesson.  Sometimes my response is something like, “Good idea, Lord.  I hope somebody does that.  Soon, too.”

God tells Peter that it’s ok to eat that which was previously considered unclean.  Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 defines what is unclean, things we should not eat.  Things that are unclean include fish that do not have scales, a mammal that that does not both chew the cud and have a divided hoof, flying insects that walk instead of hop.   It’s a pretty complicated list.  Most carnivorous creatures, so some birds like vultures and seagulls.  Interesting that though the list of unclean foods goes back thousands of years, science is starting to show that “unclean” foods are not the healthiest things to eat, and some are very unhealthy.  So under Old Testament Law, the Jews were prohibited from eating unclean foods.

Slide11

http://www.uncleanfoodsdietarylaws.com/clean_unclean_food_list.html

The list of clean and unclean foods was quite extensive.

Peter was a devout Jew.  He didn’t eat unclean foods.  But remember that, while we learn a lot about God’s character through the Old Testament, we do not have to obey the 613 mitzvots.  We can if we want to, but two scriptures tell us that Christ fulfilled the Old Testament Law, and that such obedience doesn’t save us anyway.  We cannot work our way into heaven.  First is this statement from Jesus in Matthew 5:17 –

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

 Christ didn’t delete the Old Testament; He fulfilled the Old Testament.  It is finished.  Galatians 3:24-25 says –

So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith.  Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

 Now Peter is still trying to live under the law and refusing to eat unclean foods, when God tells Peter that these rules regarding unclean foods have also been fulfilled in Christ.  God tells Peter, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

IV.      Acceptance of Gentiles, You and Me

Jew Acts 10 goes on to say that Peter was wondering about the meaning of this vision when a Roman Centurion named Cornelius summons him.  The Holy Spirit tells Peter to get up and go with them. 

Now, this was something Peter wouldn’t want to do as a devout Jew, so when Peter arrives at the centurions, he says in Acts 10 verse 28,

Slide14

This is important to us as follower of Jesus.  God’s plan of salvation was originally for Israel alone.  However, especially in the book of Matthew, we see that the Jews rejected the Christ, and salvation was opened to the gentiles as well.  Peter is sort of clumsily getting this message – in fact, one of Paul’s letters to Peter was to rebuke Peter for his duplicity.  When Peter would go to a new town, he would go to the synagogue and observe all the Jewish rituals and traditions.  Peter would be a very devout, orthodox Jew.  But then Peter would preach that there was only one plan of salvation, and that was to accept the gift of salvation from Jesus Christ.  It was gift of grace, and nothing we could do would earn our salvation.  Paul’s letter essentially asked, “Well, which is it?  Why are you following the law if it is by grace alone that we are saved?”

Peter’s vision was about unclean food, but he realizes that the message is for Jews and gentiles, too.  God created gentiles, and it was not for Jews to judge God for His plan of salvation for the gentiles.  And it is good news indeed that God accepts gentiles like you and me.

I make mistakes.  To that extent, I’m a lot like Peter.  And the more I study, the more I realize what a slow learner I am.  Even this week, during a visit with somebody very close to me, I attempted to make a funny.  But it didn’t come out funny.  It came out vulgar and crude. It came out ugly.  It came out like a fisherman’s deodorant.

Slide15

And I realized that, though I try to walk in the light and live my life according to the riches and the grace within Christ Jesus, I still walk in the flesh.  I’m still a mess.  And I am so, so very thankful that, despite my deodorant, I am accepted.  I am loved.  I am a child of God.

  V.      Acceptance of Others

In Acts 10:34, Peter offers this observation,

Slide16 Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.  Not just the Jews.  Not just people in Judea.  Christ is Lord of all.  Jews, gentiles, you, me, Kim Kardashian, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton. 

The thing is, that nobody who we are, Jesus Christ will accept us.  When Jesus asks us to follow Him, He doesn’t ask us do run some sort of spiritual obstacle course before we’re allowed to call ourselves Christians.  When He calls us, He meets us where we are.  We might own our own company, we might work for somebody who owns their own company.  We might be a world traveler; we might be a homebody.  There are no prerequisites, Jesus accepts us as we are.  If we accept Jesus into our hearts, then we begin a lifelong journey of understanding love, forgiveness, acceptance, sacrifice.  But we don’t start at the end of that journey, we start at the beginning.

Accepting Jesus is easy.  Living for Jesus is a lot harder, but don’t confuse the two.  Accepting Jesus gives us a gift to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Living for Jesus gives us the abundant life He promises us, now and eternal.

For those of us who have accepted this gift, we begin a new relationship.  Of all the gospels, the Book of John is written to the gentiles.  The purpose is to evangelize a lost world and call the gentiles to the love of Christ.  In John 1:9-13, let’s read the message to gentiles –

Slide17

Let’s parse this a little to understand it.

  • “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.”  Who is John talking about?  John is talking about Jesus, the true light that shines in a dark world of sin that we were born into.  Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, that has come to fulfill God’s plan to take away the sins of the world.
  • “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.”  Jesus was born in this world, but John 1:3 says that “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”  In other word, though Jesus was responsible for creating our world, the very world He created didn’t know who He was.”
  • “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.”  Jesus came as the Messiah to save the Jewish people, but the Jewish people didn’t now accept Him as the Messiah.  Instead, they taunted Him, they scourged Him, they crucified Him.  They killed Him.
  • “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”  And here good news for the gentiles – if we receive Jesus Christ, our lives are changed forever.  Where once we were enemies of God, now we are His adopted children.

I think it’s important for us to recognize where we are in this world before we accept Jesus.  We are children of God now, it says.  But before, well, let’s look at John 8:42-44 –

Slide22

Like it or not, before we are adopted by God, we are children of the devil.  The destination for the children of God is heaven, the destination for those who do not accept the gift of salvation in Christ Jesus is to accept the wages of sin, and the wages of sin is death.  John 8:23-24, Jesus says,

Slide23

It’s more than sad that those that die in their sins are one profession of faith from eternal life.  But when one rejects God in this life and chooses not to follow Jesus, God grants their ultimate wish.  If they do not want to be with Jesus, then forever more they will be away from Jesus.

We are children of God; they are children of the devil.  We are in this world; they are of this world.  But God’s instructions to us as followers of Jesus is to be like Christ Jesus.  We do not – cannot – condemn those who reject Jesus.  Instead we pray for them and live our lives with the light of Jesus Christ within us.  They are one profession of faith away from being our brother or sister in Christ.

I’ve been going to a bible fellowship every other Friday night, and for the last year, one of the group has asked us to pray for her brother.  She had accepted Christ, her brother had not.  And every time she brought up Jesus to him, he shut her down, told her he didn’t want to hear of it.

He developed cancer, and it advanced rapidly.  He went into hospice 2 weeks ago, and he would let his sister read from the bible, but other than that, would not discuss it further.  She continued to ask the group for prayers.

And then, this week, he died.  As John 8:24 says, he died in his sins, no evidence that he had accepted the free gift of salvation that was right in front of him.  No matter how he had lived his life, he would have been accepted all the way to the last breath.

 

VI.      Conclusion

Everybody wants to be accepted by somebody.  I once read an essay that everything we say and do can be summarized by just one goal:  We want to matter to somebody. 

Love and acceptance is available to us in abundance if we just know where to look.  Christ loved Israel.  Christ loved the gentiles.  Christ loves the world.  Christ loves you and me, and accepts us just as we are.

We’re called to be like Christ, which means we are to love those that do not yet love Christ.  To let them know they are accepted.

And we can be at peace, that despite our deodorant, Christ accepts us.  Turns out, we do matter to somebody.  We are adopted children of God, and we matter to Jesus.  We matter so much that He gave His life so we can be saved.

Have you made an error you regret?  Something so icky you would never talk about it with friends or family?  And is it coming between you and God?  Don’t be afraid that it’s too icky for God.  God saw death on a cross, and scourging and crucifixion is icky.  Whatever it is, acknowledge it to God and talk to Him about it.  God separates us from our sin as far as the east is from the west.  God is accepting and does not hold it against you.  You shouldn’t hold it against you, either.

Let others know that this love and acceptance is available to them, too.  It doesn’t matter who they are, where they came from, what they’ve done, salvation is available to everyone who asks. As it says in Galatians 3:26-28,

Slide24

 

To God be the glory.

Awestruck

A study of Habakkuk 3.

Habakkuk 3 Theme

  I.      Introduction

Last week, in Habakkuk 1 & 2, we heard a difficult message of how God can use evil people to accomplish His will.  When Habakkuk asked God to correct and admonish the Jewish people, God responded that it was all under control.  God would rise up the evil Chaldeans to crush the Jewish people.

I imagine Habakkuk suddenly sitting down, stunned at the message.  “I’m sorry, what did you say?”

We’ve been studying the Minor Prophets for a while, and the message each week has been the same.  Is the lesson Zephaniah?  Answer: Wrath of God.  Is the lesson Nahum?  Wrath of God.  Is the lesson Obadiah?  Wrath of God.

If last week’s study of Habakkuk 1&2 was classroom instruction, then Habakkuk 3 today is a study of how to apply hard lessons.  When we know the wrath of God is coming, like Habakkuk knew the Chaldeans were coming to conquer the Jews, how do we maintain our hope, our faith, our spirit?

Or closer to home, I couldn’t help but imagine a parallel in today’s times.  Like we are praying to God that America seems to be losing its way, and please bring America back into God’s will.  And God responds that he’s raising a mighty evil Islamic army called ISIS.  How do we maintain our hope, our faith, our spirit?

In one sense, I guess we should expect that God uses evil people for His purposes.  Romans 8:28 says “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose.”  If evil exists, and God is in control, then it is only logical that the only evil that exists is that which God allows to exist for His purpose.  Every knee shall bow, every tongue confess at the name of Jesus, and that includes evil knees and tongues.

Among all of God’s beautiful attributes, like love, compassion, peace, and joy, our fear of the Lord should recognize God’s ways are above our ways, and in our temporary lives on earth we may not fully appreciate all of God’s ways.  God is in control of everything, not just the good, and he will use *everything* in order to purify His people.  God’s plan for you and me is not our happiness, but our righteousness.  And he tells us that if we are righteous, then we will also be happy.  Win-win.

So if you or I feel that God’s plans seem to be working against us, we feel hurt or pain or disappointment, how do we come to terms with God?  We want to always think of Him as our kindly heavenly father who gives us great gifts, but we don’t like the discipline and God’s justice.  How do we maintain our joy when we know God is raising up evil Chaldeans against us?

II.      Reassured by What We Hear, Habakkuk 3:1-2

Let’s look first at Habakkuk 3:1-2 –

A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet. On shigionoth.
Lord, I have heard of your fame;
I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord.
Repeat them in our day,
in our time make them known;
in wrath remember mercy.

There’s an unfamiliar word there in verse 1, “On shigionoth.”  I thought it was some sort of Klingon word, good thing I studied.  Most scholars believe it’s a literary or maybe musical term, but one source I read believes it is a highly emotional poetic form.  On shigionoth, Habakkuk is pouring out His heart in prayer to the Lord.

In verse 2, who has a translation that says “I fear” or “I was afraid?”  This is not fear of the outcome, for our lesson today is how to have comfort that the Lord is in control.  He says “I fear” which is standing in awe, not fear of the outcome.  Habakkuk says he has heard of God’s most incredible power and might, and acknowledges that God’s power will destroy all that displeases the Lord.  And Habakkuk says, Lord, in your wrath, remember mercy.
parting of the red sea
Habakkuk is likely referring to earlier books that tell of God’s great power.  The book of Genesis, the book of Exodus.  Habakkuk knows about the parting of the sea.  The parting of the Red Sea wasn’t low tide or other some nonsense presented on one of those secular history shows.  Let’s hear of God’s power in Exodus 14:21 following, and I’m going to shorten the story some in the interest of time –

Then the Lord said to Moses, “[…]Tell the sons of Israel to go forward.  As for you, lift up your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, and the sons of Israel shall go through the midst of the sea on dry land.  As for Me, behold, […] I will be honored through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen.  Then the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord […].”

 

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord swept the sea back by a strong east wind all night and turned the sea into dry land, so the waters were divided.  The sons of Israel went through the midst of the sea on the dry land, and the waters were like a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.  Then the Egyptians took up the pursuit […]. the Lord looked down on the army of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and cloud and […] overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea.  The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen, even Pharaoh’s entire army that had gone into the sea after them; not even one of them remained.”

 

It’s interesting to me that the Egyptians were the evil ones in the book of Exodus, and God used them to display his awesome power.  Habakkuk says, “I have heard of your fame.”  What Habakkuk is saying to us modern day Christians is… read the bible.  God’s awesome might and power and wrath and love is in the Good Book for each of us to discover.  We will be comforted.  Yes, we stand in awe of God’s mighty power.  Yes, we fear the wrath of God that is coming.  But God will remember His mercy for those who have placed their faith in Him.

III.      Reassured by What We See, Habakkuk 3:3-19

If reading our bible about God’s mighty power isn’t enough, we can see his power with our own eyes.  Habakkuk 3:3-4 –

God comes from Teman,
And the Holy One from Mount Paran. Selah.
His splendor covers the heavens,
And the earth is full of His praise.
His radiance is like the sunlight;
He has rays flashing from His hand,
And there is the hiding of His power.

 

We view the majesty of the Almighty moving across the earth.  Teman was a city east of Israel, and Mount Paran was a mountain opposite of Teman, so Habakkuk is saying God’s majesty awakens from the east each day and covers the heaven.

God displays the beauty of His creation to us so that we may know he is a God of love and beauty.  Romans 1:20 says

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

sunrise
So that we do not wake up each morning and says, “wow, what a spectacular sunrise.  I guess that just happened accidentally again this morning.”  No, it’s so that we clearly see that God’s glory is like the sunrise, with rays of brilliant light flashing from his hands.

As I was preparing this lesson, and Chris Tomlin’s “Indescribable” came on the radio and I was struck by how perfect the lyrics fit this lesson.  Can I ask the choir members in this class to sing this for us?

From the highest of heights to the depths of the sea
Creation’s revealing Your majesty
From the colors of fall to the fragrance of spring
Every creature unique in the song that it sings
All exclaiming
 
Indescribable, uncontainable
You placed the stars in the sky
And You know them by name
You are amazing, God
 
All powerful, untameable
Awestruck we fall to our knees
As we humbly proclaim
You are amazing, God

And if God’s splendor and majesty is evident each morning, then so is his strength.  Habakkuk 3:5-12 –

Before Him goes pestilence,
And plague comes after Him.
He stood and surveyed the earth;
He looked and startled the nations.
Yes, the perpetual mountains were shattered,
The ancient hills collapsed.
His ways are everlasting.
I saw the tents of Cushan under distress,
The tent curtains of the land of Midian were trembling.
Did the Lord rage against the rivers,
Or was Your anger against the rivers,
Or was Your wrath against the sea,
That You rode on Your horses,
On Your chariots of salvation?
Your bow was made bare,
The rods of chastisement were sworn. Selah.
You cleaved the earth with rivers.
The mountains saw You and quaked;
The downpour of waters swept by.
The deep uttered forth its voice,
It lifted high its hands.
Sun and moon stood in their places;
They went away at the light of Your arrows,
At the radiance of Your gleaming spear.
In indignation You marched through the earth;
In anger You trampled the nations.

God makes mountains.  God destroys mountains.  He judges with pestilence and plague.   He shakes the nations and crushes His enemies.  There is nothing that can withstand the power of God.

Let’s go big.  Let’s see if we can imagine the power of God.  How big is the earth that God created?    Let’s stipulate that the earth is big, really big.  It is so big that for thousands of years, man believed the earth was flat.  Man couldn’t see the horizon curve, there was no reason to believe they were living on a giant round rock.  Here’s a picture from a low orbit where you can see at the edges that the earth is indeed round.  Even though it’s low orbit, it’s still pretty high.  I can’t seem to find a camera shot that is close enough to see people and yet also see the curvature of the earth.  The earth is so big, over 7 billion people live on it now.
Habakkuk 3 1 Clouds-nature-planets-earth-low-resolution
But as big as the earth is, it’s not the biggest planet in our solar system.  We’re a small blue marble.
Habakkuk 3 2 planets
But even the largest planet, Jupiter, is small next to the size of the sun.  The sun is huge.  Imagine the sun the size of a basketball, then the earth is about the size of one of the dimples.
Habakkuk 3 3 SunSize
Our sun is considered to be a medium size star.  There are stars in our galaxy that make our sun look tiny.
Habakkuk 3 4 sun-stars
But even the largest stars get lost next to the size of our galaxy, the Milky Way.
Habakkuk 3 5 milkyWaySide1_300
The Milky Way isn’t the only galaxy.  Scientists estimate between 100 billion and 200 billion galaxies, but that’s only because we can’t see any further than that.
Habakkuk 3 6 large_detailed_map_of_the_Universe
Genesis 1:1.  In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  God spoke the universe into existence by saying, “Let there be light.”  From the morning rays of sunshine to the countless stars by night, God has demonstrated His glory to all so that we may be without excuse.

But maybe facing outward doesn’t give us a good perspective of God.  Is God too big and distant?  If this is God’s view, can He see me?

Let’s go small.  Who am I, and what did God create?  I’m one of those 7 billion people are the earth, so I thought I’d show you the complexity of the human body.
Habakkuk 3 7 Body-systems-and-organs
I admit I underestimated trying to describe human anatomy in the time available for our class.   Our bodies are complex.  We have a circulatory system that moves oxygen and antibodies, powered by a heart that will beat over 3 billion times in our lifetime.  We have a nervous system that communicates heat and cold and pain and causes muscles to move and is powered by a brain that holds memories and process thought and makes sense of the world around us.  A respiratory system that brings in oxygen, expels carbon dioxide that the blood cells from the circulatory system brought in.  A digestive system that extracts nutrients from outside our bodies and turns them into fuel.  A skeletal system to support our weight, and a muscular system to provide movement.

It was too complex.  I thought, I’ll simplify this, I’ll just focus on one piece.  How about the heart.  Just one organ, part of the circulatory system.
Habakkuk 3 8 1024px-Blausen_0457_Heart_SectionalAnatomy
I’m an engineer, and I don’t know how all this contraption works.  There are valves and muscles and aortas and stuff.  And it beats 3 billion times in a lifetime?  This is a miracle gadget.  Let’s simplify it even further,   How about just the teensiest part.  How about… a single human cell.  If I can’t understand the machinery, maybe I can understand a nut and washer, right?
Habakkup 3 9 cell
Goodness.  There are 5 million human cells in a cubic millimeter, about a drop of water.  They’re specialized, too.  Liver cells, brain cells, blood cells, each one knows exactly what to do.

God is in the small stuff.  God is in the big stuff.  God is everywhere and in everything.  There is no place we can go that God isn’t there.  And we haven’t even talked about plants and photosynthesis or insects or rocks or how he created oxygen.  Psalm 139:13 says,

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

 

We are created by God for a purpose.  We have meaning.  God knows us, has a plan for us, and he knows the name of every single hair on our head.  From our DNA to the hairs on our head to the creation of the universe itself, God loves us.  Like Habakkuk, I can see with my own eyes God’s hand in every single part of my being, my life, my walk, and my purpose.

And I can see God’s love for me.

IV.      Reassured by His Deliverance, Habakkuk 3:13

Habakkuk 3:13 –

You went forth for the salvation of Your people,
For the salvation of Your anointed.
You struck the head of the house of the evil
To lay him open from thigh to neck. Selah.

 

This God of beauty, this God of power, this God of creation, is also this God of love.  He knew, given free choice, that not everyone would choose good.   It’s not choice if we’re forced to choose good.  So, through the choice of Adam and Eve, sin entered the world.  Rebellion.  Disobedience.  His holiness will not tolerate our evil, our sins.  God will destroy sin.  God will raise Chaldeans and plagues and locusts to destroy the evil we do and the evil we think and the evil we are.  His justice demands His wrath.  The minor prophets we’ve been studying, like Habakkuk, have warned us of God’s hatred of sin.

But God loves the sinner who seeks Him.  But more than God hates sin, God loves us.  For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.  (John 3:16).

 

Out of His abundance of love, has given us His son.  I don’t know how much it hurt God to sacrifice His own son for us.  To watch Christ scourged and crucified under Pontius Pilot while the crowds of people called for the death of His son.  And I don’t know any bigger gift that God could give than to offer forgiveness to us through the sacrifice of His son, so that we may be reconciled to God and be called Children of God.  And through the death of Jesus, He then sent a comforter, the Holy Spirit, to live in us.  To pray and groan on our behalf, to move us to obedience.  Even as his perfect justice and discipline may cause pain and suffering as He teaches us spiritual truths, and even as He raises us Chaldeans against us to purify us as a people, we know that He has prepared a place for us, a place without tears.

We may not understand the Chaldeans in our own lives, but God has a purpose for everything.  C.S. Lewis, in the book “Mere Christianity,” put it this way:

Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.

 

When God allows Chaldeans to run roughshod over us with destruction and pain, the Chaldeans are fulfilling God’s purpose.  Even if, and perhaps especially if, the Chaldeans are evil, for the evil cannot exist without God allowing it.  Three verses can give us peace during these times –

  • 2 Corinthians 4:17

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

  • 1 Corinthians 10:13, God doesn’t give us more than we can handle, and
  • Romans 8:28 all things work together for good.

Praise and worship our mighty God.  It is right to praise Him.  Does God need our praise?  No, it pleases Him to think that those who created acknowledge the Creator.  How awesome it is to please Him.

  V.      Reassured by His Security, Habakkuk 3:16-19

Abundant life.  Purpose.  A God who loves us.  An eternity without tears.

Because of all we have heard, because of all we have seen, because of all we have experienced, we can trust God in time of fear.

Habakkuk 3:16

I heard and my heart pounded,
my lips quivered at the sound;
decay crept into my bones,
and my legs trembled.
Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity
to come on the nation invading us.

Habakkuk knows God’s wrath is coming.  The Jewish people have turned their backs on the Lord, and Habakkuk has prayed for the Lord’s will be done.  The Lord responded that He will purify his people by allowing evil Chaldeans to conquer and rule over Israel.  And Habakkuk, though so fearful that decay is in his bones and his legs are trembling, will wait patiently on the Lord to fulfill His word.

Did Habakkuk’s circumstances change?   Calamity is on the horizon.  Soon there will be destruction.  Sometimes we believe that if we change our attitude, trust in the Lord, pray fervent prayers, then our circumstances will change.  Not so – it is not the circumstances that change.  Nor is it God who changes.  No, it is us who change.  We trust that God is in control.  The same God that created an amazingly huge universe and the tiniest DNA stands in our cells and dwells within us, has provided the redemptive power through His son, is in control.  We can wait patiently.  It is us who changes.

So don’t worry.  God’s got this.

VI.      Conclusion

What have you heard about God that reassures you?  What have you seen from God that assures you of his awesome power?  Our God is wrath, true.  Wrath that destroys the wicked.  But our God is love.  He has created a splendor for us to see Him in our broken world.  A little taste of heaven, here and now.

You may not know the name of Carl Gustav Boberg, a Swedish poet who was born in 1859.  One day when Boberg was walking home from church and listening to church bells.  Suddenly, a tremendous storm, with violent winds and pounding rains.  The church rang madly.  Lightning pealed across the sky in massive thunderclaps.  Broberg and his friends had to take shelter.

Then, almost as suddenly as it arrived, the storm passed.  Winds blew over the nearby meadows, the pounding rains gave way to cool fresh showers, and then clear skies with a rainbow.

Broberg was in awe of the storm, the lightning, that demonstrated God’s power, and the peace and beauty after the wrath had passed.  That night, Carl Broberg wrote a poem called, ‘O Store Gud,’ or as we know it today, ‘How Great Thou Art.’

O Lord my God! When I in awesome wonder
Consider all the works Thy hand hath made.
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee;
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!

 

Invading Chaldeans are coming.  Habakkuk has to wait – terror at what is to come, but trust in the outcome.  Habakkuk 3 is a prayer to Yahweh to let the world again see the redemptive work of the Lord.  Regardless of our circumstances, we stand in awe of our God!

 

To God be the glory.

The Promised Messiah

Zechariah title  I.      Introduction

We’re continuing our study of the minor prophets, and these minor prophets have stark messages.  These messages display God’s glory and how God communicates both His love and His wrath, and how they are both consistent with His character, that our God is a consuming fire that loves us gently, and He has given us what we need for service in this world and eternity with our Lord forever.

Through the minor prophets, we learn 3 things about God –

  • God is sovereign.   He alone is God.  He alone is King.  He alone is the Creator.  He alone has the right to judge what is right and wrong.  He alone is the great I AM.
  • God is holy. He is perfect, He is all that is good.  His holiness is untainted by evil, there is no sin in His presence.  His wrath will destroy all that is evil, judged with perfect justice, revenge belongs to Him alone.
  • God is love. His wrath is withheld so that no one may perish, but have everlasting life.  He has given us His one and only son as a perfect sacrifice, not because of anything we have done, but simply because He loves us.

Zechariah is one of the more difficult of the minor prophets, not just for the Jews living under the Law at the time, but for us Christians today.  Many of the verses are full of symbols and imagery; there are lampstands and menorahs, olive trees, flying scrolls, and a woman in a basket.  Fortunately, there’s an angel speaking to Zechariah that explains much of the imagery, but it’s still a challenging book to understand.

Zechariah imagery

Zechariah was a young man when he began his ministry; some scholars suggest he may have been as young as 16 years old.  He was a contemporary and friend of the prophet Haggai, and while Haggai encouraged the people of Jerusalem to rebuild the temple, Zechariah encouraged the people with the hope of a coming messiah and reign of glory.

The Book of Zechariah is divided primarily in 2 “advents.”  The word “advent” means the arrival of something important, especially something that has been awaited.  The first 9 chapters, which we’ll study today, prophecy the advent of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem.

Let’s take a peek at our key verse today Zechariah 9: –

Zechariah 9:9

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

This is the 1st advent, a prophecy of Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem 500 years after Zechariah, of Jesus riding into town on a donkey, what we now call Palm Sunday.  Coincidentally, or perhaps not, today is Palm Sunday, so I think it is so very appropriate that we’re studying this today.

The second half of the book of Zechariah concerns itself with the 2nd advent, or the 2nd coming of Jesus.

Zechariah 14:3-4,9

Then the Lord will go out and fight against those nations, as he fights on a day of battle.  On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south.  The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name.

Revelation tells us that one day every knee will bow to our Lord Jesus Christ, but there are certain benefits to bending our knee voluntarily.

Today, as we look forward to Easter on this Palm Sunday, we are going to focus on the 1st advent, Zechariah’s prophecy of a messiah for Israel.

II.      Examine the Prophecy

Most people who study Old Testament prophecy can point to the book of Isaiah for prophecy about Jesus the Messiah.  Verses like …

  • Will be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14)
  • Will have a Galilean ministry (Isaiah 9:1,2)
  • Will be an heir to the throne of David (Isaiah 9:7; 11:1, 10)
  • Will have His way prepared (Isaiah 40:3-5)
  • Will be spat on and struck (Isaiah 50:6)
  • Will be disfigured by suffering (Isaiah 52:14; 53:2)
  • Will make a blood atonement (Isaiah 53:5)
  • Will bear our sins and sorrows (Isaiah 53:4, 5)
  • Will voluntarily accept our guilt and punishment for sin (Isaiah 53:7,8)
  • Will be silent before His accusers (Isaiah 53:7)
  • Will be buried in a rich man’s tomb (Isaiah 53:9)

These are not the only prophecies about Jesus, of course.  The Books of Daniel, Zechariah, Malachi, Ezekiel – indeed, the entire Old Testament points to a Messiah who will suffer and die for us, taking away all of our sins.

The Jews understood – intellectually, at least – these prophecies of a messiah.  This messiah would be a mighty king of both victory and peace.  In Zechariah 9:9, the messiah is king –

Zechariah 9:9

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

The messiah king would usher in a new day for Jerusalem.  The days of captivity would finally be behind them, they would be free to worship and serve the king of the Jews.  The Jews had not had a king since Babylon destroyed the temple, and this verse told the people that a king of impeccable character, righteous and victorious, was coming for them.  A day to rejoice, a day to shout with triumph, a day to celebrate the arrival of their king.

In Zechariah 9:10, they knew the Messiah would be a man of peace –

I will take away the chariots from Ephraim
and the warhorses from Jerusalem,
and the battle bow will be broken.
He will proclaim peace to the nations.
His rule will extend from sea to sea
and from the River to the ends of the earth.

The Jews understood the coming Messiah to bring peace among men, among distant lands, from Jerusalem to the promised land of Abraham and his descendants to the very ends of the earth. His kingdom would be peaceful, because the Messiah was a victorious conqueror.  There would be no need for weapons for the Messiah to establish His rule.

In the next two verses, Zechariah 9:11-12, the Messiah would be a man of victory –

As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you,
I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit.
Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope;
even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you.

The Messiah would be a mighty conqueror.  Nothing would be able to withstand the might and power from heaven to rescue His daughter Zion from those that would persecute her.  Those that had been captured by evil and confined to darkness would be rescued and set free, given hope and a stronghold in the Lord.

Zechariah often refers to the Lord as the “LORD of hosts”, as in chapter 1 verse 3.   It could also be translated, “LORD of armies.”  This is a powerful name of God, Jehovah, Leader of an army of angels and our strong and mighty tower.  There is no need to fear with such a mighty leader of armies on the side of Zion.

When would this messiah come and rescue them?  We have to look to other Old Testament prophets to get the whole picture, but a key prophecy is found in Daniel 9:25.

Know and understand this: From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble.  After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be put to death and will have nothing.

These “sevens” would have been very familiar to the Jews; each “seven” is a period of seven years, and the end of each seven years the Jews had a Sabbath year.  And for the phrase “from the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem,” we have go back to Nehemiah 2.  Remember just a couple of months ago when we studied this?  Nehemiah was the cupbearer to the king Artaxerxes, and the in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, the king asked Nehemiah why he looked so sad.  Nehemiah had been praying for that moment, and he asked the king to let him rebuild the city.

Well, now it’s simple math to determine when the messiah comes.  Artaxerxes came to power in 474BC.  The twentieth year of his rule was 455 BC.  “Seven ‘sevens’” is 49 years, and “sixty-two ‘sevens’” is another 434 years, so the Messiah arrives in 29AD.  And since the Messiah is foretold to be in the temple, when the Romans destroyed the temple in 70 AD, Jews know the Messiah was to have come between 29AD and 70AD.

Zechariah prophecy

The timing of the Messiah has since come and gone, and Jews do not accept Jesus as the Messiah.  But if not Jesus, then who?  I read several rabbinical letters on this subject.  Through the years, the Jews have put their hope in a Messiah on several people through the years such as Bar Kokhba in 132 AD.  Bar Kokhba fought a war against the Roman Empire, defeated the Tenth Legion and retook took Jerusalem. He resumed sacrifices at the site of the Temple and made plans to rebuild the Temple.  He established a provisional government and began to issue coins in its name. Ultimately, however, the Roman Empire crushed his revolt and killed Bar Kokhba. After his death, the Jews said, “well, I guess he’s not the messiah, either.”  Today, the Jews still wait for a messiah.  They believe he didn’t come at the prophesied time because the Jewish people weren’t ready.  The Jewish people will either have to be so good that they deserve a messiah to rule over them, or so bad that they deserve to have a messiah to rule over them.

How did the Jews miss the arrival of their messiah?  They were looking for a mighty warrior.  They were looking for a man of peace.  They were looking for a king in the year 29AD while Jerusalem was occupied by Roman forces.  And then, Jesus came riding to the temple on a donkey.

On one hand, I’m sort of glad the Jews missed the coming of the messiah.  It’s because God knew the Jews would reject His one and only son that the offer was then extended to the gentiles, and gentiles like me have an opportunity to accept this offer of salvation.  God’s not done with the Jews yet, they are still His chosen people.  Following the tribulation, things will be different, and the Jewish leaders will receive Jesus’ love in their heart.

Ezekiel 36:26 –

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

III.      Prophecy is true

How many prophecies did Jesus fulfill?  The easy answer is “all of them.”  It’s hard to determine an accurate count of the prophecies, but one study I read counted them at 365 prophecies foretelling the coming Jewish Messiah, of which 109 that *only* Jesus could have fulfilled.

http://bibleprobe.com/365messianicprophecies.htm

Today, we know that Christ died for us on a tree, our sins upon Him and bearing the wrath of God on our behalf, that we may have everlasting life with Him.  It is so obvious, nobody can miss it.

Or can they?  I know people that have accepted Christ, but I know far more that haven’t.  Some might even say they are Christian, but based on their fruit, they would be hard to recognize as believers.  And others are agnostic, unsure of any belief.  And some are atheistic, certain there is no God.  And some follow other gods of their own making.

IV.      Jesus came for us

Why did the Jewish people miss the 1st Advent of Christ?  Or better yet, why do some of us still miss the signs of Jesus in our lives?

John 5:36-40,

“I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to finish – the very works that I am doing – testify that the Father has sent me.  And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent.  You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”

Jesus must be in our hearts, not just in our heads.  Studying God’s Word is important, but it doesn’t provide salvation.  Evangelizing is important, but it doesn’t provide salvation.  Compassion, good works, attending church, prayer is important, but it doesn’t provide salvation.

The Jewish religious leaders studied the Old Testament diligently.  To them, salvation came with knowledge.  If you understood the word, you were given a place in the kingdom of heaven.  If you didn’t study, you were doomed.

John 7:49 –

The Pharisees said, “But this crowd which does not know the Law is accursed.”

2 Corinthians 3:15 –

But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart.

But it’s not what you know in your head that counts, but rather faith that trusts Jesus as the Messiah – something these Jewish leaders were unwilling or unable to do.  But we are to believe with our heart, not just our head –

Romans 10:9

If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved.

  V.      Conclusion

Today, in Zechariah 9, we’ve learned that the Messiah was a king, victorious, peaceful, righteous, and humble.

Matthew 21:1-9 –

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me.  If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”
This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:

“Say to Daughter Zion,
‘See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.'”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them.  They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on.  A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.  The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

Jesus speaks to us even now.  We must be in His word to hear him, or we miss the message He has for us. We must walk in His ways to see Him at work.  We must be with believers to see His love in action.

Isaiah 53:3-6 –

He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

Our Messiah has arrived during this celebration of Palm Sunday.  Hosanna to the Son of David.  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.  Hosanna in the highest heaven.  Thank you for coming for us, king of victory, king of peace, king of righteousness.  King of kings.

Zechariah Palm Sunday

To God be the glory.

The Wrath of God

A study of Zephaniah 1

   I.      Introduction

Wrath of God

The wrath of God by John Piper:

I thank the Lord again for my opportunity to serve Him today, and I pray my words are full of His truth today.  Often my lessons have some humor, some lightheartedness because I truly believe that being a child of God should be a joyous occasion and bible study should be a happy place.  Today’s lesson is from the minor prophet Zephaniah, and I do not know how to present this in a lighthearted way.  In many ways, lessons on encouragement and love and kindness are easier to teach than fire and brimstone.

One of the things I like about Second’s bible studies is that, if you stick around long enough, we will study every book in the bible every 7 years, including little three-chapter books like Zephaniah, tucked in between Habakkuk and Haggai.  It may be a little book, but the first chapter alone has a powerful message.  It’s not comfortable, it’s not warm, it’s not fuzzy and feel-good … but it’s the Bible and it’s a Revelation from God and of God.

Tim mentioned a few weeks ago if I believed God was still a God of wrath, and I answered in the affirmative.  Little did I know that that very lesson would be given to me to study and to teach.

I was so concerned about the tone of today’s lesson that I ran it by one of the Second Baptist pastors this week.  He made a few tweaks, suggested some small changes, and he is now hiding under his bed waiting for the thunder and lightning to begin.  One of his insights, though, was that if I felt that a study of God’s wrath was difficult, imagine what it was like for Zephaniah, bringing these words to the Jewish people?

Not much is known about Zephaniah.  He lived about 640 BC, he prophesied in the days of King Josiah, and was a contemporary of Jeremiah.  The purpose of his prophecy was to speak out against religious and moral corruption and idolatry in Jerusalem.  His prophecy was fulfilled a few decades later when Jerusalem collapsed under a wave of immigrants.

Let’s turn to Zephaniah 1:1-6 and see the prophecy of the Day of Judgment of the entire earth.

The word of the Lord that came to Zephaniah son of Cushi, the son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah, the son of Hezekiah, during the reign of Josiah son of Amon king of Judah:
“I will sweep away everything
from the face of the earth,”
declares the Lord.
“I will sweep away both man and beast;
I will sweep away the birds in the sky
and the fish in the sea—
and the idols that cause the wicked to stumble.”
“When I destroy all mankind
on the face of the earth,”
declares the Lord,
“I will stretch out my hand against Judah
and against all who live in Jerusalem.
I will destroy every remnant of Baal worship in this place,
the very names of the idolatrous priests—
those who bow down on the roofs
to worship the starry host,
those who bow down and swear by the Lord
and who also swear by Molek,
those who turn back from following the Lord
and neither seek the Lord nor inquire of him.”

Have we been led to believe that our God is only capable of love?  That Yahweh is not capable of anger?  That Jehovah God incapable of wrath and justice?  Do we simply discard scripture that deals with His anger and wrath?  Is our God limited and powerless against evil?

If we do not know that God hates pride, arrogance, and evil, then we do not know Yahweh.  Proverbs 8:13,

To fear the Lord is to hate evil;
I hate pride and arrogance,
evil behavior and perverse speech.

If we do not believe that God Almighty will right every wrong, then we do not know Yahweh.  2 Thessalonians 1:5-9,

All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering.  God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels.  He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.

God’s wrath in the Old Testament gives us examples of His tolerance for disobedience and sin.  In the Old Testament, we can see God’s balance between love and justice and mercy.  When Egypt held the Jews in captivity and in the fullness of time God when reached out to save his people, the Egyptians received God’s wrath.  Psalm 78:43-48,

the day he displayed his signs in Egypt,
his wonders in the region of Zoan.
He turned their river into blood;
they could not drink from their streams.
He sent swarms of flies that devoured them,
and frogs that devastated them.
He gave their crops to the grasshopper,
their produce to the locust.
He destroyed their vines with hail
and their sycamore-figs with sleet.
He gave over their cattle to the hail,
their livestock to bolts of lightning.

Against Pharaoh who had hardened his heart against God, God turned their river into blood, sent swarms of biting flies and frogs, sent locusts to devour their crops, destroyed their vineyards with hail and sleet, destroyed their livestock with lightning.

The Old Testament is replete with examples of eradication of sin that sometimes involved destruction.  The plagues of Egypt, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the flood of Noah, the destruction of Jerusalem.

It says in Psalm 78:49,


He unleashed against them his hot anger,
his wrath, indignation and hostility—
a band of destroying angels.
He prepared a path for his anger;
he did not spare them from death
but gave them over to the plague.

Satan is most certainly behind all evil in this world, but Satan uses mankind to carry out his evil ways.  God’s fury, God’s burning anger, calamity, and result of his anger is against mankind who serves Satan.  God has been unjustly accused by Satan and mocked by unfaithful mankind.  We have been offensive and insulting.  This pride and arrogance on the part of man leads to calamity, a mighty correction of the perversion of justice we have done.

I want you to note carefully here that these plagues are not brought about by Satan, but by God.  God is a warrior and will destroy evil.  These end times plagues and judgments, the very wrath of God serve a purpose to cleanse His creation of all evil.

As Christians, we need to be able to reconcile the God of Love with the God of Wrath.  Churches that teach only prosperity or love are teaching a watered down version of Truth that neglects to tell people the source of evil, the effects of evil, and the ultimate judgment of evil.

Our God is Love.  Our God is Wrath.  How do you explain this dichotomy? Or sometimes, the question is phrased this way:  How can a loving God send people to hell?

We’ll come back to that question, but first, let’s take a look at ourselves.  We are made in God’s image, and we know we are capable of love.  But if someone lies to us, applies a false label to us, accuses us unjustly, do we not get angry?  If we are capable of both love and anger, then it should not be hard to believe that our God who created us can be both loving and full of righteous anger.

We have a God of love, a God of beauty.  But we also have a God of justice.  A God who will judge the wicked, righting all wrongs.  God hates sin.  Intellectually, we know this, and we approve of this.  God should punish the wicked.  But we’re only ok with this philosophy as long as God is punishing others.  “God, while I was changing lanes, that man cut me off.  Smite him, Lord, either in this life or the next.”  But our own sin?  “God, I only stole because I needed it.  Forgive me, Lord.”

 

II.      Revelation

What does the future hold for sinners?  When we ask ourselves about all the evil in the world, what will God do?  We have to go to the back of the bible, the book of Revelation, to see.  (Just as an aside, after our study of the minor prophets, we will be studying Revelation this summer, ironically while it is hot as blazes out there.)  Revelation describes end times philosophy, it begins with a greeting to the seven churches who served the Lamb of God, then gives praises to the king, and every creature in heaven and earth saying, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain.”   In Revelation 6, The Lamb of God begins to open the seals of judgment against the earth, and the 4th seal, well let’s read Revelation 6:7-11,

When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!”  I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.

Then, the martyrs who have died for God beg God for justice (Revelation 6:9-11,

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained.  They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?”  Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been.

Who can stand from the wrath of God?  Revelation 6:15-17,

Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains.  They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!  For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?”

Here the wrath of God has not yet begun, but just opening the seals of judgment was terrifying enough that people hid in caves and begged for the mountains to fall on them.

In Revelation 8-9, the Seven Trumpets then announce the approach of God’s final judgment, and Revelation 9:20, mankind still refuses to give up idol worship.  By Revelation 14, the Seven Angels bring Seven Plagues, and Revelation 17 the Seven Bowls full of the wrath of God are poured out upon the earth, punishment to wicked men for their evil ways.  And even while the bowls of wrath are poured out over man, man curses God and refuses to repent.

God will destroy this evil in His creation, just as He said He would do.  Evil will be destroyed, and Satan will be bound and cast into the Lake of Fire to burn forever.  And those men that choose not to worship God, who choose to do evil in His sight, whose carnal desires are living away from the one true God, will receive the justice they deserve.  God will not be mocked.  Back to our minor prophet Zephaniah 1: 14-18,

The great day of the Lord is near—
near and coming quickly.
The cry on the day of the Lord is bitter;
the Mighty Warrior shouts his battle cry.
That day will be a day of wrath—
a day of distress and anguish,
a day of trouble and ruin,
a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and blackness—
a day of trumpet and battle cry
against the fortified cities
and against the corner towers.
“I will bring such distress on all people
that they will grope about like those who are blind,
because they have sinned against the Lord.
Their blood will be poured out like dust
and their entrails like dung.
Neither their silver nor their gold
will be able to save them
on the day of the Lord’s wrath.”
In the fire of his jealousy
the whole earth will be consumed,
for he will make a sudden end
of all who live on the earth.

III.      Where are we?

We are mankind.  We are all sinners, born of original sin.  Born to make a choice in this world, who we will serve and honor.  We are all born from the father of lies.  We are born into sin.  We want to sin.  We are slaves to sin.

And when I say “we,” I mean everyone is born into sin.  Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  And the consequences are dire.  Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death.”  The world is under God’s judgment, and we have been warned.  God’s wrath is upon all men.   We are all dead.  Ephesians 2:1-3,

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.  All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.

 

In Jeremiah 5:7-9, God’s people have asked for mercy, but God tells them adamantly that their sins will be their destruction.


“Why should I forgive you?
Your children have forsaken me
and sworn by gods that are not gods.
I supplied all their needs,
yet they committed adultery
and thronged to the houses of prostitutes.
They are well-fed, lusty stallions,
each neighing for another man’s wife.
Should I not punish them for this?”
declares the Lord.
“Should I not avenge myself
on such a nation as this?”

As a people, as a nation, we are so far from God’s purpose, but we have become hardened and used to evils.  We like our evils.   What we once tolerated, we now celebrate.  We are in the midst of the end times, where evil is called good and good is evil.  Mankind has proven itself to be of Satan, and mankind celebrates it.  We should fear God, holy and righteous, who not only has the power to judge what is good and what is evil, but he has the right.  All sin will be destroyed in judgment and in the lake of fire.  The sinner inside each of us will be judged and found wanting.  Hebrews 10:30-31 says,

For we know [God] who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Our God is a consuming fire, and we are without excuse.

IV.      Who then can be saved?

Is there no hope?  If we are born in sin, and celebrate our sin, and die by our sin, is there no hope?

Not by our own strength.  Even the apostle Paul famously said he continues to do what he does not want to do.  The apostle Paul was a sinner, deserving of judgment and God’s wrath.  You and I are sinners and deserving of God’s wrath.  We can say that since we are churchy people, we are good and holy, but that is untrue.  1 John 1:8 says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”

Jesus’ disciples worried, too.  In Matthew 19, the rich man asked Jesus for the secret to eternal life, and Jesus said it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.  Wealth, both then and now, are often seen as blessings, rewards for a life well-lived.  It was thought by others the man was wealthy because God had found favor with him, but Jesus said, no, he too is condemned.  And the disciples cried out, “who then can be saved?”

Who indeed?  Who is righteous among us if we are all sinners?  How do you reconcile the God of beauty, of creation, of truth and righteousness with the God of revenge and wrath and destruction?

We have all sinned.  Little white lies, or even the truth can be sinful if we’re being hurtful.  Gossip, adultery, pride, lies, murder, stealing.  What are some of the things God hates?  Romans 1:18-32,

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.  For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.  They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones.  In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.  They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy.  Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

We are bound for destruction, the penalty for sin is death.  We have no place next to the pure holy Jehovah God with even the tiniest sin.  And His wrath will be complete, and we are right to fear God’s wrath.  Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

We need help.  If the punishment for sin is death, then we need somebody else to *be* sin and die for us.  We need a savior.  Somebody fully man who understands life’s trials and temptations, yet remained fully innocent.  He would have to be innocent; the guilty cannot take the punishment for another person when he himself is guilty.  And not just a man who can take the place of one person, but someone who can take away the sins of the world.  We need Jesus.  Oh Lord, how we need Jesus.

There is cause for celebration in the midst of our message today.  Jesus has paid the price for our sin.  He took the punishment we deserve.  We are saved from the destruction and the wrath of God we deserve.  Hallelujah.

Our holy God of Wrath and justice is also a God of mercy and hope and ultimate love.  Our God has always given His people hope. John 3:16-18,

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.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

That’s ultimate love and sacrifice.  I stand deserving of the wrath of God for the sins I’ve committed.  I deserve punishment.  But God so loved me that he sacrificed His only son to take the wrath I deserve.  And God so loved you, that he gave up His son to take the wrath for you.  Not because we’re such fabulous people, but he did this for us while we were still sinners and deserving of wrath.  Why?  Because we have a beautiful living awesome God of love and mercy and forgiveness.  I don’t know why God loves me, but I am so grateful that He does.  He’s forgiven my sins, clothed me in the blood of Jesus, lets me walk boldly to His throne with my prayers, and has made me His adopted son.  I am a child of the one true king.  Not because of anything I did, but because of what He did.  I am no longer condemned.  Jesus saves, Amen.

So let’s go back to our earlier question, “how can a loving God condemn people to hell?”  It’s not the right question.  The question completely misses the character of God.  God’s wrath will come to those who deserve it, and God’s mercy and grace will come to His people who do not deserve it.  A better question might be, “Why are any of us saved?”  God has provided a savior for us, freely available to all who choose it.  He has reached out His mighty hand and asks us to take it so we may live.  It is available to everyone.  It was the purpose of Jesus, to save us.  We often refer to Jesus as our Savior, but do we truly grasp what He saved us from, the Wrath of God?  1 John 3:8 says,

The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.

We may be saved from our sin through the sacrifice of Jesus, but God still hates sin, even this sin in us.  But as children of God, it is not God we war with.  We battle Satan and His plans, we put on our full armor of God and brandish the sword of truth.  God still hates the sin we think, the sin we speak, and the sin we do.  But on that Day of Judgment, we escape the punishment because our savior has already paid for our sins.  God’s full wrath was on Jesus that day and God poured out His wrath painfully on Jesus who became sin for us so that we might live.

God’s judgment on the world is still yet to come.  Why has God not yet pronounced judgment?  That day is coming quickly.  2 Peter 3:8-10 says,

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.

So that no one may perish, He stays his wrath.  God has so far exhibited two thousand years of patience with us, but one day God’s justice will demand satisfaction.  Time is running out.  God loved you will you were yet a sinner; who do you love?  God forgave you while you were still a sinner; who will you forgive?  Spread the Good News that Jesus loves them, too.  They just have to accept the free gift, to allow God’s son to bear the burden for their sin.  Evangelize.  Save those who you love.  And who do you love?  Family, friends, and the good book says we are to love our enemies.  God gave his son for the world, so that no one may perish.

But one day his patience will end.  Time is running out.  The coming of Man will be sudden, God will call the righteous home and promises that all the indignities that we have suffered, the abuse we endured for His sake, He will avenge, He will make right.  His wrath will be poured out.  It is not for us to fight that battle; revenge and wrath belongs to the Lord.

It is time for all of God’s selected to accept the gift of life that God has freely offered.  Tell others that time is running out.  John 3:36,

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.

It is a fearful thing to know that God’s wrath awaits.  Philippians 3:18-20,

For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.  Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Even in the wrath described in Zephaniah 1:7 we find hope –

Be silent before the Sovereign Lord,
for the day of the Lord is near.
The Lord has prepared a sacrifice;
he has consecrated those he has invited.

  V.      Conclusion

When will this Day of Judgment come?  Scripture tells us that no one knows the day or the hour.  That’s why the time to accept our Savior is urgent.

Are you ready?

Time is running out, the wrath of God approaches.  Choose life.  Choose Jesus.

To God be the glory.